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A dream of sorts

Into Disney World, where the mouse and the princess rule

7 January 2012

4:00 PM

7 January 2012

4:00 PM

The Magic Kingdom, Disney World, Florida is such a violent battle between cynicism and innocence that a writer’s head may blow off. There are three Disney parks within screaming distance and beyond that, the wastelands of America. If it feels as though it sprouted out of the swamp fully formed, that is because it did. At the centre is Cinderella’s castle, modelled on Mad Ludwig of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein, but madder. At the gate, a bag search. Your bag will be searched, even though you cannot fit a Kalashnikov inside a Goofy rucksack. Inside, a sign: ‘Meet the fairies. Wait time — 45 minutes’.

Some days 100,000 people come here, and there are queues, fights, deaths. Because America believes in the free market, there can never be enough magic for everyone; demand must outstrip supply. I head to Space Mountain, an indoor rollercoaster in Tomorrowland. It is horrible, like being trapped in a moving coffin. But that is what theme parks are — the ultimate passive experience. You can even imagine your own death, as I did at Space Mountain.

Into Fantasyland to meet the Disney Pantheon. If you read newspaper reports, you will hear that the Disney Pantheon sometimes attack the guests, or vice versa. If you read the fascinating Incidents At Disney Wikipedia page, you can learn how a 27-year-old woman filed a lawsuit claiming that Donald Duck groped her. Goofy, too, was alleged to have touched the breasts of two women with his paws. Today they stand behind ropes like celebrities and, like celebrities, they have weirdly big heads. I do not know if worshipping Daffy Duck is worse than worshipping Jennifer Lopez. I think it may be the same evil, except you can replicate Daffy Duck and sell him in bulk. He is also, despite the agonised quacks, more pliant.

Everywhere Disney has built a false American history, history spat out and sugar-coated, in which we ignore the fact that everyone is dying of fat. Eating yourself to death is probably the saddest suicide. There is Meet Me in St Louisville, a haunted house (American Gothic), Pirates of the Caribbean (prostitution and destitution in a themed ride) and a drama about the American presidents, with 42 animatronic American presidents, some of whom can stand up. Quite soon I wonder if anything is real, and whether Americans can process anything in its original form or even care to see it; I check some live ducks for signs of Disney branding. But the strangest things are the mobility scooters. In England mobility scooters are for the disabled, or the very old. In Disney World everyone seems to have one. Guests whirr down Main Street looking for the magic, exit through the gift shop, their baskets full of Pringles. One is gnarled and covered in Disney pins. I don’t ask why. I don’t want to know. His friend has Tigger ears. I find people in wheelchairs when they do not need them. They just want them. Later, I see two women pulled off a wall by a Disney-bot. ‘This is for the disabled,’ she says. ‘I’m disabled,’ says one. ‘I’m disabled too,’ says the other. It’s a dream of sorts.

At Cinderella’s Castle the Disney Pantheon are battling the Wicked Stepmother from Snow White. ‘This place,’ booms the Wicked Stepmother, ‘will change into the place where nightmares come true!’ Mickey Mouse steps forward: ‘Let’s all look for the magic within our hearts,’ he says, in his strange tinny voice, which sounds like an old man impersonating a child. ‘Dreams come true! Dreams come true! Dreams come true!’ Soon everyone is chanting, even the Pantheon of Princesses. It is amazingly sinister. I long to give the princesses the Jeremy Paxman treatment, ask if the feminine archetype they are pushing is beneficial to tiny women: ‘So, you’re a princess?’ That will show them. ‘One day the kingdom will stop believing and all will be lost,’ says Mickey Mouse, still channelling Walt Disney’s warring Freudian archetypes even though he is dead. Good triumphs. Everyone eats ­something.

Princesses. They are inescapable. I ask the way — ‘Over there, princess.’ I buy a milkshake, which is cheaper than water in the Magic Kingdom — ‘Have a magical day, princess.’ In fact the princess cult is not only a terrible thing for a modern child to want, it is strangely accurate. In Disney World, princessdom and consumption are identical, as they are with our own larger princesses. I do not know if the Duchess of Cambridge copies her vacant expression from Rapunzel, or if Rapunzel copies Kate. Either way, the eyes are identical. The princesses are made in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Cinderella’s Castle. I go in to see rows of tiny girls on pink chairs, in a fake medieval hall that smells of Estée Lauder, having their hair done. They emerge backcombed and covered in glitter. They look about 3,000 years old. One, who is maybe five, walks to a mirror, preens cartoonishly. All in yellow, she looks like a small custard tart; it is nightmarish. ‘You look like Rapunzel,’ says her father. ‘Who are you?’ ‘Father,’ I dream of her saying, ‘I am a marketing construct.’ But she does not.

And so to Mickey Mouse. The Magic Kingdom is a personality cult, a tyranny, dedicated to a mouse; no wonder Kim Jong Il’s family love it. Did Walt long to be a mouse? The mouse’s face is on bricks, on railings, on clothing, in eyes. The deputy editor of the Spectator told me to ask Mickey Mouse whom he endorses for the Republican nomination for the presidency. It’s a good question. He’s got the clout to swing it. So I go into a theatre and am ushered into His Presence. I ask the question, in front of a pile of children and a handler. Mickey Mouse doesn’t answer although he does bob horribly and sway to express his rage. Perhaps he will lock me in the castle, murder me with Disney pins. He waves me towards Minnie — talk to the hand. (Talk to the lawyer.) I have Mouse Media Training, evil hack. Of all the evidence of self-hatred in the Magic Kingdom, the mouse-shaped one is wittiest and the worst; you are never so big here, or so small. 

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