“Disneyland will never be completed, as long as there is imagination left in the world.” – Walt Disney
I’ve noticed a recurring trend that appears whenever Disney fans analyze changes to the parks. Instead of engaging with concerns, people often just cite the famous quote above from Walt Disney. It’s an easy way to justify any move, regardless of the reasons for it. Not all updates are created equal; I want the parks to stay fresh and would love to see Disney move faster to fix outdated attractions. On the other hand, certain decisions sit differently. Referencing this quote tends to end the discussion and basically acts like a “get out of jail free” card. I agree with Walt’s original sentiments, but it’s now more of a marketing statement than a mission.
In his book Dream It! Do It!, Marty Sklar describes writing many of Walt’s signature phrases. His work helped shape the ideas that built Walt’s legend. These themes aren’t a lie; they reflect the man behind the myth. On the other hand, they also simplify a complicated guy into sound bites. Sklar’s book gives a fascinating look into both Walt and the messaging that sold his bold ideas. His words clarify that Walt never stood pat and always pushed for the future. Of course, that personal drive is different than just a way to market an attraction. Disney management has become experts at using Walt’s statements to present all types of expansions and updates.
I shouldn’t underplay this statement’s brilliance; it’s a clever way to convey the missions of both Walt and Disney. The company was regularly at the forefront of technological advances under Walt’s leadership. In his documentary Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, Christian Moran effectively showed Disney’s many firsts. This quote conveys the idea that Disney is a forward-thinking company that isn’t like other park operators. Sklar also cites the importance of not using the word “rides” to describe their attractions. They’re selling experiences, not typical amusement park fare. The idea that Disneyland “will never be completed” also creates excitement over what new attractions are on the horizon.
Selling Controversial Moves
In recent years, Disney leadership has appeared more willing to use its legacy to sell controversial moves. When Tom Staggs announced that a Frozen attraction would be replacing Maelstrom at EPCOT, the Disney Parks Blog post began with Walt’s quote. It’s no coincidence that Staggs’ words mentioned Walt before even discussing the update. Here’s the opening of the September 12, 2014 article:
“When Walt Disney promised that Disneyland would never be completed, so long as there is imagination left in the world, he made a promise to our guests that we take seriously at all our locations around the world. This year, one particular product of imagination — Disney Animation’s blockbuster hit “Frozen” — captured the hearts and minds of people around the world and gave us a new opportunity to make good on Walt’s pledge.”
Staggs’ words described this choice as fulfilling Walt’s mission instead of capitalizing on Frozen. I understand why Disney is building a land connected to Arendelle but disagree on the execution . I’ve discussed the impact on EPCOT previously, so I’ll stick with the messaging here. The awkward introduction makes this announcement feel defensive rather than exciting. The Disney Parks Blog is the PR arm for the company. This introduction rationalized the move instead of selling the benefits. Maelstrom needed an update, but fixing it had little to do with Walt’s pledge.
The Wonderful World of Pins
A quick search at the Disney Parks Blog for the iconic quote reveals a wide range of marketing uses. It makes sense to cite the quote when opening New Fantasyland. Others seem less essential and sound ludicrous at times. My personal favorite involves a special series of Diamond Decades pins. Here’s an excerpt from the July 8, 2015 Disney Parks Blog article by Michelle Harker quoting Merchandiser Erin Catalano:
“Our Disney Parks see constant change and evolution; we referred to a quote from Walt Disney stating, ‘Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world’ — that single quote sparked the idea for the entire collection.”
Beyond the silliness of using the quote to sell pins, this example reveals a danger in citing the same line too often. When a statement appears everywhere, it loses any impact. It’s similar to using the word “magic” to sell a dessert party. Disney knows how to market its products, but sometimes the hype is too much. I have nothing against pin collecting, but even limited-edition products are a stretch for this quote.
We Need a Better Quote
Here are some more examples of ways that Disney has used Walt’s quote:
“Walt Disney once said, ‘Disneyland will never be completed, as long as there is imagination left in the world.’ As ‘Disneyland Forever’ caps off each evening of this once-in-a-lifetime celebration, we discover Walt’s inspiring words still hold true today. Disneyland will continue to be home to all our dreams and adventures … forever!” – Shawn Slater, Disney Parks Blog (January 28, 2015)
“Walt Disney once said that Disneyland, and by extension all of our parks, would never be complete as long as there is imagination left in the world. That was a promise he made to all of our guests. At the same time, he was charging all of us at Disney Parks to stay true to our legacy of creating experiences that bring our characters and stories to life, helping friends and families make memories that last a lifetime. I think it’s clear from the stunning work that has gone into every aspect of New Fantasyland that there is still plenty of imagination left in our world.” – Tom Staggs, Disney Parks Blog (December 6, 2012)
“Walt promised guests Disneyland would never be complete and today Tom showed us that Disney Imagineers have followed in Walt’s footsteps as they continue to evolve our parks with new characters, stories, attractions, entertainment and other immersive experiences.” – Thomas Smith, Disney Parks Blog (August 20, 2011)
Just Scratching the Surface
These examples represent a small portion of ways that Disney uses Walt’s iconic quote. It appears on construction walls and in speeches by executives selling new attractions. A quick Google search reveals countless references from fans on Instagram, Pinterest, and scrapbooking sites. The phrase “Disneyland will never be completed” receives more than 18,000 hits. It now embodies a vision for the future beyond the parks. I just wish that Disney management took it more to heart. They’re definitely still upgrading the resorts and have major Star Wars expansions coming, but the spirit is less convincing. Regardless, fans have taken on Walt’s message and made the quote their own. No matter what happens at Disneyland, they believe it.
Source: Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms by Marty Sklar (Disney Editions Deluxe)