Forty years ago, Roy Disney stood on a stage in the hot Florida sun and declared that his brother’s dream had finally come to fruition. A park that built upon the groundbreaking innovations and ideas of Disneyland and brought unique magic to the other coast of the United States.
As beautiful and memorable as Roy’s opening day speech was, however, it wasn’t quite accurate. Walt Disney’s vision for the “Florida Project” went far beyond the creation of a theme park. In fact, the theme park was just intended to be one of Walt’s “weenies,” a draw to bring people in to see the true wonder – an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow where the problems of cities, poverty, disenfranchisement, and pollution would be solved, proving just what man was capable of achieving.
That grand vision never came to fruition. Over the past 40 years, Walt Disney World has become one of the world’s premiere entertainment complexes, but it has never built schools or solved traffic flow problems. Yet even though it failed to produce Walt’s utopian vision, the Florida Project has succeeded in keeping Walt’s great dream alive in one immutable way – it stubbornly, unflinchingly continues to celebrate the good in human beings and the belief that, together, we can make a better world.
That faith, so much a part of what defined Walt Disney as a great man, remains a powerful part of the magic that sustains Walt Disney World, in good economic times and bad. Amidst all of the parks that have grown up in and around Orlando over the past 4 decades, only the Disney parks celebrate the potential of mankind and strive for community. That beautiful dream, whether expressed in the global friendship and future technology of Epcot, the environmental hope of Animal Kingdom, or the sheer warmth and optimism of the Magic Kingdom, appeals to something deep in the human psyche. We keep going back to Walt Disney World, because it is there that we can catch a glimpse of Walt’s vision – a glimpse of a world that has a better tomorrow in which we are all included.
Today, forty years after Roy Disney stood in the Florida sun, celebrating the Florida Park as a “tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney,” one thing remains the same amidst all the changes to the park. In spite of its imperfections, its transformations, and its good and bad attractions, the magical lands arrayed around Cinderella castle remain “a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn – together.”
There is magic in believing, against all the negativity and dictates of society that we can laugh and play and learn – together – and that by doing so, we can craft a better future from the sound of our laughter, the wonder of our hopes, and the power of our dreams.
Forty years ago, a pair of brothers – a dreamer and a doer – dared to believe that dreams come true. They found a way to share that belief with the world, and after 40 years, Walt Disney World continues to stand as tribute to the power of their dreams. May the Magic Kingdom remain another 40 years as a reminder that, if we believe in the power of our dreams and work to realize them, there are few limits on what we can achieve.