We went to Disneyland last week. We enjoyed ourselves very much. Disneyland is a great place for remembering what it was like to be a child, when Reality and Imagination blended together so nicely instead of colliding unhappily as they are wont to do later in life. It is also a place to ponder one of Life's Great Questions: why is the line for the Peter Pan ride always the longest in Fantasyland? I took advantage of my visit to do a little investigating, in hopes of arriving at an answer to that question.
I believe the reason for the popularity of the Peter Pan ride is that, of all the rides in Fantasyland, it has the perfect combination of coolness and scariness.
In relation to this, I also think there is a connection between how frightening the film is and how frightening the ride is. If parents do their duty, they will have shown the Disney animated films to their children numerous times before taking them to Disneyland so that the children can make a connection between what they viewed at home and what they are experiencing at the park. It helps if characters from the film are walking around in the park so that kids can have their photos taken with the characters. By the way, Disneyland has improved on that aspect since I went there as a youngster. I cannot tell you how wretchedly disappointed I was, at the age of 13, to cross the bridge from Main Street to Sleeping Beauty's castle and see Captain Hook standing there. He put out his hand to shake mine as I approached. It should have been an important day for me, because no character (or Cast Member, as they call 'em) had ever paid the least attention to me before, except one of the Three Little Pigs. But I heeded Hook not. I was looking for Peter Pan. Alas, he was nowhere to be seen, because Peter Pan at that time was not on the list of Cast Members. Nor was Mary Poppins, if you can believe it. It was a sad, sad day.
I have to add that, while I was at Disneyland this time, I did see Peter Pan heading for the Cast Members Only room, and three young women of about 18 or 20 years were chasing after him, screaming his name. What folly! As if you could catch Peter Pan! He ran for it, looking back over his shoulder, and made it safely to sanctuary.
Anyhow, back to answering the Great Question.
The Coolness Factor
I've said before that I consider Wendy's room my home away from home.
Not only is the scenery fantastic . . .
. . . but you get to sail through the sky in a pirate ship (and I'm happy to report that when we went on the Peter Pan ride this time, we got a pirate ship with a black sail - the best kind). Most of the other rides send you through in a cart or something.
Now to . . .
The Scariness Factor
Peter Pan is not too scary for little kids. There's a bit of tension when you see Tiger Lily about to drown and Wendy about to walk the plank, but it's not serious because Peter Pan always saves the day. (Speaking of which, have you noticed how sexist Peter Pan the animated film is? Not only are all the magical females depicted as jealous airheads, but Wendy has to do housework while her brothers go off having fun, and even the Indian women try to make Wendy do chores. It's one of the reasons I no longer count it as my favorite Disney animated film. Fortunately, you don't see much of that in the ride.)
Show White's Scary Adventures, indeed! The music is loud, the sights are frightening, and that's even before you get out of the dwarves' house. Then there's the witch, who I personally think is less scary as the witch than as the queen.
I once had an English professor at BYU who told the class that, back in 1938 or 1939, after SnowWhite had finished playing at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, they had to replace the covers on all the seats in the auditorium because of all the children who wet their pants in fear of the witch while watching the film. He thought Snow White was a horrible film and Disney was evil.
Which leads me off on another tangent. So many people think Disney (using the name to represent the many different people responsible over the years for the production of the various animated features) whitewashes or sugar-coats things. Maybe so, but sometimes I think they improve things. You have to consider your audience. Really, would you rather see the wicked queen in Snow White forced to wear red-hot iron shoes and dance around in agony until she dies, or is it nicer to have her crushed by a boulder thrown on her by the dwarves? And what's so sugar-coated about being crushed by a boulder?
Or would you want to see Sleeping Beauty being ravished by the prince instead of kissed by him, and then she doesn't wake up until going into labor 9 months later? That's a lovely thing to show a youngster.
Would you rather see the Little Mermaid totally lose out on marrying the prince and then not even get her voice back in compensation, plus she ends up dying? Ugh.
Would you rather see Pinocchio fling the cricket against a wall and smash him? Actually, come to think of it, that one doesn't seem like such a bad idea.
But think of the tortures suffered by Cinderella's stepsisters - doves pecking their eyes out at the wedding celebration! Delightful.
The rides are scary enough; I don't think we need to include those horrific original endings in the films or the rides to totally terrorize and traumatize children. Kids have enough worries nowadays without being saddled with another monkey on their back.
Anyway . . . on to Pinocchio's Daring Journey.
This is also pretty scary, what with the threat of imprisonment and of being turned into a donkey, not to mention being swallowed by a whale.
I have to say, first of all, that here, at Mr Toad's Wild Ride, Disney goes out of its way to make things scarier than they are in the original book or in the film adaptation. The little journey through "hell" is completely apocryphal to both media. If it weren't for the little Dante-ish side visit, Toad's Wild Ride might almost be a contender for Coolest and Least Scary Ride. For coolness, you get to drive a car (and I was so happy that, when we went on the ride, we got a car labeled "Ratty", which is almost as good as a pirate ship with a black sail), and Toad has a beautiful library . . .
. . . and there's that lovely view of London, which is always a plus in my book.
But, in spite of the library, and in spite of the heartwarming scenery, and even if the infernal addition had never been made, Toad's Wild Ride can never qualify as my favorite ride because of the gross instance of character assassination performed by Disney against the beloved and lovable character of Ratty. They (i.e., Disney) took a generous, compassionate, helpful, immensely practical yet spiritually sensitive character from the book and turned him into a stuffy, fussy, officious boor.
They also robbed him of his house! If you go on the Storybookland ride, they show you Toad Hall and, next to it, right on the riverbank, a charming little house with a sign over the door that says "Mole's". Mole's!! And the chick steering the boat even says it's Mole's house! Outrage! Sacrilege! Thievery! As everyone knows, or ought to, Mole's house is a snug little tunnel out in some field. The house on the riverbank is dear, dear Ratty's house, and Mole is his permanent guest. Really, it's an awful thing to turn a perfectly wonderful little animal into someone unworthy of our affection, and then, because of that supposed unworthiness, give his house to the lovable mole.
I love Ratty's house. If I can't stay in Wendy's room, then Ratty's is where I'll go.
The Alice in Wonderland ride, The Teacups, and Dumbo don't count. Alice in Wonderland is the only ride that compares in nature with Peter Pan, Snow White, etc, and it just isn't cool or scary. Nor is the film. That's what you get when you take a very clever and witty book and turn it into an animated children's film but neglect to include the cleverness and wit.
Incidentally, I noticed that, of all the 1940s-1950s-era fairy-tale inspired Disney films, Cinderella is the only one that isn't represented in Fantasyland. I wonder why that is.
Even Sleeping Beauty has the castle, and she used to have the carousel to herself, although nowadays she shares it with Arthur from The Sword in the Stone.
Personally, I'd like to see a Beauty and the Beast-themed ride. That would be a real favorite of mine, since that's my favorite Disney animated film.
I mentioned that back in the day they had no Cast Members of Peter Pan or Mary Poppins, but that they added them, oh, 10 or 15 years ago, I'd guess. My other goal for the day, besides figuring out the answer to one of Life's Great Questions, was to see Mary Poppins. I almost missed her, but then Adrien told me she'd seen her and Bert dancing out in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle. We wandered out that way to see what we could see. We were in luck: about five minutes later, she appeared!
That really made my day. She and Bert were pulling little kids out of the audience and dancing with them. I knew, at my age, it was too much to hope. . . .
After the thrill of seeing them dance and sing, we went over to get some ice cream at a shop on Main Street. While we sat there enjoying our treat, a fellow came up and started playing on a handy piano situated in the courtyard outside the shop. I think his name was Michael. Anyway, he said he expected a couple of his friends to come by in a moment to help him perform some songs, and suddenly, there were Mary Poppins and Bert again! More dancing with kids, more signing of autographs. Then I got up the nerve and asked Bert, who had wandered over near our table, if I could have my picture taken with Mary Poppins. He said certainly. So I went up to stand by her. She held out her elbow for me to put my arm through. I complied, then turned to her and said, "You're my favorite!" She said, "Thank you."
I'm glad that I'm still young enough, or silly enough, to allow reality and imagination to come together amicably.