With COVID restrictions ending, more people will be itching to travel and vacate for beaches, mountains, and yes, even Disneyland. Before you head off to see Mickey and Minnie, remember this: there is more to Disneyland than meets the eye.
Everyone who has been to Disneyland (or Disney World for that matter) knows about the fun rides, the delicious food, and the spectacular shows. It is a wonderful place. But there are lots of things that patrons never see. For instance, according to the Unofficial Guide to Disney, did you know that every day visitors generate about 30 tons of trash? Did you know that their lost and found collects over 400 items each day? Did you know that they, daily, go through 70,000 hand towels in the restrooms alone? (Probably more in the pots-COVID era.) But as I said, there’s more to Disneyland than meets the eye. But that’s not all.
I recently saw a new ad for Disney and even though they were covered by masks, you could practically see the smiles. It not only made me want to splurge, but it also made me want to consider: Why do we love places like Disneyland? Why do we go to King’s Dominion? Do we enjoy these parks just for the amusements? Is there more?
The fun rides and the cotton candy are obvious reasons we go. But I suspect that’s not all. As is true with many things in life, there is something theological going on. I think our interest in amusement parks, like Disneyland, reveals some of our subconscious yearnings as fallen men and women. Here’s what I mean:
Disneyland is our recognition that the real world is imperfect and lacking.
If your everyday life was “hunky-dory”, then you wouldn’t look forward so much to a week at the beach or a few days of vacation. We enjoy these temporary escapes from reality because, let’s face it, “real life” can be a drag. With bills to pay, work to do, and laundry to fold, many people go to bed unfulfilled. We seem to know, deep down, that something is missing.
What’s lacking is the perfection that existed before the fall. Life is a drag, today, because of sin. We get sick, because of sin. Our cars break down, because of sin. We have marriage and parenting problems, because of sin. Romans 8:21 reminds us that the entire universe is broken. God says that all of creation is in “slavery to corruption”. This is precisely why we like Disneyland. Places like this enable us to, momentarily, step into (what seems like) an incorrupt and flawless world. It allows us the chance to be part of something so incredibly different from our own life, something perfect, something whole. The “real world” makes us feel broken, but Disneyland makes us feel intact again. It is our way of numbing and silencing our sense of fallenness.
Disneyland reveals man’s innate longing for happiness, joy, and rest.
When Walt Disney dedicated his life’s dream in 1954, his opening words were, “To all who come to this happy place, Welcome!” Disneyland still boasts that it is “the happiest place on earth”. At Disney, you are surrounded by smiles, peace, and goodness. Small children, after having been there, often say, “When I grow up, I want to live at Disneyland.” We long for a place like this.
Children with terminal illnesses often make a wish to visit Disneyland while they still can. This is because the atmosphere makes them forget that they are sick. It makes them feel happy and peaceful. Disneyland helps them escape the world of shots, pills, and needles, even if just for a few hours. It gives them one day of comfort amid hundreds of days of pain.
All of us, not just sick children, long for this kind of peace and happiness. This is because all men have been made in the image of God. God has “set eternity” in our hearts (Eccl 3:11). Sin has made us restless and longing. It has filled us with conflict, pain, and turmoil. We not only want joy and rest, but we need them. Disneyland reveals that fact.
Disneyland reveals man’s desire to be a part of a Utopian environment.
As you walk around Disney, you find yourself being greeted by eager staff and pristine buildings. The streets are clean, the walls are freshly painted, the grass is perfectly trimmed, and everyone feels “happily ever after.” There’s something about this taste of Utopia that satisfies us temporarily. You can’t help but feel comfortable, almost as if you are at home. We long for an environment like this. We instinctively want to be in a place that is “very good” (Gen 1:31).
The reason for this is simple: Disneyland is our best attempt at the Garden of Eden. It is our man-made effort to recreate the perfect and harmonious environment that once was. We seem to know, in the back of our minds, that paradise was lost. Disney is our feeble attempt to regain it.
Despite its persona and slick advertising, Disneyland is far from magical. It is a good place, but it is not a perfect one. It may temporarily distract you from your longings and yearnings, but it cannot satisfy them. Only God can do that.
There’s only one place in which there is permanently no death, no sadness, no crying, and no pain…and it’s not in California or Florida. It’s in the new heavens and new earth. The goodness found there is not phony and manufactured. It is authentic. The rest found there is not temporary and fleeting. It is permanent. The perfection found in heaven is not artificial and contrived. It is real. The Master Builder of the happiest place on earth is not Walt Disney, it is a crucified Savior who died for your sins. He is making all things new, especially those who trust Him.
Disneyland reveals that we are imperfect, restless vagabonds. But ultimately, that’s the best it can do. Only through the gospel can we be made perfect. Only through the gospel can we find rest. Only through the gospel can our desires and yearnings be satisfied.
Disneyland exposes our problem. Jesus Christ answers it.