Columnists, Featured, Jon Caldara, Uncategorized

Caldara: Why I can’t stop taking my kids, and my money, to Disneyland

As you read this I will be in Disneyland, spending what’s left of my 401k, suffering from heat exhaustion, choking back expletives while waiting in lines and considering how I might dispose of my children’s bodies without getting caught.

You parents who have survived Disneyland understand. The rest of you, parents, will. Oh yes. Someday you will.

Over the years I have spent enough money bringing my kids to Disneyland that I could have purchased my own amusement park. Maybe not Elitch’s, but certainly Lakeside.

Why do I keep doing it? Because the Mouse is an evil pusher. He’s freaking Walter White. His product is so good, the clarity of his purpose is so clear, the quality of his merchandise so consistent that I find myself joyfully throwing money at him just to watch the thrill in my kids’ eyes. I’m just a junkie “chasing the mouse.”

This will make more sense if you know a bit about my 15-year-old son, Chance, better known as Chance the Man. I have NEVER met a person more ferociously, recklessly and joyously in-the-moment than this boy. He is the crazed frat brother I never had.

Chance has Down Syndrome which comes with a whole host of medical and developmental issues. He’s been through 14 operations big and small, including open heart surgery at 3 weeks old. He can’t read or write (not unlike like his old man). His speech is largely incomprehensible, and he is not fully toilet trained.

This boy devours life. Every minute is a party he doesn’t have to pay for. It’s like John Belushi and Keith Moon (drummer for The Who) had a love child, and I’m his entourage, personal driver and financier. He parties. I pay for the trashed hotel rooms.

He doesn’t live in our world. He lives in action-packed kids’ movies. Most people watch movies. My son is the movie, experiencing it all in the first person. He is NOT a spectator. He is the star.

Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Monsters Incorporated, Toy Story. He lives inside these movies and has so consistently for over a decade. His go-to is the Disney-Pixar great, Cars, where the talking cars in the small town of Radiator Springs are the stars.

In fact, my son is a race car from Cars. He doesn’t drink water; he drinks “gasoline.” When I chauffeur him about, he is loudly racing all the other cars on the road. I feel sorry for all those fools on the road who don’t even know they are playing supporting roles.

He relates to our boring world through these magical movies. The best way to communicate with him is through these movies. Sadly, most folks in our world don’t get that. But Disney does.

Disneyland is so dialed into his frequency he doesn’t call it “Disneyland.” It’s “Disneyland My Home.” One time we were there, and he saw the picture-sign for Cars Land, their life-sized version of Radiator Springs from the animated movie. He screamed, “Cars Land! I’m home!” and ran so fast to it I lost him in the crowd. (Don’t worry. I knew where he was headed.) He refers to all the characters as “my pals.”

Most kids grow out of this period when fantasy and reality are blurred way too quickly. Not my son. And it’s awesome. Expensive. But awesome.

Disney caters to kids who haven’t grown out of the period yet and adults who still remember that period.

Disney’s key is zealot-like brand discipline. Every employee is carefully trained and understands what makes Disney different, what show they are performing. That’s why every employee down to the janitor is called a “cast member.”

My daughter and I saw a Disney horse-drawn trolley go by as the horse dropped a load. We laughed and joked about how the Mouse handles this un-magical situation. We waited and within half a minute someone cleaned it up. We’ve seen street sweepers leave the outline of “Mickey ears” when they’re done. Compare that to how your local government fixes a pothole.

Love or hate Disney (and you can do both simultaneously) you know exactly what it is, and you can trust it will stay that way, a consistent brand.

The lessons for political parties could be sizeable.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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