Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Me and the Mouse

O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it.

~Mark Twain, \”The War Prayer\”

Mark Twain dictated this poem in 1904, and it professes to capture the horrors of battle.  Unfortunately, Twain would have had many more horrors to write about had he ever visited Disney World.

It was with this attitude that I took my family down to Florida this past week for a trip to the Magic Kingdom.  As a professional misanthrope, I was not looking forward to this trip at all.  It seemed to involve a lot of walking and purchasing, where my ideal vacation rarely involves me leaving the supine position.  And as it turned out, it was more work than actually being at home.  By day three, I needed a vacation from my vacation.  But I thought my kids were ready for the experience, and parents and sisters were all going, so I felt obligated.

The thing I dreaded the most was the compulsory obeisance the Disney company forces on families.  Being in the complex is really like being in a Disney sensory deprivation chamber – as if nothing that didn\’t involve Donald Duck could be happening in the world.  No television, no internet.  I ran into a restaurant to pick up a pizza one night, and caught a little bit of ESPN (another Disney property) out of the corner of my eye.  It was telling me the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had hired a new head coach.  I had to text my friend Mark to find out what happened to John Gruden.  Maybe this is just a statement on how wired we all are now to get instantaneous information, but it was unsettling.  For all I knew, a fiery meteor could have just taken out Wisconsin (or, fingers crossed, Illinois), and I\’d be sitting there happily, chowing down on some Buzz Lightyear ribs.

The other thing that struck me about the parks was how anachronistic they are.  Everything still has the feel of when I first visited 20 years ago.  This is strange, since the properties that are carrying Disney aren\’t the same ones I grew up with.  Mickey and Minnie have been replaced by Wall-E, the Incredibles, High School Musical, and Lightning McQueen.  Yet when you walk around the parks, these characters are nearly invisible.  In fact, it appears they are now just getting around to crafting some Toy Story rides, and that movie came out a decade ago.

On the one hand, it makes sense that they would want to stay rooted in the original Disney characters that have served them so well for so long.  And it certainly costs a lot of money to create a new ride with the newer characters in mind.  You don\’t want to build an expensive ride for a property that may be fleeting – for instance, there are a couple of attractions centered around \”Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,\” a movie that hasn\’t been played on any DVD player in America in 5 years.

But it does make the parks seem hopefully out of date.  When rides at Epcot are still hailing the advent of FIBER OPTICS, it may be time for a facelift.  It appears the only 21st century upgrades in the whole complex are the new inventions that allow them to vacuum money directly out of your wallet.  When we walked by the Hall of Presidents and noticed that it was closed, I figured they had to re-do the whole show to indicate that black people, in fact, now can be President.  I wonder how long it takes them to build a whole new robot Obama (or ROBAMA, a name I hereby coin as my own.)  In fact, my favorite rollercoaster happened to be \”Women Can\’t Vote Mountain.\”

(For an excellent piece by P.J. O\’Rourke  about how Disney fights to remain cutting edge, read here.)

Despite my general crankiness about being held hostage to the Mouse, it is impossible to be negative when your kids are having so much fun.  And my kids were having the time of their lives – although, as parents know, it\’s always a bittersweet experience when your kids are so happy.  Because in the back of your mind, you know that there will quickly come a point when your kids realize that they will have to stop doing what is thrilling them to death.  Then, it is payback.  You will, without a doubt, get more blame for making them leave Disney World than you will get credit for taking them in the first place.  You just have to hope that at some point in their 20\’s, they have a flashback that Mom and Dad may not have been so bad.

Our third day there, my mother shelled out big money for my daughter to get a princess makeover at the \”Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique,\” which dresses little girls up as their favorite Disney princess.  This was a risky proposition for my 5 year-old daughter, as she almost seems to be equal parts diva and tomboy.  It all depended on what mood she was in.  Plus, the whole thing kind of seemed to be a little \”stage parent\” for me – carting your daughter around a park dressed as a princess just felt a little too \”Jon Benet.\”  As I stood outside the boutique waiting for the makeover to finish, at least 70% of the poor little girls walking out of their makeovers were crying.  It\’s as if they were showing \”Schindler\’s List\” in there.

Ater the makeover, it became clear that my daughter has some issues with being the center of attention – although she warmed to the outfit and actually demanded that she get to wear the dress to the park the next day.  On the other hand, my 3 year-old son is the exact opposite – he is \”Mr. Entertainment.\”  At a Canadian Epcot steakhouse, he could be found holding court for the entire restaurant on a variety of issues: How much he loves elevators, how much he dislikes snakes, and how he thinks turkeys like potato chips.  To top things off, he treated the restaurant to renditions of \”Amazing Grace,\” \”The Star Spangled Banner,\” and Take Me Out to the Ballgame.\”

For my son, however, the highlight had to be the monorail.  Had we not paid a cent to get into a park, he would have been happy just riding the rail for five days.  (Advocates of the Kenosha-Racine rail should hire him as their spokesman.)  In fact, I took him to ride the train in a loop one last time before we left for the airport – and he sadly said goodbye to the monorail.  I have to admit – it really is a great system of moving people around the various parks.  Now, if I can only get one to take me from my couch to my fridge, we\’ll be okay.  (I had to laugh when the announcer on the monorail bragged about how \”ecologically friendly\” the trains were.  As if Disney didn\’t have a larger carbon footprint than most underdeveloped nations.)

While my son was preoccupied with the monorail, my daughter kept dragging me around to more and more rides.  I loved pretending to be scared of the rollercoasters, which allowed her to pat me on the back and gently tell me to \”stop being so chicken.\”  It made her feel great to think she was braver than her old man (and in the case of Space Mountain, which she rode 4 times, she was absolutely right.)

While the crowds did get pretty thick at times, we were always there early and able to hit the rides without much waiting in line.  The park obviously does seem a lot smaller than when I was a little kid, but that may be because people now are so much fatter.  Honest to God – you can\’t walk around anywhere in America now without thinking half the people walking around are about to have a coronary.  And we\’re going to be paying for these peoples\’ health care.  You know on the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons when the little Hawk gets hungry and sees Foghorn as a giant roasted turkey?  I see these people walking around as giant paycheck deductions.

There also seemed to be a group from the Middle East that overtook the Magic Kingdom on Sunday.  They all come wearing the same t-shirt, following someone with a giant flag.  Granted, I have no idea where they were from – but it would be strange if their conceptions of America were derived from Disney World.  They probably still wish death to America – but not until they ride Splash Mountain one more time.

At Epcot, there was also a large group of teens wearing \”Faith in 3-D\” t-shirts, which I assume is some religious organization.  Seems to be that there\’s no better way to get laid as a male teen than going on a trip to Disney with a bunch of Jesus people.  There were a lot of Wisconsin people there – and this is what I love most about people from here: They think they are doing you a disservice by not announcing to you that they are from Wisconsin.  As if your life is poorer if they don\’t wear Badger, Packer, or Brewer paraphernalia.  And they are always friendly.  I love this place.

As for the parks themselves, my kids liked the Magic Kingdom the most, followed by Epcot, which doesn\’t have many rides for their age group.  Hollywood Studios pretty much blows.  Didn\’t make it to the Animal Kingdom.  And Downtown Disney is just a bunch of stores that consolidates all the Mickey Mouse junk you can buy in the parks.

Even though it was 70 degrees and sunny while we were there, I am certainly happy to be home.  Now, after my vacation, I can finally rest.

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