My feelings regarding the Walt Disney Company are ambivalent to say the least.
On one hand, I’m upset with them for forever warping the perception of billions of women (and a decent amount of men) regarding relationships and marriage, and doing so for decades, from Cinderella to Frozen. These false fantasies are the direct or indirect cause of countless divorces, dysfunctional relationships and personal suffering for decades throughout the entire Western world.
On the other hand, as a businessman, I am in absolute awe of Disney at what they’ve accomplished. They are, quite literally, one of the most well executed companies in world history. From one guy drawing pictures of mice, to a smoothly run conglomerate with expertly produced movies, expertly marketed merchandise, and flawlessly executed theme parks, which also happens to own ABC, Marvel, Star Wars, ESPN, Pixar and many more companies to come.
My last job as a young man in the corporate world before I went full time with my own business was working for Nike. I can tell you for a fact that the upper management at Nike worships Disney and their management, and tries to copy them as best as they can. If you’ve got companies Nike trying to copy you, you’re doing something right. Disney’s skill at marketing and presenting a product is almost second to none. Even Apple isn’t as good.
Since I’ve lived on the US west coast my whole life, I’ve been to Disneyland many times, and every time I’ve been impressed at how flawless the entire experience is. The same goes for most Disney movies. Despite my view that the messaging is poisonous, movies like Sleeping Beauty and Frozen are expertly crafted to elicit the exact emotions from the audience that the creators intended.
As a business owner, I have even taken notes on the numerous things that Disney has done to craft and market their products, and have integrated some of these aspects into my own businesses. As always, I copy what works.
So, as you can see, my opinion on Disney is a little oxymoronic. Weird, I know.
Having been to Disneyland many times, I was recently in Orlando and wanted to check out Disney World, which is many times larger than Disneyland. I spent about half a day there.
Privately Owned City
The most impressive thing is that Disney World is not theme park. It’s a city. Seriously. This really interested me, since I wanted to see an example of how a completely capitalist, private, corporately owned city would function, rather than the government controlled cities we’re all accustomed to.
Disney World is a friggin’ city. It’s the size of San Francisco. It has its own roads, highways, traffic management, police force, waterways and lakes, waste management system, power grid (solar, of course), wetlands, wildlife, forest service, real estate, and mass transit system (including boats, buses, trams, and trains). It employees 62,000 people, making it the largest single-site employer in the world. It has 36 hotels, 6 separate theme parks, 7 golf courses, a camp site, and countless (and I mean countless) shops, stores, restaurants and attractions.
I’ve never seen anything privately owned quite like it in my entire life, and I’ve been all over the world. You could live there for an entire month and still not see everything.
The Cleanest City on Earth
Just like any other Disney property, Disney World is so clean it looks almost surreal. I’m not just talking about when you’re walking around in a busy theme park, I mean the entire city is clean, even in areas outside of the actual parks or hotels. Here’s a random shot I took of one of these areas:
Not a single piece of trash, anywhere. Hell, even in Singapore you eventually see a little trash. Not in Disney World.
Interestingly, like Singapore, the cleanliness of the area actually makes you feel more compelled to throw away your trash properly. I never litter, but I have to admit that when I was in Disney World, I felt very conscious about not littering, just to keep things clean. I felt the same way when I was in Singapore. The social pressure of a clean environment really works. Interesting.
Both in Disneyland and Disney World, the acting of the people who portray these Disney characters is so flawless, it’s almost mesmerizing. When you see a woman who is portraying Cinderella, she is Cinderella. She will speak with the exact same lilt and cadence, move her body and her hands in the exact way, only say things that the “real” Cinderella would say, and do this 100% of the time, never breaking character, no matter what happens. It’s much more impressive than it sounds if you’ve never seen it.
I first noticed this years ago when my daughter was talking to Alice (from the Disney version Alice in Wonderland). I was stunned at how skilled this actress was. This time in Disney World, I saw Snow White and Belle (from Beauty and the Beast). Once again, I just stood there and watched as they interacted with all of the people lined up to see them, completely impressed. It’s not a sexual thing; I didn’t find any of these actresses attractive and never have. I’m just impressed at how well Disney trains these people to act like cartoons that have come to life.
Also, a new feature in the Disney attractions that they didn’t have when I was a kid is that they use A-list celebrity voices to narrate everything. I went into a little exhibit about the power of color, and it was narrated by Ty Burrell (the dad on Modern Family). Then, I went into a time machine attraction and the entire thing, about 15 minutes, was narrated by Judi Dench. Disney has become such a powerhouse that they can attract these celebrities to do something as stupid and simple as narrate a theme park ride.
As Authentic As They Can
There are several theme parks in Disney World, all of them the size of Disneyland or larger. I spent most of my time at the Epcot theme park. Most of the park is arrayed around a huge (possibly man-made) lake. Surrounding the lake are 12 tiny “towns,” each one representing a different country, often from a historical perspective. There’s one for Norway, one for China, one for Morocco, etc. The architecture in these towns is identical to its country, either in modern or historical styles. Below are examples from Norway and Japan:
Both inside and out, these buildings are as authentic as possible, down to the type of plaster or wood used. Yet they go even further than that. When I was walking around a shop in the “Norway” part of Epcot, I realized the staff were talking to each other in Norwegian. These were not Americans dressed like and pretending to be Norwegians. These were actual Norwegians. Thinking this was just in the Norway section, I soon discovered it was like this throughout the entire theme park. In “Germany,” all the employees were Germans, speaking German to each other. Same with the Chinese, Japanese, British, French, you name it.
As always, Disney, you deeply sadden me with your messaging but you impress the hell out of me with your business skill. Such a strange place you find yourself in my heart.