‘Go Back to Walt’s Original Vision’ but What Does That Look Like for Disney?

in Disney, Entertainment, Featured, Movies & TV, Theme Parks

Walt Disney in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle

Credit: Walt Disney Archives

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

This line comes from the John Ford western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), but it could easily apply to Walt Disney.

Since his death in 1966, the man behind Mickey Mouse and Disney World has become a mythological legend, primarily through his own design and creation.

Statue of walt disney holding hands with mickey mouse in front of cinderella castle at disney world, with a clear blue sky background.
Credit: Disney

During his lifetime, Walt Disney carefully crafted his image to create the benevolent “Uncle Walt” character, who, like Santa Claus, fulfilled every child’s dream through his films and theme parks.

However, behind the scenes, Walt Disney was a demanding taskmaster who scared his workers simply by walking into a room. He demanded perfection and usually got it from his employees.

However, with so many people looking for the Walt Disney Company to return to Walt’s time, it’s time to separate the man from the myth and determine who the authentic Walt Disney was.

Walt DIsney and Roger E. Broggie with a locomotive in front of the Magic Kingdom and Minnie Mouse.
Credit: Inside The Magic

Walt’s Death Play

A new play seeks to determine precisely who the real Walt Disney was. A Public Viewing of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney by Lucas Hnath seeks but often fails to determine the man behind the myth.

The play has Walt near the end of his life, producing his mythology like a production from Walt Disney Studios.

In it, Walt is cruel to his family, boarish, antisemitic, racist, and bitter. It plays on all the rumors about his life, including being cryogenically frozen after his death.

vintage photo of man in a dress suit with mustache against an background of earth tones
Credit: Walt Disney Archives

The play is the exact opposite of the mythology created by Walt at Disneyland and Disney World. Instead of portraying Uncle Walt, it takes urban legends and half-truths to create something that represents the modern-day robber barren rather than Walt Disney.

So, if this play isn’t reality, and Walt Disney Presents at Walt Disney World glosses over his flaws, what is the truth?

The Reality of Walt

Like all things with all people, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. And despite the mythology around him, Walt Disney was no different.

Yes, Walt Disney was a genius. Walt Disney Animation Studios created some of the greatest animated films of all time and invented the feature-length animated movie genre.

And yes, Walt created the concept of the modern theme park with the Disneyland Resort. Even though he didn’t live to see it completed, the Walt Disney World Resort created the all-in-one theme park.

it's a small world disneyland
Credit: Disney

However, Walt Disney could be difficult to work for. In 1941, he fired many of his animators after they unionized and went on strike. He also testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, giving up the names of suspected communists at Walt Disney Studios and Walt Disney Animation.

Walt could also be generous. His housekeeper, Thelma Howard, died a multi-millionaire thanks to Disney’s yearly gift of stock in his company.

Howard left half of her fortune to create the Thelma Pearl Howard Foundation. The Foundation helps to fund art-based enrichment programs for school-aged kids. In the nearly 30 years since it was formed, the Foundation has donated more than $4 million.

The charges of Disney’s anti-semitism are more challenging to prove. He welcomed Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favorite director after the rest of Hollywood shunned her. Disney gave her a personal tour of the Walt Disney Studios and showed her the storyboards for his upcoming film, Fantasia (1940).

Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice in Fantasia
Credit: Disney

Walt Disney was a man of his time, and with that came all of the evil things of his time.

‘Bring Back Walt’s Vision’

During the Walt Disney Company’s fight with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, many who disagreed with Disney’s stance on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, known by its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, argued that the company should go back to the way that Walt intended it.

But as you have seen, even that can be complicated. Throughout his lifetime, Walt Disney refused to allow his theme parks to stagnate.

Streetscape at Hollywood Studios
Credit: Disney

He embraced change, and he embraced the future. How would he feel about the current company?

It’s a question that we can never have answered. Those who think they know are usually wrong but will assume that they knew what the man would have wanted.

However, those who have accepted A Public Viewing of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney as the truth about the man are also wrong. He was never that vision of evil that is shown in the play.

If nothing else, he was responsible for his son-in-law getting a job at the Walt Disney Company, and he was never frozen after his death. At least get the facts right.

Sadly, there is little room for compromise between those two schools of thought. Those who believe Disney was better off in the days of Walt and those who think Walt was the definition of evil will never mind common ground.

Sunset hues cast a dramatic backdrop over the iconic cinderella castle and the statue of walt disney and mickey mouse at a bustling disney theme park.
Credit: Inside the Magic

But the truth lies in the middle, the grey area that defines most people. Walt Disney was a man with all the flaws that come with being a man. To think of him as anything else does a disservice to this memory.

So, no, the Walt Disney Company would not be better off returning to the way Walt intended it, and Walt Disney was not the modern-day robber barren, taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

To quote the great philosopher Billy Joel, “the good old days weren’t always so good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

What do you think of the argument that Disney should return to how Walt intended it? 

in Disney, Entertainment, Featured, Movies & TV, Theme Parks

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