I have to admit it. I am not a pixie duster (someone who believes Disney can do no wrong). While I truly love the magic of Disney parks, there is also have a dark side to my Disney fandom. My experience began with childhood visits to WDW every 1-2 years. Back then it was entirely magical.
Just about the time when I became an adult is when we started having, albeit very archaic, access to the internet. Up until that point, my knowledge of Disney parks came from the Birnbaum guide books and some books I had bought as souvenirs. I remember searching for info on Walt Disney World and finding this very basic website that had tons of secrets about it. The site was just a huge bulleted list of info, mainly about the Magic Kingdom, and this was the first time I learned about the utilidors, hidden Mickeys and dozens of fascinating secrets about the park and its attractions. While I still enjoyed the magic of the parks, I started seeing them with more critical eyes, and wanting to know what was going on behind the scenes. Those perky cast members couldn’t be that way 24/7, right?
I remember I printed out that list from the website and took it with me on a trip so I could see these things with my own eyes. Emily and I also became fascinated with seeing “backstage” areas that Disney didn’t necessarily want you to see, but also didn’t completely cover up. For example, on the People Mover, there used to be a couple circular windows, and if you looked through them you could see a parking lot. When a cast member would open a door from backstage, we would see if we could see anything on the other side. On an occasional crowded night at the Magic Kingdom, you would exit from Tomorrowland behind Main Street USA. It is all done up nice back there nowadays, so it doesn’t lose the magic, but back then it was not very appealing to the eyes. Our favorite way to observe backstage areas and show buildings that you might not otherwise notice was to take the Skyway ride. It provided a great perspective on the park.
Some years later, I discovered the Mesa Verde Times website, and learned about two guys who had jumped out of the Horizons ride (arguably one of the best rides at Epcot) vehicles and spent hours recording and photographing their antics. I also read about Shane Perez’s illegal exploration of a then-abandoned Discovery Island at night. While I would never consider doing anything that would get me banned from the parks, the fact that others did this really intrigued me. When Leonard Kinsey wrote his book, “The Dark Side of Disney” in 2011, I picked up a copy and enjoyed reading about all his adventures and hacks. He also has some neat videos up on YouTube of his off limits explorations.
The documentary based on the book, Dark Side of Disney, was recently released and I have been looking forward to it for a while. I was hoping that this documentary would be what I thought the train wreck of a movie “Escape from Tomorrow” might be. Indeed it was an offbeat look at how adults enjoy the parks in a variety of unconventional ways. You get to view Disney fans’ darker sides, but they all still are Disney lovers at heart. I don’t want to give too much away in case you want to check it out. This movie definitely isn’t for kids, but if you are interested in less traditional ways that people enjoy the parks, then definitely check it out. And, by the way, I totally want to join a Disneyland gang!
Here’s a preview of the film!