“It all started with a mouse.”
It’s difficult to walk more than a few feet in the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, without seeing these words displayed on some type of wall sign, T-shirt, hat, or coffee mug, and with good reason. Three weeks ago was the first time I had ever set foot in the Magic Kingdom (I did make a trip to Epcot Center and what is now Disney Hollywood Studios when I was in high school.), and I was immediately astounded by the sheer magnitude and detail of it. To see Cinderella’s Castle on TV is one thing; to have it directly in your line of sight as you enter the park is another thing altogether.
Features like Cinderella’s Castle or seeing your favorite childhood Disney characters walking around the park would be staggering enough for most people, but I will admit I was totally taken in by the amazingly tight organizational skills the Magic Kingdom boasted. I’ve never seen a place that moved such large amounts of people in such a smooth and effective manner. For the most part, all the employees were kind and courteous. None of the performers looked tired or irritable. The bathrooms were cleaner than our bathrooms at home, I think. I can’t even remember if I saw any trash on the ground.
Over the years, I’ve come to view Disney products with a fairly cautious eye. I learned very quickly after my wife and I began having children that just because a video says “Walt Disney” across the top of the box doesn’t necessarily mean it contains something I want my children to see. Plus, there are some liberal stances Disney has chosen to take in recent years I do not agree with. If Disney was supposed to be some kind of enemy to me, though, I will have to sheepishly admit I was totally taken in by the “happiest place on earth.”
I’m sure we’ve all been around folks who return from vacation and say things like, “It was so nice we could have stayed there forever.” You know, though, that they were ready to go back to their own homes, sleep in their own beds, and get back to their normal daily routines (Heck, most people will actually freely admit as much.). When I say, “Had my family not insisted I come home with them, I would have stayed at Disney World forever”, I’m not just blowing smoke; I would have taken a minimum wage job dressing up as Mickey Mouse every day just to hang around.
I realize how irresponsible and silly and immature most of this sounds. Five-year-olds want to stay at Disney World forever, not 37-year-olds with four children under the age of 10 himself. The difference here, however, is that while a 5-year-old would actually want to live in Cinderella’s Castle forever, I’m pretty sure it’s more the feeling of losing myself in the immenseness of the Magic Kingdom I didn’t want to let go of. The whole place crackled with creativity, everything from the architecture of the buildings to the design of the costumes to the music and lyrics of the songs being sung. Everything in the park was telling a story.
Stories always have beginnings. The beginning of the story of Walt Disney World was some guy sketching out a cartoon mouse on a sheet of paper. As I snapped pictures after picture of my kids posing with their favorite Disney characters, I remembered every movie and cartoon I had watched with those very characters in them, and as I walked the streets of Disney World every ride, every poster, every T-shirt, every songs playing on the outdoor speakers reminded me of some other tale I had heard or seen. And, suddenly, something very important came into focus for me.
All these years, I’ve been chasing the story.
There have been instances where this has been very clear for me, such as when I bought every Star Wars action figure I could afford when I was a kid and then proceeded to never use them to play out any storylines related to the movie or how all of my Masters of the Universe figures were forced to adopt wrestling names and personas to execute the ideas I was gleaning from watching old-school Memphis Coliseum grappling with my dad. I shot hoops in the yard, but I wasn’t so much interested in practicing my jump shot as I was in who was the scoring leader in the league I had created in my head (I used to block my own shots to simulate gameplay. I’ll bet that looked really weird to anyone driving by…). I used to throw a tennis ball of a brick wall next to my grandmother’s house not to get better at hitting the strike zone, but to pitch the guys in my league into stardom or obscurity.
These are kids’ examples, though, things I thought were the imagination of any youngster growing up and trying to avoid reality. Flash forward to just a few years ago, however, and you would have found me coming home every day and recounting all kinds of new stories and random facts to my (poor) wife. I wasn’t a very good reporter; I always felt like I lacked the aggressiveness to really get the scoop. I felt like I was a good writer, though, and even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy having to be outgoing I always loved the stories I could take away that could be told over and over again. Even now, I’m storing away music industry and radio stories I can tell in the days to come.
And you know what I’ve done with this knowledge for years and years? I’ve stuffed it. Stuffed it because you couldn’t make any money with it. Stuffed it because it wasn’t real, manly work. Stuffed it because it was juvenile, not what an adult should be spending his time thinking about. And then I could never figure out why I was never truly happy doing any of the work I had been assigned to do.
I watched one recent Saturday as my 4-year-old (now 5) son, Nathanael, spent almost the entire day setting up his own puppet show. He colored faces on paper bags. He set up quilts over chairs to simulate the stage. He told me over and over again what the show was going to be about. My initial thought was to tell him his time might be better spent cleaning his room or putting away laundry. He was working so hard, though, I didn’t have the heart to step in and discourage him. He was invested. He was dedicated. What more can I ask to see in expecting my son to be committed to a cause?
The challenge, then, at the Sheridan household has become how to not stuff down those feelings of wonderment which were awakened first by my reading a book about a guy who made cartoons about talking vegetables (read Part 1 for those details) and then were further encouraged by a man who almost named his most famous creation “Mortimer.” And the obvious question becomes, “How?”.
Well, let’s head to Narnia for a minute…