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Culture

What We Can Still Learn From Walt Disney About Living Happily Ever After

By S.G. Cheah·· 6 min read
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Very few men will merit a life of great admiration. Walt Disney was one of these very few men. Disneyland, Disney World, Disney movies — these are some of the gifts Walt Disney left us — to help us dream, to inspire us, and to delight us.

His daring vision shaped the very way we entertain ourselves today. This article is a celebration of his sense of life.

Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America... with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.  — Walt Disney

Many people don’t believe they deserve to be happy. Walter Elias Disney dismissed the thought of this idea entirely. In his short 65 years of life, he succeeded in achieving dreams beyond imagination, and through his work offered the world boundless joy. More than half a century after his death, his work and accomplishments still fill our lives with happiness.

Walt Disney Pursued Happiness Relentlessly

Cynical pessimists like to mock and ridicule the endorsement of happy endings in Disney films. They say it's simply childish and unrealistic because the world is a cruel and dark place. They believe the world to be fundamentally unjust, and, therefore, it's wiser to just give up and accept how you're doomed for a lifetime of unhappiness.

Never get bored or cynical. Yesterday is a thing of the past.  — Walt Disney

Walt Disney Rejected This View of the World

A common theme in all of the projects Walt Disney created and oversaw was the certainty that your dream can come true. Walt Disney’s view of a benevolent universe — where the pursuit of happiness was paramount — was mainstream with the American public of his time. It may be difficult to imagine today, but at one point in America’s history, this was, in fact, a characteristic that was proudly American.

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. — Walt Disney

Proud Defender of American Values

Walt Disney said, “I believe that this spiritual and intellectual freedom which we Americans enjoy is our greatest cultural blessing. Therefore, it seems to me, that the first duty of culture is to defend freedom and resist all tyranny.”

Disney embodied the American spirit in a way that the Greatest Generation in America did. While most people today wouldn’t even consider it to be an honor to fight for America, Walt Disney forged his birth certificate in order to appear older than he was, so that he could join the war effort during World War I. He was only 16 years old.

The first duty of culture is to defend freedom and resist all tyranny.  — Walt Disney

His love for America was clear. Walk down Main Street USA in both Disney World and Disneyland, and you can imagine how glorious and exceptional America was to him. Whenever a bitter cynic tries to mock the joy you receive from watching Disney movies, you can notice how the same cynic who hates Disney fairy tales shares no love for American exceptionalism.

He Valued His Family Life 

Despite his power and influence in the entertainment industry, Walt set aside Saturdays exclusively for his family. It was on one of these Saturdays when the inspiration for Disneyland occurred.

A man should never neglect his family for business. — Walt Disney

He didn’t think it was proper for his young daughters to be exposed to the grimy and vulgar environment of the amusement parks his family patronized. From that, the vision for Disneyland came to him. He envisioned a place where parents and children can create happy memories together. What was good for his family was good for other families as well.

The important thing is the family. If you can keep the family together — and that’s the backbone of our whole business, catering to families — that’s what we hope to do.  — Walt Disney

His respect and appreciation for the family were the reasons why Walt Disney Pictures were staunchly wholesome, moral, and just. The good princess marries the good prince because their happy ending is a form of moral justice. These are the stories children today desperately need to hear.

Optimistic, Idealistic, Ambitious, Fearless

Walt Disney lived life as a heroic man. Throughout his life, he had been rejected, swindled, and sneered at for most of his visions and goals. Nobody expected Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to perform as magnificently as it did at the box office. 

First, think. Second, believe. Third, dream. And finally, dare.  — Walt Disney

No one foresaw how Walt would completely revolutionize motion pictures when he made animation its own genre of entertainment. Walt had to take out a mortgage on his own home in order to complete Snow White because no one saw his genius.

Disneyland is another example of Walt Disney’s genius. Most people during that time thought his project of a theme park was preposterous since nothing like it existed prior to his vision. Yet again, Walt had to mortgage his entire life savings in order to finance Disneyland himself. No one foresaw what a stunning success Disneyland would be. No one, except Walt Disney.

He Grounded His Dreams in Reality

Among the most invalid criticism against Walt Disney is the claim that he promotes unrealistic, delusional, unhealthy whim worship through his fairy tales because of their consistently happy endings. This accusation is wholly undeserved because Walt Disney had always advocated the importance of grounding one’s mind in reason, logic, and reality, even when one dreamed of the stars.

I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter. — Walt Disney

During World War II, Disney produced a number of short films for the war effort. One of them was Reason and Emotion. It cautioned viewers to the dangers of uncontrolled emotions and how unchecked emotions were the driver of Nazi Germany. This film is still worth watching, especially today.

Trust in the Good

It's incredible to know that, if Disney had wanted to, he could have easily produced mesmerizing and dark, soul-crushing movies. Proof of this can be seen in his wartime propaganda films such as Education for Death about Nazi Germany’s indoctrination of children. 

I hate to see downbeat pictures. I know life isn’t that way, and I don’t want anyone telling me it is. — Walt Disney

However, he was certain that war —  with suffering, fear, and pain —  was not a permanent state of life because life is properly wonderful, benevolent, and kind. Once the horrors of war ended, Walt went back into producing his brand of wondrous and inspiring feel-good films again.

To Live Happily Ever After

In bad times and in good I’ve never lost my sense of zest for life. — Walt Disney

Walter Elias Disney was a man of his generation — America’s Greatest Generation. His character traits were common during that time in history. The thing that should impress you the most about Walt Disney is how the magic of Walt Disney has survived to this day despite the Baby Boomer’s counter-culture movement to reject their parents’ values. It’s now our time to carry his dream forward.

In his own words — “Tomorrow will be better as long as America keeps alive the ideals of freedom and a better life.”

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