For some in Florida, Disney, up close and personal, is no magic kingdom

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 27, 2023
The company is 'so good at being good that it manifests an evil', writes Carl Hiaasen
Magic Kingdom Park, Orlando, Florida. Photo by Kitera Dent on Unsplash

As I sifted through the tonne of books available on the Walt Disney Company and the 100th anniversary of its worldwide magic kingdom for my popular newsletter This Week, Those Books, considerations of length and space meant dropping this one.

But it’s a good illustration of how Disney is seen from close up in Florida, the state it’s been in for 52 years.

Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World by Florida author Carl Hiaasen was published in 1998, when no one could have foreseen the raging row between the company and the state’s governor and governing party. For the Disney Company, Disneyland in Florida completed the perfect symmetry it desired, with complexes on both coasts of the United States. Disneyland Resort had opened in California in July 1955 and proved a success. Florida, where plans for Walt Disney World dated back to the 1950s, would be geometrically neat. In 1963, Walt Disney himself took a lot at potential sites in Florida, eventually settling on a swamp between Orlando and Kissimmee. The company managed to sidestep media attention and land speculation by using fake investment companies to buy up vast tracts of land at competitive prices. After Walt’s death in 1966, his older brother Roy oversaw the construction of the Florida resort.

So, how do Floridians think of Disney World, Orlando?

Mr Hiaasen writes that the Disney company is “so good at being good that it manifests an evil”.  His view of the Disney machine – and how it changed the US state – has been overtaken by recent events, not least Disney cancelling plans to build a nearly $1 billion office complex in Florida. But it is still a snapshot of Disney’s dreamtime in the Florida sun.

Choice quotes from the book underline the reservations of some Florida residents towards their famous corporate resident of Florida:

“Three decades after it (Disney) began bulldozing the cow pastures and draining the marshes of rural Orlando, Disney stands as by far the most powerful private entity in Florida; it goes where it wants, does what it wants, gets what it wants. It’s our exalted mother teat…”

“The absolute worst thing Disney did was to change how people in Florida thought about money; nobody had ever dreamed there could be so much.”

“Disney touches virtually every human being in America for a profit.”

Also read:

Disney at 100: Mickey and multiculturalism