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Let’s Talk About the Iconic Symbols of Walt Disney World

Let's Talk About the Iconic Symbols of Walt Disney World Cinderella Castle in early morning

I was a child of the sixties. I was born in 1959 (put away the mental math, people. I’m 63 years old) and was one of six. Three boys, three girls. Think Brady Bunch except we weren’t blended. We lived in the country in upstate New York and our days, especially summer days, were filled with adventure, exploration and discovery.

After running around the fields and forests and streams all week behind our house, Sunday night was bath night – whether we needed it or not. We shared the same water. By the third child the water would be cold, and I suspect the last child came out dirtier than they went in.

Once we were all *cough* clean, we’d gather in the living room, some on furniture, some on the floor, with a Sunday treat, a bowl of ice cream, in our laps. We were in place in front of our big console television at the same time every Sunday. With the channel set to ABC, final commercials aired, and 7:00 pm came around, The Wonderful World of Disney would come on. There, in front of us – in Technicolor, mind you – Sleeping Beauty’s Castle would appear. We’d watch as fireworks went off around the castle and then Tinker Bell would circle around the TV screen, touching her wand for explosions of color on the night sky. Someone on the show, maybe even Walt Disney himself, would announce “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

To this day, whenever I see any Disney princess castle, that memory flashes in my mind. There are so many symbols that evoke thoughts and wonderful memories of Walt Disney World. When I’m leafing through a magazine and catch sight of a pair of Mickey Mouse ears on an advertisement. Watching television and an ad comes on that shows Spaceship Earth or the monorail.

And not just visuals. Even music. I need only to hear the first three notes of “When You Wish Upon a Star” to have that song stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Side note: I chose Steve Tyrell’s version of “When You Wish” for my Daddy-Daughter dance at my younger and equally favorite daughter’s wedding reception.

And not just music…the Magic Candle Company depends on your evoking Walt Disney World memories through their vast collection of Disney-themed scented candles.

These are the things that trigger a Disney response.

To me, Disney is about visuals. Just listen to Imagineers talk about “forced perspective,” and you know visuals are important to the Disney experience. The shapes, colors, and even down to the variety and detail of uniforms the cast members wear will catch my eye.

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Photo by Stephanie Klepacki on Unsplash

And the parks have their own symbols to represent them. EPCOT has Spaceship Earth, Animal Kingdom has the Tree of Life, Magic Kingdom has Cinderella Castle, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios has… has… a, uh, hmmm… a ride?

Maybe the powers-that-be were thinking that the largest or most prominent structure in the park would act as its icon. But if that were the case, Magic Kingdom would have Space Mountain as its symbol. Animal Kingdom would have Expedition Everest. Spaceship Earth in EPCOT is an iconic symbol with the added benefit of a ride inside, but if that ride was ever taken away, the geodesic dome would still be completely appropriate as EPCOT’s icon.

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These are all visual representations of their respective parks.

Lately, I’ve seen the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (TZToT) ride as a symbol of Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS). I’m not sure if that’s long-term thinking. As is generally the case, rides get replaced. Granted, the immensity of the TZToT structure is noticeable, and it’s hard to imagine something else taking its place, but it just doesn’t seem right as a symbol of the park that will withstand the test of time.

Without an iconic symbol, DHS seems to lack personality. It’s missing an identity like the other parks at Walt Disney World.

I know I’m going to take some heat for this, but I regret the decision that was made to remove the Sorcerer’s Hat from DHS back in 2015. The hat was iconic. It always caught my eye. I liked the colors. It was instantly recognizable. It was a handy meet-up point because it was just about at the hub of the park.

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And it fit the whole theme of the park, which is an immersive entertainment experience in film, television, music and theatre. The Sorcerer’s Hat comes from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment in Walt Disney’s 1940 film, Fantasia. It represented artistic energy in a formative time in Disney’s past as it was venturing into relatively uncharted territory of full-length animated features. It had just Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio before it.

The Sorcerer’s Hat stood at the park’s hub between 2001 and 2015. Before that, when the park was known as Disney-MGM Studios, the park’s icon was the Earffel Tower, a fun non-functional water tower sporting Mickey Mouse ears that was meant to emulate the functional water tower at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. The symbolism is noteworthy. The Earffel Tower was removed in 2016 and has since been relocated to Disneyland Paris.

Where did the hat end up? If Disney doesn’t need it, maybe it’ll fit in my backyard? I’ll talk to the neighbors. They’ll get used to it.

You may not agree with me about the Sorcerer’s Hat and that’s perfectly fine. You may like the TZToT or have a better idea for the park’s icon. I’m not going to belabor the point. It’s been seven years. The hat is gone. It won’t return. But you can bet that the alternate reality that plays out inside my head has all of the Walt Disney World park symbols, and I use them frequently as connectors to those wonderful thoughts and memories of my past.

And the Sorcerer’s Hat is prominently displayed in the center of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I won’t let anyone touch it.

Dan Chapman loves everything Mouse - with a tattoo to prove it - and longs to step back into the Disney bubble any chance he gets. He has a particular admiration of Walt Disney the man, and reads every biography written about Walt Disney that he can get his hands on.

Dan is new to navigating the post-retirement landscape and stays busy putting kayak to water, bike to trail and pen to paper.

He and his wife live "beach-adjacent" in North Carolina (close enough to enjoy the beach but far enough to avoid the property taxes).


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