What to Learn, Ignore, and Critique from The Mouse

I gave in. I admit it. Back before J. was born, I swore an oath, made a promise, decided that one of the things that I would never do is be seduced into dragging my family to Disney World. I didn’t want to fall down and worship the idols of consumerism and I didn’t want for my child to learn about the world through mediated experiences.

Cinderella's CastleNonetheless, in the late summer of 2013, we found ourselves in central Florida with nothing to do besides recharge the batteries and reacquaint ourselves with each other. After some research (I had to pick up a family member at the airport), I discovered that we were about an hour from Orlando. So we bought tickets, thinking 1) get it out-of-the-way so that it would get out of our kid’s mind and 2) why not since we were so close. So we went.

What We Learned

Many have written prior about what the church can learn from Disney. From my own experiences here’s my own words.

  • Exquisite Hospitality: in the church, we spend much time and energy considering how we can better welcome people. Many churches do things well but these people steal the show. I read somewhere that one of the principles of hospitality is for every day at Disney to feel like it’s the first day open. That means no trash, no dirt, nothing unpainted, and nothing unkempt. The bathrooms are upgraded and renovated and attractions are always evaluated for the value (see the revamp of Fantasyland and the ditching of Toon Town for something else).
  • Exceeding Expectations: Again, in church, we try to envision what people are looking for when they are coming to church. An excellent example of this is the work the church has done to change how we welcome people as we realize more and more folk have not prior church affiliation or come to church after experiencing some loss. But from signage and the location of bathrooms, to “cast members” who are responsible for generating revenue by taking pictures snapping a picture of your family with your own camera for you and constant tweaking of food options (like Gaston’s healthier food options). But my favorite part was the extensive dialogue my 4 year old had with “Rapunzel” about hair care tricks to keep the tangles away.

What to Critique

Life in the “Happiest Place on Earth” is not to be taken simply at face value. From the tourist’s perspective, when you are in the magic kingdom, you feel miles away from any car. But after looking at a satellite map, you can see there’s a whole lot of cars nearby. What else is hidden, or not so hidden.

  • For the betterment of humanity: Much of the narrative around Walt Disney and his work in Orlando, especially early plans for the work that became EPCOT, is that Disney, in some ways, is trying to make the world a better place. And while their environmental stewardship, respectful workplace, and their famous claim to have never lost a child (as a friend says… its their one non-negotiable), this is not why they exist. They are a for profit corporation who have legal responsibilities to shareholders. Everything they do is in the best interest of the shareholders. Many times those often seem like they at least coincide with what the consumer wants. If there is ever a divergence, make no mistake which The Mouse will choose. As the church, we exist for people. Indeed, the mission statement of my tradition is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”. We are about people.
  • Princesses & Pirates: I grew up in a time when William’s Doll was winning awards. Then, in 1987, when my sister was born, I remember my family making the observation that everything was yellow and green. Everything from decorations to toys were gender neutral. But things have changed. My child has been inundated with princess paraphernalia and her friends who are boys are fed daily does of dinosaurs, trucks, and pirates. Yes, Rapunzel is now sassy and there’s Doc McStuffin’ but how many thousands of girls (including my own) dress up as a princess and not a doctor or scientist? We can do better.

What to Ignore

This is a hard one. But I do think that the heralds I so proudly proclaimed to ignore the mouse are just as silly and pompous as people who dive whole-hearted, headed, and pocket-book into everything Disney. Ignore the extremes. Storytelling and delight is something we can all do a better job of and Disney is the best. Might as well learn from them.

With my ears on….