Why I’m Addicted to Raves: My Nocturnal Wonderland Experience

On Labor Day weekend 2015, I did something extraordinary. But let me start by saying what I didn’t do.

I wasn’t among the crowds of rabid fans lining up in front of big box retailers at midnight to partake in what the marketers dubbed “Force Friday,” which was Disney’s first big push of Star Wars merchandise in anticipation of Episode VII’s debut this Christmas. Admittedly, that BB-8 droid by Sphero does look awesome. But instead, I tweeted this:

I stand by that philosophy. For the most part, I like collecting experiences instead of “stuff”. Some experiences I love so much, I want to experience them over and over, like I do at theme parks, even though it may cost a pretty penny for the privilege. And I just might be on to something here. Recent research suggests that investing in experiences will make you happier, for a longer period of time, much more than buying “stuff” that makes you happy for a little while until it’s quickly taken for granted.

Most “stuff” sits on a shelf and collects dust, and we adapt to it. An experience may happen only once, but they often result in lasting memories and stories that are fun to retell. It’s not just a video you watched; you were there, it was your reality, you were a part of something. It’s not a stretch to say that experiences make us who we are. Experiences also make you feel connected to people, in ways that “stuff” never could.

                   Pyro is cool. Swing rides are cool. Put them together = AWESOMENESS

That’s why I attended a rave this weekend. A 3-day extravaganza of thumping electronic dance music (or EDM), strobing lights, flashing lasers, fiery balls of flames, gushing water fountains, and showering confetti in a crowd tens of thousands strong. And I loved every minute of it.

Insomniac’s Nocturnal Wonderland 2015 celebrated its 20th anniversary over Labor Day weekend, but it’s only the second rave I’ve attended. My first rave was earlier this year at Beyond Wonderland, also by Insomniac, and also at the same venue, the impressive outdoor San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA. I’m still new to rave culture, but I’ll do my best to explain what it’s like for those who haven’t been to a rave, and why I’m addicted.

When I attended my first rave, I knew nothing about EDM except that, to me, it just sounded like noise. But I decided to go anyway, thanks to the persuasions of a very good friend of mine, and I tried to go into it with an open mind. I figured, hey, even if the music sucks, there’s plenty of pretty things to look at. I do love things that light up. What I experienced next was completely unexpected and nothing short of mind-blowing.

                               Our totems!

EDM isn’t just a collection of random electronic noise, like it first seemed to my unaccustomed ears. When you experience it at a huge venue like Nocturnal, you don’t just listen to it; you feel it. Literally. Some of those deep bass sounds are so intense, it vibrates your entire being. You can get lost in it. It moves you in ways I never anticipated it would. It makes you want to dance, and dance hard. It’s, dare I say, transcendent. There’s nothing else quite like it. We heard sets from Galantis (my personal favorite), Alesso, Kaskade, Armin van Buuren, W&W and more. And boy, is it insane!

The repetitive nature of EDM is a turn-off to some, including me at first. I thought it was annoying and made everything sound the same. But I was listening to it all wrong. The constant beat of EDM makes you feel invincible and safe at the same time. Biologically, humans crave constants. We want to feel safe and secure via repetition, like knowing your house and comfy bed is always waiting for you at the end of a long day. This might explain how “House Music” got its name and how it became associated with EDM. Inside your house, you can run around in your underwear if you want! In the same way, EDM makes you feel at home and encourages you to be yourself. There are no standard dance moves to EDM. You simply move however the music inspires you to move in the moment.

At raves, everyone is riding the same wave of Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect – or PLUR for short.

Woof woof

                 Woof woof

There is no fear of judgment at raves. I’ve seen just about the craziest rave clothing you can imagine at these events. You can be whoever and whatever you want, the crazier the better. Since I am currently active in the puppy play community, I wore my hood and collar to Nocturnal. Several people commented to me how much they loved it!

One part I love about rave culture are the plastic beads, often called “kandi”. Ravers cover their arms, neck and even their face with them, and when you make a connection with someone, you can trade or give away your kandi to them, usually done by a special handshake that signifies acceptance. What makes this more special than, say, pin trading, is that each bracelet is 100% custom made by the individual. The kandi I have received reminds me of the wonderful connections I’ve made with people at these events. What could be more special than that?

I think what surprised me the most at the raves I attended is how friendly the crowd is! Now, it’s no secret that illegal party drugs are synonymous with raves. But I’ve never once seen a fight break out, or even heard mean words exchanged. All in all, there’s an overwhelming feeling of love, happiness and connectedness that cannot simply be written off as some chemically induced phenomenon. The vibe there is energetic and incredibly positive. You never know who you’re going to meet. It’s not just young adults, either: I’ve seen plenty of middle-aged folks dancing their hearts out, too. And everyone is gathered together for one thing: THE MUSIC.

There’s someone I admire professionally who also fell in love with raves: Tony Hsieh, billionaire and CEO of Zappos. He came into raves thinking he’d hate it, but like me, he came out of the experience with a completely different perspective. You can read his thoughts here, but one thing he observed is how connected everyone was, how unified the people were to the music and each other. It’s called the “hive switch”. Usually, humans are very selfish and self-serving. Whether jostling for positions at work, getting grades at school, or fighting for spaces in a parking lot, it feels like we’re always in competition with one another. But sometimes, we can tap into a desire to cooperate and work together, like bees in a hive. Think about the most awe-inspiring sights you’ve seen of people cooperating – like Olympic ceremonies, or even flash mobs. Raves can turn on that switch. Hsieh has very successfully applied this idea of group cooperation at raves to his employees and company culture at Zappos.

Here’s a video I took of the Nocturnal Wonderland 20th Anniversary fireworks. Of course a crummy iPhone video can never replicate the true experience of being there in person, but it will give you an idea. Enjoy! 🙂

Have you been to a rave, or thought about going to one? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Share them by leaving a reply below. Thanks for reading!

Why Everyone Should Believe In Epcot

As you are no doubt aware, friends, 2014 has been something of a tumultuous year for fans of Disney theme parks. Please bear with me as I briefly summarize two cases where the wounds are still fresh.

In Anaheim, an expansion of Club 33 made significant and controversial changes to Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. We saw the original entrance door fall into disuse and the original lobby stripped bare and converted into a merchandise storage room. We saw the French lift (custom-built by WED after Walt saw an antique one during a trip to Paris) get taken out of service and converted into a depressing table-for-one. We saw the original logo replaced with a (largely unpopular) new logo. We saw the trophy room get demolished to make way for a larger kitchen. We saw the beloved Court of Angels courtyard get closed off to the paying public, walled off behind “stained glass” gates to serve 33 members only. We saw significant changes to the exteriors in New Orleans Square, too, from noticeably off-centered, clumsy and out-of-scale windows to Art Nouveau flourishes that make no thematic or historical sense.

In the understandable effort to double capacity (and increase profits) with Club 33 members, unfortunately the new space is now largely unrecognizable, wiped clean of its history, charm and personal touches by Walt Disney. All these changes combined, not to mention the loss of the Disney Gallery space above Pirates a few years ago for a posh and largely unused Dream Suite, it’s a very tough pill to swallow for this Disney fan. It’s a sad situation when profit and capacity come at the expense of what made the club special in the first place. I fear this is a sign of more history-cleansing to come.

Then, over in Orlando, fans exploded when Disney Parks Chairman Tom Staggs confirmed rumors that Maelstrom, the quirky 80s-era boat ride in the Norway pavilion at Epcot, would soon close to make way for a Frozen attraction (an announcement delivered in a rather smug and ballsy way, I might add, with Staggs citing a tired Walt quote “Disneyland will never be completed” in an apparent effort to justify the decision and silence dissent). The hashtag #savemaelstrom has been shared on social media thousands of times.

Fan reactions vary wildly, of course, but the most often recurring comment I’ve seen is that we as fans are not against a Frozen attraction – quite the contrary actually – but rather we fail to understand why Frozen must replace Maelstrom, or, indeed, why Frozen belongs in Epcot at all. Although its buildings are sparkling clean and almost fantasy-like in their perfection, World Showcase displays the cultures of real people and real countries of the world. Surely Frozen’s fictitious Arendelle setting would work far better thematically in the fantasy-friendly Magic Kingdom, or the Walt Disney World park that desperately needs more movie-based headliner attractions, Disney’s Hollywood Studios?

I would even argue that Maelstrom, a fairly short boat ride, isn’t big enough and won’t do the Frozen movie franchise justice. Not to mention its small-ish hourly capacity will create nightmarish lines when it opens sometime in early 2016 (apparently after the initial Frozen frenzy, already ebbing, will have died down).

With the full understanding that petitions, letters, emails, phone calls, hashtags, etc. are useless and Disney does what Disney wants, your opinions bedamnned, I began to wonder if people are losing faith in Epcot. Indeed, I have yet to read a satisfying argument why Frozen should replace Maelstrom. It’s become very clear (and maddening) that Disney is unwilling to expand Epcot, despite having several large expansion pads at the ready. In fact, the Norway pavilion itself, which opened over 25 years ago, is the most recent expansion to World Showcase, if you can believe that, and Maelstrom is one of only TWO rides in that very large half of Epcot.

Brand advocates (who insist again and again that every decision Disney makes is the right decision) insist that replacing Maelstrom with Frozen is a great decision because 1) Frozen is popular/profitable (goes without saying, duh) and, somewhat in self-defeat, 2) Epcot as a concept is dead anyway. A point I strongly disagree with. This is Disney, after all, the company that set the golden standard for themed design and set a high bar for what a theme park can and should be.

The question remained, however: Does anyone still believe in EPCOT? I decided to put it to the test on Twitter with a hashtag #BelieveInEpcot. Here are my first two tweets, posted Friday evening, September 19:

What followed greatly surpassed my expectations as the tweets started flooding in, each with a thoughtful take on how EPCOT has created meaning to people over the last 32-ish years. Please take the time to scroll down and read some of them, as together they form a truly remarkable and powerful statement.

Thank you so, so much to everyone who participated. It’s clear that many, many people still beleve in EPCOT.

Do you believe in EPCOT? I want to hear what you have to say! Leave a comment in the space below, or tweet a message with the hashtag #BelieveInEpcot.

And thanks for reading! 🙂 -Matt @DLthings

Relatable Villains: When Evil Can’t Just Be Evil

Evil in modern-day stories just isn’t the same as evil in the good old days.

This thought occurred to me recently at a 3D preview of “Maleficent” as I donned a paper hat with the horns of one of Disney’s most sinister villains, a character self-described as “The Mistress of All Evil.” Printed on the side is the hashtag #EvilisComplicated.

Complicated? When did being evil get to be so complicated? Can’t evil just be evil?

Being evil wasn’t always such a complicated gig. For the 1959 animated feature “Sleeping Beauty,” Marc Davis was responsible for animating Maleficent (the name is a portmanteau of malevolent and magnificent). Her character was designed to resemble a menacing vampire bat, with her green skin, angular form, black-and-purple dress resembling flames and distinctive two-pointed headdress.

Marc Davis, whom Walt Disney called his “Renaissance Man,” was a master of visual storytelling – one look at Maleficent and the question “Do we love her or do we hate her?” can quickly be answered. We instantly know she is up to no good, and from her first appearance knocking open King Stefan’s castle doors in a gust of wind, she is a figure to be feared and despised, leaving no room in our hearts for empathy.

In contrast, Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” was intentionally designed to be more likeable to the audience. Special effects makeup artist Rick Baker said the decision to make Maleficent’s skin pale instead of green for this film was done to make her appear more ‘relatable’ and not ‘too creature-like,’ emphasizing the intent to keep Maleficent ‘pretty and attractive.’

Do we love her or do we hate her? Now the answer to that question is not so clear.

In the 3D preview I saw at California Adventure, it is evident that this new film “Maleficent” is a sympathetic portrayal of the villain. It is explained that she once had powerful wings, but that they were stolen from her. “There is evil in this world,” she says, as King Stefan is shown demanding her killed (“Bring me her head”) and sending an army to take over her forest village. She even accompanies a teen-aged Aurora to help prevent the curse she placed on her as an infant.

Do we love her or do we hate her? Maleficent isn’t plain evil anymore, we learn – she’s just misunderstood. She is given a chance to redeem herself. Meanwhile, King Stefan is made out to be the real villain. Evil is complicated.

ABC’s Once Upon A Time has already taken this idea to a whole new level. Heroes do villainous deeds, villains perform acts of mercy and even heroism, and generally the show muddles up everything we thought we know about these storybrooke – er, storybook characters. So far audiences seem to enjoy these unexpected twists on fairytale stories, but how long can it continue before it starts getting tired? If the screenwriters keep having long-established characters do uncharacteristic things, will this eventually cease to be interesting and become formulaic and lazy?

The best example I can think of where this storytelling format works really well is the Broadway show “Wicked” (which I’m guessing is the audience “Maleficent” is intended to capitalize on). In “Wicked” we learn that the Wizard of Oz is in fact the real villain, and that the Wicked Witch of the West was only labeled as such while she was doing what she knew was right. Audiences don’t mind that the story fundamentally changes everything we thought we knew about Oz – probably because it’s told so damn well. This type of story can work. It’s just rare when it does so effectively.

Movies that center on one character from an established world make me nervous, especially if it’s on the villain.  The reason for my unease is this: The more we see or know about an evil character, the less frightening or evil or mysterious they become. Horror movies and disaster films often hide the subject of our fears to increase the suspense; we’re shown only small hints of a dreaded figure, piece by piece until the very end when it comes out of hiding and scares the living bejeezus out of us. By putting the spotlight on an evil character, you run the risk of revealing all of their secrets – and like a magician, sometimes it’s better when we don’t know all the methods to their tricks. When it comes to great storytelling, sometimes less is more.

A villain’s presence in a fairytale should be self-evident; without them, there would be no conflict, no battle, no resolution. Their motives for evildoing do not necessarily have to be explained beyond basic emotions like jealousy or distress at not being invited to a glittering assemblage. They exist in the story to be evil just for the sake of being evil. And especially with Disney, villains rarely change within the duration of the story – they scheme, they cause discord, they battle with the hero, they meet their doom. There’s no chance for redemption with the audience. We cheer when evil is vanquished because we want the hero to win.

That’s not to say that villains don’t have their fans. On the contrary; many people *love* villains. And that’s just my point. Villains don’t need to be made more “relatable” – we already love them because we love to hate them. Fairytales are simple stories of good vs. evil, and maybe it’s best that way. If villains aren’t pure evil anymore, it complicates the story in a way that doesn’t always pay off.

Just let evil be evil. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

What are your thoughts about “Maleficent”? Do you prefer villains that are evil through and through, or do you like to learn about an unexpected soft side? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below. I’m very interested to hear what you think!

And thanks for reading! – Matt @DLthings

“it’s (still) a small world” – As Catchy and Relevant As Ever 50 Years Later

It’s pretty astounding when you consider that what is undoubtedly the most hastily put together Disney attraction in history has endured for 50 years.

“it’s a small world” – which originally opened as an exhibit for Pepsi-Cola at the New York World’s Fair on April 22, 1964 – was thrown together at the last minute while WED Enterprises was hard at work building three other exhibits – Illinois state’s Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Ford’s Magic Skyway, and General Electric’s Progressland (now known as the “Carousel of Progress”).

After the fair, “it’s a small world” (with the exception of Rolly Crump’s whimsical Tower of the Four Winds) would later find a permanent home at Disneyland with a gorgeous new white-and-gold-leaf facade, and today it stands as a masterpiece of showmanship, a beautiful work of art, and as the attraction poster proudly announces, it is “the happiest cruise that ever sailed.”

But how has it lasted this long? If we boil it down to its basic elements, “small world” is just a series of dolls dressed in costume, placed among painted flats inside a large show building. Before examining more closely, we might say that description also fits Superstar Limo, the infamous dark ride that opened at California Adventure in 2001 only to close permanently in less than a year. Why did Superstar Limo fail so hard, whereas “small world” is still going strong and has had newer versions introduced in every single Disney “Magic Kingdom”-style park across the globe?

Well, for one, there is the song. And oh, what a song it is. Rather than playing each country’s national anthem, which would’ve been a cacophony of sound, the Sherman Brothers wrote one song that could be easily sung in so many languages it would later become one of the most widely played songs ever written. They originally played it as a ballad – only later was it sped up to the upbeat version we’re familiar with.

Yes, the song is catchy – the verse melody and chorus melody intertwine so perfectly it can get lodged into your head for weeks. Many people say they hate the song for this reason (maybe you do too!) however the same criticism might be said for just about any popular song currently playing on the radio, only “small world” has a much more positive message (more on that in a minute). Not only does the song play at all 5 of Disney’s theme park locations – it also plays on radio, TV, film, video games, apps, even ice cream trucks. Indeed, the song’s “annoying” qualities, along with the many languages, may have helped it become as widely known as it is today.

Another reason “small world” has endured is because it is beautiful – a work of art you can float right through. I consider it to be Mary Blair’s greatest artistic achievement (in addition to the work of many talented people including Marc and Alice Davis, Rolly Crump and others), and it still shines brightly today, in spite of several dozen irrelevant Disney characters which were added in 2009 (along with a self-indulgent “Up with America!” room with embarrassing Woody and Jessie toy figures). I wish I could convert some “small world” haters if I could only show them what a brilliant artistic statement the attraction is. It is peaceful and comforting, yet surrounds you with patterns and color and visual excitement as your boat floats smoothly past scenes that represent different countries and regions of the world.

“Small world” is a favorite among children, of course, but I always felt it is an attraction adults can enjoy as well, with or without kids. It just takes a certain level of maturity and being in touch with your inner child to rise above the people on the “it’s so annoying” bandwagon. I can’t make people see what is right in front of them. I’m sure many misunderstood artists feel the same way.

A third reason I think the attraction continues to succeed is its universally positive message. Conceived in the mid-60s in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis, the song’s message of equality and world brotherhood might be perceived today as dated and obvious. However, I think the message is as relevant today as it has ever been. It can’t hurt to remind ourselves that we share the world with 7 billion people and we should try to foster understanding by seeing things from a different point of view. We should try to have compassion for people of all walks of life, not just the people most like ourselves.

This world understanding has improved somewhat in recent years by the Internet and the widespread adoption of social media. (I work in social media, so all my posts inevitably discuss social media at some point.) Our world is more connected today than it was even 10 years ago, thanks to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter which can help us create a better understanding of the goings-on in world cultures besides our own.

It’s a small, small world, and with technology, we can make it even smaller. In fact, Richard Sherman is doing a Google+ Hangout later today – such a thing would not have even been possible until very recently. With the Internet we can become better informed about other people of the world and hopefully come to realize that we are more the same than we are different.

Cheers to you, “it’s a small world,” and here’s to 50 more years of laughter, tears, hopes, and fears.

What are your “small world” memories? Share them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading! – Matt @DLthings


The “Happiest Place” Myth – Why Disneyland Will Not Make You Happy (And What Will Instead)

“The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge.” – Walt Disney

Friends, fanatics, foamers. We’ve all been had. Remove the rose-colored glasses and brush off the pixie dust, because it’s time to face the truth:

Disneyland will not make you happy. You can be happy at a Disney theme park, or any theme park, or anywhere of course, but the place itself won’t make you happy.

Almost from the very beginning, Disneyland has sold itself as a place so special you can’t possibly enter its gates without some of that magic rubbing off and putting a smile on your face. Starting sometime in the 1960s, its most well known slogan is “The Happiest Place on Earth.” More recent taglines for various marketing purposes include “Just Got Happier” and “Keeps Getting Happier.” Of course everyone wants to be happier. In a country that entitles you to “the pursuit of happiness”, what could be more American than a theme park that promises to deliver that very elusive but highly-sought-after state of being?

But how much do you or anyone else buy into the “Happiest Place” gimmick? The notion that simply visiting a place, no matter how wonderful, can make you happier is very appealing to the emotions but doesn’t make much sense. After all, if this were true, the park’s most frequent guests – Annual Passholders – would be the happiest group of people on Earth! (And chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ll agree that isn’t exactly the case.)

As an AP holder myself, I can tell you my personal happiness has not noticeably increased or decreased compared to the years when I didn’t have it.

If it were true that everyone who has entered the gates of Disneyland “Just Got Happier,” then why on any given day are there so many bawling children, flustered parents, and downright miserable guests?

Mind you, crowd levels and weather do make a difference – it’s hard to have a good time when the park is filled to capacity and it’s 100 degrees and humid. That can test the willpower of even the most patient, good-natured guest. But let’s say for the sake of argument that the weather is perfect and you get the full VIP treatment – you have the park completely to yourself, you have overly cheerful Cast Members attending to your every want and need, you get instant access to as many attractions as you want. It might be fun for a while, but would it make you happy? Look at most celebrities who receive that treatment every day, everywhere  – are they happy?

Here’s my take on the “Happiest Place” tagline. It’s a hyperbole, an exaggeration – descriptive but also intentionally vague. It can’t be proven or disproven. What if you think that your hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, is happier than Disneyland? It doesn’t matter, because happiness cannot be easily defined, and it means something a little different to each individual. Happiness is not easily measurable, either – you can’t get a refund at the end of the day after realizing you did not become happier after visiting the park (but you can certainly join the line at City Hall and try anyway).

As consumers, we want truth in advertising, but we also allow (and even enjoy) a little bit of exaggeration – just a smidge. As long as the exaggeration doesn’t go too far, we buy into it. We buy into the Barnum & Bailey Circus when they claim to be “The Greatest Show on Earth.” We buy into BMWs being “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” We buy into the idea that Red Bull “Gives You Wings.” And as a result, we buy circus tickets, German luxury cars and energy drinks.

Same logic applies when we buy into the “Happiest Place” imagery and book that lavish Disney vacation.

You’ve seen the ads. Families celebrating birthdays/reunions/graduations/etc. and dining without a care. Children staring wide-eyed up at a sky on fire above a fairytale castle. Insanely cheerful guests (actually paid actors) clapping along to a parade and skipping down the sidewalk with Goofy. It’s selling happiness. Pretty intoxicating, isn’t it? Even though most families are dysfunctional and the members probably hate each other’s guts, mommies and daddies see the ads and think wishfully, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if all of us could have a great time together for once?”

This is not a criticism of Disney’s marketing. On the contrary, to market Disney Parks in this way – in effect, “serving up happiness every day” – is a work of genius. From a business perspective, if the marketing gets guests of all ages through the turnstiles and into hotel rooms and they buy food and merchandise and they leave somewhat satisfied and perhaps even want to return again, then the campaign is a success. We must remind ourselves that The Mouse is a business, not a charity giving away happiness for free.

By the way.. I think it has almost reached a point where bringing your kids to a Disney Park has become a moral imperative and to not do so would somehow make you a bad parent. This is unfair, especially as ticket prices continue to “price out” an ever-larger segment of the general population. You can do a fine job raising healthy, happy kids without blinding them with pixie dust. (In this blogger’s opinion, most kids under the age of 4 or 5 would probably have more fun at a community pool or a local park – and kids must be at least age 7 or 8 to really appreciate being at a Disney theme park.)

If any of Disney’s marketing slogans were taken at face value, they’d raise our level of expectations so astronomically high that the reality can’t possibly live up to the fantasy. Let’s examine another marketing slogan: “Where Dreams Come True.” Perfect. So not only will you be in the happiest place on the entire planet – now, all your heart’s desires will be granted as well. The capacity for humans to want more, to wish for more, is unlimited. On such a tall order, it’s almost hard to imagine not leaving disappointed. (It also puts unreasonable expectations on the limits that Cast Members can go to make your stay a “magical” one.)

I also want to point out that “happiness” and “fun” are often used interchangeably, but they are NOT the same thing. Disneyland and other theme parks are “fun” – they provide amusement, a diversion, a brief escape from life’s problems. But “fun” is fleeting. After the party comes the hangover. In fact, studies have shown that most people coming back from vacation return to being just as miserable as before they left!

Our relentless pursuit of fun is driven by the assumption that more fun = happiness, but that equation is flawed. How many of us have attended parties that weren’t even that much fun – let alone made us happier – but we do it because we associate parties with fun and fun must lead to happiness, right? How many of us actually become unhappier during holidays like Christmas and New Year’s because there’s the expectation that we’ll be happy attending all the compulsory activities – and we’ll feel like we’re missing out if we don’t? Will visiting a Disney Park for 24 hours straight and riding the Mad Tea Party 960 times in a row make you 959 times happier than riding it once?

I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t visit Disneyland. Like all forms of entertainment, when used in moderation, theme parks can help us maintain happiness by helping us relax, laugh a little, and take attention away from our problems. But a theme park can’t create happiness. And like any source of amusement, theme parks can be abused, if it gets in the way of your personal life, family and other things that do provide long-lasting happiness.

So what DOES make you happier? I don’t claim to be an expert on happiness, but I know it when I see it – or more precisely, I know it when I feel it. Happiness can be faked, of course, and it happens all the time (if you’ve ever worked in customer service, or as a front-line Cast Member, then you know what I’m talking about). In fact you probably think your friends are happier than you – when you see them check in to a Disney Park on social media, for example – when in fact they aren’t. Facebook in particular, where people focus only on the best parts of their lives and neglect to mention the not-so-good, is a big culprit in making you believe this. People who lived 100 years ago didn’t smile in photographs very often, and they’d probably wonder what the heck is wrong with us when we put on a happy face for the camera just because we want to appear happy to others, regardless of whether we actually are.

In my personal life, I have found great happiness in spending quality time with my family, earning a college education, building a career doing what I enjoy, learning to play a musical instrument, reading a good book, etc. None of those things sound especially “fun,” and they require hard work and diligence, but they do contribute greatly to overall happiness in my life.

I’ll leave you with this: It’s OK to have fun once in a while, but don’t equate fun with happiness because they aren’t the same. Fun is temporary; happiness is ongoing. Devote time first to meaningful pursuits that build a happy life, and then scatter in the remainder on amusements like theme parks which are “just for fun.” (Although I will admit “The Funnest Place on Earth” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)

What makes you happy? Add your thoughts to the comment section below!

Thanks for reading! 🙂 -Matt @DLthings

Paperman: A Few Thoughts on Making Human Connections

I adore Paperman.

It’s a brilliant, simple short film by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Directed by John Kahrs, it is nominated for an Oscar. Originally shown before Wreck-It Ralph in theaters, it is now available for free viewing on YouTube and I urge you to see it – even if you have already, see it again. It’s that good.

Many people have gone on and on about the technical aspect of the short, and while I do find that fascinating, here I want to share my thoughts on what this short means to me on a philosophical level.

Every day there are thousands of tiny human interactions. You hold the door open for someone at the bank. You say “excuse me” when you pass someone in the aisle of a grocery store. It happens, and maybe there could be a connection there, but then it’s gone and you never see that person again. We’ve all wondered, who was that person, where are they now, and what might have happened if fate brought you and them back together. Everyone loves a good reuniting story. Many people have said they got teary eyed while watching this little 6-minute short.

Do people still meet for the first time in person? Has online dating taken the spontaneity out of romance? Are we living too comfortably, too reliant on technology to take a chance?

Thanks to the Internet and social media we are more connected to each other than ever before. And yet… concurrently, these same tools often make us feel more distant than ever before. (Not to mention, more jealous.) It’s the ultimate irony – the more ways we have to connect with each other, the fewer meaningful connections actually take place. Why? Because it allows us to be lazy.

Why give me a call or come over to visit when you can send me a quick text instead? Why bother asking for my opinion or advice when you can Google it and find the same information? Perhaps we gain a little time saved, but what do we stand to lose? Are we reduced to hiding behind a profile picture that may not even accurately depict us, so intent we are on avoiding that bothersome thing called human interaction?

By being so engrossed by what happens on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. (there’s even an acronym for this: FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out) we tend to miss out on what’s going on around us.

I’ve been guilty of this. Often when I visit a theme park, I’m so busy documenting what I find with a camera or on Twitter that I forget to enjoy myself and the company of who I’m with. You’ve encountered people like this before, and it’s rude. You miss so much of what’s going on in reality when you’re absorbed in some other digital universe.

That makes chance human connections, like the one depicted in Paperman, that much more special and rare.

Like the male character in Paperman, you may find yourself waving your hands out the window, desperately trying to get the kind of connection we all really want – with a living, breathing human being. The paper airplanes could represent any of the various ways we try to stay in touch – Facebook messages, tweets, Instagram pictures, etc. They’re a shot in the dark. You fold it and you throw it out, hoping it will fly on course and land in the right lap.

Of course, in classic Disney fashion, the paper airplanes come alive and help bring these two people together. I don’t think social media is inherently a bad thing. For instance, Twitter has introduced me to some really fine folks I never would have talked to otherwise, and some I have met in person.

We just have to be careful not to let secondary forms of communication dominate our lives. It will never replace face-to-face human interaction, so make the effort to see the people that matter to you. And don’t miss out on real life – you never know what (or who) might catch your eye.

Review: “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” is a Must-Read for Disney Fans

It’s kind of a wonderful book.

In fact, it’s probably the best Disney book I’ve ever read.

What makes “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” so great isn’t just because it’s about a legendary Imagineer whose work includes some of the most beloved Disneyland attractions ever built – The Haunted Mansion, ‘it’s a small world,’ The Enchanted Tiki Room. It’s because it’s told by Rolly Crump himself – he’s hilarious, oddball, and filled to the brim with cute little stories. It’s as if Rolly is sitting across from you in a comfy chair with a glass of wine, recounting everything from the posters he made advertising marijuana (yep) to his peculiar fascination with mobiles to the mischievous pranks Disney animators played on each other. I literally laughed out loud several times while reading this book.

Did you know that Rolly designed the fanciful Tower of the Four Winds? Did you know he hated it and didn’t want it to come back to Disneyland after the New York World’s Fair? Instead it was cut up and thrown into the ocean (!). Rolly is forthright with his opinions and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. And I love that.

For me, the book is most interesting when it reveals some of the creative differences between artists and the push-and-shove of egos within WED, Walt’s small team of designers for Disneyland. For example, Roger Broggie apparently didn’t like Rolly and Yale Gracey very much and he refused to help them build effects for the Haunted Mansion. When Rolly designed some portraits for the “stretch room” of the Haunted Mansion, Marc Davis came to look at them and said they were no good and that he would redo them. And there was quite a rift between Rolly and Dick Irvine – they didn’t see eye to eye on anything! It’s fascinating to see the passion these artists had and the lengths they went to defend their designs and ideas.

The book explores Rolly’s incredibly colorful life – growing up, becoming a Disney animator, and working on many memorable theme park projects, including: the delightfully kooky Museum of the Weird, the Tomorrowland redesign of 1967 (including the Tomorrowland Terrace stage and the wonderful flower beds at the entrance to the land), his time as Supervising Art Director of Disneyland (where he saw to everything from the chain links in the queues, to trees which are still in the park today, to the lighting in many park areas including ‘small world’ and Tomorrowland, to theming the popcorn carts and trash cans to their respective lands), some dark rides for Walt Disney World (including the greatly missed Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride), ideas for EPCOT (including a master plan with a very different World Showcase and design for the Wonders of Life and The Land pavilion – which John Hench pretty much all hated), Knott’s Bear-y Tales, and more.

There are lesser-known projects here too. I had no idea that Rolly designed what basically amounts to an alternate version of the Enchanted Tiki Room for the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, complete with animatronic birds. Nor did I know he helped design an Omnimover-type ride that took riders to the bottom of the ocean for a project called Ocean Center.

The book is filled with great photos and examples of Rolly’s work in color and black & white. Unfortunately in my copy there is a small glitch with the image of ‘small world’ on page 81. But other than that, the book is a joy to look at as well as to read.

What I most enjoyed from this book is Rolly’s working relationship with Walt and how things got done. There was no guest research or test marketing. If Walt thought something was a good idea, he just went ahead and did it. “Well, build the goddamn thing then!” he says to Rolly, regarding the ‘small world’ facade.

There’s also some really great little nuggets of wisdom from Rolly about working and life in general. One of them is: believe in the people that work for you and turn them loose, because you’ll end up with a much better product. Another: accept life as it’s handed to you and just enjoy it, and have a sense of humor.

One more thing – I was amused to learn that one of Walt’s favorite sayings was “Oh, for Christ’s sake!” for anything that irritated him. (Just wait ’till you read the cute little story about the Christmas present Rolly made for Walt involving the the word “Shit” – his favorite cuss word.) There are a million other little stories and they’re all so fun.

Do yourself a favor, fellow readers – GET THIS BOOK. I highly recommend it to Disney fans or anyone who appreciates the art and design that goes into theme parks. Many thanks to Jeff Heimbuch for all his hard work putting the book together – it was well worth it!

You can purchase a paperback copy of “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” on Amazon for $20.70 (17% off! Eligible for free shipping!) or the Kindle Edition for $4.99. If you’re in the SoCal area, there are a few chances coming in a few weeks to meet Rolly Crump and get your copy signed. Visit the official book site for details.

(Note: My review is unbiased; I purchased this book myself and I have no personal or working connection with the authors or publishers.)