In What the Magic Means, Terry J. Wheeland, Jr. explores the magic of Disney and how and why it continues to influence us. Whether or not you’re a Disney fan, there’s no denying that few people have had the impact Walt Disney has had upon the world and few multi-media empires have had so extensive a reach. The reason for Disney’s success is its magic, and for the countless legions of Disney fans, that magic has been life-changing.
In his book, Wheeland gets to the heart of the matter of what the magic means to our personal lives by interviewing ten significant Disney fans. Some like Kara Moll are simply that-fans who love Disney so much it has permeated all aspects of their lives. Others like Serena Lyn have moved their families to Orlando to be closer to Walt Disney World. Many of the interviewees have worked for Disney, including Disney Legend Tom Nabbe, who was hired by Walt Disney himself to play Tom Sawyer on Tom Sawyer’s Island; Margaret Kerry, who was the original model for Tinker Bell in Peter Pan; and Lee Cockerell, who served as the Executive Vice President of Operations for Walt Disney World. And then there are the Disney Historians: Jim Korkis, who not only worked for Disney but has written numerous books to preserve its history, and Jeff Barnes, known as Dr. Disneyland because he teaches a course on Disneyland history at California Baptist University. Rounding it out is Ron Schneider, a performance artist in the Disney parks, and Michael Kay and John Saccheri, both followed by countless fans on YouTube for sharing their love of Disney.
I can’t say I’m as die-hard a Disney fan as Wheeland and those he interviews, but I, too, remember the magic of growing up in the ’70s and ’80s watching The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, going to see re-releases of classic Disney cartoons like Pinocchio and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the movie theater, the magic of my first trip to Walt Disney World when I was twelve, and having perhaps the best summer of my life in 1985 when we got The Disney Channel. I thoroughly enjoyed reading in these pages about what Disney has meant to all these individuals in their personal lives and careers.
Here’s just a sampling of passages by those interviewed of how Disney’s magic has changed their lives. Michael Kay revealed how Disney helps bring families together by creating memories for them. Wheeland tells us about Michael Kay’s trips to Disney with his grandparents:
“It’s such simple but very special memories that, for Michael, have made his love for the magic of Disney grow again and again. His grandparents, who have long since passed away, left behind family letters that talk about how special those trips to Disney were for them. They even asked, in a very sweet, sincere way, that ‘if it wasn’t an inconvenience,’ the family remember those times together during their future Disney trips. Michael shared with me that he now takes the first ‘half hour or hour’ of each of his trips just to remember those times as he walks through the parks.”
In another interview with Ron Schneider, Wheeland explores how the parks are more than just the rides or the shows. Schneider tells us:
“What we make at the park is the guest experience. Their personal experience. The physical, emotional, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual experience of what we do. So, the name of the show isn’t Disneyland. It’s your experience of Disneyland. It’s your experience of the Haunted Mansion. We create all of these special effects, but it’s what the guest feels when they walk in the front of that mansion. You can go on the Haunted Mansion fifty times in your lifetime. You know every line of dialogue. You know every effect. You know where everything is, but why do we keep going back? The reason is because every time we walk in that front door there’s something that happens in our minds, and we tell ourselves that this has never happened before. I’ve never been here before. We play that game… the miracle of the first time.”
There are many more fascinating and moving passages in What the Magic Means that get to the heart of the magic, but I’ll leave those for the reader to discover. However, let me explain some of the features of the book. Each chapter not only contains an interview with a huge Disney fan, but it includes a “Let’s Get Goofy” section in which the fan lists such things as his or her favorite Disney movie or favorite Disney park restaurant. One chapter is actually designed like an interview with Walt Disney, and Wheeland draws upon historical evidence to come up with Walt’s favorites. There’s also a foreword by “Dr. Disneyland” Jeff Barnes, who besides being one of the interviewees in the book is himself the author of The Wisdom of Walt and Beyond the Wisdom of Walt.
But perhaps what is most special about What the Magic Means is that Wheeland invites us to think about what Disney means to us. At the end of each chapter is a section titled “What the Magic Means to You.” In this section, Wheeland provides the opportunity for readers to write down their own Disney memories, whether of movies, songs, visits to parks, toys, or most importantly, experiences with family and friends.
For me, these sections alone made the book fun and interesting. It’s one thing to read a book or to love something; it’s another thing to get at the bottom line of why something matters so much to you; doing so often pushes us to have a better understanding of who we are and puts parts of our lives in perspective.
I think it’s obvious that anyone who loves Disney will love this book. It’s a short, quick, easy read, but also one I think you’ll come back to again and again because in it you’ll find other people like you who are unapologetic about the love they have for Disney because of all the magic it has brought into their lives.