2nd Star to the Right

Over the past few months I’ve spent lots of time with many of you in our family of entertainment and theme park professionals: musicians, writers, designers, producers and performers. I’ve seen more than a few shows, stared endlessly at numbers and plans for new parks, marveled at the creative instincts of so many and remembered once again what I love so much about this business. I’ve also decided this: PT Barnum was right – but so was Walt Disney.

Barnum famously quipped that there was “a sucker born every minute”. True perhaps but in fairness he also made some prescient observations about human nature and the importance of entertainment; a show producer in Branson once told me “The Branson crowd loves to pretend to be surprised by the expected” – I think that’s true of every crowd and Barnum knew how to do that and more. We all like to be fooled a little and then have it turn out fine in the end. And then there was Walt.

Walt Disney had an endless ability to dream; but more than that he believed, no he knew that his dream would come true.

Sometimes Walt takes flak for creating “the Disney version”; you know a saccharine, sanitized view of things like the perfect Main Street or a contrived happy ending. In a sometimes-troubled world, I think he simply envisioned a world where he’d like to live, where kids could be kids and the rest of us could be kids too. His genius was in knowing that the only thing that could possibly stand in the way of his dreams was Walt. He wanted to craft things that articulated his world and so he did. At the end of the day, he did a very simple thing: he believed in his dreams and acted on them. And then there’s little Sofia Cruz, who met the pope because she knew she had to and she knew she would.

The beatific look on her face as she was lifted into Pope Francis' embrace says it all: hope, faith, trust, belief. She looks so serene, so confident, and so happy. She has learned an ancient truth early in her young American life: that faith and belief coupled with the courage to act is an unstoppable combination. When asked by a reporter if she thought she was going to get to meet the Pope when she took her long journey cross country, she immediately said: “Yes!”. The reporter chuckled, a little surprised and said: “You did?” “Yes” she said once again. She never doubted for a minute that she was going to meet the Pope. And so she did.

Among my projects these past few months I’ve met people who have long held onto dreams that are now about to become reality for a very simple reason: they have suddenly found the courage to act. Theme parks are interesting because they are complex constructs of multiple layers of operational disciplines wrapped in the unforgiving environment of live theatre. Which is why they are so magical. It’s easy to be dazzled by all the detail and forget the simple truths that really make them work: The power of people to dream and create, and an equal ability on the part of our audience (and ourselves) to suspend disbelief just long enough, that dreams can actually come true.

Just ask little Sofia. Second star on the right; can't miss it.