Merchandise Magic

The simple addition of honey drips makes Pooh feel less like merchandise and more like the real Pooh bear.

There’s a reason Disney is a polarizing name when applied to theme parks and travel destinations: It’s commercial. Sure, Yellowstone has its hotels, restaurants and gift shops, but the famous geysers got there all on their own—human-kind just figured out how to capitalize on them. Disney, on the other hand, is a completely fabricated entity whose merchandise is both the result of and the propellant for its own creations.

Where the idealist sees an insular perfection within the Disneysphere, the cynic sees the commerce model. Yet this needn’t be an argument. Appreciating Disney’s outright and earned success as possibly the most impressive commerce models there is is not without value. Yes, the opportunity to buy, buy, buy is never more than a few steps away and is rarely if ever out of one’s line of sight; but Disney merchandising is as masterfully conceived and implemented as an attraction or a concourse. Food is a necessity. Disney makes it fun. Gift shops are a necessity. Disney makes them works of art.

Yes, but if you were going to argue the point…

On the one hand, it’s both easy and legitimate to view the Disney experience with a cynical eye. It’s a business, after all. However, its success as a business is second to none: The Disney business model is studied worldwide. Businesses study Disney to improve their business. One can see the Disney business model reflected in every attraction and concourse, because at the root of it, it isn’t money—it’s storytelling. The money is in making people feel happy and safe, and believing in the power of one’s dreams. Every Disney product and service is in support of those fundamental tenets.

Hester & Chester's

In-the-park stores are known for being immersive, but some are attractions of their own.

Turning a blind eye to the business side of Disney is doable—at least for a while. You can simply let it blur into the the background with all the other attractive colors, shapes and smells; and with a bit—or a lot—of self discipline, you can resist all the enticing goods—including the tasty ones on a stick—and let the all the elements that make for a perfect day dominate your perspective.

But in case of collision…

There are those who always understand there’s a business end to Disney, but they manage to keep such awareness at bay when they visit the park. For those of us who find ourselves unexpectedly awakened to reality, it’s good to be able to deal, and the best way to to do that is to appreciate the incredible, imaginative and inspirational creativity behind that business. It is, after all, what keeps the magic alive when we’re not at the parks.