Book Jeff

How Does Disney Do That? by James Warda

I’m guessing you love Disney.

Or, if not “love,” then at least in a somewhat committed relationship. Maybe with matching “BFF” bracelets.

How do I know?

Because I’m in love with Disney, too.

Couldn’t quite tell you when it happened, but the signs have been there for quite a while.

Like the fact that every third picture at home is of my family at a Disney park. Or, in the kitchen, where every other towel, and bowl, and knife and fork have those famous ears on them.

And the moments with Disney tell me, too.

Whether it’s hearing “Welcome home” as you walk into your resort after a long day of travel or looking up at a Disney castle for the first time, your heart lifting with your eyes.

And, for me, sitting astride a banshee.

Yes, a moment that happened three years ago. After one of my sons, Matthew, who lives near Orlando, invited my wife and I down from Illinois (we now live near Orlando, too).

“They’ve got two rides you have to go on – Rise of the Resistance and Flight of Passage,” he said. “But don’t watch videos of the rides or read about them. I want them to be a surprise.”

Little did he… or I…. know but his instructions literally changed the direction of my life.

That’s because, after experiencing the exciting Rise of the Resistance (RoTR), we went the next day to Animal Kingdom for Flight of Passage (FOP).

Now, besides not knowing what awaited, I also didn’t have an emotional connection with the Avatar story, unlike with RoTR. I had thought the movie was impressive, but that was the extent of it.

Why is that important? Well, please hold your questions until the end of the tour….

So, there I sat, with my son, astride our “banshees,” in a darkened room. Then, the walls went up, and we swooped in to…. Pandora.

As I looked around, horizon to horizon, my breath caught and my eyes grew wide, with my banshee “breathing” beneath me.

And, in a matter of minutes, it happened.

I began to tear up.

Yes, tears. From a 57-year-old man on a Disney ride!

Then, I slowly realized it was from a sense of wonder, something that, though children seem to feel it as they approach every puddle, doesn’t come as naturally to adults.

Afterwards, as we walked out into the sun, I thought to myself, “How does Disney do that?” Not so much a question about the method, but the magic.

And that question has taken me on a journey.

One that continued weeks later when I wrote about my experience. Afterwards, I received hundreds of replies, from women and men alike, saying they, too, had cried on FOP and other Disney attractions.

After that, while watching The Imagineering Story from Leslie Iwerk’s(daughter of Walt’s main animator and Disney Legend, Ub Iwerks), I noticed Imagineers tearing up while talking about the attractions they worked on.

Then, I met Theron Skees, a former Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Executive, now founder of The Designer’s Creative Studio. He explained that, as an Imagineer, he always had a question of his own for guests, “How did it make you feel?”

Yep, a match made in, well…. Disney.

Soon, we launched online How Does Disney Do That? groups and a website,, where I gathered stories from Disney fans, and former Disney Imagineers, Cast Members, and Leaders, along with authors, podcasters, and others.

And now my book, How Does Disney Do That?: How Disney Makes Us Feel and Why It Matters is coming out, with a foreword by Joe Rodhe, former Imagineer and new Disney Legend, whose FOP attraction inspired my question.

The book includes stories from Michael Broggie, author, Disney historian, and son of Roger Broggie, Walt’s first Imagineer, and Willie Ito, an animator on Lady and the Tramp. And Pamela Landwirth, CEO of Give Kids The World Village (GKTW), an amazing place founded by Holocaust survivor Henri Landwirth, that provides free Central Florida vacations to critically ill children and their families. A portion of the book’s proceeds will go there.

Yes, I’ve met generous people all along the way, including Jeff Barnes, who graciously asked me to write this guest blog. After viewing his work, I knew our paths and purposes were met to cross.

But enough about me. What about you?

What made you fall in love with Disney?

Go ahead. You talk. I’ll listen.

After all, I’m all ears.

James Warda

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