We are a Disney family. I’m hoping to be at Disneyland this time next year, for my twentieth anniversary with my partner. (Nineteen years today!) I own easily half a dozen Disney cookbooks, the oldest of which is from the ’70s. I still buy Disney physical media. One of the things I want to do to organize my bedroom is to hang a shelf to put my stuffed Maleficents on. My daughter is sitting next to me, wearing a Little Mermaid nightgown. Some of my oldest memories are Disney-related, be it visits to Disneyland or seeing Cinderella in the theatre in its 1981 rerelease. And of course there’s the existence of this column at all. And these days, I am angry.
There’s a lot to be angry about. It feels as though every day reveals something new. We watched Turning Red this week, and it was wonderful—and deserved a proper theatrical release. I won’t say it was better or worse than Encanto, but it’s definitely true that Pixar has not been getting the opportunities that Disney releases proper have. That’s not fair. Nor is it okay that any examples of same-sex attraction are being shut down. Nor is it okay that Disney’s reaction to the pushback against their support of homophobic Florida politicians was to stop supporting politicians.
The problem, as I’m well aware, it a deep one. Arguably it goes back to the attitudes Walt himself had. As I’ve argued before, Walt was no more racist than many others of his time and place. Yes, that’s still racist, and, no, that’s not an excuse. But the studio was, from what I can tell, universally horrible regardless of ethnic background. There are a lot of people from the classic era, the Walt era, who were born in China or Mexico or various other places that pretty well guaranteed not getting hired by, just to throw out another studio, Schlesinger. Walt was also a union buster. And of course there’s a running joke on The Monkees about how people won’t be able to get into Disneyland looking in assorted ways.
But you know, Walt’s dead. Walt had been dead for almost exactly a decade when I was born, and I am no longer a young woman. It turns out that people who have been dead for over fifty years can’t actually be held fully responsible for the current policies of your company. The company is on its fourth leader since he died, and it’s a remarkably steady company when it comes to its leadership. And, yes, a fair amount of the issues also stem from the fact that the leadership they have acquired since Walt has not been the most progressive and benevolent.
It would be nice if I could simply walk away. That I can’t is partially my own problem; I love Disney and their assorted intellectual properties. Sleeping Beauty is one of my favourite movies. I’d be seeing Spider-Man tomorrow if I could make the schedule work. Yesterday, I watched Summer of Soul on Disney+, to which I’m a day one subscriber. When I get a curio cabinet, one of the things that is getting displayed in it is a commemorative fiftieth anniversary Doom Buggy, still in its original packaging. I don’t identify as a “Disney adult,” in part because it’s got some awkward connotations, but I do really love the products.
Then of course there’s another issue that makes me angry, which is that there’s simply so much that Disney owns these days. It’s not just not letting Sandy watch Moana for the eight billionth time. It’s their ownership of Pixar. Then Marvel. Then Star Wars. Then Twentieth Century Fox. Summer of Soul is a Searchlight production, but it’s on Disney+ because Searchlight is owned by Disney. I don’t like this. Disney’s acquisition of Pixar didn’t bother me, but every new company they buy makes me that much less happy with them.
It goes without saying that I support Disney’s striking workers. It makes me happy that the high-profile people making money from Disney, people like Oscar Isaac, are standing up for the people the corporate structure won’t. Obviously, I don’t have the kind of influence that Mark Ruffalo does. But I couldn’t just write about some short from the ’40s or something when I can use even my small voice to put a little pressure on a company that wants to limit what families it’s friendly toward.