Friday, 21 August 2015

Fun And Bewilderment At Disneyland

As I opened the window to hand over the 15 euro parking fee, the warm air rushed into the nicely air conditioned car. It was going to be a hot day. The queues of cars stretched out behind us and various cartoon characters smiled down from the brightly coloured portal to Disneyland Paris.

You know when you always tell people that you'll never be found dead in certain places? When you're adamant that there are some things you just won't do?  Well, going to Disneyland was one of those things for me. When my Firstborn and Girlchild were small, I was quite relieved that we couldn't afford it, and anyway, I was young and very much wrapped up in "counter culture". Disney was all corporate, sickly sweet nonsense to me. In fact, I was possibly more cynical then than I am now.
With my children all grown up and their mother and I no longer an item, I didn't think it was something I would ever again have to consider. However, you never know what changes life will bring. The Lovely, my partner of some 4 years now, came with The Small One as part of the deal. She is 8 years old this year, and thanks to the generosity of her grandparents, we all got to spend a week in France with Disney being the main attraction.

We were directed to our parking space, by smiling attendants, in the car park that seemed to disappear over the horizon. The Small One was beside herself with excitement and we set off, soon absorbed into the unstoppable flow of eager fun seekers.  As we approached the canopied walkway, there were three fully armed French soldiers scrutinising the crowds. The tones of their military outfits stood out against the glaring colours all around, and a jolly Disney tune incongruously trickled from the loudspeakers overhead. I reached for my camera. Too slow. I was washed along with the crowd which soon became denser as we approached the barriers and turnstiles.

The Disney site, the parks, the hotels, car parks and campsites, covers nearly 5,000 acres. More than 15 million people from all over the globe visit every year and I couldn't help but be impressed by certain aspects of the place. The technology, engineering, and sheer scale of some of the rides and installations. But there was something unnerving, almost oppressive about it all. There was the feeling of being processed, manipulated and herded.  Maybe it was just the heat getting to me (it was around 35 degrees) and the sheer number of people, I've never been good with either.

All the world was represented in the thronging crowds. A never ending stream of Disney character clones of all different age and race. There were princesses, princes, pirates, and stormtroopers, big and small. A whole plethora of bizarre headgear was on show, though mostly the ubiquitous Mickey Mouse ears. Some children smiling, some wide eyed - silent and bewildered, some red faced and bawling. Some have collapsed into slumber exhausted by heat and excitement, being carried by equally withered adults, who snap at each other ( and often the kids too ) in stressed tones as they join another long, shuffling queue. There were times when I had to wonder if this was actually a place people brought their children to torture them, especially the very young, who seemed incapable of truly appreciating, or indeed, comprehending what they were experiencing.
Patiently waiting amoung the rows of parked pushchairs and baby bugggies

Twice a day, a voice booms out from every loudspeaker in the place, announcing the imminent start of the parade. The music is cranked up and the slow moving floats, brimming with iconic characters, creep into view. Time for everyone to indulge in some serious hero worship. As the last float passed, people joined the procession, following in a plodding, zombie-like pace, to it's end, which was conveniently enough, where all the shops are.
Hero Worship
I have to say that there were several rides I actually enjoyed. Even with the interminable waiting, I entered into the spirit of it all. The Tower of Terror - creepy concept with a gut wrenching 200ft accelerated drop; Star Tours - Star Wars fun in a pretty authentic simulator; Ratatouille - brilliant use of 3D graphics, and who couldn't like zapping aliens with Buzz Lightyear?  Although, those queues really did take their toll on my feet. On many of the rides the wait time was upwards of 45 minutes, with a running time just over a minute!

The last leg of the queue for "Pirates Of The Carribean"

Almost there.....The Tower Of Terror...

 As darkness fell, lights flicked on all over the site, and I thought the mood changed a little. There seemed to be an ever so slight calming, somehow less frantic. Maybe it was just that I felt a little calmer. 

While the others queued with The Small One for one last ride, I, weary, aching and foot-sore, sat in a dark, almost cool spot on a fake stone bridge. I watched as other fatigued folk shuffled by, or sat for a while and stared at their phones, or stopped for a cigarette. Many were drifting off to find a good vantage point - there were still the pyrotechnics to come.

The soundscape now was a murmur, an almost constant hum, loud but with far fewer peaks and troughs than during the day.  People sat staring towards the iconic castle at the heart of the park in anticipation of the sparkling show to come. Mesmerised before it even started. Up goes the music, lights flash, fireworks crackle, and out come cameras, phones and tablets.

 So many seemed determined to see this entire spectacle through the confines of a small screen. Not just taking the occasional photograph, but actually watching the whole thing on a screen in front of them. Trying to suck in the experience so it can be owned, rather than simply living that moment to the full. 

So how would I sum up?  I have mixed feelings. It's a bit like when I explore big old churches and cathedrals. While I may admire their architectural brilliance, and the craftsmanship involved, I don't have to subscribe to the ideological dogma which inspired them.
Disney brings a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people, and in the end, I can't be that cynical about it. We all enjoy novelty. Whether it's big screen entertainment at the local cinema, or the gravity defying thrills of high speed rollercoasters.  
It can't be denied that what Disney does, it does very well.

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