Walt Disney’s Legacy – It all started with a Compassionate Mouse

 Walt Disney was a genius. He was born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States of America. His parents were Elias Disney‍ and Flora. He was a man of vision, with big dreams. He didn’t just live in a world of dreams, he actively set out to make them happen. Those dreams have impacted on the lives of millions of children, young people and adults all over the world – even in some of the poorest nations of the earth. You don’t have to be physically in Disneyland – you can be transported into Walt Disney’s magical world by just reading a comic book or playing with a Disney soft toy or by just looking at a picture of Mickey Mouse. As children we  clamored for all things Disney, but we didn’t have access to them. I recollect they weren’t even available in stores in Colombo, Sri Lanka, certainly not anything from America back then.  My Dad bought us three Disney toothbrush holders – Mickey, Minnie and Donald. Just by looking at the figures as we brushed our teeth, we were reminded of these cartoon characters.

micket toothebrushI was born on an island in the Indian Ocean called  Ceylon, it is now called Sri Lanka. We didn’t have the funds as a family to travel from Ceylon to Disney in Anaheim, California in the 1960s or 1970s. But that did not stop us from dreaming about Disney’s characters. There was no television in 1960s Ceylon. However Disney films were screened in cinemas in Colombo, from time to time. Our favorite was ‘Mary Poppins,’ starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The film released in 1964 was directed by Robert Stevenson and produced by Walt Disney. It received 13 Oscar nominations and won 5 Oscars. After seeing the film in Colombo, we learnt a new word: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

 Back in the 1960s there was a travelling book salesman who would come to our home with a suitcase strapped to the back of his bicycle. This ingenious entrepreneur would bring a selection of books with him. My grandfather was a voracious reader so there was a ready made target market in our home! The travelling salesman would go house to house, visiting homes – inside that suitcase was a treasure trove of books and yes comic books. My parents couldn’t even afford to give us pocket money but our grandfather, out of the kindness of his heart, would buy us a few comic books. There were many power outages, sometimes daily ‘power cuts’ as we used to call them when we were growing up in Colombo – we would stick a candle on a tin and read these books!

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That’s when we first came across the magic of Disney on an island in the Indian Ocean, far removed from the magical kingdom built by Walt Disney in Anaheim in Southern California, in the United States of America.

We seem to have handed down our love for Disney to our children. Our son was born in the United Kingdom in the 1990s. By that time the market was flooded with books, DVDs, CD music, cartoons on the television networks that he could watch and experience the magic of Disney. Charin first came across Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, Pluto, Scrooge and all the lovable Disney characters, when he was about three or four years old in the 1990s.

Charin was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Autism has been defined as a ‘complex developmental disability’ appearing in the first three years of life. We bought him Disney videos and he loved them. He used to giggle with laughter and as some children with autism like to do, he used to wind and re-wind the video to the funny parts and look at the scenes over and over again – and scream with laughter. Those Disney pictures stayed inside him.

Charin fell in love with Disney long before he visited Florida. Even though Charin had withdrawn into his own world he was still very visual – Chari thinks differently- in pictures and numbers. Temple Grandin the leading US animal behavior expert who has autism once said: ‘I think in pictures. My mind is like Google images.’ It fits in very well with what Walt Disney imagined, Walt Disney said: “Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.”

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Charin at first was not aware of Disneyland in Florida – he had watched all the videos. Our son is a whizz on computers and as he kept looking at websites he came across the Disney websites and then he kept telling us ‘I want to go to Florida.’ That would be his ‘dream holiday,’ A holiday of a lifetime. Finally, we were able to fulfil that promise to our precious son. Life is hard for him and for us but we thank God we were able to use some unexpected money via an ISA which came our way to take him to Florida. It brought joy to his heart.  Walt Disney was absolutely right. Charin was transported into a magical world – it was truly awe-inspiring for him. He loved every minute of it. Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Blizzard Beach…….Charin has been there, done it, worn the t-shirt. Charin had fallen in love with the world of Walt Disney.

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Meanwhile we had heard favorable reports from other British families with autism about their experiences in Florida. People were blogging about it, talking about it. During our holiday to Disneyland in Florida, we were able to present Mickey and Minnie Mouse with a very special Gold Autism Award for spreading that magic to families with autism from the UK. The award was presented to the Vice-President of Disney, Greg Hale, at Walt Disney World in Orlando. Charin was also invited to present the award to Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. He was absolutely thrilled.

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Many more families with autism are travelling to Disneyland in Florida, to experience that magic. We had prepared him for the journey with a visual timetable. We contacted the airport authorities, the travel company and the airline. Families with autism can never ever take anything for granted. Some young people with autism have a fear of the unknown. Charin wants to know exactly what is going to happen next. When help and support is forthcoming, it really makes it an easier task for families with autism to travel whether it is local, national or international travel. In the past we have worked very closely with Orlando International Airport and Sanford International Airport and the airlines, with regards to families with autism travelling with them. Our campaigning days are over but we were grateful for the opportunity to share with people about the travel needs of families who have children or young people with autism, after all they are paying customers too. On a recent visit we were thrilled to see cast members with disabilities including cerebral palsy and autism being involved as employees – for example making announcements. That was wonderful to see them playing a role as cast members at Walt Disney World. Their lives were being valued by the Walt Disney Company. There are business benefits in employing people with disabilities.

We found the cast members at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and Disneyland in Anaheim, California so helpful and supportive. We recently visited Disney in California, the cast member at Guest Relations took her time to explain everything to us and to our son. She did not rush us and we were grateful for the time taken and the care given to a family with autism. She looked into our son’s eyes, gave him eye contact and spoke to him, personally, about the day. I have to place on record that it was exemplary customer service. That was our experience.

Charin is into all things hi-tech, he loved Epcot and the hi-tech gadgets. On our  2012 trip to Orlando, we visited Typhoon Beach for the first time and Charin enjoyed every minute of it – although he made a beeline to safety when he saw the six foot wave coming his way! Charin enjoyed the Phineas and Ferb’s agent’s mission at Epcot. He felt like an agent and took the assignment very seriously. Our son was rather scared of the faster rides so anything slow was his cup of tea! His favorite place is Magic Kingdom, he loved to get lost in it. This is where Walt Disney’s ‘magic’ came alive for Charin – whether it was the afternoon parade.(he even danced with his mother following the back of the parade), or Toy Story, Stitch, Star Wars, Soaring, the amazing Castle and all the other characters. It was almost like being on a continuous film set for our son. He enjoyed this constant film reel of pictures and characters.

Charin was fascinated by Walt Disney’s life and he wanted to return to Hollywood Studios to see Walt Disney’s office, his first drawings of Mickey Mouse and his desk.
It was amazing how Charin was able to make the connections between the creator and the creation. It was a striking visual picture for him.

It all started with a Mouse. But the legacy of that mouse has brought the magic, the enjoyment, the laughter, the sense of awe and wonderment even into the life of a young person with autism.

Joy is a fruit of the spirit, when you walk into the Magic Kingdom or any other Disney Park you can clearly see joy on the faces of children and indeed the adults!

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The sheer pleasure of seeing Charin’s face break into a smile has made it all worthwhile for us as a family. Walt Disney’s World was a very enjoyable and fascinating world for this young man of ours. And yes, he wants to return to Disneyland, again and again and again!

Walt Disney was a Compassionate Leader. He doted on his girls. I think his number one desire was to make them happy. He viewed his children through the eyes of compassion, Disney was very much a family man. Disney has been quoted as saying: ‘The most important thing is family.’ He wanted his children to enjoy their childhood. He wanted them to have fun. The ideas just kept coming out of his imaginative mind. Walt Disney was a visionary. He dreamt of establishing an amusement park – Disneyland fired up his imagination – it was going to be a family friendly park where a child’s imagination can run riot. He really believed in what he was doing. Walt Disney was a transformational and charismatic leader. He was an expert in the art of communication and made sure he communicated the vision to his team. Disney has been hailed as one of the most creative minds of all time and led America’s golden age of animation.

Disney wanted to create a world that made people happy. His television show Disneyland became an absolute phenomenon. Children started calling him ‘Uncle Walt.’ He once said: ‘Fancy being remembered around the world for the invention of a mouse!” Disney holds the record for most Academy Awards earned by an individual, having won 22 Oscars from 59 nominations. Disney also earned 3 Golden Globe Awards and 1 Emmy Award. There were many times he experienced failure in his life, he even lost the rights to his first cartoon creation ‘Oswald the Rabbit,’ together with his artists. Despite that setback he picked himself up and went on to create the highly successful ‘Mickey Mouse.’ Walt Disney never gave up on his  dreams, despite experiencing in his own words: ‘a case of the D.D.s – disillusionment and discouragement.’

Walt Disney also used empathy as a powerful leadership tool, stories abound of Disney sending his employees to join lines and to put themselves in the shoes of their customers and see it through their eyes, in order to learn from it and improve on these experiences, in an effort to make things better for people visiting Disneyland. By becoming the other you open up a world of understanding and Walt Disney’s aim was to make every single visitor enjoy the experience. Walt Disney said: “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the Park. I want them to feel they’re in another world.” He also said: “I think what I want Disneyland to be most of all is a happy place–a place where adults and children can experience together some of the wonders of life, of adventure, and feel better because of it.”

Walt Disney was hugely optimistic about the future of the United States of America. In 1971 his love for America inspired the creation of the Hall of Presidents – he honored the nation by honoring the American Presidency – our son absolutely loves the Hall of Presidents in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida:

This is the first ever Mickey Mouse cartoon film created by Walt Disney and his team of artists and  premiered on the 18th of November, 1928 at the Colony Theater in New York City. . It was the first ever cartoon that used sound to complement the visual pictures – it became an instant smash hit. LIFE Magazine enthused: ‘Everybody liked Mickey. The children who thought he was funny, the philosophers who thought he represented America’s raucous individualism, the aesthetes who saw in him the first successful adjustment of linear design to the fluttering motion of films.’ Mickey Mouse became an overnight star.

Here are Walt Disney’s Top 10 rules of success:

  1. Show some magic
  2. Invest in Knowledge
  3. Diversify
  4. Know your goals
  5. Try it on a small scale
  6. Experiment
  7. Help your Community
  8. Go with your feeling
  9. Day dream
  10. Have a sense of humor

Ivan Corea

Here is an interesting article from the Disney Institute – Leadership lessons from Walt Disney – How to inspire your Team: https://www.disneyinstitute.com/blog/leadership-lessons-from-walt-disney–how-to/