Henry’s speech about the power of belief and the necessity of magic in the Season Five finale of Once Upon a Time will always be one of my favorite moments in the history of one of my favorite shows. And that is because it touched on something I believe with all my heart: Magic is real. You just have to be open to it in order to experience it.
Kids find magic everywhere—the stars in the night sky, the waves in the ocean, the worlds they create in their own imaginations. But as we get older, we tend to stop looking for magic. We get cynical, and then we start looking for reasons to roll our eyes at others who still see magic around them. We learn facts about the world, and we think that means we need to throw away our sense of wonder because we know how things work now. We become busy, and we put our heads down to get where we think we need to be—losing sight of the places where magic lives.
But that magic is still there. It’s just waiting for us to find it again. And those places where we find it—where we reconnect with what it means to believe—are special. They are places where we are reminded of one beautiful fact: Sometimes even grownups can still be believers.
Belief creates magic. There’s something profoundly magical about a room full of adults who put aside their cynicism and even their logic in order to allow themselves to experience they joy and excitement that can come from the willing suspension of disbelief. I’ve seen it in movie theaters, during plays, and at TV screenings at conventions: the way a group of adults all cheer when something great happens, cry when something emotional happens, or gasp when something surprising happens. Logically, we all know we’re watching actors performing words and actions from a script. But something special happens when you find yourself surrounded by people who let themselves believe the emotional truth of what they’re watching and experiencing: You start to believe, too. And that is the strongest kind of magic there is—the magic that comes from a group of people believing together, even just for a moment. Communal belief. Communal participation in magic.
Everyone has their own special place where that sense of communal belief is at its strongest. For some, it’s a darkened theater the night the latest Harry Potter or Star Wars or Marvel movie premieres, where you get to watch and react with other fans who find the same magic on the big screen. For others, it’s a stadium or an arena, where sitting in your seat just the right way or cheering at just the right time or saying a prayer right before overtime actually feels like it might make a difference.
For me, it’s Walt Disney World.
I’ve been to Disney World more times than I can remember, and I still find magic there every time. Lately, I’ve found it while watching other people—especially other adults—allow themselves to believe in the magic. Some might think that the magic of a place like Disney World disappears after you grow up, but there is so much magic left to be found there and so much joy left to experience; you just need to be open to it.
It’s there in the way even the middle aged men in the audience throw their hands up and scream their greetings at the monsters on the screen at the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. It’s there in the way moms and dads gasp right along with their little ones when Mickey appears to go from the top of the mountain to the bottom during Fantasmic! in the blink of an eye. It’s there in the way every person in the audience does their assigned animal sound as loud as possible during Festival of the Lion King—from toddlers to grandparents. And it’s there in the powerful silence that follows the torches being blown out before Illuminations begins each night at EPCOT—with every person around the lagoon waiting with bated breath for the show to start.
The jokes on Jungle Cruise, the celebrations at Chef Mickey’s, the interactions with the characters—Disney World is built on the idea that experiences are better and brighter when everyone buys into the magic. Joy is meant to be shared, and the joy experienced on Disney property is one of the purest kinds of magic I know.
As Henry said on Once Upon a Time, we can always go back to that part of us that was once a believer; we just have to make that choice. Everyone has their place that makes that choice easier, the place that makes them a believer again no matter how cynical they may have become. Disney World is my place. What’s yours?