In the years leading up to the writing of Midlife Mouse, during the period when I was researching the book and now, as I’m trying to get the word out to the Disney fan community, I’ve read a lot of blogs and listened to a number of internet radio stations and podcasts. I’ve honestly lost count of how many Disney bloggers and podcasters are out there, but it’s safe to say the total is well into the hundreds.
One of my favorite podcasts is WEDWay Radio, hosted by Nate Parrish and his brother, Matt. The show is slickly produced and well researched while maintaining a fun, conversational tone. Even when the Parrishes and their guests cast a critical eye toward the goings on in Disney parks, it’s handled with an affable, light-hearted touch. These guys are fans, and knowledgeable fans at that.
With decades of regular Disney visits behind him, a stint as a cast member as part of the Disney College Program, and now hundreds of WEDWay Radio podcasts under his belt, Nate could easily be described as a Disney Parks expert (though I doubt he would cop to such a moniker).
I swapped a few emails with Nate to discuss his love of Disney, the state of the company and the nature of Disney fandom itself:
Wayne Franklin: For the uninitiated, give us a quick description of what WEDWay Radio is all about.
Nate Parrish: WEDWay Radio is a show about the history of the Walt Disney Company. We look at the history of theme parks, films, animated shorts, and more importantly we examine the cultural implications of Disney and its relevance.
WF: Why WEDWay? (That particular term is a sort of password used by characters in Midlife Mouse, so its symbolism is strong for me.) What about that word, that period of Imagineering inspires you?
NP: WED was the creative entity created by Walt Disney himself to design and build the attractions for the theme parks. I’m really inspired by the creativity surrounding WED in the 1960’s. They were taking storytelling and theme park design to areas they had only dreamed of a mere ten years before.
WF: How did you come about your Disney fandom?
NP: My family would take a trip to Walt Disney World every other year when I was a
kid, and I think that the time between them actually made us love the time
we were there even more. My brother and sisters would make these lists of
favorite attractions, and compile a notebook of things we wanted to do as
we waited for our next trip. I think I sketched all of the characters in
the Birnbaum book at one time. Crazy stuff like that.
WF: I have made a documentary that deals partly with Elvis Presley and his legacy. I am an Alabama alum and have done projects for and about Crimson Tide football. I decided to become a filmmaker because of my Star Wars fandom as a child. (You can imagine how giddy I’ve been with the Lucasfilm acquisition.) In short, I know passionate fan bases. But in researching this book, I’ve become convinced that Disney fans make up the most passionate, discriminating (in their tastes) and loyal fan base in the world. How would you rank Disney fans among the great passionate fan groups? And how would you rank your own fandom?
NP: Well I think that there are different kinds of fan bases. You mentioned
the Alabama fans, and they just want to keep Alabama at the top of the
polls and win National Championships. Disney fandom is a bit different.
Most of it is dedicated to the holding on the past and making sure that
Disney doesn’t stray too far from its roots, while still being innovative.
Its a delicate balance.
WF: As I developed a new found Disney fandom of my own a few years ago, one of the things I noticed from fan forums (DIS Boards, WDW Magic) and various blogs is that there are many different types of Disney fans out there. This inspired the factions of fans that populate the world of Midlife Mouse. Based on your interaction with the fan community, how would you group the various types of Disney fans?
NP: That’s a tough one. Here’s my attempt:
1. Casual Fan – Vacation at WDW once every 5-10 years.
2. Vacation Fans – These are the people that go every year to a Disney park
3. Lifestyle Fans – People that think about Disney every day, they interact with others daily via social media. They plan trips around fan events.
WF: Have you noticed factions of fans? For example, there are those who are devoted primarily to EPCOT, others who are all about the restaurants. And I’ve noticed a clear distinction between what I refer to as simply “The Moms” – those who blindly worship all things Disney and are rarely critical of it – and those hard core fans who know the major (and some minor) players in the company, who seem to know the latest news before it happens and have strong opinions about every company move.
NP: I’m kind of an outsider so I can’t really help you out more, other than to say what you are saying sounds about right.
WF: Certain fan groups are noted for their sense of ownership over the
brand (Star Wars fans come to mind). How much influence do you think
Disney fans have over what happens in the parks? How much should they
NP: I think they have very little say. Sadly, most of the decisions regarding
the parks are influenced on by the almighty dollar, by people that could
care less about Disney fans.
WF: Given the name of your podcast, I assume you are like many Disney fans, longing for the time when a single visionary drove the creative decisions of the company. If you were suddenly named Chief Visionary Officer for the Walt Disney Company, with the power to be what Walt was in setting the creative course, what would be the top 5 things you would create, fix or change about the parks?
NP: 1. Take characters out of all the lands of Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom except Fantasyland.
2. Find a way to bring back 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
3. Update the Carousel of Progress and move it back to Disneyland
4. Create a classic Disney TV Channel that would show old Wonderful World of Color episodes and classic live action films (not about the parks, but I really want this).
5. Expand “One Man’s Dream” at DHS
Note: I couldn’t agree more with Nate’s answers here. I would love to see the old “Disneyland” series in regular rotation on a Disney Classics channel. One thing I take exception to: keep CoP in Orlando! I never make it out to Anaheim. I suppose if it must go back to its original home, we’ll trade it for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
WF: Other than your own, what Disney podcast or blogs are your favorites?
NP: There is a long list of websites I follow. Too many to name. I only
listen to a few podcasts because I end up listening to my own two or three
times as I edit it.
WF: It seems the Iger era will be best know for the acquisition of brands and brand makers. While Marvel and Pixar are thriving, and Lucasfilm is poised for a return to relevance, what do you think is the current state of the Walt Disney brand?
NP: I think that the future is bright. The Lucasfilm deal was a steal in my opinion. They should be able to make that money back in the near future (5-7 years). I do think that with all these acquisitions that Disney might be seen as the “big bad empire” like a Standard Oil a hundred years ago.
WF: Do you think it would be easier for the company to stay close to their roots if it weren’t the world’s largest media conglomerate? It seems to me the company became what it is because of Walt’s willingness to lay everything on the line for his next big idea … and then leaving it to Roy to figure out how to pay for it.
NP: I agree with you, but the business landscape has changed. And so if you are a public company, you really can’t afford to have that type of approach.
Thanks to Nate for being so gracious with his time. You can check out WEDWay Radio and its companion podcast, WEDWay NOW! here.
You can follow Nate on Twitter at @WedwayRadio.