Disney has been buying my soul piecemeal.
First, they had the gall to bring the Disneyland franchise to Hong Kong (where, incidentally, my wife and I spent our honeymoon. Mickey Mouse reluctantly took part in our family planning). Next, they had the audacity to buy Marvel Comics (I smell a Donald Duck-Daisy Duck-Howard the Duck love triangle a-brewing). But to top it all off, they have the wherewithal to purchase the Star Wars franchise (JarJar Binks and Goofy in Episode VII? The force is not strong in that one)! Disney owns me like China owns the South China Sea.
But now, Disney has gone too far.
They’ve bought my daughter’s soul as well.
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You see, my three female readers, it started with seemingly innocuous viewings of The Little Mermaid (and for all those who have daughters four years old and below, you know that “seemingly innocuous viewings” amount to 5,899 times), until she knew the lyrics and emotive quality of Part of Your World and could sing it back to you again. And again. And again. And, please God, make it stop. Again.
But before my daughter could start developing fins, she caught on to Aladdin and would belt out A Whole New World clad in her baggy pajamas and kamiseta sitting atop my pawis-infused yoga mat, then finally she turned our porcelain into performance pieces (and eventually performance casualties) recreating Be our Guest from Beauty and the Beast.
The Disneyfication of our household did not end there, though. Pretty soon, my daughter knew the names of the Disney Princesses better than the names of her own family members (“I’m your daddy, remember? Your daddy! But fine, fine. Prince Charming will do.”). Then there was a royal Disney Princess decree that the only channel that we could watch was Disney Junior. Finally, a magic wand (and Daddy’s credit card) had magically transformed her wardrobe into Disney Princess costumes.
But the clearest indication that my daughter had been incorrigibly Disney-fied was when she ran up to my dad, hugged him around the stomach, bounced her head against his belly and blurted out, “You have a big tummy like Winnie A Pooh!” (Comments like that give me confidence that she has the makings of a future senator).
Her indoctrination into Disney was almost as thorough as mine. But her last step toward true discipleship was a visit to the mecca of Disney-dom, where like-minded little princesses exert total domination over their parents and their disposable income: Hong Kong Disneyland.
Through subliminal training she gained from watching Secret Agent Oso on Disney Junior, my daughter used a combination of hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programing and mental torture to convince us a visit to the Magic Kingdom was inevitable. In mantra-like fashion, she would chant “Can we go to Hong Kong Disneyland?” at every opportunity where she could have our full attention. When we woke up in the morning. When we had family dinners. When me and the missus were enjoying PG-13 moments (I swear, I double-bolted the doors). Then to exacerbate matters, she used the tools of Disney Princesses as an offensive weapon — batting her disproportionately large anime-like eyes and speaking with a squeaky singsong tonality — to wear down our mental defenses. It was like using nuclear warheads to swat a fly.
Once she chanted “Can we go to Hong Kong Disneyland?” to the point that my wife and I felt that our brains starting to hemorrhage, we finally relented and our parental instincts kicked into overdrive.
As far as my wife was concerned, preparation was key for this hastily planned three-day, two-night visit. Since the logistics involved traveling with a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, a 300-pound six-month-old son and four yayas (one for my daughter, one for my son, one for me, one for my yaya), eight maletas, two strollers, a Segway, seven umbrellas, a nuclear-powered breast pump machine and a back-up 120 KVA generator, this required at least two years of advance planning. So that she would have adequate time to prepare for this vacation, she bought a time machine.
As a father (and as an original Disney disciple) who is juggling eight jobs so my family can enjoy the opportunity to travel abroad, I wanted to ensure that this would be a value-for-money vacation. Since every minute was being paid for, free time had to be as imaginary as a fairy godmother in Hong Kong Disneyland. Every minute must be filled with pixie dust.
So to ensure maximum happiness in the happiest place on earth, I downloaded the schematics and time schedules of the Festival of Lion King show, the “Golden Mickeys” presentation, the Stitch encounter and Disney mascot picture-taking and correlated it with my daughter’s and son’s sleeping patterns, utilized operational research techniques to find optimum travel times to and from different rides across the park, estimated sunset times and did an econometrical analysis of line lengths for each ride in relation to afternoon sunsets, popcorn sales and diaper changes, so that we could have a whimsical, carefree time in Disneyland. Yes, sir, we were going to squeeze every inch of pixie dust out of Tinkerbell. Slurp that marrow from Goofy’s spine. Suck up Donald’s foie gras. There would be no hidden Mickeys in this vacation.
Having said that, a father must steel himself in the event that his daughter succumbs to Disney merchandising magic. Going to the happiest place on earth (well, at least in East Asia) with a Disney Princess is like being brought to an institutionalized hold-up where your daughter is the unwitting negotiator. Unless you are able to resist the feminine wiles of your sobbing, whining bundle of joy who wants the latest T-shirt, stuffed toy, doll, makeup, sippy cup, lunchbox, storybook, pencil set and personal castle of her favorite Disney Princess, then you risk running up a credit card bill that rivals the national debt.
But even when I had inserted razor blades into the folds of my credit cards, they were of little effect against the anesthetic power of Disney cosplay. Before we could even leave Disneyland Hotel for the Park, we were held up at wand-point at the Bibbidi-Bobbidi boutique — a salon where a fairy godmother-in-training (but unlike those fairy godmothers in the Disney movies, these godmothers spoke in Cantonese-inflected English) will transform your little girl into their favorite Disney Princess character through the magic of shimmering makeup, princess costume, hair styling with crown, princess sash, and finger nail polish (Incidentally, I noted in the boutique’s pamphlet that only princesses between ages three and 12 could avail of their services. Much to my yaya’s dismay).
“But this whole makeover takes a good three hours! Can’t you tell the fairy godmother to put that spell in fast forward!?” I ranted. “If we don’t make it to the park by noon, we’ll be 20 percent off my, este, our schedule! Our happiness will only be at 80 percent!”
“Do not raise your voice at me,” my wife said while gently wrapping her fingers around my neck, “or I will go all post-partum on you.” As she slowly released her grip before I could lose consciousness, she told me: “Stay with your daughter here because I still have to breast-feed our son.”
But three hours, 47 minutes and 16 seconds later after my daughter’s magical princess transformation, my 300-pound six-month-old son was still suckling hungrily from one of his mom’s breasts. I looked at my watch and then looked at my son suckling, and then looked at my poster-size chart of the Disneyland schematics and re-did my computations to quantify in monetary terms how much fun we were losing by waiting in the hotel lobby while breast milk was filling my son’s multiple stomachs. “Dear Lord,” I prayed, I begged, I yodeled, “when will we be going to Disneyland? We might miss our turn at the Mad Hatter Tea cup ride and this vacation will not be complete! I know patience is a virtue, Lord, but it is only a virtue for the emotionally intelligent.”
“Tell your dad to stop whining already,” my wife told our Disney Princess. “Ask his yaya to take him with you to Disneyland.”
“Oh, thank you Mommy, thank you, thank you, thank yooouuu!” I said in my best Princess voice impression (I also spoke this way because my throat had been partially damaged through strangulation).
As we bibiddi-bobbidi-booped our way to the park, I ran through the 80-page guidebook I had written and printed in triplicate to guarantee efficient fun in the park. (Disney Princess: “But, Daddy, I don’t know how to read yet!” RJ: “Then what are we sending you to school for!?”) Some of those heartwarming tips (that my wife did not approve) included:
• Shorten your meal breaks in-between attractions. Eat intravenously.
• Avoid bathroom breaks, wear two sets of diapers. (RJ: Yaya, please help fasten my diaper.)
• If kids feel like taking an afternoon siesta, then pump them full of caffeine.
• Use light sabers to take down unruly fathers who don’t know how to queue in line.
By applying these guidelines during your own visit, you will be able to complete as many attractions in the park that human endurance, refined sugar and blood doping will allow.
After two light saber duels and my daughter’s fifth soda, I was proud to say that we were able to complete several Disney rides in a span of two and a half hours that would have taken half a day for most sane people. But after we had just gotten off, my daughter seemed rather lethargic.
“What is the matter, Your Highness?” I asked while re-attaching the IV tube to her wrist. “Still need another shot of soda? We’ve still got 17 more rides to go, you know.”
My princess looked at me with those big anime eyes. “Where’s Mommy?”
“Oh, she’s still feeding the ecosystem that is your younger brother, my princess.”
My daughter’s face dropped. “I want to ride Dumbo ride again with Mommy.”
“But, Princess, we’re already on-target to complete the number of rides that will help us achieve maximum satisfaction!” I exclaimed as I showed her my charts. “We’ll be behind target schedule if we ride Dumbo again. And your marginal utility of enjoyment just won’t be the same.”
“I want to ride with you and Mommy.”
And that’s when it hit me (No, no. Not another light saber).
I realized that what I thought was important to my daughter for this Disneyland visit was not what she even remotely thought was important for this visit. It didn’t really matter to her how many rides we are able to finish. What mattered to her was how many rides we finished as a family (yayas include). This was a family vacation, after all. A concept my almost four-year-old daughter understood much better than me.
After much crying, I ditched my Disneyland schematics in the nearest Mickey Mouse trashcan and waited as patiently as I inhumanly could for my wife and our son to join us at the park. Once we were altogether, my family repeated all of the rides that my princess and I had previously visited earlier in the afternoon. And that’s when I realized something else about my daughter: the concept of marginal utility does not apply to her. She reminded me how Winnie A Pooh (just what kind of Pooh is he?) has the same tummy “like my papa’s!” when we rode The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride 839 times; we made so many revolutions on the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride that we would have prequalified for the NASA Space program; and we sailed through It’s a Small World so many times that we were already de facto UN Ambassadors.
As we capped off the day with fireworks in the happiest place in East Asia, we had an ecstatic daughter, an obliviously happy and slightly narcoleptic six-month-old, a very fulfilled mommy, four exhausted but smiling yayas, and a slightly more emotionally intelligent daddy. Zip-a-dee-do-dah.
When we boarded our plane back to Manila, my daughter insisted on taking the window seat so she could wave goodbye to Hong Kong while the plane took off. After we could no longer see the islands and the plane entered into the clouds, my daughter gently grabbed my face, gave me a kiss, and asked with those anime eyes, “When are we going back to Hong Kong Disneyland?”
(Post-script: I look forward to the day when the Disneyland Hotel will have a Marvel Comics boutique where my son and I can have a little male bonding time by dressing up in a matching pair of ripped violet pants and fake green rubber muscles. Spray-on abs optional.)