“Why do adults like to go to Disneyland?” I have been asked this question numerous times now. For me, the word “like” is an understatement, whereas, the word “love” seems better suited. People would not spend their time on a day off from work to travel hundreds of miles just to experience something they simply “like.” You have to love something to give it that much dedication.
In the past, I have responded with, “Because they just do.” But now, after having experienced World of Color in California Adventure, I have a better answer for them. The scene, in which I had my mini-epiphany, was between Mufasa and Scar from The Lion King. In conjunction with the video clips on the enormous screen, there is real fire that bursts into the air while loud, exciting music plays. Then a deep gravelly voice says, “Long live the King!” Simba shouts “Nooooooo…” as Mufasa falls backward and the screen dramatically goes black. “Daaaad? Dad?” is played in the darkness, and then silence. The soft piece “So Close from Enchanted” begins to slowly play, while giving us clips of love scenes from other animated films.
Noticing the huge lump in my throat, it was then that I realized why I had such a huge attraction to a “place for children.” I was only a child when I first saw The Lion King. It was at a time when I had no control over my emotions and simple things could work their way into my heart. That moment during World of Color made me access my childhood emotions.
That part of the brain, where those memories lie, is what brings me back to Disneyland, again and again. I walk through the gates, turn off my phone to disconnect myself from the outside world, breathe in deeply, and just explore the park. Everything connects to my childhood. Seeing Tinker Bell fly across the castle during the fireworks narrated by Mary Poppins, riding through the dark rides in Fantasyland, seeing Pinocchio dance or Peter Pan fly, hearing the group of Pirates sing “yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me,” feeling the chills as a disembodied ghost welcomes you into the Haunted Mansion. All this just hits home, straight to memories of a happier, less stressful time in life, when all you had to worry about was playing outside with your friends, watching cartoons, and making sure your room was clean. Who wouldn’t want to have this feeling? Who wouldn’t want to get rid of all the stresses of adult life, if not just for a few days?
Furthermore, I don’t find it weird to see an adult running up to Mickey Mouse to give him a big hug and pose for a picture. I don’t think it’s odd for an adult to stand in line for 20 minutes just to get a Dole Whip to enjoy while watching the audio-animatronic birds sing, that I happen to know all the lyrics to.
It is interesting how one can go decades without seeing a Disney movie, but as soon as part of a song is played, or part of a movie is quoted, we instantly sing-along, most of us knowing all the words. For example, when I hear “That’s not a flower,” I picture a fluffy gray bunny rolling around on the ground, laughing, “No, no, no, that’s not a flower.” A skunk replies, “Oh that’s all right. He can call me a flower if he wants to.” My brain doesn’t do that with recent movies. Movies are generally a more important part of our lives as children than they are now. As adults, we watch movies while thinking of our other obligations: when we have to go to work next, if we have to stop at the bank on the way home, if we need to pick up milk, etc. Kids don’t think that way; they are not distracted by adult problems. They are completely submersed in a movie and relate to it so much that they become one with the characters. Kids want to be Peter Pan and fly over Neverland or have a mermaid fin just like Ariel and swim through the ocean with a yellow fish sidekick. These thoughts don’t usually cross an adult’s mind because we view it as impossible.
Being a parent and taking your child to Disneyland is a whole other ballgame. Just watching your daughter experience what it is like to visit with Princess Merida after she has been obsessing over the movie, watching it dozens of times, is just a sight to behold! Handing your son a Mickey ice cream bar just to see him get it all over his face while watching all the characters dancing down Main Street, U.S.A. in sync with the music. Showing them what a pirate’s life used to be like, “Yeaaaar.” Best of all is seeing the glow of the multicolored bursts of light on their faces as fireworks explode in the sky. All of this is worth going time after time.
Think about when you were a kid. Like 30 years ago, there were only a total of 154 movies that had been made by Disney. Up until 1980 when Disney released Pete’s Dragon on VHS, the only way to get a Disney “fix” was to wait for a movie to show up on TV or to rent one of the few movies that were available on VHS. Today our children have access to 374 movies. Nearly all of them are available on DVD or digital download. They can watch them on Disney+ with their smartphones, tablets, in the car, on the television, anywhere. Just about every room nowadays has a DVD player or smart tv features so they can experience the magic anytime they want. I can only imagine what it will be like for them when they grow up. There is so much more magic at their fingertips.
Now think about the park crowds. In 1980, there were 11.5 million visitors to the park. In 2018, there were nearly 18.66 million. I can guarantee you that number will only multiply over the next 20 years. The draw to the park will become stronger and stronger with the more children that are introduced to it. I know numerous adults that had never even gone as a child, but have recently gone as adults and are now season pass holders; they can’t get enough of it. It’s the timeless magic, the freedom we feel, and the relaxing atmosphere that first draws us in. But, most important are the ties to our childhood from everything we see, hear, and taste around the park that keeps us adults coming back for more.
People don’t realize how much of an impact their childhood experiences will have on them after they grow up. Children are like little sponges, soaking up everything, and those memories stay with us; we just don’t access them daily. Simply thinking about Disneyland (or anything Disney related, for that matter) triggers that part of the brain that is about happy experiences. This is why I still LOVE going to Disneyland. What about you?
(my wife Ashley and I in Disneyland in 2016)
If you enjoyed reading this, you should check out my book that has over 3,700 fun facts in it about Disneyland, California Adventure, and Disney Movies.