”Come on, Daddy, come stand in line with us. You said you wanted to high-five Pluto.”
– Daughter to me, today, at Disney World
Who knows what has led me to believe that I have a special relationship with Disney, but that’s just what I’ve felt all my life. And my connection isn’t just with the Disney characters, not just Donald Duck and Goofy, but with Walt Disney himself, a man who died before I was born.
The special feeling didn’t end when I grew up. Disney was one of three companies on my very short list of places I wanted to work at when I graduated from the business school. Disney, Coke, and Nike was my complete list. I applied for jobs with all of them, interviewed at Coke and Nike, but never at Disney. Not yet, anyway.
Maybe it was the fact that I learned to read when I was very young, and Donald Duck comics – Aku Ankka in Finnish – was one of the biggest weeklies in the country, and one that my parents later subscribed to for me, too, so I’ve spent a big portion of my life in Duckburg with my friends. Aku Ankka, by the way, is still Finland’s biggest weekly magazine, with over a million readers. Not bad in a country with 5.2 million people.
Maybe it’s the fact that once, when I was about ten, and had just finished a special Batman-Superman comic book in which Batman got cryogenically frozen, a trick that saved his life. It may have been Superman, too, although that seems unlikely, and it could have also been somebody else, I don’t remember exactly. I’ve been looking for that book in second-hand stores all over the place, but haven’t found it. Anyway, I told a friend about the fantastic story in which Batman had fooled death, and he just shrugged his shoulders.
“Walt Disney did it, too,” said my friend who also taught me the difference between Disneyland and Disney World. He knew about those things.
Now, I only checked this a few years ago after I had listened to a story about people working with cryopreservation in their garages, no less, and it seemed to be untrue. Walt Disney didn’t do it. But for a few decades he did, in my mind.
Maybe it’s the fact that when I was ten and Mom and Dad and me would pack the car and drive to a friends’ cottage, the biggest treasure was always waiting for me under one of the beds in the main kitchen: two boxes full of Aku Ankka comics from the 1950s and early 1960s, or, what I call “the golden era”. I only recently realized that when Son refers to some issues of his comics as “classics”, he’s right, even if his classics are from the early 1990s. I watch him eat breakfast with a pile of Donald Ducks next to him, just waiting there to be read, and I’m a little jealous, because it’s not as easy for me to get into Duckburg anymore.
Or, maybe it’s just that the only toy I have left from my own childhood is that two-inch tall plastic Donald Duck on my desk, leaning on a cannon ball I bought in Warsaw in 1996. Somehow, Mr. Duck has made it here with me through everything. In case you’re wondering, he’s never been frozen, either.
But mostly I think that Walt Disney is like a family friend simply because my father told me once that on his desk, Walt Disney had a sign that said, “Always be yourself”, and it was a lesson Dad wanted to pass on to me, too. Then he gave me Walt Disney’s biography to read.
I don’t know if he had a sign like that, because I’ve never checked it. I’ll probably never check it – it’s too good to be checked – and I’ve already told the same story about the sign to Son and Daughter.
And, yes, last night as the sun went down on Disney World and the bronze statue of Walt, I did high-five Pluto and he looked happy.
So did I.