The house that Mickey built

Apparently, during the planning stages of Disneyland, Walt Disney referred to the castle--the one that's become synonymous with not only the amusement park, but Disney itself--as a wienie. That's right, a wienie. Maybe our minds are permanent occupants of the gutter, but we can't help but notice the phallic connotations of the word, and since Disney used it to refer to the castle and other vertical, cylindrical landmarks situated in the park, it's not hard to connect the dots. It just seems so inappropriate coming from the man who created Mickey Mouse, the man with the reputation of being childlike, an innocent. Kind of takes some of the magic out of the Magic Kingdom, doesn't it?

Maybe we're just too cynical, looking for excuses to tear the man down. After all, we've had a chip on our shoulder about Disney and his amusement parks since our first visit to one, when a costumed character (believe it was Goofy, maybe Pluto) put us in a headlock. Even though everyone in the crowd was smiling and laughing, it wasn't one of those hair-tussling, why-you-little-scamp headlocks; there was enough force behind it for us to assume that a body slam was coming next, followed by an elbow drop and a pin for the Intergenerational Title. There's a photo of that standoff somewhere, Goofy with a permanent plastic smile as his arms were locked firmly around our 10-year-old head, which was completely masked except for one frightened eye. Since then, we haven't had much appreciation for Disneyland.

Still, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth's latest exhibit, The Architecture of Reassurance: Designing the Disney Theme Parks, intrigues us. Organized by the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, The Architecture of Reassurance presents 350 objects from Walt Disney Imagineering--the Disney design team--including plans, drawings, paintings, and models of the parks and attractions, as well as posters and print advertisements and historical photographs of the projects. It's a behind-the-scenes look at the Disney theme park empire (which includes Disneyland in Anaheim, California; Walt Disney World and EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida; Tokyo Disneyland in Japan; and Eurodisney in France) from start to finish, examining the many myths surrounding the parks along the way.

Most of our curiosity about the exhibit doesn't necessarily stem from the parks themselves, but from the man behind them, the suspiciously happy dreamer who was able to create what most people could only imagine. Sure, his vision of the future, which once seemed so prescient, has degenerated into a schlocky '50s sci-fi flick with better production values. And maybe he didn't come up with everything himself, but at least he convinced others that it was all right to try. For that reason, we still respect Disney, still look at him and his creations with a bit of wonder. But if we ever see Goofy again, we're swinging first and asking questions later.

--Zac Crain

The Architecture of Reassurance: Designing the Disney Theme Parks will be featured at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 1309 Montgomery St., February 14 through April 11. Karal Ann Marling, curator of the exhibit, will give a free lecture, "Disneyfication: Memory and Make-Believe in the Architecture of the Theme Park," at 7 p.m February 16 as part of the museum's Tuesday Evenings at the Modern series. Call (817) 738-9215.

 
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