michael hughes’s blog

The Making of… Disneyland, Paris

Posted in The making of... by michaelhughes on March 4, 2010
Micky mouse

The bump in the continuum

The first film I ever recall seeing was “Greyfriar’s Bobby”. Made by Disney in 1961, the film, is about a little dog (a Skye Terrier) who, when his master dies, conducts a lonely vigil at his grave for 14 years, earning himself the title of the film. The film made me so sad that I cried uncontrollably not only during the film but all the way home on the bus. I have a picture in my mind of that ride home. We sat in the lengthways bench seat at the back of an old, open-door Routemaster and I am looking at the backs of the passengers in the dingy yellow light as outside the dark, rain swept streets went past. I was nine years of age at the time and a sensitive child but it probably convinced my Glaswegian, upwardly mobile and ambitious, American-dream-of-the-suburbs-in-post-war-Britain mother that I needed hardening up.

The only positive effect the film had was that it made me aware of a bump in the continuum, the residue of a defect which had not been camouflaged carefully enough, the insight that cultural artefacts like film are made for reasons other than entertainment. I also asked myself the question: why did Disney want to manipulate me like this? Why would anyone in their right mind want to twist the facts (the film is based on a true story) into this tear-jerker? The answer, which has stood the test of time, is that Disney is a concern whose kitsch sentimentality and tastelessness is its defining philosophy and whose money-grubbing instincts know no bounds.

There is a saying (possibly Cicero): “de gustibus, non disputandum est ” (thank you Curt Sampson, http://www.cynic.net/~cjs/index.html) which, to those of you ignorant of Latin, translates to “There is no arguing taste”. My cussedness drives me, to the exasperation of my family, to reverse this into “Taste has to be argued about”, although I am tempted by Chekhovs “de gustibus, aut bene aut nihil”, which could be translated as, “Taste: you have it or you don’t.” None of these views on taste interest our children, whether in the question of music, friends, entertainment, or, in this case, Disney.

So it came to pass that in the summer of 2003 our family was on its way to Brittany with a stop-off for three days at Disneyland Paris. As usual I was cast into the role of villain because I had made it quite clear to my family about not being enthusiastic about giving a lot of money to Disney. Nonetheless, in the back of my mind, the Souvenirs idea is always present so I went along with as much grace as I could muster. Arriving at our designated hotel, the first shock was that our dog had to go into the Disney kennel. This was the first contradiction to me; how could a company which had made its money from anthropomorphising kitsch animals refuse our dog entrance? If we had appeared with a tame deer, a mouse or a duck, would we have been turned away? What if we had come with a Skye terrier? So off we went to the kennels and delivered him, which made him really sad (and me too). The next day we found out that he was refused entrance to the whole area, only humans looking like animals were allowed, so I spent the time walking to and fro comforting the dog and taking pictures. Next to a hedge in the huge parking lots where the kennels are situated, I noticed a dead rat and could observe through my frequent visits over the three days that no one made any effort to remove it, all the while being serenaded by the loudspeaker system which instructed the public on a never-ending tape not to forget where they had parked their cars.

mickey mouse

Lick a mouse

I felt pretty much vindicated by this time in my opposition to our visit but did not let this get in the way of my thirst for new Souvenirs. It was Marcus, one of our sons, who came up with the ticket suggestion which you can see in the picture. I had bought a lot of stuff; fridge magnets and the like, but the idea of using the entrance ticket came from him. In the pictures you can see one of the pavilions which were stationed around the park where the Disney characters would assemble at designated times and give autographs to the waiting children. I am sorry to say that my daughter collected all of them. The characters were accompanied by ushers who job it was to make sure that nothing got out of hand. The pavilion was kept clear of people, the head of the queue would be let forward to get their autograph and be cuddled in a photo-op for the proud parents. I remained outside the pavilion too and got one of the shots where you can see the hand of an usher holding a blue slip with the words ‘Photo Souvenir’ which I thought at the time would be the one. It was just about now when I noticed that the ushers were beginning to cramp my style. It seemed accidental at first but it soon became clear that while pretending to be oblivious they were actively trying to spoil my shot. Obviously my intentions had become suspicious and their brute stupidity inspired them to act against me in this bovine way. Exactly this kind of action is guaranteed to get my dander up, so soon I was leaning into them and telling them in execrable French to get out of my way.

I was pretty certain (this is before the time when I could check on a display) that I had got what I wanted, so I allowed myself to be cajoled back into the herd by Marion and the kids who were beginning to find me embarrassing. The moral of the story? I was right about Disney.

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