The Disney Company’s decision to officially change the name of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida will give the man behind the magic one final farewell, and the very idea of it is both shocking and enraging.
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Saturdays in the late 1930s and early 1940s were some of the most memorable and meaningful days in the lives of Walt Disney and his two daughters, Diane and Sharon. As Walt would later say in numerous interviews and documentaries about Disneyland, Saturdays were “Daddy’s day.”
“Saturday was always Daddy’s day, and I would take [my daughters] to the merry-go-round, and sit on a bench eating peanuts while they rode,” Walt explained. “And sitting there alone, I felt there should be something built, some kind of family park where parents and children could have fun together.”
It was in that moment that the idea for a magical place called Disneyland–named after the man who created it–was born.
But the park didn’t finally become a reality until Walt’s daughters had children of their own, so rather than bursting through the gates of his new park, hand in hand with his daughters in 1955 on opening day, Walt was seen instead sitting on the lawn near Sleeping Beauty Castle, holding his grandson Christopher.
Almost immediately after Walt Disney and his brother Roy O. Disney opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Walt set his mind to building his next park–on thousands of swampy acres in Central Florida. Compared to Disneyland California, the “Florida Project” would be massive, and it would be home to even more attractions, entertainment, and fun that could be experienced by children and their parents than Disneyland.
So Walt and his team set about the business of planning in Florida, but “the boss” at Disney, known for his trademark cough and painstaking attention to detail, was sick. And no one knew it. Not even Walt.
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And on December 15, 1966, as animators at Walt Disney Studios were finishing The Jungle Book and Imagineers were working on dreams and plans for Walt’s new family resort in Central Florida, Walt Disney died–just 11 days after his 65th birthday–at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, right across the street from his beloved studios in Burbank, California.
Those closest to Walt at the Disney Studios were shocked by his passing. Imagineers working on the Florida Project were beside themselves. And the world nearly came to a stand-still upon hearing the news of the visionary’s death.
Walt’s brother, Roy O. Disney, however, knew that this was no time to stand still, and–determined to see the Florida Project to its completion–he postponed his retirement so that he could lead the charge to re-embrace that work alongside Walt’s Imagineers. The project, named “Disney World” by Walt before his passing, slowly began to take shape. It would be nearly five years before Disney World would be constructed and finished, but on October 1, 1971, it finally opened in Bay Lake, Florida–with one major change.
Walt planned to call the new park, “Disney World,” but after he died, his brother Roy decided otherwise, in an effort to forever honor Walt’s legacy. On October 25, 1971, Roy O. Disney took to a podium at Magic Kingdom, and, with Mickey Mouse by his side, he dedicated the new park, officially naming it “Walt Disney World” so that his brother’s legacy would not be forgotten.
“Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney,” Roy read aloud to the crowd of Guests and celebrities on that warm Monday afternoon, “and to the talents, the dedication, and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney’s dream come true. May Walt Disney World bring joy and inspiration and new knowledge to all who come to this happy place–a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn together.”
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But now, more than 51 years after that dedication, Walt’s legacy is in jeopardy, as there is talk of renaming the Central Florida Disney Resort that Walt dreamed about and Imagineers sketched out back in the early 1960s.
Talk of a new name coming to the Walt Disney World Resort first got loud when Twitter user Parkscope Joe tweeted his thoughts after listening to a podcast called the Disney Dish that offered to its listeners the idea that a name change could be in the works for the Central Florida parks. The supposed change would allegedly involve dropping Walt’s name from the official title of the resort, leaving it simply the “Disney World Resort” or shortening it even further–to only one word: “Disneyworld.”
In his tweet, Parkscope Joe largely focuses on the boldness with which Disney’s Josh D’Amaro and former CEO Bob Chapek would be acting, had they decided to move forward with such a change.
Many Disney fans already feel as though the Disney Company has gotten away from Walt’s vision, his ideals, and his goals for the company as a whole. So removing his name from the official title of the “Walt” Disney World Resort sounds like the final nail in the proverbial coffin when it comes to that vision. Do we really want to get rid of Walt?
Since The Walt Disney Company removed Chapek from his post as CEO on November 20, it’s not clear what direction the company will take–if any–regarding the removal of Walt’s name from the official title of the Central Florida parks–which includes Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as well as Disney Springs and dozens of Disney World Resort Hotels–but this writer, for one, sees such a decision as a mere fool’s errand, sure to result in a laundry list of unfortunate events, each one sure to sully the Disney experience as we know it.
In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, what would have happened to the company, if Walt had been removed? And are we arrogant and gullible enough to believe that removing him in the 2020s would be any better?