Monday, September 29, 2008

Disneyland - Resurrection, A Recurring Theme

As you drift through a day at a Disney theme park, it probably never jumps to the forefront of your consciousness that you are repeatedly encountering metaphors of renewal and resurrection in most of the attractions you enter.

What the heck am I saying?
Was that first sentence even mildly comprehensible?

Here's the deal:
You start with a sunny day enjoying yourself at Disneyland, Disney World, etc.
You decide to go on an attraction---let's pick the most obvious one, the Haunted Mansion.
As you enter the darkened foyer, the sunny day dims behind you. You are "dying." Indeed, before you know it, you are in a chamber with no windows and no doors (sounds kinda like a tomb or a coffin--gulp!). There's no way out except the famous "My Way" of our disembodied spirit host.
Lightning fills the chamber and then total darkness. For a moment, you are in the abyss---separated from your fellow guests and alone in the black.
As the lights come dimly up, the doors slide open and you are presented with a corridor. A corridor you must walk down. An endless storm clatters and blows outside the windows, and the paintings on the wall of the corridor graphically flash images of the speedy deterioration of flesh and earthly things.
Soul-less statues mechanically follow your movements with sightless eyes. You step aboard your "Doom Buggy" and fantastic otherworldly sights play out before you.
When you disembark in a dark corridor, you step onto a moving walkway ramp and are pulled upward toward "the light." As a ghostly woman beckons you to "Hurry Back," you turn a corner and literally walk from the door of a tomb and back into the bright sunshine of the world of the living.
As a child, I recall the wave of relief and the spark of joy inside me as I saw that I had made it through the darkness of the Mansion and back to the warm sun.
This "light-to-darkness-to-underworld-visions-to rising-to-return-to-light" drama plays out in many of Disney's most popular attractions.

Take the Pirates of the Caribbean: sunlight--murky swamp--a death's head warns "there be squalls ahead" and "dead men tell no tales"---a plummet down a waterfall into darkness---another waterfall---skeletons in a cave-like underworld---marauding invaders of a darkened seaport---fire, flames---a stony prison of iron bars---and then you rise up, up toward the light. As you exit the attraction, the sunlight from New Orleans Square almost blinds you, along with the upbeat pirate music.

Or next take Indiana Jones: sunlight--long dark corridor--enter your vehicle--see the eye of a deity--plunge into darkness--skeletons aplenty and snakes (why did it have to be snakes?)--fire and flames (is this hell?)--a boulder threatens to crush you into nothingness---a flash of light---more darkness--it is finished. You exit your vehicle and walk back up out of the darkness and return to the light---adrenaline pumping. (Thanks to disneylandcompendium for posting the Mara photo from Indy).

There are other examples, some more obvious than others: Snow White, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (come on, we get hit by a train and literally drive through Hades---how's that for a kiddie ride?), Pinocchio (bad boys on Pleasure Island find out the hard way that blind pursuit of pleasure aint all it's cracked up to be, and Monstro is a living, breathing metaphor for death swallowing us up; an angel--in the form of the Blue Fairy--brings us back to life and it's back out into the sunshine again!), Alice in Wonderland (down a dark hole into a bizarre fantasy world and then back up and out into the day), and even Star Tours and Space Mountain (if you'll be kind enough to indulge a little poetic license with these two--still, on each of these attractions you go on a wild journey into dark space and then return to life and reality).

This concludes today's study in Adventureland eschatology. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: We apologize in advance for Mike's sometimes meandering posts and random thought processes. We are aware of the problem and are working diligently to address it. We appreciate your patience and thank you for your continued patronage despite these occasional digressions into La La Land.]


Okie said...

That's a very intriguing metaphorical exploration. Though I think it may be stronger to consider the progression as one into a sleep/dream state rather than necessarily a death/resurrection state.

Still, I really like your exploration of allegorical themes of death and resurrection.

I think Mansion and Pirates probably have the strongest "resurrection" parallel thanks in a large part to their construction (with a literal descent to begin and a literal rising into light to end). Your Indy commentary has potential, but in that situation the entrance/exit queue is actually the death/resurrection since the ride itself is more indicative of afterlife than of dying or mortality (perhaps you die after looking into the eye of Mara?)

The death in Mr. Toad's is dramatic, though I don't recall a 'resurrection' sequence per se. Your Monstro/Blue_Fairy connection in Pinocchio is compelling. But with Alice and other "dark" rides, the journey is more 'fantastical' and dream like and I think it's more of a stretch.

Whether or not I fully agree with your suggestion, I think there is definitely potential for exploring the theme thoroughly in at least a couple of the rides while acknowledging that it doesn't necessarily apply to all the 'dark' rides.

Fun post. Thanks. :)

Mike said...


Thank you for your input. We're a scholarly bunch here at the Jungle.

Just the other day, I was discussing the epistemological implications of "Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters" as to whether knowledge itself can be acquired a priori or a posteriori in the context of an attraction the involves shooting pretend laser beams at the Evil Emperor Zurg.

There were those in the debate who held the fate of the universe truly WAS in our hands during the course of the attraction, while others present staunchly contended that the zapping of enemy targets and racking up of points was merely illusory and had no independent existence outside of the mind of the observer.

Nihilists felt the whole attraction amounted to...well...nothing.

While those of Cartesian bent fostered the time-worn argument that "I-blast-enemy-targets-and-amass-points-with-a-hand-held-laser-canon, therefore I am."

I am afraid that this brought an angry response from Aristotelian Thomistic scholars, who adamantly maintained that knowledge is developed a posteriori, i.e., the mind abstractly draws its fundamental content from the human knower's contact with self-manifestly real things given in sensation---like Astro-Blasters, Emperor Zurg or the ride operator who seats you at the beginning of the attraction. From this experience, the mind abstracts concepts such as "Buzz-ness" "Zurg-Ness" or "Ride Operator-Ness" which are developed as real and true "forma" or things.

Then, of course, the guys over on Tiki had to have their say.

They espoused that the universe twists outward from the inmost swirls of a Dole Whip---and I think they might be onto something with that---though they had only a skeletal structure for their argument.

Not to be outdone, the crew from Big Thunder waded into the melee with a theory that true knowledge can only be understood in the context of rainbow-colored pools in dark caverns and something having to do with a goat that eats dynamite. This was way too "eastern" and "mystical" for my epistemological and intellectual tastes, though the colors were nice.

The Pirates cast members left the exchange completely assured that their assertion that "knowledge is but a flume ride through the intellect" most completely captured the nature of all human thought. No wonder those guys wear striped stockings. Crazy.

In the end, no final resolution came of the bickering.

The Storybookland Canal Boat cast members departed the debate, too, but they remained steadfast that the closest summary of ultimate truth is "all things we encounter are really just miniaturized versions of bigger things." (Keep on moving through the whale, folks---if you know what I mean.)

I will conclude with something my lead at Jungle told me twenty-plus years ago (and it really stuck with me):

"Mike," he said,

"You're weird."


Namowal said...

Having the protagonist die (or something similar) is a common theme in mythology.
Plenty of Disney movies (Snow White, Pinochio, Sleeping Beauty, Jungle Book) have that theme. It happens less literally in others: Dumbo visits the "land" of Pink Elephants. An outcast is reborn the star of the circus. The work-obsessed dad from Mary Poppins takes a gloomy walk in the dark to the bank, knowing he's to be fired. He's reborn a dad who puts his kids before his career.
Maybe that's part of what makes the best of Disney entertainment seem magical (pardon the cliche).

Steve Ballmer said...

I haven't been to Disney in 30 years! Now that Jobs is a part of it, I never will!

Mike said...

Gee, Steve...sorry your Mac crashed.

You wouldn't recognize Disneyland if you came back for the first time in 30 years, so it's probably for the best.

Mike said...


As always...incisive and fitting commentary. Anyone who can work Mary Poppins into the conversation gets three gold stars on their homework chart!

Even Ariel "dies" when she loses her voice. Wendy, John and Michael do it in reverse by going off to "Never Never Land" (a foretaste of a timeless heaven rooted in childhood innocence), only to return and face "growing up" (i.e., slow maturation into death) with Never Land still inside them. Belle and the Beast must "kill the Beast" (as must we all) inside the Prince in order for his true beauty to show forth (again, renewal, resurrection---the whole castle breaks the spell upon this transition).

And, in "Mickey's Trailer," we learn that Goofy is a poor (albeit extremely lucky) driver, while Mickey and Donald suriving a harrowing trip down the mountain. Off topic, sure, but still my favorite Mickey cartoon ever!

Namowal said...

Even your Jungle Cruise uses the theme, if playfully. The skipper usually cracks "Welcome aboard the Leaky Tiki" jokes or asks them to raise their hands and pledge that they hope to return alive.
The jungle gets threating- the hippo attacks, the bull elephant (and his mother in law) glare, villagers aim spears, the shrunken head guy wants your head...
...then you're out of the jungle and back at Disneyland.

Ickysan said...

I've long heard of the Death-themes in Disneyland rides, but never had any idea (or had it so eloquently put as you did) just how existential and dark the themes really were. I think one of the things that attracted me to the DL aesthetic - even as a young child - was the fact that there WERE so many skulls and skeletons and death and spookiness - but it was all safe and fun spookiness, so it was never any real danger you felt, which - much like Rollercoasters provide for many - is that thing where you get to hang your ass over the precipice of danger, but get it pulled back at the last second, making it the ultimate rush and therefore, making you feel even more alive.

I also have to say, I just love having others get so whipped up into the philosophy behind Disneyland. It makes me - for a brief second - feel a little lees of a dork. Thanks.