Why I Wrote a Story Inspired by Walt Disney

Foreverland by Andy Orin

I wanted to talk about a short book that I wrote. It’s called Foreverland.

It’s about Louie, an animator in the 1950s who works for a big animation studio. And the studio is just finishing a feature film and puts out a call to all levels of the company for new ideas. They invite anyone to pitch the next big thing. And Louie has an idea: he wants the studio to create some sort of carnival. He wants to make a big festival with all the cartoon characters — essentially a theme park. But he has trouble articulating this idea. And in trying to get his idea across he eventually loses his job. And the only way he can make people understand what he wants is to build the thing himself. And that’s the story of Foreverland.

It’s a novella, I suppose — 25,000 words, if you’re the sort of person who checks the word count on your documents. About 80 pages on Kindle. The reason it’s this length is because I actually started writing it as a screenplay, about a decade ago. I was in film school and wanted to write a whimsical feature-length film. And I tinkered with it off and on for years, but I was never actually going to make the movie, so this summer, in 2021, I wrote a version people could simply read. (That it was originally a movie plot dictated the length; I constructed it to be around 100 minutes long, and I didn’t want to add chaff to the story just to make it more of a book.)

So, obviously this story was inspired by Walt Disney. I love Disney history and wanted to create a story that felt like it took place in a sort of idealized version of an animation studio in the 50s, you know, without labor disputes or anything like that. But when I was first trying to come up with a story, I was particularly interested in Walt Disney’s fascination with trains. Walt had a lifelong interest in trains of all sizes and had a ridable miniature railroad in the backyard of his house in Los Angeles in 1949. And he wasn’t alone in his interest in trains — other animators at Disney also had trains, namely Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball. (They’re two of the fabled ‘nine old men’, a group of old-timers at Disney Animation.) Ward Kimball’s train was 5/8 scale, meaning it was a colossal, working steam engine about the size of a car. So it’s no surprise that Disneyland also had a train since its first inception (which I believe is also 5/8 scale). Anyway, that’s where my story started. That’s what the first draft was about — a man trying to build a train in his backyard.

But I got stuck on that version of the story and eventually rewrote it. The story became larger and the train became smaller.

I should mention that if you’ve any interest in Disney history, you should absolutely visit the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. They have Walt’s original miniature train, in addition to thousands of other sights and stories. And if you’re in Los Angeles, Walt’s train barn is now in Griffith Park.

One more thing. I want to explain why I published this story myself (aside from the somewhat moot point of trying to place a 25k word narrative fiction story anywhere). There was an art installation outside the Brooklyn Museum in 2018 that struck me. It was just big letters woven onto the front railing that read “do not disappear into silence.” That phrase has stayed with me. Do not disappear into silence. When I was younger I used to agonize over the futility of trying to write. What’s the point if you can’t get published and no one will read it? So after college, I just didn’t try to do anything for a while. I chose silence. Aside from tweeting, I guess.

Moreover, if you’re a writer or an artist or musician or YouTuber, it can also be very frustrating when you try to create something but you feel like you’ve reached the limitations of your talent. You hit your head against the ceiling of your own mediocrity and you know it. And for a while, you may give into the frustration and choose to do nothing. You may give into the silence. But you can’t get any better when you don’t challenge yourself to do something. You’ve got to try and do it — whatever it is you want to do — to improve your craft and maybe even find an audience some day. Not that you need to put every first draft online. But maybe the second or third draft.

So after a while of not really trying I realized it’s better just to try to express yourself even if you aren’t at the level you want to be yet. This is story is an expression of myself, trying not to disappear into silence. And it’s a pretty fun story, in my opinion.

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