This year is the 50th anniversary of the “most magical place on Earth:” Walt Disney World. Preparations have already begun for the celebration beginning Oct. 1st with the release of limited edition merchandise, theme park decor and even McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.

With this anniversary celebration, many Disney fans, including myself, have been taking a look back on the changes that both the company and the park have seen in the past 50 years. 

For Walt Disney World itself, we have seen many changes, mainly in the additions of new areas, attractions and characters. However, there is one recent change that I believe is a big step forward for diversity within the Walt Disney company.

In April , the Walt Disney Company made a massive change. In a Disney Parks blog post, Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks Experiences and Products, announced an addition to the famous “Four Disney Keys.” These are the standards that Disney Parks holds to in order to create the best space possible. The original Four Disney Keys were Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency. In the post, D’Amaro  announced the arrival of the fifth Disney Key: Inclusion.

The Inclusion Key began a massive change within the parks, including sparking the removal of problematic stereotypes from attractions. For example, the classic Jungle Cruise attraction was reimagined without stereotypical portrayals of Indigenous people and Splash Mountain was rethemed after the more recent film "The Princess and the Frog" instead of the racially controversial "Song of the South."

Gabriele Crafford, junior global studies major at Missouri State, commented on the changes, saying, “It is very important to accurately portray different cultures, and I am proud of the company for taking this big step towards inclusion.”

The Inclusion Key also brought an important change for cast members, the title given to all employees within the parks: an update to the famous Disney “Look.” The April 2021 update to the Disney Look allowed more freedom for cast members to express themselves, including painted nails and visible tattoos.

Since the update, the official Disney Parks careers website now states the following: “The Disney Look is an inclusive set of guidelines that not only aligns with our brand, but empowers our cast members to more proudly be their authentic self.”

Regarding the changes to the Disney Look, Kallie Davis, senior biology major at Missouri State, stated, “I think it’s a really important move for Disney. Just because someone has a tattoo doesn’t make them unprofessional. Inclusion begins by realizing that everyone has different ways of expressing themselves.”

Freshman psychology major Lydia Elder also commented positively on the Disney Look update. “I think it brings more character and reality to the cast members. They get to feel more comfortable in their roles within the parks, which I think will actually help improve Disney’s happy and magical appearance.”

Of course, when change happens, there are those who will be against it. Once the retheming and reimaging of classic Disney attractions was announced, a few Disney fans thought that the changes were unnecessary, and that the nostalgia of these attractions would be lost. 

One outraged fan, Jonathan VanBoskerck, wrote an entire column for the Orlando Sentinel, claiming that the “wokeness” of Disney was ruining the classic experience. VanBoskerck said that the next time he visited the parks, “I will only be thinking about Disney’s political agenda. That’s a mood killer.”

There were also some complaints regarding the changes to the Disney Look. Some fans believed that the new look would allow cast members to appear unprofessional, and ruin the “magic” of the Disney experience.

Though there have been some complaints about the changes that the Disney Parks have seen, change is mostly being seen in a positive light by Disney fans. Many view Disney to be an old-fashioned company set in its ways, so a massive change like the Inclusion Key brings much hope for future steps forward.

With these recent changes, many Disney fans are thrilled for what the future of both the company and the parks might hold.

“I’m definitely excited for the future of Disney,” Davis said. “For a company with so much influence on global pop culture to be taking such bold steps to diversifying their parks, it just goes to show how carefully Disney treats that responsibility and position as a company.”

I also believe that the future of the Disney Parks is bright, and for now, I am happy to be celebrating 50 wonderful years of progress. After all, as the famous attraction The Carousel of Progress would say, “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.”


Follow Olivia Davis on Twitter, @0liviadiane

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