The wonderful gay world of Disney

A new guidebook created for and by gay and lesbian fans of the Disney theme parks offers useful travel tips, gossipy behind-the-scenes tidbits, and a catty and comprehensive look at the attractions--and all that gay subtext

BY Advocate.com Editors

March 28 2003 12:00 AM ET

From the just-published guidebook Queens in the Kingdom (Alyson Books), copyright 2003 by Jeffrey Epstein and Eddie Shapiro. Reprinted with permission.

Gays ’n’ Disney
Why do gay people love Disney so much?

People have actually written essays on this topic. But since you bought a guide, we’ll spare you the academe in favor of a little dime-store psychology.

Fantasy: Let’s face it, gay people love fantasy, artifice, and escapism: Hollywood, the theater, dance clubs—we like other worlds. And the Disney parks are all about transporting us to other worlds.

The Outsider Wins: Disney movies have always told stories of outcasts or underdogs who overcome and live happily ever after. From Dumbo to The Little Mermaid, Disney heroes are often thought of as “less than” by their contemporaries. Nowhere is that more clearly illustrated than in the lyrics of the late, gay Howard Ashman, who in Beauty and the Beast had the villagers crying, “We don’t like what we don’t understand. In fact, it scares us,” as they hunted down the Beast. While anyone who has ever felt like a minority can relate to the lyric, the words especially resonate for gays and lesbians.

The “Family” Behind the Magic: It shouldn’t surprise anyone that some of the biggest talents behind the scenes at Disney are gay. Steven B. Davison, creative director at the Disneyland Resort, who’s responsible for such spectacles as Believe…There’s Magic in the Stars and “it’s a small world holiday,” acknowledges that “some of the best designs that have come out of here have been from gay men. Knowing all the designers who I grew up here with, the most evocative parades and the most stunning things you saw came out of a gay sensibility.” And while the 15-year Disneyland Resort veteran gives praise to Disney’s heterosexual employees, “a lot of straight men who are brilliant designers have a stiffer quality about [their designs].”

It’s Over-the-Top: We love a bit of fanfare. Hell, if we didn’t, would our pride parades always be so fierce? Would Madonna have ever been a success? Would Carol Channing have even existed? “I’d come here and I was fascinated by how over-the-top everything was,” recalls Davison of his youth visiting the park. “To me, that’s what gay culture embraces a bit, being very over-the-top.”

You Get to Be a Kid Again: For many gay and lesbian adults, childhood was a painful time. Many were taunted for being effeminate or a tomboy, while others found themselves feeling like the aforementioned outsider as they tried to figure out their place in the world. The parks speak to the child within us, who’s getting a second chance—with a little less angst. Amen!

[Queens in the Kingdom includes information on every attraction, restaurant, and other feature in each Disney theme park—and a selection of nearby attractions and accommodations as well. What follows are excerpts from the Fantasyland chapter, from the Disneyland theme park section.]

Fantasyland
Since so many of us live in Fantasyland on a daily basis (he’ll call, I know he’ll call), it’s fairly safe to say it’s the gayest of the Disney settings. After all, it’s the land of Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After. Walking through it (if you can imagine it without all of those other people cluttering up your fantasy), the sense of magic, fairies, witches, and everything else we hold dear is palpable. Of course, children think so too, and they value those things just as much as we do (thank you, Dr. Freud).

Therefore, if you want a slightly quieter Fantasyland experience, we advise visiting very early, before the kiddies are up, or very late, after they’ve been tucked in or are too catatonic to engage in the whining that is pervasive throughout the middle of the day. Fantasyland also contains the majority of the rides based on the animated classics. Most of these are “dark rides.” While, for many, the dark rides’ gentility classifies them as “kiddie rides,” we disagree. They’re well worth a visit with or without small fry in tow. If you’re the type who’s bored by a poisoned princess or a flying lost boy, you’re not really gay.

Fantasyland is also the place you’re most likely to meet the storybook characters. And since posing with a princess (or as one) has appeal to, oh, one or two of you, we recommend checking out the courtyard just inside the castle.

Sleeping Beauty Castle
Overall Rating: [ONE STAR]
Attraction Debut: 1957 (for the walk-through attraction)

Serving as the portal from Main Street to Fantasyland is “the castle.” It is, of course, known the world over as a landmark right up there with the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, or Siegfried and Roy (oh, come on—they define Vegas). Walt thought that the original conception, based on Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle, looked too literal. Thus he rotated the top of the model 180 degrees, creating the design of what currently stands. The castle’s massive drawbridge has been raised and lowered only twice: once at the park’s opening in 1955 and again for the opening of the refurbished Fantasyland in 1983. What most people don’t know is that the castle actually houses an attraction: a walk-through diorama telling the Sleeping Beauty story. OK, the animatronics look like they’re circa 1911, but hey, this is the story with four, count ’em, four fairies (three good, one evil). On that score alone, it’s worth a peek. Most people like to enter Fantasyland by going through the castle, but we recommend taking the path off to the right and coming in the side way. That route will take you past Snow White’s Wishing Well, and, well, if you’re anything like us, you’ll want to grab the opportunity to make some wishes.

Fairy Fact: Sleeping Beauty Castle was meant to serve as a preview for the animated film, which opened a mere four years after the Castle first lowered its drawbridge.

Snow White’s Scary Adventures
Overall Rating: [THREE STARS]
Attraction Debut: 1955 (as Snow White’s Adventures, remodeled into the “Scary” version in 1983)

Jeffrey is loath to admit that when he first went on this attraction as a small child (three weeks ago), he was so terrified by one of the opening special effects that he shut his eyes for the rest of the ride. Well, he never said he was butch. While the ride is a bit short (and sort of cuts off before the end of the story—like you don’t know what happens), this abbreviated version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is definitely charming, with a few good scares (so be wary if you have small children) and a very cool magic mirror.

Fairy Fact: Running your hand over the brass apple on your way into the building can create thunder and witchy cackles.

Peter Pan’s Flight
Overall Rating: [FOUR STARS]
Attraction Debut: 1955

One of the most beloved rides in Disneyland Resort, even though lines are long and slow. “When I was a child,” remembers Deb from Los Angeles, “I actually believed that if I rode it enough times I wouldn’t grow up.” Peter Pan’s Flight takes guests soaring above a moonlit London and into Never Land for an encounter with Disney’s biggest queen, Captain Hook, and most famous fairy, Tinker Bell. “The most romantic ride in the park,” coos Chris from West Hollywood, Calif. “My partner and I always kiss as we fly in our little ship over Big Ben and the twinkling lights of London.” Plus, which of us hasn’t discussed that Peter guy in therapy?

Fairy Fact: Some of the cannons and such on Captain Hook’s pirate ship were taken from the long-ago-dismantled Chicken of the Sea boat that once stood nearby.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Overall Rating: [THREE STARS]
Attraction Debut: 1955

This ride is unique because unlike any other in the park, its plot, concocted by Walt Disney Imagineer Ken Anderson, has nothing to do with the source material or Disney’s film, and considering that very few people remember Disney’s version of Wind in the Willows, it’s odd that Mr. Toad is as popular as it is. It is beloved, however, even if it ain’t all that wild. But for some kids, it can be a bit intense, thanks to a bizarre ending in which guests are hit by an oncoming train and sent to hell. “I went on this ride with my friends’ 4-year-old son,” recalls Bob from Buffalo, N.Y. “He loved it until the part where the devil came up. Boom! He instantly started crying. We agreed with him that ‘it was scary!’” Whatever. We feel at home in hell.

Fairy Fact: Above the entrance to Toad Hall, in Disney-fied Latin the shield reads “Toadi Acceleratio Semper Absurda,” which roughly translates to “Speeding With Toad Is Always Absurd.”

Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Overall Rating: [TWO STARS]
Attraction Debut: 1955 (remodeled in 1983)

The last time Jeffrey saw elephants fly was after a particularly hedonistic night at the Roxy in New York. In fact, upon recently visiting this attraction, where riders board an elephant and fly in circles high above Fantasyland, he was suddenly jonesing for a cosmopolitan. While it’s essentially a kids’ ride and one of the slowest loaders in the park, there’s something delightfully giddy about soaring over Fantasyland in a big elephant.

Fairy Fact: The ride’s original concept was to have the film’s pink elephants flying overhead, since there is only one Dumbo. But when it occurred to someone that those pink elephants were actually the result of Dumbo’s alcohol-induced hallucination, it was decided that 10 Dumbos were preferable to promoting booze to minors. Let the record note, Jeffrey has no problem promoting booze to anyone.

Alice in Wonderland
Overall Rating: [FOUR STARS]
Attraction Debut: 1958

For our money the best of the dark rides, Alice takes guests through a Technicolor, kaleidoscopic Wonderland. But can we just point out that that girl Alice is a circuit queen–fag hag? Look at the company she keeps: Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum? The Mad Hatter and the March Hare? A fastidious rabbit and a massive queen? Come on. And let’s not forget about the “magic cookies” and pieces of mushroom she ingests. Give that girl a glow stick and send her twirling.

Fairy Fact: Alice’s voice belongs to Kathryn Beaumont, who recorded the role first for the film in 1951, then for the ride in 1958, and again for the ride’s renovation in 1984. P.S. She’s also Wendy in Peter Pan.

Matterhorn Bobsleds
Overall Rating: [FOUR STARS]
Attraction Debut: 1959

The best thing about this turbulent roller coaster—the first-ever tubular steel coaster—is how you’re seated: between the legs of your companion. And because you’re being tossed to and fro, it makes for the perfect opportunity to get a hold of your main squeeze and squeeze away. Cast members in outrageously fey, little Swiss Miss costumes board you on your “bobsled” and send you up the alpine Matterhorn Mountain (which has a 10-story elevator inside) where you encounter the Abominable Snowman (or woman—who really knows?) as you go flying down the man-made peak. It’s not exactly the scariest roller coaster in the world (although we’re told the A track, closer to Tomorrowland, has sharper curves, bigger drops, and goes two miles an hour faster), but the distinctive seating and somewhat rickety feel (don’t worry, it’s a metal coaster, it just feels rickety) provide that extra thrill. As you whiz by the Snowman, look for the Wells Expedition Camp, a tribute to Frank Wells, The Walt Disney Company’s president from 1984 until 1994, when he was killed in a helicopter accident.

Fairy Fact: The Matterhorn was designed to mask the late, lamented Disneyland Skyway’s ugly support tower. The mountain was built over the steel frame and the Skyway cars went right through the alps.

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