American Icons: The Disney Parks

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Disney parks American Icons Studio 360

This is America’s vision of utopia.

Generations of Americans have grown up with Walt Disney shaping our 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 tours Disneyland with a second-generation “imagineer” whose dead mother haunts the Haunted Mansion. We’ll 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.

Bonus Track: Cory Doctorow on the Disney theme parks

Hear Kurt's full conversation with Doctorow about his life-long obsession with Disney in general, and the Haunted Mansion specifically.


Video: Walt Disney's original plan for Epcot


Inside the Magic Kingdom

Annabel Fabian, 9, and her mom Genie Cesar-Fabian, and Tigger


Above the firehouse on Main Street USA sits Walt's private study where he would work and entertain guests at Disneyland


Izzy Kleiman has been an Annual Passholder to Disneyland since she was 5


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


To celebrate the winter holidays, downtown Celebration is covered in 'snoap'  mdash; a soapy snow substitute that falls from the streetlamps


Music Playlist

  1. Facades

    Artist: Phillip Glass
    Album: Sentieri Selvaggi Plays Gavin Bryars & Phillip Glass
    Label: Cantaloupe Music
  2. When You Wish Upon a Star

    Artist: Philharmonic Disney Orchestra
    Album: Disney Classics
  3. Belle (Karaoke Instrumental Track)

    Artist: Pro Sound Karaoke Band
    Album: Sing Beauty and the Beast
    Label: ProSound Music, LLC
  4. The Blue Fairy

    Artist: Disney
    Album: Music from the film Snow White
  5. Grim, Grinning Ghosts

    Artist: Bare Naked Ladies
    Album: The Haunted Mansion: Haunted Hits
  6. Like a Doll's House

    Artist: Disney
    Album: Music from the film Snow White
    Label: Disney
  7. Some Day My Prince Will Come

    Artist: Disney
    Album: Music from the film Snow White
  8. Kissing Dopey

    Artist: Disney
    Album: Music from the film Snow White
    Label: Disney
  9. Pirates of the Caribbean

    Artist: Disney
    Album: Music and dialogue from the attraction
  10. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln

    Artist: Disney
    Album: Walt Disney and the 1964 World’s Fair
  11. Wall-E

    Artist: Disney
    Album: Music from the film
    Label: Walt Disney Records
  12. Someday My Prince Will Come

    Artist: Stanley Clarke Trio with Hiromi & Lenny White
    Album: Jazz in the Garden
  13. Father's Footsteps

    Artist: Disney
    Album: Music from the film Mary Poppins
    Label: Walt Disney Records
  14. Someday My Prince Will Come

    Artist: Miles Davis
    Album: Someday My Prince Will Come
  15. Nocturnes, Op. 55: No. 1 in F Minor

    Artist: Arthur Rubinstein
    Album: Chopin 19 Nocturnes
  16. Someday My Prince Will Come

    Artist: Norman Simmons Trio
    Album: Satin Doll
  17. Someday My Prince Will Come

    Artist: Tigran Hamasyan
    Album: Fable