"Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy." -Sign on Disneyland entrance tunnel

The Center for Business Planning lists The Walt Disney Corporation’s mission statement as “To make people happy.”  In order to fulfill its mission, the company has grown from a small cartoon studio run by Walt and Roy Disney to a major multinational corporation with over twenty areas of operation.  Disney researcher Janet Wasko describes the corporation’s multifaceted setup as “The Disney Empire” (29).  As seen through customer stories and pictures, the Disney experience incites happiness in people of various demographics.  This “magic” is created through the use of fantasy, allowing Disney customers to escape from reality and perhaps even regress to the inner child

In essence, the company fashions fantasy by alluding to universal, idealistic themes and values.  For example, in Beauty and the Beast, Belle’s optimism and individualism overshadow the darker undertones.  Escape, fantasy, and imagination are ever present in the company operations.  For example, “Imagineering”, Disney’s research and development division, exemplified these values with the creation of “Celebration,” a futuristic, idealistic city south of Walt Disney World (Wasko 59).  Another example is the romance and happiness evoked by Aladdin and Jasmine in the film Aladdin.  This has a contagious effect, causing people to feel happy at seeing the Aladdin’s happy ending, where good triumphs over evil.   

To understand how Disney creates happiness, we can examine the psychological aspects of a classic Disney work, Pinocchio.  According to Freudian psychoanalyst Michael Brody, the plot incorporates a role reversal when Pinocchio saves his father.  This device, he argues, appeals to adults, as it makes them feel that they will be taken care of by their children.  Additionally, Pinocchio is not born from a human mother, but rather from a magical creation process (Wasko 138).  The concept of the protagonist being assembled by his father appeals to male audience members, showing them that they are capable of creation.

Fantasy in the Disney Empire, according to Janet Wasko, must be manufactured (5).  Therefore, we can infer that in order to understand Disney, we must also understand the people who work in it.  For the purposes of this essay, we will focus on the most apparent Disney operation, the theme parks.  Alan Bryman describes the theme park experience as “a family pilgrimage,” (81) one requiring a great amount of “control and predictability” (99) for their successful operation.   In the imaginative world of a place like Disneyland, it is easy to forget that the park is indeed a show, one that must be run by people, or cast members, as Disney terms them.  For example, the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland must have its exterior cleaned by climbing crews every month.  Inside the tip of the mountain is a basketball court for the crews to stay in during break times.  Another facet of the illusion operation is the hidden custodial closets and vast camera system.  Ride operators monitor panels and video cameras to ensure the smooth operation of their rides.  After guests leave the park each day, custodial crews work to clean the park for the next day’s arrivals, opening hidden compartments in the ride structures. 

As mentioned earlier, it is necessary to retain a great sense of control over the park’s operation.  To educate the employees of the corporation in the control of the Disney theme park environment, the Disney University was created to impart the Disney ideals and methods to employees.  This became necessary when the first security guards hired for the park were too aggressive towards guests, scaring them away and undermining the family-oriented environment (Bryman 107).  Additionally, to ensure predictability of operations, there are manuals detailing every aspect of operations, from emergencies to handling lost children (Bryman 123). 

In the world of fantasy and idealism, the Disney Corporation also has its critics.  Henry Giroux, for example, calls the Disney empire a “pedagogy of innocence,” (82) preventing children from seeing truths about the world.  In this argument, he examines how Disney’s ideals and values teach children about all that is good in the world, but omits the evils.  By doing so, he argues, Disney is over-shielding children from the harsh realities of life.  Additionally, Giroux presses that this is a marketing technique, intended to exploit innocence for Disney’s profit (101).

Many of us consider Disney to be an American institution, but is it restricted to the United States?  The Euro Disney Resort in Paris, as of 2004, has been performing badly.  However, The Economist reports that this slow performance is not due to Anti-Americanism or the dislike of American values.  As the article put it, “French people like Disney just as much as they like the Gap or Coke” (Economist).  In fact, statistics from Disney’s sales point to Paris’ Disney Store as doing well in spite of Euro Disney’s sluggishness (Wasko 70).

The corporation states five main values to act as guiding principles for the company and its productions.  1) “No cynicism.”  2) nurture and promulgate wholesome American values 3) “creativity, dreams, and imagination” 4) “fanatical attention to consistency and detail,” and 5) the “preservation of the Disney magic.”  With these five values in mind, the Walt Disney Corporation had grown to better fulfill its mission statement by making larger numbers of people happy.  Although the monetary and business management issues do occasionally cloud the company’s ideals, such as in the case of Michael Eisner, consumer sentiment strengthens the view that Disney is doing its job.

By the way, Disney also holds an event just for new high school graduates. This event, going on since the 70s at Disneyland, is called "Grad Nite." Most of the Disneyland deaths occurred during Grad Nite. Despite this, the event is incredibly fun, running from 8 P.M. to 6 A.M. The grads shout, dance, laugh, and revel in the warmth of their graduation. People also make out quite a bit, but we must not forget about the cameras.

Brody, Michael.  “The Wonderful World of Disney-Its Psychological Appeal.”  American Imago 33 (1976): 350-60.
Bryman, Alan.  Disney and His Worlds.  New York: Routledge, 1995.
Center for Business Planning.  “Mission Statements of Well Known Enterprises.”   Business Plan Samples.  Sept 24, 2004.            <http://www.businessplans.org/Mission.html>
Giroux, Henry.  The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence.  New York:  Rowman, 1999.
“Trouble in le Royaume Magique: Over expansion hurts Euro Disney.”  The Economist  372.8387 (2004): 613.
Wasko, Janet.  Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy.  Malden: Blackwell,   2001.

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