Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It Started With A Mouse...

Walt with his mouse friend, from his tribute museum at Hollywood Studios

Walt Disney's quotes have followed him through the decades, even if he never said some of them. One of the most famous: "It started with a mouse..."

"During the last few years, we have ventured into a lot of different fields [movies, TV shows, theme parks, etc.] and had the opportunity to meet and work with a lot of wonderful people. I only hope that we don't lose track of one thing, that it was all started by a mouse."
Visit any of the parks today, and the lore of this quote lives in the memory of a whole host of Disney employees, from interns to senior executives. What's curious is that the meaning of the quote is taken in two different directions: 

The first direction is making progress - big things are accomplished from small things.

The second direction is preserving greatness - past memories guide the future, cherishing the heart of what makes something great.

The debate of progress vs. preservation rages constantly within the Disney theme park fan base, making decisions like updating the Country Bear Jamboree to keep up with modern times a painstaking process. But if you look back on how Walt Disney approached things, the meaning becomes a little clearer.

It turns out that Mr. Disney was perhaps more focused on making progress and striving for the next huge milestone by using the past literally as a guide. Disney's Hollywood Studios showcases this fact in a little-known exhibit called Walt Disney: One Man's Dream, chronicling Walt's shabby upbringing, his modest start as a cartoonist, his early business failures with an animation studio, stumbling into the wonderful character of Mickey Mouse, and then the pursuit of one audacious goal after another - from animated shorts with sound to animated features, to live action features to television, to theme parks, which led into theme park worlds and EPCOT, an entire city emanating from the creativity and invention bubbling out of Disneyland, the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, and then Disney World in Florida.

During his latter days at the hospital in 1966, Mr. Disney had plans for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow plastered on the ceiling so he could look up and continue his planning while battling the cancer that would eventually take him. This wide-reaching ambition led Disney World to build and maintain the largest monorail system in the world until the creation of the Chongqing rail system in the 2000's.

The progress for Disney served a singular purpose, however - bringing families together. That was the heart of the idea for Disneyland. And in the heart of that idea was the concept that a youngster who visits a Disneyland theme park should have fun with her parents and relate to her grandparents through the storytelling of the place. Which is why the past lives in Main Street U.S.A. and Frontierland, just like the grandparents of children in the 1950's would have known those bygone eras in their time. A simpler time that Walt himself knew growing up in Missouri.

Indeed, it started with a mouse. It started with a tiny animated mouse, nudged into the name of Mickey by his wife, that gave Mr. Disney that first big success (after a series of missteps and failures) that he built upon for bigger and bigger things. It started with a mouse that brought families together in a novel, unique way unlike anything else in the world. 

That's the meaning of the mouse.





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