It’s been two days since my return from Walt Disney World. Unlike other trips, I was there for 24 hours and got to sleep in a hotel room that no one in Disney history had slept in. I was one of the fortunate few who were invited to the Grand Opening of The Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs. The story behind the new tower is based on the 7-minute film started by Dali and Disney in the 1940s and finished in 2003 under the guidance of Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew. During the magic and madness of my first media event, a recurring theme was ever present and resonated with me- the art of storytelling.
I’ve spoken on and written about nostalgia being the Disney Company’s catalyst for creating magic. Although I still believe it to be true, I now look at storytelling as nostalgia’s “partner in crime.” One doesn’t exist without the other. To this day, including the opening of The Gran Destino Tower, you won’t find anything by Disney that doesn’t have a storyline attached to it. Stories pull you in, you create the memories, which in return- creates nostalgia. Oh, the magic of it all!
Storytelling stimulates the imagination and builds a sense of wonder. It puts the storyteller in a position to capture the minds of those both young and old. Like all subjects of pop culture, there’s a G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). I think we can all agree that the G.O.A.T. of storytelling was Walt Disney. It wasn’t just faith, trust and a little bit of pixie dust that led Walt to create the most enduring tales of all time, it was a dedicated and conscious effort. For the Imagineers who worked alongside him, especially his “nine old men,” Walt conditioned them to incorporate a story in everything they do. So, what makes Walt (and by extension, the entire Walt Disney Company) expert storytellers? Two factors go into storytelling and Walt had mastered both of them- suspending reality and a focus on shared desires.
In my opinion, suspending reality is the main factor of becoming an expert storyteller. By doing this, the storyteller is creating a safe and magical world for the listener full of whimsical themes and powerful emotions. The listener is transported to a whole new world (pun intended) and will forever associate that escape from reality with the story you’re telling.
Walt’s focus on shared desires is the reason why every Disney and Pixar movie is so memorable. Walt recognized there were certain common struggles and desires that all humans experience. In all of us, we have the desire to be loved or feel like we belong. These desires, among many others, are why we become so invested in Disney’s stories. Case in point, Hercules. He sings, “I will go most anywhere to find where I belong.” Not to mention, I cry every time I hear that song and it motivated me during my first Run Disney race. Hercules and every other Disney character can vocalize what we can’t say or desire to say. As an adult, watching a Disney and Pixar movie is a cathartic experience. I’m an adult and mother of two little boys- it takes a lot to break me down. That being said, I still haven’t been able to make it through the first 10 minutes of Up. That’s expert storytelling at it’s finest, and only Disney can deliver it.
Few companies have managed to integrate storytelling, customer experience, and brand loyalty like Disney has. The Walt Disney Company is the best storytelling engine in the world. The way they’re able to formulate and deliver a story, elevated the brand beyond the orange groves of California to become a global force that’s captured imaginations from Orlando to China. The success Disney’s had is a direct effect of them building a team of Imagineers who are skilled at storytelling. My favorite Imagineer, Marty Sklar, once said- “Imagineers take ‘know your audience’ to a whole new level. When creating attractions, they experience the park as their guests do so they can understand how they feel every step of the way.” Imagineers truly believe in Disney’s mission, their brand and the story they’re telling and by doing so, Disney has already accomplished what other brands are still trying to do: Finding that perfect intersection where magical stories, human emotions, and the latest technology all meet. Once you have all those, you created lightning in a bottle. It’s one of the ways I explain how everyone at Disney still works as though Walt is working alongside them, they implement the fundamentals of storytelling that their founder set in place from the very beginning.
Walking under the train tracks, onto Main Street USA, you’ll notice a plaque with a quote from Walt- “Here you leave the world today, and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.” That would explain why every time I return from a Walt Disney World vacation, I feel the need to spend a day catching up on current events, I’ve completely forgotten about the real world. A Disney vacation suspends my reality and I’m able to escape. I and millions of other people crave that escape. It’s why we complain about the rising cost of ticket prices, but keep going back. My lost girl is found when I’m at Walt Disney World and I can be that carefree child again that I once was. The nostalgia gets you to the parks, Disney’s storytelling sells the tickets.
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