Maybe “hate” is a strong word, but he certainly didn’t want to have anything to do with it when I first met him. While Weston never made fun of my Disney fandom, he made it clear it wasn’t for him. He didn’t understand why I liked it so much.
The longer we’ve been friends, the more we’ve slowly started to impact one another. I’ve written before on WDW Radio how I’ve influenced his movie quotes and how he inspires me with his passion. But throughout all of that, he remained pretty firm: Disney was my thing, not his.
Fast-forward to last December. Something happened that I never thought I would get to experience in my lifetime: I walked through the gates of Magic Kingdom Park with Weston by my side. It was one of the greatest thrills of my college career thus far.
Fast-forward again to this spring. Imagine my surprise and delight when half the conversations I have with Weston are about Disney and initiated by him, not me. He discusses movies. He analyzes park news and history. He even wants to work there. How did this happen? Here’s Weston’s story.
Blake Taylor: How would you describe your perspective of anything Disney two years ago?
Weston Lawrence: Well, two or three years ago I would describe my perspective of Disney as overrated, out of touch, stuck in the past, and directed toward children, especially girls.
BT: What initially began to change your mindset?
WL: I think the main thing that changed my mind was The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom by Aaron Wallace. It gave me a new perspective on how it all works and I started to see Disney as more than a theme park and more than just Magic Kingdom. I visited Magic Kingdom in eighth grade. I hated it because it was in the middle of July, it was hot and crowded, and my family didn’t know what we were doing. We were just trying to ride as many rides as possible. Reading that book, I got to see the history behind Disney and the reasoning behind everything and seeing it not only as a stand-alone theme park or an organization that makes princess movies, but as an organization that’s about progression. Disney stays with the times while also holding onto the traditions that people love. They advance forward with things like Wreck-It Ralph or Frozen, where the wasn’t even a significant guy character. Once I started to see it like that, my perspective changed when I visited Florida with you last December, and I got to see all the hotels and all the work and history that goes behind it.
BT: How did the December trip influence you? What did you experience that you did not expect?
WL: It definitely changed my perspective on things. I went into it thinking Disney was for children, and it was boring and stupid and lame. I was blown away by the little things Disney does to go over the top for the guest, to go above and beyond the call of what’s expected of them. At Disney, you’re expecting something amazing, but they manage to exceed those expectations. I don’t even know how. I think what really amazed me the most were the things you don’t even really think about. Like you never see any trash in the park, and you don’t think about it. Afterward, you’re like, “I didn’t see any trash anywhere.” Or, all the Cast Members being so friendly. You don’t think about that. For example, one of the character attendants took our pictures while we were just talking to the character in addition to the posed picture of us with the character. That was cool because you got to see the experience happening on the camera. And then there’s the other things Disney does, like Celebrate the Magic with the projections on the Castle. That was incredible, and that wasn’t even a main selling point of the night. That was my favorite part. I thought that was so incredible with the technology they are able to utilize. That really surprised me. When you think of a theme park, you think of mechanical rides and the animatronics that go for two minutes and then they’re done as you get off the ride and go about your business. But IllumiNations or the fireworks or the dude going down the zip line from the top of the castle out of the park… I don’t know where he went. Or she, or whoever it was.
BT: Tinker Bell?
WL: Yeah, Tinker Bell. Just that kind of stuff. They’re basically pioneers and that really surprised me because, once again, when I thought of Disney, I thought of Cinderella and Snow White and lame animatronics. There was a lot of incredible stuff like that.
BT: In what ways do you find those take-aways applicable in everyday life?
WL: Disney never settles for good enough. Disney always goes above and beyond. They always take that little extra step and always put as much attention into the little things as they do the big things. They’re able to utilize what’s current, what’s recent, what’s new. They’re able to stay on the forefront of things. They’re able to stay at the front of the pack and progress in a way that’s always ahead of the curve. They’re never ok with being ok. They always want to do better. It’s something that I want to project in my own life: Doing the little things with excellence like Disney does, never being ok with ok, and always striving to do better than what I’m doing, even when what I’m doing is really good. You can always continue to do better and find ways to do better. It’s a statement to their creativity and the atmosphere that they foster and the environment they create. I want to take that into my own work. If I become a boss one day, I want to create that same atmosphere of creativity and foster that same sense of excellence.
BT: How do you see Disney working into your future?
WL: I’m looking at the Disney College Program right now. We’ll see how that plays into my life. Even if I don’t do that, though, I could end up at Disney in some way, shape, or form. I’m a Recreation Management major, and I could see myself working at Disney, even if it’s just for a couple of years, just to work for a great organization, theme park, or resort like that. I’ll definitely be taking my kids there when I get the chance. I can’t wait to see what they have in twenty years, or however long it is when I take my kids to see Disney. It’s going to be awesome to be able to see what I got to see last December in addition to whatever they have that’s new then. At this point, it could go any way. I could be working there the rest of my life, I could just do the College Program, I could do nothing. But I’ll definitely be there at some point in the next few years, maybe even sooner than that. Who knows?
(Photos belong to author’s personal collection.)
What’s your Disney fan story? Do you know someone like Weston, who went from hater to fan?
Blake studies Electronic Media and Film at Appalachian State University. He enjoys making his family of six watch the parade in Frontierland and then sprint to Main Street in time to see it again. You can find him on Twitter @olddirtyblake or at BlakeOnline.com.