For this return to "Rants & Ravings About Horror" I decided to tackle instead my misgivings about the Disney Corporation but be on the look out for new and exciting "rants" coming throughout the rest of 2020 and beyond!
Most people know I’m generally not a fan of the Disney Corporation. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t grow up on Disney animation and I generally have no fondness for most their films post Beauty & The Beast (1991) which I still think is their last great masterpiece. I’m an animation lover and studied animation from all over the world in college and therefore I’ve eventually watched most of what Disney has produced but their films just aren’t really all that good either for children nor “family” audiences. They generally appeal to all audiences while at the same time never appealing to any one audience. This is not the main reason why I just don’t care for Disney product. This is just one of the many reasons and it came up recently (again)in conversation that I just “hate” on Disney which isn’t entirely true but I thought it would be a great time (again) to give a voice to my opinion.
First off, the Disney Corporation is an amazing corporation that engulfs hundreds of different and diverse companies that keep artist and creatives with steady jobs, fair wages, and places of advancement. While in college (and when I was studying animation) I even wanted to apply to the Disney Animation internship program in California that fosters the future of animation and where most of the interns end up with a job at the studio. I didn’t turn my application in but I still have it (stuffed in some box somewhere). If you’re a hard worker and dedicated I’ve heard that it is a place that keeps people employed but like all corporations it really cares about the bottom line which is maximizing profits.
There is nothing wrong with maximizing profits. It’s the way of all big businesses and the rule of capitalism so you can’t fault anyone for that. But what you can fault them is the way they flaunt this to the world and how they want to protect their “family” image at the cost of everything else. They hide their dirty secrets under red tape or subsidiaries or they bury them altogether and never acknowledge their existence. It is no secret that the Miramax owned company refused to release David Cronenberg’s film Crash (1996) because the director refused to make the necessary cuts to get to an R-Rating. Instead the company dumps the film in limited release (meaning specialty theaters) as if it never existed with a rating of NC-17 (the dreaded rating). Also, for the longest time the Disney Company refused to release their WWII propaganda animated films to the public as it would hurt their “family friendly” image. These films were a testament to the time in which they were made and every major studio was producing these types of films to boost morale at home and abroad. Just look at the “Why We Fight” film series that had such a luminary visionary like Frank Capra (director of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life) at the forefront. You also will never see Disney give an official release for Song of the South (1946), the less said about the history of this debacle the better. This is a small sampling of the films Disney has buried.
This brings me to Studio Ghibli which for a time the company distributed in the US (and some other territories). Studio Ghibli is one of the premiere animation studios in the world producing some of the best films that don’t rely on anthropomorphized characters, musical numbers, and CGI animation and technology. They create brilliant works of animation that rely on original stories with captivating characters in unique worlds of wonder and imagination. Everything that the Disney studio lacks. Studio Ghibli being a major competitor, Disney bought up the distribution rights and released their films in limited capacity even after dubbing them all in English and never giving them the due respect they earned. I was lucky enough to have seen most all of the Disney released Studio Ghibli films in art-house theaters. These are films that have garnered awards throughout the entire world yet here in the US were treated as the bothersome stepson. I was glad when the rights were sold to GKIDS in 2011 (when Disney was pretty much done with them) and they’ve given all the films in the library substantial re-releases that continue to this day.
Now I could also go into the huge Pixar/Disney debacle which is more closer to home for most Americans but for the longest time Pixar films were only distributed by Disney until the two corporations came to a mutually beneficial agreement whereby Pixar is a subsidiary of Disney and that Pixar is now obligated to produce two sequels in their catalog of films for every one original film. This has cheapened the brand whereby Pixar used to produce one film every few years and each film was simply amazing but now for every Brave (2012) you get a Monsters University (2013) and Cars 2 (2011) or for every Coco (2017) there is a Incredibles 2 (2018) and Toy Story 4 (2019). Now some of these sequels are good but to be honest, did we really need a Toy Story 4 after the amazing way Toy Story 3 (2010) ended and the less said about Cars 3 (2017) the better. Pixar has produced some genuine masterpieces in Toy Story (1995), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Finding Nemo (2003) but pretty much everything else is meh.
Disney’s biggest live action competitor was probably 20th Century Fox’s Star Wars franchise which they never released a film against at the Box Office (except for maybe an animated film as counter programming which works in a business sense). When George Lucas sold Disney all of Lucasarts (and its subsidiaries) it was like Christmas forever for the company! One of their chief competitors at the Box Office was gone and now in their own hands. And the first thing that came to Disney’s mind is to franchise. Let’s make a new sequel trilogy, spin-off movies, television series, new toys, and of course a Baby Yoda! Now, there have been questions from fans about just how good the last five films released by Disney actually are. I loved The Force Awakens (2015) and enjoyed the hell out of Solo (2018) but there wasn’t anything original, captivating, or awe inspiring in any of them as they borrowed so heavily from other films in the franchise. They had better actors, better CGI, and better action but they all were kind of “hollow” which is what happens when you try to appeal to everyone while appealing to no one. There is a sense that these films need only to merely engage and entertain while presenting nothing new other than introducing lens flare to the universe. Now the one thing I did love about the franchise is how inclusive the films have been to all races, genders, etc. and as an African American I can appreciate that as the original trilogy pretty much only had Billy Dee Williams. Unfortunately, I haven’t bothered with The Mandalorian as when I heard mention of a Baby Yoda the only thought I had was of Ewoks and Gungans and I said, “No thank you.”
The same can be said in regards to the MCU. If these films had come out in the ‘90s I probably would have taken to them more but I’ve not read a Marvel or DC comic in almost thirty years and therefore I have an image in my brain of what I remember what these characters were and not how much they’ve been re-invented in the last three decades. Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Avengers (2012), Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) & Captain America: Civil War (2016), Captain Marvel (2019), and both Guardians of the Galaxy films (which are the best in the entire franchise) but pretty much everything else is meh. I hate the Iron Man and Thor films (although the 3rd Thor film is very fun), Doctor Strange was visually stunning but hollow, Black Panther had one of the greatest ensemble casts of all the films but it’s over reliance on CGI killed it for me (although it has one of the best openings of any of the MCU films), Homecoming was inspired but man did I hate Far From Home and let’s be honest – did we really need yet another reboot of Spider-Man this soon? Ant Man was completely forgettable except for Michael Pena who makes the film work although Ant Man & Wasp was a great recovery film. I know there was a Hulk film somewhere but I remember nothing about it. The greatest thing about the MCU franchise is the Agent Carter show which I loved and all the Netflix shows in The Defenders universe (which Kevin Feige wants to claim are no longer in the same universe any more). The MCU is now like a one-stop shopping for candy-colored, delicious confections whose taste lasts for but a few moments before leaving you hollow afterwards. Infinity War and Endgame were not that bad but that’s because of Josh Brolin. The one thing I have to give it to Disney in regards to the MCU is the inclusivity of the entire franchise but I also blame them (and Feige) for cancelling all the Hulu, Freeform, and Netflix shows as they weren’t created by Feige so therefore don’t belong in his MCU.
Now that I’ve touched on Disney’s handling of Pixar, propaganda films, MCU, Star Wars, and Studio Ghibli, I could go into more but I think you’re seeing the picture. This hasn’t even touched the 20th Century Studios acquisitions which has both good and bad vibes. For MCU fans they love the fact that The X-Men and Fantastic Four and other Fox properties can now be incorporated into the MCU. But what does that mean for the hugely successful Deadpool franchise which was Rated-R and other properties like the Alien and Predator franchises which don’t fit into the Family Friendly Disney image; I guess there is always Hulu. For comic fans, what will happen to Boom! Studios (which Disney has a minority stake in) and will that be incorporated into Marvel comics and/or will Feige try to incorporate those characters into MCU as well or simply ignore them altogether? Will 20th Century Animation and Blue Sky Studios be integrated into Walt Disney Animation Studios or shuttered altogether? How will FX Networks be integrated into Disney/ABC/A&E or will its contents be dumped to Hulu (which is majority owned by Disney now)? Will National Geographic Partners become part of Disney Nature and/or be re-branded? The only thing that seems safe and untouchable is ESPN Inc. and everything included with that. I’m not going to even touch the music and media publishing accounts. What Disney sees as competition they either acquire or they destroy or sometimes both. The danger is that the more assets that Disney acquires the less diversified the product for the consumer to choose from.
It’s like a town that has no Mom & Pop stores but only a Super Walmart and a Super Target. You have two chooses to choose from that give you the same exact products with no variety but at a cheap cost so everyone can afford them. Great cost! Low prices! Cheap products! Maximum profits!
Now, still, there is nothing inherently wrong with this as that’s what the consumer sometimes wants and they don’t mind paying for the same thing each year as long as it’s dressed up in a new pretty color. If this is all that you have in your town then that’s all you ever want but you have to acknowledge that that is not all you NEED. You need a choice. You need variety. You need diversification. What we don’t need is the appearance of something we need which is a hollow and insincere gesture, which is what the Disney Corporation provides. What we need is a genuine offering that is honest and truthful.
Right now, people are claiming they want this through our politics, a transparent police department in every city, a genuine health care plan that actually works for the people, the end of racism, ageism, and sexism. These are the things people need. People don’t need Disney, which encompasses almost every facet of our daily lives in some form or fashion, to continue slamming the same trash time and time again down our throats through their business practices, their politics, and their treatment of their employees (because they aren’t transparent when it comes to their own internal systematic racism, sexism, ageism, etc.); they’re just better at covering it up like candy-colored, delicious confections.
Now none of this minimizes the fact that the Disney Corporation is the most successful film studio in the world (probably cruise line and theme parks as well, just to name a few) but this shouldn’t blind you to everything else that they do as well behind closed doors and hostile take-overs.
Now getting back to my original opening whereas I mentioned I didn’t grow up on Disney. That’s not entirely true. We had the Disney channel in our home because my parents (like most parents) thought they needed to have it because of the four children in our house hold. My siblings and I could care less about watching Disney, so my parents stopped paying for it. I actually got much of my animation culture from public television and HBO (back in the day when they acquired content to distribute). I grew up on the more profound animated films of Animal Farm (1954), Charlotte’s Web (1973), The Camel Boy (1974), Dot & the Kangaroo (1977), The Lord of the Rings (1978), The Hobbit (1977), The Snowman (1982), and many, many more. HBO had some of the most diversified animation available as they acquired stuff from all over the world and being a military brat I was also exposed to the Black & White Speed Racer and AstroBoy (which played on every public television everywhere on base) so that was my early exposure to Japanese anime. I didn’t grow up with the musicality of Disney animation and therefore don’t believe I really missed out on anything. I’ve seen maybe 85% of all the Disney/Pixar animated films and still believe this as I just think other countries were more diversified in their offerings then and especially now.
Now, I don’t expect anyone to go out there and stop watching Disney product or boycott their films (as I’m sure they are doing right now with the live action Mulan film - #BoycottMulan) but if I’ve informed just one person about Disney practices and or made one person understand my thoughts on the whole thing than it will have been worth it.
In fact, I’m looking forward to an X-Men Vs Avengers film and think that if Disney can find a way to do a sequel to Aliens that doesn’t involve the Ripley character and isn’t a remake/reboot then I’m there!