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Making Disney Magic Part One: The Terms


Walt did everything he could to help people escape from the real world for a little while and spend some time in a place where wishes do come true. Two prime examples are the fact you do not walk right from your car into the Magic Kingdom. Instead you board either the monorail or the ferry boat. Thus even before you get to gates of the park you begin to leave the world behind.

This is all part of Walt’s magic and vision. That vision could not be nearly as complete at Disneyland as it is at Disney World simply because of space. Walt and the imagineering crew also learned a few things from the California park.

Walt’s vision can be explained in a lot of the terms they use at Disney World. Some of those terms are onstage, backstage, cast members, costume, audience,utilidors, imagineering.

Onstage refers to anything the audience can see. Walt did not just want a theme park he wanted to create the illusion that the audience was in another world. To make sure that the onstage area is always in good order Disney spends a load of money on maintenance. Streets are steam cleaned nightly. Things are constantly being repainted. To give some scope to the onstage idea and how important it is to Disney consider the following facts taken from wikipedia:

In a March 30, 2004 article in The Orlando Sentinel, then-Walt Disney World president Al Weiss gave some insight into how the parks are maintained:

  • More than 5,000 cast members are dedicated to maintenance and engineering, including 750 horticulturists and 600 painters.
  • Disney spends more than $100 million every year on maintenance at the Magic Kingdom. In 2003, $6 million was spent on renovating its Crystal Palace restaurant. 90 percent of guests say that the upkeep and cleanliness of the Magic Kingdom are excellent or very good.
  • The streets in the parks are steam cleaned every night.
  • There are cast members permanently assigned to painting the antique carousel horses; they use genuine gold leaf.
  • There is a tree farm on site so that when a mature tree needs to be replaced, a thirty-year-old tree will be available to replace it.

Backstage is something that is not intended for audience viewing. Anything that would lessen the Disney illusion must be kept backstage. In fact, at cast member entrances to the onstage area there are verbal reminders that the cast is about to go onstage. There are also mirrors for a last minute inspection to make sure your costume is in order.

Cast member is the Disney name for employees. They are called cast members because they are not just doing a job they are staging a show for the audience. They are meant to be part of the illusion Disney is trying to create.

Costumes are the uniform that cast members wear. Sure its a uniform no matter what you call it just as cast members are employees. But by constantly reminding the cast members that they are staging a show they reinforce the idea that they need to be in character all the time. Personally I think they do a great job!

The man who started it all was obsessed with creating a grand show, an illusion that would keep people coming back for generations. Judging from ticket sales he not only succeeded but the dream is still going strong.

The audience, put simply, is anyone who is in the park but not part of the cast. They are the guests and are sometimes referred to as such. Either term you use they are still the beneficiaries of a lot of work Disney is putting into making sure we forget our troubles for a while and can dream about a better world.

Utilidors are part of how the illusion is maintained. Story goes that Walt saw a cowboy walking through Tomorrowland as he headed to his post in Frontierland at Disneyland and did not like how it ruined the staging of his illusion. There wasn’t much he could to about it at Disneyland but he filed the thought away for his new project in Florida.

To make the Seven Seas Lagoon a lot of earth had to be moved. Of course even Walt could not make it disappear but the imagineers came up with a use for it. As the Magic Kingdom was being built the entire first floor was designed as a system of tunnels dedicated to utility functions. The dirt was then piled over the the tunnels. Therefore what most guests consider the ground level at the Magic Kingdom is actually the second, and sometimes third, floor. Some of the tours at Walt Disney World will even let you catch a glimpse of these Utilidors. Note you must be 16 or older to get in! For more information on the tours click here.

Imagineering (or Imagineers) is a term originated by the Alcoa company. Put simply it is two words slammed together. Those words are imagine and engineering. Walt adopted the term and the philosophy. He wanted people who could not only engineer he wanted people who could imagine! The sky was the limit. In fact in the creative process of Disney Imagineering the first stage of the project is called the Blue Sky phase. So Walt may not have originated the term but he sure came nearest to perfecting it and we are still reaping the benefits, smiles and memories today.

So now you know some of the terms. Look for grumpy’s follow up articles on the Magic of Disney in

Making Disney Magic Part Two: Plus Is a Verb and Making Disney Magic Part Three: The Tricks.

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About grumpydisney

Okay since I am a Disney addict and they don't have a twelve step program for Walt Disney World I will serve my addiction by blogging about the place I'd rather be!

Posted on November 30, 2011, in Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, Extras!, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, The Disney Magic and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Love the point that you dont drive to the magic kingdom! Closest you can get is taking the bus and I think that is even magical. Not going to lie…after being away for 10 years and then hearing, “welcome to…the Magic Kingdom!” I almost shed a tear! I was fighting real hard!

    • I know what you mean. But of all the parks Animal Kingdom does the best with this once you are in the park. It’s so authentic, especially in summer when it is like a million degrees.

  1. Pingback: Making Disney Magic Part Three: The Tricks « grumpydisney.com

  2. Pingback: Making Disney Magic Part Two: Plus is a verb « grumpydisney.com

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