When I was a kid, I wanted to be Walt Disney. That is to say, I so deeply admired his creativity, ingenuity, and originality, that I hoped to embody the inspiration he fostered in me. I liked to draw and sketch, and would often freehand a rendering of something from the Disney catalog. I was especially taken by Fantasia, due to the variety in animation, but also because of the classical music accompaniment.
It just occurred to me that I was some kind of 9-year-old bookish, animation loving, classical music geek. All of this is still true except the 9-year-old part (have you seen Disney’s Peter and the Wolf? C’mon!).
Somewhere around the age of 11, I found out that Disney was dishonorably discharged from the military. In my shoes as a military brat, I found this to be astonishing and shameful. I was taught to understand integrity at a very early age, and a lot of it was wrapped in stars and stripes.
Later on, I discovered that Walt Disney is also known as a strikebreaker. As the animation guild formed in 1940s Hollywood, Disney was unveiled as a Machiavellian figure. His league of cartoonists received no credit for their work. Female employees were kept in a separate building, and were paid subsistence wages.
The more you understand about some of the heroes that shaped your childhood, the more disenchanted you might become. And that’s too bad. Because, here’s the thing: Walt Disney’s legacy literally taught me how to create. I had other aid in the form of my artist mother, and encouragement from my dad, but it was Disney who made me want to keep doing it.
He achieved so much in one human lifetime, and had a hand in shaping American culture in a way that had never been seen before. He was a pioneer and a genius, and apparently, somewhat of a dick.
And look at Disney now. It is not a man, but a franchise that exists at a level that I don’t understand. I find the idea of going to any of the Disney amusement parks to be intimidating, and let’s face it, I’m only really talking about Disneyland. No one is dragging me to Florida to do anything. Except fish. Maybe.
The fact still remains that Snow White changed my life, in that I want forest creatures to help me do housework. Where are a couple of chipmunks to do your dishes when you need them? Additionally, the character development is on target in this story. I identify as a combination of Dopey, Happy, and Grumpy. If a hybrid of these three were to exist, it would be a dwarf called Artsy.
It is difficult not to assign fault to another for choices that you wouldn’t make yourself. For me, encouraging economic disparity and misogyny in the workplace is not okay. At the same time, it’s important to state that the Disney studio finally rolled over and became unionized, despite the misgivings of the man himself.
It’s also important to state that his dishonorable discharge is a myth, and is an example of how legend can become fact if it is repeated enough.
I want to go back to my 9-year-old self’s perception of Walt Disney. I want to see what he gave the world, and what he gave to me, even though I don’t draw anymore. But it’s not about the drawing. It’s about creating a world of your own. An inner universe rooted in creativity, preserved for your own benefit, so that you may continue to find a reason to keep going.
And that doesn’t have anything to do with strikebreaking, but rather, enjoying the vision of a hippo in a tutu dancing to Ponchielli, and a mouse combating an army of brooms to Dukas.
It can be what it is meant to be, if you let it.
(Header Image Photo Credit: Tyler Nix, Unsplash)