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Did Kim Jong-Un Visit Disneyland as a Child?

Millions of families pack up their bags each year and enjoy a trip to one of Disney’s many theme parks around the globe. 

Every manner of celebrity advertises their trips, from influencers to the A-list. It has even become tradition for the winner of the Superbowl to film a commercial where they say they are going to Disney World.

Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of Kim Jong-Un. Image via WikiCommons.

What is shocking, though, is that Disney has such a strong draw that even dictators bring their families to enjoy “The Happiest Place on Earth.” In the early 1990s, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il took his son Kim Jong-Un to Tokyo Disney Resort.

The trip was one of many that has inspired rumors of the family’s secretive international travel for decades. Young Kim Jong-Un would also be influenced by these trips, becoming slightly more receptive to the West as a result.

Why Couldn’t The Kims Just Go To Disney?

The 20th century was dominated by the Cold War, a battle between capitalism and communism.

The United States and the USSR represented each side and fought for influence in the world. They did so through proxy wars, conflicts that pitted two other countries together while the US and USSR backed each side with resources.

One example was the Korean War, which split the Korean peninsula into north and south. By the end of the war, these regions became two separate countries. The southern portion of the country, backed by the United States, embraced a democratic and capitalist society.

North Korea, on the other hand, was backed by China and the USSR and embraced an authoritarian government. The nation closed its borders to nearly the entire world, rejecting Western capitalist influence.

As a result, North Korea failed to develop alongside the rest of the world in the 20th century. While some technological advancements have made their way into the country, North Koreans still have fewer luxuries than those in Western nations.

Not only is the country economically and politically isolated, but culturally isolated as well. Western media has been almost entirely blocked. News media reporters cannot share stories across the border, and Hollywood is unable to breach the country.

Most North Korean citizens are not even allowed to cross the borders or travel to other countries, and very few people are allowed in.

This means that North Korean children have never had the chance to be entertained by Superman, Bugs Bunny, or perhaps most shockingly, Mickey Mouse. As a Western media company, Disney is unable to distribute their content in North Korea, despite their global influence.

However, it may come as no surprise that the ruling family of North Korea was not bound by the same restrictions. As the son of the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un was actually aware of Disney growing up.

While thousands of children across the country were unable to enjoy fun, family-oriented animation, Kim Jong-Un came to love the fantasy tales. This love resulted in the Kim family taking the risk to attend one of Disney’s many attractions.

Disney’s Global Empire

Disney has six different resorts around the world, consisting of a dozen theme parks. Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California was the first park, while Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is the most popular park in the world.

The other resorts are Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Shanghai Disney Resort, and of course Tokyo Disney Resort.

Each park has a specific tagline, and Tokyo Disney Resort’s is “Where Dreams Come True.” It was the third resort opened by Disney and the first part to be opened outside of the United States. Conveniently, the park was opened just one year before Kim Jong-Un was born.

Disney is also the second-largest entertainment conglomerate in the world. In 1991, The Beauty and the Beast was released to international acclaim after a decade of regaining prominence in the animation industry.

It was during this meteoric rise that Kim Jong-Un wanted to experience the magic.

Did Kim Jong-Un Go To Disneyland?

Although the popular rumor claims that the Kim family used fake passports to enter Disneyland in California, there is no proof they ever stepped foot in the United States.

However, there are many reports corroborating the story of the Kims going to Disneyland in Japan at the Tokyo Disney Resort.

Like many American families, in 1991, Kim Jung-Il decided that a family vacation to Disneyland would be the most entertaining for his kids.

Although the most famous Disney parks are in California and Florida, Tokyo was much closer and more convenient for the North Korean dictator to sneak into.

The Kim family was forced to sneak because of North Korea’s anti-Western, isolationist policy. Being the Supreme Leader may grant special privileges within North Korea, but elsewhere, it is a big red flag.

Plus it is kind of funny to imagine the head of the country that hates America walking into one of the most famous symbols of Western culture.

Besides the cultural implications of a dictator in Disney, political conflict also restricted Kim’s movements. Postwar Japan was closely allied with the United States, and tensions still existed from a long history of conflict between Japan and North Korea.

This made it difficult for the Kims to enter the small island nation. But nothing is impossible when you are the dictator of an entire country.

Kim had fake passports created for himself and his son, stating that they were from Brazil. Kim Jung-Un’s passport listed his name as Joseph Pak and his hometown as Sao Paulo.

Photograph of Kim Jong-Un’s fake passport via ABC.

These passports were obtained at an embassy in Prague, which allowed the family to travel without suspicion.

Brazilian passports were ideal because during the 19th and 20th centuries, thousands of Asian immigrants had moved to South America.

As a result, it was not an odd thing to see a person of Asian descent from Brazil. Also, being on the other side of the world, no one would associate the passport with the leader of North Korea.

The plan went off without a hitch, and the passports were not questioned during their travels. Reports vary on the details of their trip since North Korean records are not readily available.

The most reliable report comes from journalist Yomiuri Shimbun at NHK (a Japanese news company).

According to Shumbun, an outfit of 10 adults accompanied Jong-Un in his father’s place during the trip, and Kim Jong-Il’s passport was not used until a later trip.

Regardless, an eight-year-old Kim Jong-Un got to enjoy the magic of Disney in Tokyo. The visitors spent over a week in Japan and went to the park multiple times. The success of their trip set the stage for further international travel.

Kim Jong-Nam’s Failure

In 2001 the Kim family once again attempted to enter Japan. Kim Jong-Un’s older half-brother and Kim Jong-Il’s other son, Kim Jong-Nam, attempted to enter Japan with a fake passport from the Dominican Republic.

Accompanying him was his son, his wife, and another woman that may have been a nanny.

Officials at the airport stopped the family when they realized that the passports were fake.

Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of Kim Jong-Un. Image via WikiCommons.

After confirming that security had the son of the North Korean dictator in custody, the family was deported to Beijing. Unfortunately for the Kims, they never made it to the park.

The incident became an international embarrassment for the Kims, with Jong-Il canceling a trip to China as a result. In the following months, a shift in leadership in North Korea began because of the incident.

Jong-Nam, who had been the heir apparent, was cast out and assassinated in 2017 in Malaysia. Kim Jong-Un became the next in line for Supreme Leader.

An Enduring Love For Disney

Kim Jong-Un succeeded his father as Supreme Leader after the latter died in 2011. While he has continued the family tradition of threatening Western powers with nuclear missile development, he has lightened up in other ways.

His love of Disney resulted in an unsanctioned performance from Disney characters in Pyongyang in 2012. Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Tigger and Winnie the Pooh, and assorted other characters graced the stage while Disney footage played on a screen behind them.

While some minor merchandise had been imported in recent years, it was a change in pace for such characters to take center stage in a state-wide broadcast.

It quickly became clear that Kim Jong-Un was taking a different approach to foreign relations than his father and grandfather. His trips to Disney as a child had opened him up to Western influence.

Although Kim Jong-Un never visited Disneyland in the United States, he did spend a week of his childhood at Disney Tokyo Resort.

Even with a glimpse at the Western world though, the dictator has never considered opening North Korea’s borders. Sadly, no one else from North Korea will ever experience the Happiest Place on Earth.


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