Of all the countless reasons why I love going to Walt Disney World, one of my favorites is meeting the characters (yes, I know, I’m 19…). I know it may be strange to hear that coming from a technically legal adult, but I’m just going to say right now that I will never grow out of it. I grew up with them, princesses and villains alike. They’ve been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember and have taught me things that have shaped who I am today. Every time I visit WDW, it’s like revisiting my heroes.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet a few of my other heroes, television animators Bryan Konietzko and Phil Rynda. Although neither of these brilliant men have ever fought dragons or broken evil spells (at least, not to my knowledge), they are just as important and inspiring to me now as the Disney characters have always been and forever will be. Bryan is one of the co-creators of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, a show I’ve watched and admired since it came out in 2005, and Phil has had a hand in a variety of animated shows, one of my favorite being Adventure Time. The two of them visited my school and gave back-to-back lectures about their work and experience, each flipping through hundreds of slides projected on the big screen to give us a taste of what it’s like to be television artists and animators. Needless to say I was fangirling just a little (or, like, a whole lot) and they had me hanging on their every word. I was soaking it all in and learning as much I could in my brief time in their presence because their work has inspired me immensely over the past decade in the same way that Walt Disney has.
In a way, being in that auditorium with two amazing, influential artists in front of me, giving me and my peers first-hand advice on my career goals, gave me the same overwhelmingly magical, tear-inducing feeling I always get when I walk into one of the Disney parks. I could almost feel their words of wisdom enveloping me as melodically as the ever-present background music in WDW. After the lectures, Bryan and Phil kindly stuck around to give us all a chance to come right up and talk to them (and snap a selfie, of course). As I waited in line to meet them (an experience a frequent Disney-goer is VERY well acquainted with), the same whirl of excitement, anticipation, happiness, and a dash of fear that you get before riding Space Mountain or meeting your favorite character washed over me. When it was finally my turn, I was fortunate to have a nice chat with each of them, and they even signed my sketchbook! Flashback to when I was little and obsessively carried around my Disney autograph book for each character to sign as I encountered them.
Of course, my school’s auditorium is certainly no Magic Kingdom, but in that moment, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference based on how I felt. Meeting your heroes is always an unforgettable experience, but the best part about it, for me, is simply the reassurance that if they can achieve all they have, so can you. (I apologize, that was insanely cheesy but very true.)
(Images from author’s personal collection.)
Which Disney characters are you always excited to meet or wish you could? Have you met any of your heroes, Disney-related or otherwise? Tell me in the comments below!
Alyssa Schulman is currently a student at Rhode Island School of Design. She was born in Florida but moved to Massachusetts at age 10. Alyssa’s heart has belonged to Walt Disney World for as long as she can remember, but something very high up on her bucket list is to visit all other Disney locations. She intends to pursue illustration in the hopes of being even half as inspirational, or at least entertaining, as Disney Animation continues to be to her.