Guest Blog

Guest Blog: Koehler Disneyland Series The Magician

Sunday, October 1, 2023

 

Koehler Guest Blog Disneyland Series

To all who come to this blog series on archetypes at Disneyland, welcome. This series is your series. Here Dr. Koehler offers insights into the presence of Dr.Pearson’s 12 archetypes at the Disneyland Resort, and here you will encounter new ways of thinking about those archetypes across the fan experience. This blog series is dedicated to the dreamers, the doers, and the lovers in The Walt Disney Company across time, with the hope that it will inspire new ways of engaging with the mythic mouse in the future.

--Inspired by Walt Disney’s opening day speech

  

The Magician 

By Dori S. Koehler, Ph.D.

“All Disneyland is, you see, is the outward phenomenology of the internal imagination. And if people can’t go into their imaginations, they will go into Walt Disney’s, and he will help them. And that’s what religions have done all the time.”

– Joseph Campbell[i]

 

The presence of magic is integral to things Disney. It’s everywhere in the Disney brand, from its prevalence in Disney fairy tales to the name of one of Disney’s cruise ships (the Disney Magic), to the catch phrase “have a magical day.” Cast members don’t ask each other where they work. They ask each other “where do you make magic?” Even the medium of animation itself, the genesis of Disney storytelling, from Disney’s point of view, is synonymous with magic. Some might call this a transformative glamour, and some might call it corporate sleight of hand, but either way, one cannot deny that millions of fans are touched by that magic.

The experiences patrons encounter at Disneyland remind us of the magic inherent in storytelling and the living magic that’s in the world all around them. It’s my opinion that this reminder is the boon they give to the world. In fact, I would argue that Mickey Mouse’s most famous incarnation is Sorcerer Mickey. In the iconic 1940 film Fantasia, Mickey Mouse is apprentice to a sorcerer named Yen Sid—Disney spelled backward. This is a clear reference to Walt himself. Walt gave his voice to the earliest versions of Mickey Mouse. He is a personification of the archetypal Magician and the animating force behind Mickey Mouse’s magic.

But Disney magic is not confined to the screen. It is also brought to life through practice. As early as the 1930s, Walt Disney recognized that there was a fervent desire among fans to engage with his stories in the physical realm. In a recording in the Disney+ documentary Mickey: The Story of a Mouse, Walt Disney recounts receiving letters from fans petitioning to come to the studio, to visit Mickey and Minnie and touch the Disney magic. It was clear to him that he needed a physical place where fans could live the magic. So, he built Disneyland. And 68 years later, despite the turmoil around us, a trip to Disneyland can still help fans make magic in their everyday life.

Carol S. Pearson’s work on archetypes in individuals and organizations offers excellent insights into some of the reasons why Disney continues to cultivate magic among park patrons. She states that organizations that identify strongly with the Magician archetype are good at “reframing difficulties and empowering people.” In 2011, I attended the D23 Expo, at which Disney legend Don Hahn discussed creativity and archetypes. I asked him about this—does Disney intentionally utilize archetypal theory in its work? How important is it to its business model? His response is something I’ve taken with me in all my research since then. He noted that although we cannot consider Disney as anything other than what it is—a corporation with a board intent on making profit—that corporation is made up of people, artists. Those people know that what they do matters. They know they are empowering people. Yes, Disney is a corporation like any other, but its magical mission continues to inspire its fans by encouraging them to engage their own Magician archetype.

That’s certainly the case at Disneyland in this year of Disney 100, the centennial of the founding of the Walt Disney Company. Disney invites dreaming, reframing, and empowering its guests to embrace the magic at the parks and take it home with them, thus becoming more magical themselves. The park’s newest parade, Magic Happens, begins with a loud “Calling all Dreamers” announcement. And that’s just one example. Disney alludes to a connection between dreaming, magic, and craft in everything it does.

Why does this work? Because embracing one’s magic is owning one’s empowerment. According to www.etymologyonline.com, the word magic comes from the Greek magos, meaning “of the learned and priestly class” as well as from the ancient Persian magush, meaning “to be able, to have power.” Empowerment is at the root of Disney’s mythic message.This message continues to resonate with many of our fellow humans who seek access to an empowered and transformative life.

The way the Magician archetype guides our journey was a central myth theme in the vastly popular Disney 100 fireworks show Wondrous Journeys, which finished its run at Disneyland on August 31, 2023. Like other shows at the Disney parks, Wondrous Journeys utilizes characters from across Disney’s mythic canon to provide a narrative through-line without retelling any one of the animated stories themselves. It begins with a note from a narrator: “For over a hundred years, the Walt Disney Animation Studio has invited audiences to believe in things never thought possible. And so tonight, we once again invite you to wish upon stars, to step into the unknown, and to join us on this, our wondrous journey.”

The show has a strong frame; both the beginning and end offers segments that utilize the lyrics of its title song, It’s Wondrous. It calls on the Magician archetype in that frame by showing both Mickey Mouse and Yen Sid in the first chorus. The lyrics remind us that this story —our story— is about magic. It goes like this: “It’s the magic that we call life. It’s the stardust that lights your eyes. It’s the flight of the butterflies. And when you see it, can you believe it? It’s wondrous.” It also ends with the same theme, reminding the audience that this show is a space for mythic time. It is time to suspend disbelief and engage with Disney magic.

Within this neatly crafted frame are six narrative subsections, presented like Disney’s own Magician hero’s journey, as a balance to the Campbellian hero’s journey:

1.    Dreamers are on a magical journey of discovery.  

2.    Dreamers work hard.

3.    Dreamers embrace transcendence.

4.    Dreamers believe in the eternal nature of their dreams.

5.    Dreamers get discouraged and face challenges.

6.    Dreamers navigate those challenges through their ability to love and embrace their community.

As the show closes, our silly ol’ Pooh bear shows up with a nostalgic voice asking why we can’t go back to the beginning and do it all over again. The narrator reminds us that we must keep moving forward,[ii] because we are now transformed by the experience. “But Pooh, it’s just another turn of the page, and I for one think what comes next will be wondrous.” This final message leaves the audience with a thought for contemplation: What will you do with YOUR magic?

There’s so much more I could say about this show— from the magic conjured by the incredible popularity that hits the zeitgeist, especially amongst young people who feel hopeless in the face of current political, economic, and ecological turmoil, to the technological magic of the thing itself, to the magic of the community being conjured around it on TikTok in the live streams. But instead, I’ll just remind you that the Magician is alive in the lives of Disney fans and leave you with the last line from the exit music: “Now that you see it, believe it. It’s wondrous.”

 

Dori Koehler, Ph.D. is a cultural mythologist and scholar of American popular culture. She is a professor of Humanities and Popular Culture at Southern New Hampshire University. Her book The Mouse and the Myth: Sacred Art and Secular Ritual is available on Amazon. Her latest chapter on DisneyBounding and Cosplay as sacred practice is published through Intellect in Interpreting and Experiencing Disney: Mediating the Mouse edited by fellow Disney Studies scholar Dr. Priscilla Hobbs. Her forthcoming chapter focuses on Disneyland live streamers and the conscious creation of community through theatrical practice. She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband Bruce and their cocker spaniel Sorcha.


[i]Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor, 17.

[ii]This reference to Walt Disney’s iconic phrase “keep moving forward” admonishment is mine, not the show’s.

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