You don’t have to wait for New Year’s Eve to experience spectacular fireworks. The greatest show of its kind happens, with Swiss-like punctuality, every single night of the year at Disneyland.
The current fireworks show, called “Disneyland Forever”, is absolutely, eye-poppingly, ear-ticklingly, astonishingly well done. Animations are projected onto the Disneyland castle, the Matterhorn explodes, lasers shoot from all over the place, brightly coloured seaweed lights up above Main Street USA, Tinkerbell flies overhead, as does Nemo. “Let it Go”, “The Circle of Life”, “Under the Sea”, along with songs from everything from Mary Poppins to Winnie the Pooh, blast in high-fidelity sound. All of this while astonishingly brilliant fireworks light up the night sky and a narrator tells the compelling story of Walt Disney’s obsessive dedication to exceptional creativity.
I tend to be a little cynical. But I have to tip my hat to old Walt. For all his warts—and there were many including his penchant for exploiting his workforce—he had a vision that not only survived his death, but has thrived. When he died there was only one Disneyland in California and another in the pipeline in Florida. Today there are Disney parks in Tokyo, Hong Kong and another opening in Shanghai this year. And Paris Disneyland? It now attracts more than twice as many visitors as the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. Which is as sad as it is impressive.
All of this, and much more, built on the back of Snow White.
In the 1930s, betting everything on making an animated feature film based on a grim German fairytale seemed daft. Many warned Disney that adults wouldn’t sit through a cartoon about singing dwarfs. The growing strife in Europe made Germany far from the flavour of the day. And a cartoon feature that included emotions ranging from anger to jealousy, romance to tragedy? No-one had ever done it before.
Disney knew Snow White would be a hit, however, when—even before its first screening had ended—adults in the audience began crying along with the grieving dwarfs as Snow White’s poisoned body was laid out on screen. Yes, it’s just a series of simple pen strokes, but the power was in a story that reached deep into the human soul.
Snow White remains, adjusted for inflation, one of the 10 highest grossing movies of all time. It also created a new economic model—a great movie, combined with a mega-hit packed soundtrack, and merchandising on everything from lunch boxes to innumerable toys. The success of Snow White gave Disney the influence and credibility to do everything that followed. Disney made Snow White, and Snow White made Disney.
What is it about the Snow White story that resonates so deeply with audiences? Snow White is pure, innocent and without blemish. But it’s the beauty of her purity that attracts the enmity of evil. When she is poisoned, her body is preserved on a catafalque, her casket covered by a glass canopy as we, along with the dwarfs, weep for her and all she represents. If that was where the story ended it wouldn’t be much of a film. But then the Prince comes, breathes life back into Snow White with a kiss of love and they live happily ever after.
Snow White is such a powerful story because it’s really the retelling of the redemption story in metaphor. It resonates so deeply because it harbours the themes to address our deepest pain—our collective loss of purity, our mortality, and our longing to live in a world without corruption, heartache and loss.
“Disneyland Forever” is part of the 60th “diamond jubilee” of Disneyland. Sixty years is a lot to celebrate. But it’s hardly “forever”. And if there’s one thing we know from history it’s this: Disneyland will not last forever, as everything and everyone on this earth is temporary.
Our tragically temporary world forces us to crave a happily ever after. And, as Disney proved, we’re happy to pay for it. But it’s a rather shallow substitute for the real thing. This Easter, let’s focus on that promise. Let’s look forward to the day when the Prince of Peace comes to breathe life back into His bride. And take us to a place where every ounce of pain and disappointment, separation and every manner of evil, are history. It’s no fairytale. It is forever. And, God willing, it’s coming very soon.
James Standish is editor of Adventist Record.