Walt Disney World 2019

I’ve been away for a bit, off on vacation at Walt Disney World (and then we tacked on a short Disney cruise as well). But we’re back now, and I’d like to give some overall impressions of WDW. I’ve been a few times, including my honeymoon. We were last there in 2010 for Alexander’s fifth birthday. So of course a lot has changed, but… I wouldn’t necessarily say for the better.

As someone who enjoys Disney (and particularly Disneyland), but not someone who self-identifies as a Disney fan, I still have come to expect a minimum standard from Disney’s parks and resorts. Disney prides itself (or did) on the “magic” it creates. That used to mean spotless theme parks and warm interactions with cast members (Disney’s preferred term for its employees). It meant a seamless experience as visitors moved from resorts to parks and back again.

But not this time.

I chatted about this with my parents, who were with us. They go to WDW every 12-24 months, so they are definitely more well versed than I at what counts as “normal” for these parks and resorts. And they agreed that something was very off about, well, everything.

While we did, as expected, have a number of lovely interactions with cast members, we just as often had, not rude, but stone-faced and indifferent service. And the parks and resorts were not as clean as usual either. I found cigarette butts and gum on the ground, mushrooms growing in green spaces… The un-retouched paint on some of the buildings was shockingly noticeable. Parts of some of the parks simply looked and felt rundown.

My sense is that Disney is so focused on their shiny new stuff that they’ve begun to neglect the older stuff. Disney is all about its Star Wars world (yes, yes, I know it’s actually called Galaxy’s Edge), its Tron coaster, the new Guardians ride that’s being built at Epcot, the new resorts, etc. I suppose the company is banking on these attractions bringing more money (as if they need it)… Meanwhile, the parks are already overcrowded, and Disney does nothing to enforce the rules against line jumping etc. Ticket prices continue to rise, and people keep paying it, which means the patrons behave terribly because they feel entitled, after spending so much money, to do whatever they want.

The buses were especially bad during this trip. Though billed as running every 20 minutes, they were consistently late and overburdened. We used the Minnie Van service quite a lot, which of course costs extra. One suspects Disney wants to nudge people toward that service, though they can’t get rid of their free transportation without causing a riot.

Magic bands didn’t entirely work as they should, either. In particular, they didn’t open our hotel room door and we had to hike down to the lobby and have them reprogrammed. We stayed at Coronado Springs, which I think exemplifies what I stated earlier about Disney being more interested in its new things. All focus at this resort was on the brand new Gran Destino tower; meanwhile, those of us out at the older parts of the resort felt a bit abandoned and like second-class citizens.

This isn’t to say we didn’t have fun. We did. But these fissures in the bulwark that is Disney were impossible to ignore. I did not get the experience I expected (and paid highly for). And I don’t feel any pressing need to return to WDW any time soon. Hopefully my next visit to Disneyland will restore my faith in Disney magic.

Movies: Mary Poppins Returns

Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Colin Firth
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by: David Magee (screenplay); David Magee, Rob Marshall, John DeLuca (story); based on characters created by P.L. Travers
Walt Disney, 2018
PG; 130 minutes
4.75 stars (out of 5)

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I really didn’t have any expectations going in. I recall enjoying Mary Poppins when I was young, and we took the kids to the stage play a couple years ago. Still, I wasn’t sure if they’d get anything out of this resurrection of an old character and property.

I needn’t have worried. My children loved this movie, and it was a joy to watch them watch it, especially my youngest. He was so very invested, bouncing in his seat, laughing like a loon. Meanwhile, my 10-year-old daughter kept checking on me to make sure I didn’t cry too much. (I did cry a bit, though, which is very unusual for me.)

Here we have a grown and widowed Michael Banks, raising three children: twins John and Annabel, and young Georgie. Due to their mother having died less than a year before, the twins have taken it upon themselves to grow up quickly and help run the household. They’re no-nonsense… Something Mary Poppins will soon fix.

The titular nanny arrives as the Banks learn they have only five days to pay back a loan to the bank else lose their house on Cherry Tree Lane.

It’s clear the goal was to evoke the feel of the original film in an almost one-to-one ratio of musical numbers and adventures. “A Spoonful of Sugar” is now “Can You Imagine That?”, “Jolly Holiday” becomes “Royal Doulton Music Hall”, “I Love to Laugh” equates to “Turning Turtle”, and “Chim Chim Cheree/Step in Time” has turned into “Trip a Little Light Fantastic.” That said, all the charm remains intact (or it did for me, my husband, and family). Instead of a pale imitation, Blunt makes the role her own and Miranda likewise is endearing as earnest lamplighter Jack.

There is also more of a sense of a cohesive story here: the Bankses must save their home. Colin Firth plays the villainous banker intent on claiming the property. I do love Firth, and don’t especially like to think of him as evil, but he does the job with all the aplomb of a typical Disney villain. I’m only sorry he didn’t really get his moment of redemption at the end.

I’m very aware that, having just come out of the cinema, there’s a fair chance I’ll feel differently later as it all sinks in, but on the whole I call this one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. Just purely enjoyable. It felt a bit like a gamble to make it, but the result is a delightful win.