Friday, December 08, 2006

A Walt Disney Christmas

In which we visit the Happiest Place on Earth for a little Nativity Cheer

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine, Vebs, talked me into to going to Disneyland. I don't exactly remember the moment that this happened. I suspect I was in my cups just a tad was and caught off guard. As a former inmate behind the barbed wire at Mauschwitz, I generally have little desire to experience the Magic again, if you know what I mean. In fact, when Vebs later mentioned going to Disneyland for the Disneyland Christmas Candlelight Ceremony, I had no recollection of agreeing to go. But I figured that I had said what had said, and a man's word is his bond, and all that, so I pretended to remember this commitment, and went along for the ride.

Besides, I wanted to see the updated, Johnny Depp-ized, Pirates of the Caribbean.

I could not have been more impressed by it all. The day started grandly, with Vebs and his lovely wife, Vivi, picking me up on Sunday morning and driving down quickly, via Vebs's secret back roads, to the Happiest Place on Earth. Under a perfectly crisp, blue sky, we parked valet and headed into Downtown Disney for a little light shopping and a bloody Mary (or two).

At about noon-time we headed into the park, taking a bee-line for Small World. At ordinary times, this is not my favorite attraction. But at Christmas time it comes alive with a complete holiday make-over. Plus, the line is usually short, the attraction being a classic but not a thriller.

Then we hit Pirates. One word: Wow! Without spoiling anything I can say that of the most improvements are subtle—more and shinier gold and treasure, larger and louder explosions and splashes in the pirate ship-fort battle, etc. But there are two rather major animatronic additions having to do with the recent films and their protagonist that are, simply put, astounding. And there is one knock-your-socks-off illusion. 'Nuff said.

After Pirates, Vivi and I went on to the Haunted Mansion, while Vebs went to stake out our place on Main Street, USA, for the Christmas Candlelight Ceremony—almost three hours in advance. Now, even though I'd worked for Disney, I had never heard of this event. Indeed, it is not even advertised, being mainly, I found out later, for in-the-know, local Disneyphiles. It occurs on two consecutive days before Christmas, usually on an otherwise lack-luster weekend between the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year's mob scenes and involves choruses from schools and churches from around Orange County and the Southland. A celebrity usually narrates the story of the Nativity and provides color commentary.

I'm not exactly what you'd call a good Christian. I am an agnostic on a good day. But, like most people with deep roots in Western Culture, I consider myself a cultural Christian. That is to say that while I am not a believer per se, I recognize that these stories are a vital part of my cultural myth system. It's unavoidable; part of my wiring.

Latent Christian or not, once we joined Vebs at the spot he'd staked out, amid the thousands of others who had come to see the spectacle, I couldn't help thinking to myself, "Damn, I wish the Rapture would come right now and get some of these assholes out of my way." Actually the crowd was very polite and the hour and a half that we stood waiting was really quite pleasant.

The show began with an overture -- a Christmas carol medley—by the orchestra, followed by the Candlelight entrance of the choir. This was unbelievable. They came shuffling down Main Street, USA, in robes and carrying candles… and kept coming… and coming… and coming… It must have taken a good fifteen minutes for them to all climb to their places in and on and around the Town Square Train Station and on the giant human Christmas tree. There were at least a thousand of them. And they sang as they came. I admit I was moved.

The evening's celebrity narrator was Andy Garcia, who lent the ceremony a bit of, shall we say, gangster cache. The show lasted about an hour. It was extraordinary, beautiful, glorious—and unabashedly Christian. That was refreshing, more so than I would have thought. It's rare to see such an unabashed celebration of what the holiday is supposed to be about, at least outside of a church. And slave-to-Mammon Disneyland is the last place you would expect it. A have to say that the boys down at ol' Imagineering* did a helluva job on this, creating a show at once spectacular and tasteful, reverent and delightful.

And while it may have not restored my faith in God, it certainly restored some of my faith in Walt Disney and his legacy.

*Makes you wonder where the Jewish imagineers were the day they came up with this. Maybe the thing was planned by a secret cabal of Christian imagineers during Rosh Hashanah.


Post a Comment

<< Home