In March, Disney will release a remake of the children’s classic “Dumbo”, almost eighty years after the original. An intriguing story (Tim Burton directs), and the wonders of computer animation suggest the new version will be pretty good; standing on its own the way Jim Carrey managed with his version of the Grinch. “Mary Poppins” also Returns next week after a fifty-year absence. Emily Blunt looks supercalifragilistic in the previews, but with all due respect, there’s only one Mary Poppins and her name is Julie Andrews (there is also only one Maria Von Trapp and her name is also Julie Andrews).
Movie remakes are blog-worthy, but that’s not my mission today. I’m here to talk about Dumbo. Even though his modern-day movie doesn’t come out for a few more months, you’ll find him at any one of the six Disney parks. He’ll fly you in dizzy circles with his big ears and colorful cap; as happy an elephant as he’s ever been. But on closer inspection, you may find your Dumbo needs a little dusting off. That grey may be his (plastic) skin perhaps, but – brace yourself – it may also be the scattered remains of deceased Disney devotees. Apparently some souls choose to be interred in an urn known as The Happiest Place On Earth.
Okay, I know some of you were anticipating a jolly-holiday post this time of year, with visions of chestnuts roasting on an open fire (“pop! pop! pop!”) or a “Baby It’s Cold Outside” fire (romantic embers) but sorry; today we’re talking about a cremation fire. Doesn’t the topic make you just a little curious? Did you know for instance, we humans spread our ashes (or I should say, have our ashes spread) at sea, in woodland groves, into volcanoes, over sports stadiums and on golf courses, and yes – all over the Disney parks, but “at sea” is the only legal option on the list? Or, did you know, if you spread an entire urn’s worth, you’re talking about five pounds of ashes? Not exactly a spoonful of sugar, Mary.
I never knew Disney had this sort of problem in its parks (although at The Happiest Places On Earth, there are no “problems”). Scattered ashes are reported at least once a month. Disney handles these incidents the way they do other “real-world” stuff: with complete discretion. First, an employee notices said “pixie dust” (maybe with help from Tinker Bell?). Then a “HEPA” text – high-efficiency particulate air – is sent to maintenance, because that’s the kind of vacuum you’re gonna need. Then the ride or area of the park is closed off and the deceased is sucked up “spit-spot”. You can almost see the maintenance guy whistling while he works.
Scattering ashes (other than at-sea) is a misdemeanor, but in true Disney fashion no charges are pressed if you’re caught. Instead, your mouse ears are removed and you’re escorted out the nearest gates, back to the real world. Any patrons inconvenienced by your actions get reimbursed with a Fast Pass or a store voucher. Having said that, plan on a few extra minutes getting screened at the entry gates. Besides knives, bombs, and alcohol, they’re looking for urns. Or, in the backpacks of the more determined: plastic pill bottles and makeup compacts.
Disney’s Dumbo ride is a common place to scatter ashes (specifically, the moat under the flying elephants), as is Cinderella’s Castle (flowerbeds) and It’s A Small World (anywhere near the delirious singing dolls) but where do most scatterings take place? Why, the Haunted Mansion of course. It’s the only truly morbid location at Disney. As your “ghost host” says over and over, “we have 999 happy haunts here, but there’s room for 1,000 – any volunteers?” I guess some people take their ghost host seriously.
On a related topic, several years ago Disney sold personalized hexagonal pavers at its Florida park. You could put anything you wanted on the tiles, except the words “In Memory Of…” Why? Disney didn’t want people to have death on their minds at The Happiest Place On Earth. As Mary Poppins would say, they’re just trying to be practically perfect in every way. But clearly, some people have death on their minds anyway. Or at least, ashes in their backpacks.
Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Disney World’s Big Secret…”.