As a child I would tell my mother, “I’m an optimistic optimist!” before galavanting off to save an invisible fair maiden on my stick horse. I was a very upbeat kid, as most children are, unbeaten by the unfairness and malice the world sometimes holds as an adult. Children are always optimistic, playful, even jubilant,
but as we get older that joie de vivre
seems to wain until it all but disappears. Walt, while prone to occasionally donning a bad attitude (what his employees called his “bear suit” days), was an eternal optimist. He never let the harshness of life get him down for very long. He was always looking up, trying to see the positive in life rather than the negative. That spirit of optimism permeates the Disney brand to this day, the so-called “Disneyfied” way. Many critics tend to use this word as a derogatory slant, but I applaud the Disney company for following in Walt’s footsteps and trying to bring a little more light into the world.
Walt’s insistence on his movies having a positive outlook helped shape the brand’s specific “Disneyesque” style. All Disney movies inevitably end on a high note, the veritable “Happily Ever After” moments. Even today people will always leave a Disney movie with a smile on their face and a positive outlook in their minds. This is not a coincidence. Walt instilled in his brand that light-hearted and uplifting spirit that has carried his company through nearly one hundred years. Had it not been for Walt’s guidance over the forty years he ran the Disney company, we could see a very different movie studio today.
Perhaps no other project better represents Walt’s optimism than the parks, specifically EPCOT. Walt was so hopeful for the future that his biggest and most courageous project of his life was literally the planning of the city of tomorrow. It would have the newest technological revolutions and the best urban planning of any city yet built. He had the foresight to see what amazing advances were still to come for the human race and was attempting to build a city that would cultivate and nurture that creativity. Unfortunately, after Walt’s death, his dream of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was never quite realized, with EPCOT as we know it today a theme park rather the innovative city he had in his mind. But nevertheless, that spirit of optimism is still front and center in the parks. You can see it in the Future House in Epcot’s Innoventions, in technological innovations being used in new rides, and even in the conservation efforts in Animal Kingdom. In an interview in 1962, Walt said, “I wanted something live, something that could grow, something I could keep plussing with ideas, you see? The park is that. Not only can I add things, but even the trees will keep growing! The thing will get more beautiful each year!” (1). Walt was ceaselessly optimistic for the future of his parks and was excited to watch them become better for years to come.
If you want negativity, it’s not hard to find. Turn on the evening news, read comments online, or watch parents at a little league game and you’re sure to find more than your fill. I, for one, am very happy that the Disney Company continues to make movies with eternal optimism, just like Walt would have wanted. I say Disney-fy away! What are your favorite stories of Walt’s optimism?