Generations of Americans have grown up with Walt Disney shaping their imaginations. In 1955, Disney mixed up some fairy tales, a few historical facts and a dream of the future to create an alternate universe. Not just a place for fun, but a scale model of a perfect world.
“Everything that you could imagine is there,” says one young visitor. “It's like living in a fantasy book.” And not just for kids: One-third of Walt Disney World’s visitors are adults who go without children. Visiting the parks, according to actor Tom Hanks, is like a pilgrimage — the pursuit of happiness turned into a religion.
Futurist Cory Doctorow explains the genius of Disney World, while novelist Carl Hiaasen even hates the water there. Kurt Andersentours Disneyland with a second-generation “imagineer” whose dead mother haunts the Haunted Mansion.
We’ll also meet a former Snow White and the man who married Prince Charming — Disney, he says, is “the gayest place on Earth. It’s where happy lives.”
(Originally aired October 18, 2013)
Special thanks to Julia Lowrie Henderson, Shannon Geis, Alex Gallafent, Nic Sammond, Steve Watts, Angela Bliss, Todd Heiden, Shannon Swanson, Katie Cooper, Nick White, Marie Fabian, Posey Gruener, Jason Margolis, Chris DeAngelis, Jenelle Pifer, Debi Ghose, Maneesh Agrawala and Tony DeRose
Video: Walt Disney's original plan for Epcot
Inside the Magic Kingdom
Disney incorporates tiny details into the park design, such as Sleeping Beauty's woodland friends perched outside her castle
Michael Clowers and Clay Chaffin (who played Prince Charming) at Walt Disney World in 1989; the couple has been together ever since
Entrance to the Haunted Mansion, an attraction in New Orleans Square, where facades are copied from real buildings in New Orleans
Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion was modeled after the face of Leota Toombs Thomas, who worked in the model shop where Haunted Mansion was developed
Julie, Marita, and Jim, the Siegel family of Celebration, Florida, in front of their home with host Kurt Andersen
Celebration is proud of its Disney lineage: some of its electric transmission towers are shaped like Mickey Mouse