LIFE WITHOUT THE MOUSE

Mickey Mouse homeless and despondent sitting by a cartoon fire and on the ropes that prevent entrance to Disneyland. A COVID-19 warning board stands on the right of Mickey. Illustration by Julia Petty.

Cinderella is locked in her stepmother’s attic, and the princess is not coming out anytime soon. 

What was once the Happiest Place on Earth has now become 85 acres of absolute silence and loneliness.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disneyland in Anaheim, California decided it would shut its gates on March 12, 2020, and has been closed ever since. 

And ooooohhhh, so sad for so many Disneyland lovers at Chapman.

“I miss it so much,” says creative writing major and Chapman sophomore Erik Wood. “It’s a very special place, my first date with my girlfriend was also my first time at Disneyland and I am still with her today.”

Even famous Los Angeles internet personalities have joined in on the “fun”. 

“It’s not fair, I had plans today.” sings noted influencer Kurt Tocci, donning a variety of Disney characters in his own Facebook lament (included on Chapman Club 55’s page) to his beloved Disneyland. “COVID needs to go away . . .  right away.”

It’s only a $10 and 10-minute drive with Lyft to Disneyland from Chapman University. Many students at Chapman work, study and spend their free time at the resort. There is even a class at Chapman dedicated to Disney, IES 207 – The Pursuit of Happiness and Knowledge: Walt Disney and Charles Darwin. 

“I chose Chapman for its film location, but I am not going to lie, Disneyland was a bit of a deciding factor,” said Amanda Shake, a 2019 Chapman graduate. 

Disney had such an impact on the screenwriting major she applied to and joined the Disney College Program for the spring of 2020. That’s gone, of course. Suspension because of the pandemic; Shake had to turn her ID and Autopia costume back in. The program’s students did receive a certificate of completion of the program and a notice that they could have an extension to reapply once the parks opened. 

But even that seems unlikely. In September, Disney Park’s chairman, Josh D’Amaro, announced massive layoffs at all its resorts. Some 28,000 employees at its domestic parks. He called it “a very difficult decision.”

Disneyland and California Adventure remain empty and closed to the general public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Julia Petty.

The city of Anaheim has been hit with several protests of the park’s closing. The latest was October 17. Dozens of employees and Disney enthusiasts gathered outside the parks to protest the closure of Disneyland and California Adventure, Natasha Ramirez, co-organizer for the protest and former cast member, said they upset that California Governor Gavin Newsom had said that week he was in no rush to reopen theme parks until the COVID-19 numbers were significantly under control..

“People…think we just want Disneyland open so we can go buy a churro,” Ramirez said.

It’s especially hard hitting for college students, who make up a sizable percentage of Disney’s part time work force. One of them, Isabelle (last name left out for her protection against Disney recriminations), a Chapman sociology major, blamed the public more than Disney.

“It’s a cast member’s livelihood, Disney is the largest employer in the county. I wish people would just wear masks,” Isabelle said. 

She recognized the safety factor if the park re-opens.

“I’ve been struggling with this for months. I probably would not feel safe, but whether or not I go back is a different story. Disneyland is my happy place. It is genuinely one of the best parts of my life,” said Isabelle. 

The vacant entrance to California Adventure on a sunny day, armed with plexiglass on the left and a COVID-19 precaution sign on the right. Photo courtesy of Wesley Strickland.

When the parks eventually reopen, Isabelle did emphasize the importance of enforcing safety precautions at the parks. 

She said, “It can only be magical if everyone follows the safety precautions. The only time you can take off your mask is if you are officially applying to be the 1,000th ghost in the Haunted Mansion.”

Downtown Disney, however, remains open to the general public. Elizabeth Wolfinger, a senior in film production, has a boyfriend, Charles Lindberg, who works for Hoag Hospital, taking temperatures at the entrance of Downtown Disney. 

“The 100.4 degree threshold is a little ridiculous,” said Wolfinger.

Wolfinger likes that Downtown Disney has implemented a mask mandate, but would probably not make the trip to Disneyland until the rest of the country reopens.

A crowded day at Downtown Disney, since its reopening. Photo courtesy of Wesly Strickland.

“They want the money and the foot traffic, and their wallets are of more interest than people’s health,” Wolfinger said.

Club 55, the official Disney Club on Chapman campus, however, is reliant upon Disney to function as a club and has been left with only Zoom calls and their imagination. Samantha Borthwick, a sophomore, theater performance major with a musical theater minor, is the Executive Assistant to the Board of Club 55 and is helping preserve the magic of Disney in the club. 

“It’s the first time it’s been closed for more than a day. We are living through Disneyland history,” said Borthwick.

 

Club 55 is abiding by Chapman’s rule of limiting the number of people in a group, so if Disneyland decides to reopen, there will not be any club trips to the parks. 

Borthwick said, “We do not want to be exclusive, and Chapman is limiting large gatherings, so for the time being we can’t go to the parks.”

Others, like senior, psychology major, Mckenna Bixby, are willing to wait a few years before considering returning. 

“I don’t know if Disney can open at a safe capacity while I am still at Chapman. In like three years I would go back to Disneyland, but I won’t be here to see that,” said Bixby.

Even though she enjoys riding the daunting Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!, Bixby believes Disneyland being closed is the right decision by the company. 

Similarly, Luis Reyes, a junior, film production major, also agrees that it needs to continue to stay closed, as Orange County is one of the major hotspots for the coronavirus. 

“Depending on when it reopens, I’d rather not go and give some time to the state. I, myself, want my footprint to be small on the COVID-scenario,” said Reyes. 

Reyes, just like Bixby, wants to wait the extra time before returning to the parks, until the coronavirus situation is under control in the United States. 

But Amanda Shake, undeterred by the shutdown of the parks, has preserved the pixie dust and started her own Disney podcast: Retrospective-a-Rooney. 

Shake also recommends attending D23 Zoom events, El Capitan throwback trivia nights, and virtual celebrity meet-ups to continue living life with Disney. 

“Fans are missing the Disney magic, but there are still ways to get that and become more connected to the things you love,” said Shake.

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