The happiest place on earth is not so happy after all


Disney goes the distance

Tiaras. Prince Charming. Happily ever after. Seems like perfection — right? However, the one and only Walt Disney had a far from perfect life. From losing the rights to his first animated creation, to bankers rejecting Mickey Mouse more than 300 times, Disney had to go through many hardships for his vision to take flight. Still, Disney devoted his life to making families happy — a vision which is projected on employees.

The magic of Disney has touched the lives of students and staff. From growing up with the classics to the entire school absolutely losing their mind when “Encanto’’ was released, the magic of Disney can be seen through the spirit of Marian. “What I find so amazing about Disney,” Assistant Principal Mrs. Jennifer Christen said, “is that he was rejected so many times but still kept pursuing his vision. His family worked for him with no profit just to support a vision he had.” His determination to make families happy has lasted well into the 21st century. While Disney’s vision has come to fruition, the events leading up to Disney’s peak became a subject of controversy.

It’s the green you need

Mickey’s fame was growing, and so was Disney’s new company. There was a setback — the Great Depression. With this came the first issue with worker pay. points out that money became a bit of an issue and so did paying his employees. According to animation historian and author Jake S. Friedman, Walt Disney was granting unfair wages to workers resulting in what became known as the Disney strike in 1941. Even his best friend, Art Babbitt, went against Disney in support of those being paid unfairly. Disney had been strongly opposed to unions his entire life and his best friend actively pushing his workers towards joining a union enraged him. After Disney was sued, workers’ wages were raised by 25% and each striker received 100 hours in pay back. However, the family unit he created was never the same.

Everything the light touches: Disney’s kingdom

Disney went on to create other major known films such as “Bambi” and “Snow White,” but he still wanted something bigger. He came up with an idea that would eventually become every child’s dreamland — Disneyland. The launch of Disneyland in Anaheim, California was eventful. It earned itself the name “Black Sunday.” 

Thousands more people showed up than expected, asphalt melted women’s heels and there was an issue with the water. It seemed that whatever bad thing could’ve gone wrong went wrong. 

After some reworking, Disneyland (and later Disneyworld in Florida) became known for what it is now. After the strike in the ’40s, there still seems to be a payment problem among employees. According to the Los Angeles Times, Disneyland’s attendance has gone up significantly since 2000 but the pay has dropped 15%. “Workers at the Anaheim resort are paid so little that more than 1 in 10 report being homeless at some point in the last two years,” the LA Times said. The workers that work full time aren’t sure whether to pay for needed food or the rent. Krupka finds this “surprising because Disney is a giant empire that is known for keeping families happy.” People focus more on the product, or quality of entertainment given to them rather than those who produce it. 

“Almost all of the workers I have encountered really put in the extra effort to make sure every guest has a very ‘magical’ trip experience.”

-Sophomore Sophia Reinhardt

Whistle while you work

Disney workers come across as such happy and kind souls. “The basic guidelines they had us follow were called The Four Keys— Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency. Courtesy is really where that excellent customer service comes in,” alumna Ellen Juracek Adam ’13 and former Disney worker said. Their work contract requires them to be happy, but The Los Angeles Times argued that it’s hard to be happy if there is a struggle to support your family. Even though the pay is above federal minimum wage ($7.24) workers still struggle to get by, but still do so with a smile on their face. 

At the Disney theme parks, workers need to encompass this magic. “There was also a “Disney Look” expectation. Your costume had to be clean, unwrinkled, and worn according to guidelines with all applicable pieces,” Adam said. However, keeping a permanent smile and perfect look on Disney has shown to be a good coverup for the realities workers have faced over the years. 

“The Walt Disney Company expected excellence from its Cast Members. They have some of the best customer service you will find anywhere and that’s a reputation they want to keep.”

-Ellen Juracek Adam ’13

Where dreams are born

Disney, a name which brings a sparkle to children’s eyes, casts a dark shadow on the people behind the scenes. Nevertheless, Fandom and Robotics Club came together January 22 for 6th and 7th grade trivia night over the topic of all things Disney. “Disney is something universally known and has something for everyone to relate to,” sophomore Sophia Reinhardt said. Mrs. Molly Raabe followed by noting that “in the past few years when we have done Disney trivia, we have found all the events to have a wait list.” Using Disney as a go-to ice breaker has proven to be effective. 

Disney tends to appeal to the audience’s emotions that are comfortable to come back to. “Disney has a nostalgia factor that keeps people hooked and makes it easy to love,” senior Anna Krupka said. It gives children a nice happy ending to climactic plots relevant many years later.

The core values are taught to prepare students to handle real world situations and challenging environments such as Disney. Since her time at Marian, Adam utilized such values in her day to day work life as an intern at Disney and afterwards. “Compassion and community are the most applicable, particularly on hard days of dealing with difficult guests,” Adam said. Even to this day, Adam believes that Disney is a great place to work and having the core values as a foundation, she was able to experience the magic of Disney as a workplace.       

The workers for the theme parks strive to keep the magic alive which can greatly impact a child in a positive way, but the reality is workers are not so happy after all. 

Illustration of the Disney Castle by BaileyKollasch

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