One summer’s day seventy years ago, the great Walt Disney visited a tiny Lincolnshire village 17 miles from my home where he created a secret portal that would magically transport people to his Disney World theme park in America. Okay, so maybe not all of that is true… but remarkably some of it is.
True story time: Last month I realised a lifelong dream when my wife took me to Disney World in Florida (it coincided with me turning 40… yay!). I found it a pretty surreal experience being there, this place that, as a kid, I could only dream about visiting.
When my brothers and I were young, our aunt and uncle once gave us this VHS tape that was essentially a publicity video of all the attractions of Disney World. They’d visited Disney World themselves (they’re American, so it was a tad easier to get to than it is for us). I don’t know how many times I watched that video, but I was completely enthralled, vicariously enjoying attractions such as the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, the Haunted Mansion, even the animatronics of the Hall of Presidents.
The video incorporated some archive footage of Walt Disney talking about how the idea for Disneyland came to him as he was sitting in a park eating peanuts (that detail always stuck out in my mind for some bizarre reason). Even though I was enthralled by the magic of Disney like every other kid, I think that video was the first time that I’d actually seen Walt Disney himself. It had never occurred to me who the man behind Walt Disney was. ‘Walt Disney’ seemed to mean something much bigger than one man.
As the years went by, the dream of going there myself inevitably began to fade, so last month it really was like reanimating a forgotten childhood dream as a world-weary adult, and as I wandered around the park and kept seeing the various attractions in Magic Kingdom I would keep thinking back to the footage I’d seen of them in this vintage video, unlocking these deep childhood memories. While I was over there, I had a dig around YouTube and found someone had uploaded this particular video if you fancy seeing it.
Since I’ve been back, I dug out my copy of the video (it survived the great VHS tape cull of 2007, naturally) – coincidentally my aunt was over from America and her eyes lit up in surprise when I showed it to her. My brother reminded me that it was a Christmas present, circa late 80s / early 90s. Watching it back, I love how US videos start with this stern FBI warning. I imagine the feds will bust down my door now for illegally copying even this warning sign (presumably the guy who put the whole thing on YouTube is on Death Row now). My cousin and I once made our own comedy film with this very premise… but that’s another story.
While we were over in Florida, we spent a day at Magic Kingdom and a day at Hollywood Studios, which, as an adult, held an even greater pull for me with the new Galaxy’s Edge area that has been created there. I think if it was 30-year-younger me visiting, I would have happily also spent a day at Epcot and other places like Universal Studios. My sensory capacity threshold as a 40-year-old is definitely a lot lower, however, and so we also spent slower paced days visiting the beach and checking out the Florida wildlife (we even found some alligators!)
The cool thing about Galaxy’s Edge is that it’s a really immersive experience and you feel like you’re walking around a Star Wars world. So the filmmaker in me couldn’t help but get creative and I found myself putting the camera in my wife’s hands and getting her to film me being daft again as we made another offbeat video.
Another Magical Adventure
Remember the New York video? The tiny Lincolnshire hamlet that shares a name with an American metropolis? I thought it was time for another one of those. There’s no villages around me with the name of Orlando, or Galaxy’s Edge, or Hollywood Studios, but there is a quaint little place 17 miles away called Norton Disney which just happens to be the ancestral home of the Disney family. So that’s the particular Lincolnshire village where I had my next magical adventure…
As I started making this video, it reminded me of a story I’d once read where Walt Disney himself had popped in to this very Lincolnshire village one day back in the summer of 1949. He was there to research his ancestry, and as I re-familiarised myself with the story, I became quite fascinated by it. One photo of the event shows him standing by a road sign which also happened to have my home town of Sleaford on it. Somehow those two things just don’t go together, but with Disney of course, anything is possible…
So I’ve also started making a new video about this fascinating little story, along with my friend Dan Sumpton (he’s the librarian in the phone box) as we try and find the very spots where Walt Disney once stood exactly 70 years ago. Stay tuned for that.
Alas, a busy guy like Walt Disney didn’t stay long that day in Norton Disney. He wrote in his diary that he had to ‘pop off again’, hence my final line in my video.