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Dubious American Symbols: Toy Story Playland in Disneyland

Walt Disney Studios in Paris opened a section last year called “Toy Story Playland”. The area features a series of rides designed for children, based on the characters of the Toy Story franchise: RC Racer, Slinky Dog ZigZag Spin and Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop. Why choose Toy Story for a new theme park section instead of the many other Disney franchises? There are many good reasons to pick it up, such as its popularity and the obvious merchandising opportunities. I would like, however, to speculate on one more reason that might have led to that choice. In this instance, whether consciously or not, Disney performed a very subtle cultural exercise in promoting cars, consumerism, and the American army.

Promoting cars is not new for Disney – they did it openly and multiple times in rides such as Test track (Epcot) or the coming Cars Land (Disney California Adventure). Thus, it was not surprising to see the RC Racer ride in the Toy Story Playland. Disney is visibly committed to glorifying this mode of transportation to children all over the world, at least as long as it pays off with sponsors.

Promoting consumerism has always been an implicit and powerful message in all Disney theme parks. Toy Story Playland is about toys, and children encounter consumerism for the first time with toys. It is coherent for Disney to encourage consumption of its products by emphasizing the pleasure that kids get from their toys. It is a logical and predictable consequence of the commercial nature of its enterprise.

The novelty comes from the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop. As far as I know, Disney had never tried to glorify the American army in one of its attractions before. The subject is too difficult, associated with war and violence, and could not be addressed directly. However, the Toy Story Playland adds three layers of abstraction. The Toy Story movie does not portray the army itself, but army figurines. The Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop ride is not about the army, it is a ride based on a movie with figurines that are representing the army. The three layers of abstraction make the connection with war barely noticeable, and allow Disney to treat the subject without any problems. An entertaining representation of military forces is delivered to children and their parents. Of course, the ride is not meant to be taken seriously. But people enjoy the association made with the green colours of military uniforms. The positive experience undoubtedly helps to build a positive image of the (American) army to international crowds.

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