For both of them, it was the picture of perfect suburban America on the surface. The 1998 film cracked down society, and the man made Disney town in Osceola County, Florida is a dream long forgotten.
In the early 1990s, Disney bought around 4,900 acres only 10 miles from Walt Disney World to transform land into the ‘ideal’ life. Celebration was built to look like 1955, with the Main towns street reflecting ‘Main Street USA’ in Disneyland’s across the world. The town was divided into villages, accommodating to every need including a clubhouse with a gym, pool and spa, shops, cinema, restaurants, fire stations, doctors, and a school. You never had to leave.
The community centre also offered free weekly classes on cooking, gardening, art and writing. On top of all this, the main town area, known as ‘downtown’ had speakers on the roofs and palm trees, lightly playing music from the 1940s and 50s, so light you would hardly notice them. Scents would apparently be sprayed from under the streets to emulate a beautiful day. Is it starting to sound like The Truman Show?
The houses were all sold 20% above local market value, to a population of 80% white middle class owners. For a town that was designed to have no ‘rich’ side of town, Disney was quickly missing that mark. On top of the lack of diversity, the Celebration school offered a ‘groundbreaking’ form of education with 80 students to class of all different ages and talents, with three teachers helping them. Chaos.
In fact, a year in, the headteacher and six teachers had already resigned unable to deal with the system. The cracks were beginning to show in Disney’s perfect town. Houses were in desperate repair only a few years in, roofs needed replacing and crime was rising in this little bubble. This lead the Disney Company in 2004 to sell Walt’s dream to a private company with the notion that it would continue to look ‘Disney’.
In 2010 the resident cinema, which also dubbed as a church closed. It was noted that it never played a film above a PG, a resident said “You’ll never find a Tarantino” in the cinema. It seems controlling, but there have been many happy residents of Disney’s charming town over the years.
I think proposing Celebration as a permanent residency was a mistake, a holiday village of some sorts would have worked in Disney’s favor economically and substantially. Celebration is perhaps the weirdest town in America, it is generated to act and look like Pleasentville, I would love to visit it and see it for myself. I can’t help but smile at Walts plan to pull Disney into the home of thousands of people, the reality however was a bit of a mess. Despite the way things turned out, it is a fascinating place and story.