Sunday, December 1, 2013

A two-for-one Main Street special

One of the  many reasons I enjoy visiting Walt Disney World is for the immersive experience it provides. In Adventureland, I’m transported to exotic ports and  layers of intrigue. Liberty Square is Disney story-telling at its finest, from the patriotic tones of the Hall of Presidents to the playfully spooky Haunted Mansion. Everything has a beginning, and for the Magic Kingdom that’s Main Street U.S.A. It’s a fanciful recreation of a bygone era, showcasing life at the turn of the century - the 20th, that is.

The Walt Disney Company, diversified as it is today, built its foundation on movie making, first with animation and then live-action. The Magic Kingdom borrows many filmmaking elements, beginning with how Guests are introduced to the park. As you arrive, you walk underneath the train station along red carpeting, as if you’re attending a movie premiere gala. Attraction posters line up either side of the tunnel, as if they are trailers for future films. As you exit the tunnel, you enter into Main Street, transported back in time. Continuing to use filmmaking concepts, the buildings utilize forced perspective, a technique that alters the ratio of second and third stories, making them appear larger. We’ll start with the establishing shot, which takes in the broad avenue of Main Street and ends with Cinderella Castle, it too featuring forced perspective, allowing us to believe that its spires are magnificently tall. The wide shot of Main Street also features store fronts and a horse-drawn trolly gently clip-clopping along. Next, a medium shot is featured, highlighting the town square and the adjacent Town Square Theater. A dolly shot, tracking alongside its subject, showcases the eatery Tony’s Town Square and the nearby confectionary shop and The Chapeau, featuring Disney hats and custom monogramming. Finally, a closeup shot fixates on a pink hat box hanging outside The Chapeau. That’s where our story begins.

(quick sidebar - whenever I think hear the word chapeau, I immediately recall Steve Martin’s monologue about the French language: “Chapeau means hat. Oeuf means egg. It’s like those French have a different word for everything!” But I digress . . .)

A pink hatbox hanging outside a hat shop? Perfectly natural, of course.The Main Street barbershop still uses the traditional red, white and blue striped pole to indicate the service offered within. The ornate hatbox, complete with a bow, elegantly states Chapeau, indicating it’s a fancy store. If our story ended here, it would be, pardon the pun, neatly wrapped up in a bow. Instead, this is where it gets interesting.

Recall that Tony’s Town Square is next door. Its inspiration is from the 1955 Disney animated classic Lady and the Tramp, a canine love story. A key scene in the movie is set at an Italian restaurant, lending an air of authenticity to Tony’s Town Square. There’s a clever nod to the film outside Tony’s, where a paw-drawn heart, pierced by Cupid’s arrow, is forever memorialized in the cement. Two sets of paws are within, one from Lady and the other from Tramp. However, the key establishing shot from the movie is Lady’s entrance. Jim Dear presents a gift to his wife, Darling, one Christmas morning, in a beautiful lavender- and cream-striped hat box. As Darling unwraps the bow, the lid pops up to reveal Lady, a sweet cocker spaniel pup. There it is - Tony’s Town Square and The Chapeau shop next door, each cleverly referencing and reinforcing each other.

But wait - there’s more.

Disney fans will be thrilled to learn that the Christmas scene from the film also has a story, taken directly from Walt’s life. Walt longed for a family pet but his wife Lillian was steadfastly against it. Walt researched the ideal dog breed to counter Lillian’s objections and settled on a chow, given their disposition, odor and fur. The next challenge - how to deliver it. Walt used a Christmas eve family gathering to present his special gift to Lillian. While family guests weren’t looking, he placed the chow pup into a hat box and set it under the tree. The label read: To Lilly, from Santy Claus. When presented with the hat box, Lillian made the logical conclusion that she was getting a hat. To her great surprise, instead it was a dog! She quickly fell in love with the gift, and named the chow Sunnee. You can hear more about this special gift in Walt’s own words, courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Museum.

There you have it - Main Street U.S.A.’s two-for-one hidden Disney tributes. The chapeau sign cleverly referencing a classic Disney animated feature, and also pays tribute to a special moment between Walt and Lillian Disney.

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