In one corner of our house, my wife and some other very special people set up a little station for me to pursue my various art projects. On one wall of that little corner hangs a poster of Walt Disney. In the picture, he’s a young man, with an intense gaze, and in the picture he’s casting a shadow. The shadow is Mickey Mouse. Now while I am not really a fan of the corporation that bears his name, Walt Disney is to me an icon of animation, and an icon of individualism.
Now before you come down too hard on me, yes I know he was a bizarre individual, and yes I know his studio produced its fair share of statist propaganda, some of which is particularly hideous (Donald Duck's admonition for me to pay my taxes springs to mind), but think about this for a minute. When I say ‘Walt Disney’ you know exactly who I’m talking about. His life was a life of ideas, of stories, and he changed the world to be able to tell those stories.Almost every major advance in animation in the early 20th century came about from the vision of one man; Walt Disney. Disney would decide to tell a story, decide how the story needed to be told, and then wind up creating the technology to tell it. The modern theme park industry exists , for the most part because of the vision and strength of will of one man; Walt Disney. His was the example of a Great Mind, who can see what it wants and then builds a bridge to get there. On such men the world is built.
Great minds bring together other brilliant people to help accomplish their vision, but these brilliant people , generally speaking, wouldn’t have accomplished their greatness without somebody somewhere saying “Hey, what happens if we try it this way?” Great minds create worlds that the rest of us get to be a part of. Without Walt Disney, there is no Disneyland. He didn’t lay the bricks, he didn’t pave the streets, he didn’t mechanically assemble the rides, but without his idea of what he wanted to build, the bricks would never get laid, the roads would never be paved, and the rides would be just an assemblage of parts looking for a purpose. In a ‘you didn’t build that’world that disdains the accomplishment of great minds, and places the credit on the road pavers, and brick layers, I would ask this; how come those people, as talented as they may be, didn’t assemble on their own and build a park in the central Florida swamp?
There is a story that may or may not be true that during the opening ceremony of one of the theme parks, a Disney executive remarked to Disney's widow, “Wish Walt could have seen this” to which she replied “He did.” At the end of the day, the idea, the dream, the vision, whatever you choose to call it, is way more important than the nuts and bolts necessary to build it. The world is full of nuts and bolts, what it lacks is great minds capable of seeing what those nuts and bolts could be. The world is full of brilliant people yearning for a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves, something more than the sum of its parts. A great mind will provide them that opportunity.
Great minds help other people accomplish great things in their wake, as Mr Disney did with Annette Funicello. Without Disney, the legitmately talented Ms Funicello is just another little girl dancing a ballet recital. With Disney’s accomplishment, she had a framework in which to develop her talents and capitalize on them. His vision made her life better. Without Walt Disney, there are animation techniques and approaches that I can utilize that would not exist. His vision makes it easier for me to accomplish mine.
To see what happens when the great mind passes, and their shadow and drive and energy begin to fade, go into a Disney store. What you’ll see is a celebration of the past accomplishments that borders on cannibalization, or merchandising based off the work of some other great mind that Disney Corp. purchased just for that soulless purpose (ala Pixar or Marvel or Lucasfilms).
I may be reading too much into this poster, but in it Walt looks young, determined, and hungry. He looks like a man full of ideas, ready to cast a large shadow. If that was his goal, he certainly got it done. Walt Disney is an Atlas in my mind, and a good example of what a man, an individual can accomplish if they stay true to their vision, even if that vision starts with a whistling 4 fingered rodent.