Like most kids, I loved Disney. I had a stuffed animal Cheshire cat and fantasized about being a mermaid. I knew all the lyrics to “A Whole New World” and wished for my own pair of glass slippers.
Then I grew up and went to film school.
“Animation is for babies. Give me Hitchcock. Give me Truffaut. Give me Deren. Down with the bourgeoisie! Down with homogenizing American culture! Down with Disney!”
I’d strut around the university library chanting my countercultural mantras.
Then I grew up and went to Japan.
Here adults use Hello Kitty erasers and watch Sponge Bob on their iphones. There’s a cute creature on every package that personifies the product inside. Even beer cans and vacuum cleaners have smiley faces.
* * *
“Do you want to go to Tokyo Disneyland?” she asks.
I dig into the recesses of my recollections. Disney. The name sounds sour to my skeptical ears.
I muffle out a yes, followed by a louder note to self:
Keep an open mind. Keep an open mind.
We decide to save a little money and a little sanity with the after-6PM pass. Swapping positions with the kid-packed day crowd, we enter Disneyland at dark.
With my limited field of vision, sounds and smells grow stronger. Chocolate popcorn. Bright-light laughter. Songs that sparkle. Carousels. Jingle bells.
The crowd is waltzing and whirling and taking me by the hand. It’s corny and cheerful and kitschy and cuddly. I snuggle deeper into my down. The cold night air blows my fuzzy hood over my ears. I toss it back, welcoming whatever the wind brings. Saying goodbye to my seriousness.
Fun. What a concept!
From haunted houses to hot chocolate, we wander. Giggling girlishly. Dancing the Disney dance. I’m smiling so much my cheeks hurt. Cinderella’s castle twinkles in the distance. We make the merry-go-round of rides.
Sure, Minnie-mouse earmuffs cost $30. At the end of the day, the entertainment industry collects its currency, and I succumb to capitalist consumerism.
Blah blah blah blah….
It’s okay to escape sometimes. It’s okay to embrace the artificial. Thank you Tokyo Disneyland for your mainstream magic. Thank you for teaching me how to unlearn.
At the sound of the closing chimes, we head back to the train with our imaginations ignited.
That night, I grew up and tap-danced my way home.