I think one of the oddest things about the reboot craze is the determination to blur fantasy and reality. I absolutely understand the need to make things like the Beast from Beauty and the Beast look like he is a two-ton behemoth, feeling the weight of his fur, and imagining the power of his breath alone. Moviemaking has always strove to bridge that gap to varying degrees. But there are numerous examples in the pre-CGI era where filmmakers had two options: either go hard on makeup, costumes, set design, effects, and risk the phoniness…or challenge the actors and animators by having animated characters be drawn in later. One has the potential of looking realistic, but also has the most to lose if they fail. Once you see a zipper seam or a shirked budget, the suspension of disbelief shatters and you look stupid. With real people mingling with cartoons, it’s definitely cornier, but it’s FAR easier to draw a talking dog than it is to make one not look like a puppet or that they made the dog eat peanut butter.
There’s a lot of great films that put real humans in cartoons and vice versa. The Three Caballeros. Fantasia. Song of the South. Mary Poppins. Pete’s Dragon. Space Jam. Who Framed Roger Rabbit.Cool World. It’s a novelty that’s been around around since Max Fleischer cavorted with Koko the Klown back in the twenties. While this effect can be severely hit or miss, often depending on whether the actor can keep their sight line focused or interact with something that isn’t there, it carries with it its own charm and uniqueness that is impossible to replicate with computer graphics, I don’t care how cutting edge the software is or how good the graphic designers are.
If you’ve ever seen 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, you probably recall the central conflict was centered around Mrs. Pamela Travers’ unwillingness to let a charming huckster like Walt Disney bastardize her books with whimsy and fluff. That part is completely true, and Travers was as every bit as contentious as the movie made her out to be. And Walt, a man used to getting things done his way by the early sixties, was having a heck of a time trying to get Mary Poppins done. However, Walt devised a contingency plan: adapting another British book about a magic woman going on wild adventures with children. The Magic Bedknob by Mary Norton had these ingredients, and Walt set his Mary Poppins staff; writers Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman, and director Bill Stevenson to create – essentially – a knock-off version of MaryPoppins.
As we all know, Travers eventually relented and we got the Oscar-winning film we know and love today. Walt didn’t want to bother with their plan B movie, mostly due to his innate desire to not repeat himself. Years later, after Walt’s death, the studio was so desperate to keep the magic of Walt going, it was decided to look up the old project and try to see if it would have the same effect as Mary Poppins did. Bedknobs and Broomsticks was released in 1971, five years after Walt Disney’s death and garnered only mild success. Did it deserve it?
The original film was released with a runtime of 141 minutes, but had to be cut to 118 to allow runtime under two hours. Disney later tried to rerelease it in its fully restored glory in 1996, but the footage of the song “A Step in the Right Direction” was lost, so the restored version wound up being 139 minutes. The version on Disney+ is the shortest yet at 117 minutes. Now, because I had the 2001 DVD that had the semi-restored length, and I want to be as thorough as possible, that’s the version I’m going to analyze. So strap in, because let’s begin brewing on bouncing beds beneath the beautiful briny with Bedknobs and Broomsticks!
The plot: Three precocious orphans Carrie (Cindy O’Callaghan), Charlie (Ian Weighill), and Paul (Roy Snart) are refugees from Nazi Germany’s bombing of London, and are forced to the seaside town of Pepperinge Eye with the eccentric Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury). However, the kids soon discover something odd about her: primarily that she’s an apprentice witch learning spells through a correspondence course.
When the courses stop abruptly, right before she learns of a spell she wants to use to help save England from the war, Eglantine and the kids hop aboard an enchanted bed to find her teacher, Emilius Browne (David Thomlinson). However, Browne is just a shyster who made up half the spells and stopped the course because the spellbook he based his lessons off was severed in half. The group sets off to find the “substitutiary locomotion” spell – which makes inanimate objects come to life – by any means necessary to save Mother England from the Nazis.
How’s the writing?: I’ve seen lots of movies that meander. You know what I mean, movies like Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, or The Jungle Book, where the characters have one goal, and while a good chunk of the movie feels like it derails a lot, you don’t really care all that much because you’re having fun with them. Then there’s movies like So Dear to My Heart, which wanders like a drunken fly, where it loses sight of its point and you just want the film to get to the smooing point already. Bedknobs and Broomsticks…lies smack dab in the middle of those two.
On one hand, I never really resent the journey I’m taking with these characters. Eglantine’s goal is simple: to get the last spell to help England win the war. She does get waylaid a lot, though. She goes to Mr. Browne, who doesn’t have the other half. They go to Portobello Road to get it, but they get caught up in the dancing. They find the man who has the other half, but it doesn’t have the spell. They go to Naboombu to find the artifact that has the spell, but they short-shoot it and fall in the lagoon. They make it to land, but the king won’t give it up and is surly about missing his football tournament. They get the star, but it evaporates as soon as they get back home…only to find the spell is literally in a book Paul held onto since step two. I should be mad at this movie because it wasted so much of my time for a result so moot and pointless…but I’m not. When Jeremiah and Tildy meander through the countryside chasing a bee in So Dear to My Heart, I get annoyed because the movie wants me to relax and enjoy the experience, despite that we know there is a greater goal. In these various sidequests, the sense of urgency is rarely lost. You may be forced to watch people dance in the “Portobello Road” sequence, or you may be forced to watch cartoon animal slapstick during their football game, but there are minute moments here or there to show us the movie hasn’t forgotten what they’re supposed to be doing. Eglantine is still feverishly digging through mountains of books, and Emilius is constantly trying to reach for the king’s star.
Still, the movie takes its time in everything it does. There are ten songs in the restored version, and few really do anything to further the story. There’s a bridge during “Portobello Road” that goes on forever that should be fun and captivating, considering it’s a bunch of various cultures dancing, but that’s all it is: dancing. I don’t mind a well-choreographed scene, but if the point of a scene is just to appreciate people dancing, especially if the movie wants me to remember there’s a serious matter at hand, then I’m sorry, it’s not going to hold my attention.
Does it give the feels?: Yes and no. It does because it generates some good, sincere development between the characters, particularly Emilius and Eglantine. And no because it’s not particularly strong with the kids.
The movie sets up the idea that Eglantine starts off as an independent woman, fully committed to her studies in witchcraft and completely uninterested in romantic pursuits and child-rearing. Like a Hallmark movie, the narrative wants to peel her away from this mindset and have her give up her studies, and look after the kids and play the domestic housewife role. Of course, it takes a while to get there, so you’re mostly forgiven for not seeing that. But by the end, she decides not to relinquish the children to another caretaker, bid farewell to Browne, who’s marching off to war with the Old Home Guard, and has completely given up on her witchcraft practice. Not for any valid reason, mind you, but because poisoned dragon’s liver made her feel icky. Considering it’s never established dragons exist and Browne was a con man, doesn’t that mean it most likely wasn’t poisoned dragon’s liver?…
I do like the scene where Browne uncomfortably insists he has to leave, despite the protestations of the kids, mostly because you can read Browne’s expressions as a man generally used to being detached and on the move. The inclusion of “Nobody’s Problems for Me” is about Eglantine somberly singing about how lonely it can be without kids or a loved one, if a bit on the nose.
But the kids…man, the kids are a massively conflicting element. I don’t dislike them, really. But Carrie doesn’t contribute much, Charlie is bratty, and Paul is pretty much phoning it in. The kids are necessary to the plot and aren’t terrible as characters, but they are tough to stomach sometimes.
Who makes it worth it?: I’m hard-pressed to really think of a standout performance that sold me. Thomlinson as Browne is entertaining in many scenes, though I still prefer his hammy performance in The Love Bug more. I would like Eglantine a bit more if she weren’t so fussy and constantly perturbed.
The one character I enjoyed watching most was King Leonidas. An anthropomorphic lion whose greatest passion is football (“Soccer” to us uncultured Americans), and is generally jovial and boisterous, sometimes unaware he can come off as a bit brash. His roars and bellows are exaggerated greatly (But the wind effect from them is not great) and show he is well aware of its full power. But you get the feeling despite his abrasiveness and his ego, he’s a friendly guy who’s happy to host…as long as your homo sapien butt is visiting, not living on, Naboombu. I just wish I knew why they made him sound like a pirate.
I should also throw credit to the fishing bear. He’s barely in the movie save for one scene, but he’s kind of a loveable oaf. I would not have minded more screen time from him.
Best quality provided: The soccer match, as I said, is completely pointless to the plot, but boy, is it a fun scene to watch. If you like watching traditional anthropomorphized animal slapstick vis-a-vis Looney Tunes, you’ll definitely get a kick out of this.
What could have been improved: Like I said, this movie can get tedious if you’re not prepared for over two hours of runtime. Some scenes and bits are entertaining on their own, but even with all that extra time to spare…still go nowhere significant.
First example, we meet the Old Home Guard, a small infantry of elderly British soldiers who make it their mission to protect Pepperinge Eye, mere minutes into the film. The idea is amusing, and they even get their own song. However, they don’t appear again until after Eglantine does all the heavy lifting by chasing away the Nazis, and the men fire a few potshots, thinking they saved England, and later Browne joins them as the end credits roll!
The famous Roddy McDowall appears as a rather unlikable priest, Mr. Jelk, who is sorry he cannot join the war effort because of his bone spurs quinsy, and frequently displays his desire to marry Miss Price…for her house. He appears later to both test the house’s physical sturdiness and get harrassed by Eglantine’s test run of the substitutiary locomotion spell…and not only is that the last we see of him, but Eglantine barely acknowledges his presence at all!
But as I cited earlier, the one scene that exhausts me most is the “Portobello Road” dancing scene. Good dancing scenes for me are okay at best, because there’s only so much enjoyment I can derive from watching a bunch of people…well, dancing. And it goes on…for over six and a half minutes! As dancers from various cultures take time to show off their moves, you’re well aware it has nothing to do with the plot, nor even the establishment of Portobello Road as a sort of shady flea market. Tomlinson finishes singing the song, only to strike it up all over again to spawn a multicultural street party with nothing really interesting happening.
Maybe if the song had more to do with making Portobello Road a sprawling, lively, bustling stretch, where everyone tries to outdo their neighbor in selling their wares, this’d be kind of interesting. Maybe if the background didn’t look like a bunch of dour, dirty, gray streets. Maybe if we didn’t have bizarre little moments like after a Scotsman finishes his dance, Paul blankly states, “Missed me” to him. I don’t know, dancing scenes tend do bore me enough as it is. But what I do know is something like “Step in Time” in Mary Poppins is similarly long and similarly pointless, but there’s no doubt it’s frenzied, kinetic, joyous, and thrilling. For me, it’s the worst part of the movie, and I’m happy to just skip through it.
Verdict: Bedknobs and Broomsticks is far from a bad movie. It just has the desire to cram in everything all at once in a feverish attempt to recapture lightning in the bottle that was Mary Poppins, andas a result, doesn’t really seem to know what it’s doing. A valiant effort, to be sure. And like I said, there’s a lot of good stuff here that shouldn’t get overlooked. It’s definitely worth your time to check out. Six Stars of Astoroth out of ten.
I’m not an economist. I know nothing of stocks or anything like that. I am just a millennial with limited expendable income who also likes Disney. It’s a horrible combination, really.
Also, as someone born in 1986, I’ve grown incredibly jaded and cynical of the American system, known for a myriad of crimes against humanity, marinated in holier-than-thou neoliberalism, seasoned with pervasive white nationalism, with a pinch of toxic, xenophobic fearmongering. But as I’ve watched my country stagger through the past two decades, I’ve watched in horror as a market system based on supply and demand has blossomed into a predatory force used to penalize the have-nots and reward the haves. And sitting nice and pretty atop this mound of corruption is Mickey Mouse.
I know there are some who will decry this article for being some sort of communist propaganda (Hell, I was accused of that in my Dinosaurs article.), but I have no agenda beyond grumbling that the system we have in place now blows chunks and something needs to change…even though I have no real idea how.
So in a show of good faith, I’m going to acknowledge what capitalism is good for and how it has actually benefitted us.
The Good Stuff:
1. We use our money to show favor and disfavor.
Those in favor of the free market insist this objective act is the great motivator in ensuring a truly functioning economy. We need choices to determine who deserves our money, and whomever is the best gets it to be better while the less good falls by the wayside. On the face of it, it makes perfect sense. I’ll get into the nuances later why it actually doesn’t, but devoid of variables and nuances, it’s pretty obvious this is a highlight in capitalism.
Disney won our favor by creating quality animated films, ones that superceded that of studios like Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera. They legitimately created a product that was superior to others, and we paid that back with gratitude and appreciation. To this day, if a ride or movie or product is inferior, we still hold the power to say yea or nay by spending or not spending our hard-earned money on it.
2. Sometimes it backs good causes if it’s popular enough.
As we grow and develop as a species, we continue experimenting with various notions in advancing human society. Like maybe there are religions beyond christianity. Or maybe black people don’t deserve getting gunned down by police like Elmer Fudd blasting Daffy Duck. Or that gay people, trans people and others that don’t fit the “cis het white male” demographic should be able to exist, period.
In recent years, Disney has wised up in noticing the broadening markets for our generation in accepting others. The pirate wench auction in Pirates of the Caribbean, the removal of racist elements in the Jungle Cruise, and the retheme of Splash Mountain from Song of the South to The Princess and the Frog are such examples. Disney absolutely would not be putting in the effort in these if they didn’t see our hard-earned money as a viable, or profitable, avenue. Say nothing of the sale of pride merchandise gradually becoming mainstream as non-heterosexuality becomes less taboo. It proves if we push in the right direction, we can, in fact, change the world for the better. Even if they’re being incentivized by money instead of scruples.
3. Disney has unions.
Yeah, they hate ’em. They sure do. But they got ’em. That’s pretty big.
All right, that’s enough of that. Let’s dive into the ugly truths about late stage capitalism and why it’s ruining my favorite thing. In no particular order…
The reason we’re here:
1. Abandoned facilities.
I brought this up in this article I wrote about improving the theme parks. Basically, it was the realization multiple buildings existed in the park properties, often in plain sight, long after their active use. The Odyssey Center, Wonders of Life, World Showplace, and most of the original journey into Imagination ride at Epcot. The Fantasyland skyway chalet and Aunt Polly’s Dockside Inn in the Magic Kingdom. The peoplemover track in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. The Premier Theater in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. River Country. Discovery Island. In that article, I completely forgot to mention the time I worked at Frozen Summer Fun at DHS in 2014, where we made use of the nearby breakroom…and found an unlocked Backstage door nearby that lead to a most amazing discovery: a room FULL of Disney props from movies, shows, the parks, and so on. It was a veritable treasure grove for a nerd like me. Come to find out, it was just one of the many rooms used in the old Backstage Pass attraction. An attraction that closed in 2002, meaning this incredible find had simply been boarded up for twelve years, gathering dust.
I bring all this up because the fact these facilities were simply abandoned. Some were turned into flexspace functions for corporate parties or limited-time events, and some even did get reconverted into new functions, but there’s something strikingly shocking about it all. Like, we were told as children to put away our toys when we were done playing with them, but a multi-million conglomerate like Disney can just leave empty buildings in plain sight. I mean, places like River Country and Discovery Island are left to literally rot after all that was spent ripping up the ecosystem in the area, and they just leave it there?
The reason this is here is because Disney does not clean up after itself unless there is financial incentive to do so. And there is no desire on Disney’s part to spend the money to hire workers and equipment to return the area back to a natural setting. Disney briefly announced the idea to build yet another timeshare resort where River Country lies, but that was before COVID shut that down real quick. Regardless, capitalism means nothing happens unless money is involved, especially if it’s seemingly guaranteed money. So sure, just keep eviscerating more of the local ecosystem when there’s perfectly good, unused space that’s collecting dust.
2. Sacrificing quality customer service for money.
A long time ago, I got one of those thermos mugs you buy at the resorts. Working at WDW at the time, I was able to grab a soft drink every time I had a chance. Then one day…it stopped. Disney decided that giving away free soft drinks wasn’t a smart business plan. So they installed RFID chips on the bottom of the cups, which only after purchase, would they be activated for like a week or so, and then you could get your Coke from the All-Star Music food court. While I understand the need to not be taken advantage of…really?? Soda?! I’ve spent over two decades working in fast food, businesses with FAR more to lose than Disney, where my bosses literally do not care how much I drink as long as I do my job. This means, in the end, Disney looked at the trade-off (increased cash flow or happier guests?) and decided nickel and diming this small aspect was worth the revenue boost.
I get that business is all about that tricky balancing act between providing a quality experience versus making a profit, but Disney seems to constantly think it can get away with just about anything because it has the Disney name on it. Increased park admission. No more free Fastpasses. Ending the ticket book system. Ending Magical Express. I seriously doubt Disney was losing enough money in these free add-ons to warrant asking why they can’t charge just one more fee. Sooner or later, something’s got to give: not every one can afford these amenities, and those who can will just get more and more frustrated until only the 1% can visit the parks.
Much more recently is Disney’s recent implementation of Disney Genie, the app that eliminated the thriving, free of charge Fastpass system. Instead, guests can now buy a $15 app that allows only some attractions Lightning Lane access, but the popular rides charge even more per person for the formerly free service. While I have no doubt this will reduce wait times in the whatever they now call their front-of-the-line system, all it really does is price out those who didn’t have the expendable income. Standby queues are only going to get longer as fewer guests will stand for this price gouging, so I’m not sure if the small bump in revenue is worth the onslaught of complaints.
3. The One Good Thing holds no weight when it counts.
Speaking of those increasing ticket prices, Disney feels they are unbeatable. Every year, they hike up the park prices, and every year, they trend for week or so as we all cry out how money-hungry Disney is, and we settle down, and pay the new annual pass, grumbling.
Or, you know how so many people are sick to death of all those live action remakes? Most of us still watch them, even if out of morbid curiosity, and as a result, movies as reviled as, say, Beauty and the Beast (2017) still make $1.26 billion at the box office! As I pointed out earlier, capitalist apologists advocate for a free market where quality products dictate success, but if the popular demand is “Disney, stop it with the crappy remakes”, or “Stop overcharging us for park tickets!”, all they have to do is look at their receipts and say: “…nah.”
Disney knows we’ll pay anything because of the brand name, and they use it as an excuse to do what they want, regardless of how badly recieved it is. Admission prices to Disneyland have never gone down and as long as thousands still buy them because we love riding Haunted Mansion, they never will.
4. Market Oversaturation.
I’ll admit this one’s more of a gripe. When trying for mass appeal, you kind of have to centralize your product into a common denominator. Yet the profit motive kicks this into overdrive to not just ignoring the stuff that doesn’t generate much capital, but also can oversaturated the market.
Franchises like Marvel and Star Wars generate billions in revenue from movies, but much more significantly in merchandise. So Disney follows the money and makes hundreds of varieties of stormtrooper and Iron Man t-shirts. Every adult and many children I know love these brands, but remember how Frozen blew up back in 2013 and 2014? And remember the online forums and comment threads filled with vitriol and frothing rage over “Too much Frozen“? Yeah, you do, admit it. I was there when it went down, working at Hollywood Studios when Frozen Summer Fun took over summer of 2014, working at the ice rink and wearing the Oaken sweaters. You couldn’t ignore it. It burned everyone out left and right.
For me, it’s Star Wars. I’ve gotten so over inundated with the franchise it’s not even funny. But I’ve beaten that horse well past its expiration date, so let’s move on…
5. Corporate Acquisitions.
In the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, the infamous rubber barons like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt were slowly consuming their respective industries. By buying and crushing all who stood in their way, they almost got away with monopolizing steel and oil, which meant their demands could override their consumers’ with impunity. If their products were too expensive…who cares?! It’s not like they can go anywhere else!
The metaphor about the frog boiling in the pot is super applicable here. Even in hindsight, it’s hard to peg exactly where it becomes too much, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t agree that Disney’s gotten so big for their britches. Was it the ABC merger? ESPN? Muppets? Marvel? Lucasfilm? Maker Studios? 21st Century Fox? We’ve benefitted in great ways, like the MCU, but Disney bought Maker Studios to disband it. The Lucasfilm acquisition still has mixed results. The only reason fans seemed interested in the Fox purchase was because we might have the X-Men in the MCU, but now with Disney owning franchises like Alien and The Simpsons, it seems terrifying. While it’s nice to see Disney’s reputable quality being added to some of our favorite franchises, it’s not really worth the corporate interference and the hiking of prices.
Historically speaking, competition for Disney actually benefits them. When imitators kept cropping up, Disney used to prove they could outdo them by applying greater quality of work. When Don Bluth made successful animation in the 80’s, Disney had to concentrate and pull themselves out of the slump they’d been in, resting on their laurels in order to come out on top. Walt had to make Disneyland with immaculate theming and cleanliness to outperform amusement parks of the fifties. They had to make better animated films when DreamWorks started outshining them. Hell, Pandora: World of Avatar was most likely built to stay ahead of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So without competitors, Disney gets complacent, believing the public will buy anything as long as it’s Disney, and will crap out cheap products, all the while upping prices on Marvel action figures and StarWars shirts, or just dismantling them with impunity. That’s not being a free market, that’s economic totalitarianism.
6. Low employee wages.
After 7 years at WDW, I moved to Arizona and told my friends as of January 2018, the resort paid cast members $10 an hour, which left them all stunned (The Phoenix suburbs at the time had a minimum wage of $12.45/hr, so imagine their shock hearing the federal minimum wage was a mere $7.25). They’d usually respond with, “But Disney can afford to pay more!”. To which I’d say, “Yes…but where do you think the money goes and why do you think they’re so wealthy?” They got the picture pretty quickly.
Supposedly the line of thinking is if the company has a massive amount of reliable revenue, then they should be able to treat their staff with comfortable wages and decent working environments. However, the opposite is often true, with horror stories coming out of corporate juggernauts like Amazon and Disney knowing full well the value of a job, however meager the rewards, mean front line workers will endure hell after hell if it means putting bread on the table, and all that revenue coming in can go to where it belongs: the suits who make decisions. Especially since a company with a high turnover rate like Disney, who cares how many get burnt out and leave, knowing there’s literally hundreds of naive, young workers who don’t know what they’re getting into, are lining up to apply?
Cast members, Disney seems to think, are expendable, and wish they could pay them with whimsical emotional payoff of helping guests have the best day ever, all the while, paying lip service about how much they mean to Disney. However, corporate oligarchy means there is no loyalty in return, so they lose no sleep you quit tomorrow. So CM’s can endure heatstroke, verbal abuse, physical demands, physical abuse, meager wages, literally all with a smile, and they hope your loyalty and pride in the brand is enough to keep you pressing the dispatch buttons or reporting to your sets on time.
True story: during a five year anniversary celebration for CM’s, I won two AMC green movie tickets in a raffle. It wasn’t until I got to the ticket window and found I couldn’t take my girlfriend to see 2017’s Beauty and the Beast…because the ticket SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDED all Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm movies. While I still came out on top because we saw Logan instead, how is that anywhere close to fair?
Also true story: in 2011, after Toy Story 3 became a huge box office success, the first animated film to bank $1 billion at the box office, Disney shared that success by gifting us all with our own special release blu-ray edition of the movie. A great gesture, to be sure. However…when Disney found out most people sold their copies, gifts to cast members were reduced to pins and buttons. I’m sorry, but if I was being paid $8.35 an hour, and I had a family to feed, you’re damn right I would have sold that on Ebay if it meant I could get groceries.
7. Sometimes it backs bad causes if it’s popular enough.
I’m happy as a clam Disney is now accepting progressive movements like Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ community and less racism, in spite of the tantrums of right-wing pundits. But remember: they only started doing this when they realized millenials have money. Look no further than Gay Days, the annual event that welcomes all on the spectrum to spend a week at Disney. However, despite this, realize Disney never once has endorsed the event, allowing plausible deniability should they be accused to be accepting of “the gays”. Maybe they might actually make it a true blue Disney event one day, but as long as Disney worries about losing valuable income from homophobic boomers and religious zealots, they won’t.
Capitalism will always find a way to extort any idea, movement, or ideal if it makes money. As glad as I am my LGBTQ brethren are being recognized, I’m still upset it took this long. Up until the late nineties, catering to demographics outside the cis het white male christian demographic was laughable, or at best, very, very niche. And it took serious effort: LOTS of protests, petitions, demands, outcries, and boycotts, fighting the establishments of both Hollywood and right-wing pundits to get this far. While there’s an abundance of black superheroes in comics, why have we only seen Blade, Black Panther, and Cyborg? Why only two Marvel superheroines – Black Widow and Captain Marvel – got headlining movies in the MCU? The status quo of white men was so entrenched that when multiple women and people of color popped up in The Force Awakens, the backlash was intense, all the more proving why representation matters. Sure, we’ve come a long way, but this effort is only a couple decades young and we have a long way to go still. Thank gods Black Panther was the highest grossing MCU film for a time.
8. Lobbying and meddling in federal law.
Supposedly law is the great equalizer in this country. Ideally, if I were to murder five people, I should be be penalized with the same severity as say, Jeff Bezos. Even though Bezos could afford a whole law firm intent on discrediting reality itself and I would get a public defender who can’t differentiate between “mitigate” and “litigate”, we SHOULD be on equal footing. But as we’ve seen time and again, rich people do whatever they want because the law can barely touch them. Nowhere is this more egregious than the corporations who shovel wads of cash in lawmakers’ pockets and force laws to bend their way. Of course, paying off politicians to overlook environmental and tax regulations is one thing. But Disney broke copyright law itself.
Copyright law is, of course, the deeply nuanced and tricky practice of determining when a product created by someone to be exploiting off another person’s established product in the interest if using the established brand to elevate their interests. On the surface, it’s fair. I certainly wouldn’t want people to bastardize my product with shoddy imitations that reduces the public’s opinion of mine in their eyes. But it’s not just that the law on this gets abused, it’s that Disney made this situation what it is.
Back in the good old days, copyright just was meant to allow the creator to collect royalties pretty much until they passed away. After which, the art would enter the public domain, which is why we can watch hundreds of adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, and Wizard of Oz. But in the seventies, and Mickey Mouse was set to enter the public domain in 1984, and Disney couldn’t have that. So they lobbied congress to extend Mickey’s copyright till 2003.
In 1998, it was extended again. Literally in a bill derisively called the Mickey Mouse Bill, it was extended again to 2023. And because Mickey is set to be in the public domain as soon as 2024 hits, Disney is currently trying to reform the law AGAIN so the Mouse doesn’t fall into our dirty peasant hands. This alone is bad enough, but note this is the company that got famous by grabbing public domain works and making them their own. Say nothing of the zealous pursuit of lawsuits when someone dares to draw three circles in one particular pattern.
You can claim it’s Disney protecting their assets, but it’s gotten ridiculous at this point. They’re going to have to let go sooner or later, and we can finally use Mickey like we use Alice, Dorothy, and Sherlock. After all, if Copyright existed today like it did in the twenties, you KNOW Universal would have sued Disney for copying Mickey off Oswald. Food for thought.
Also, say nothing of them trying to copyright public domain concepts like Dia de los Muertos and the Norse god Loki. Seriously.
9. Cheap goods to cheat the system.
Laissez-faire capitalism is allowing the free market to do whatever it wants and basically rely on the honor system that entrepreneurs are doing what they’re doing out of the goodness of their hearts. But of course, capitalism is all about spending as little as you can to make as much as you can. So it’s far from uncommon for companies to use cheap materials, cheap labor, and flimsy laws to circumvent having to pay more than absolutely necessary in production. Libertarians and objectivists will tell you that entrepreneurs are good people who are at their best when left to do what they do best while simultaneously warning us riff-raff and peasants that it’s our job to be wary of con artists who want to rip us off. The mental gymnastics are astounding.
The thing is, no one will fault a business for being pragmatic or sensible when finding ways to save money, as long as the same quality of their product or service is provided. For example, reusing the animatronics from America Sings and using them on Splash Mountain is clever and commendable. It in no way detracted from Splash Mountain as a quality attraction. One might even feel the same about the spitting camels from the old Aladdin parade being used as a prop for Magic Carpets of Aladdin or Simba’s float being reused in Legend of the Lion King. These are fine. What ISN’T fine is refusing to spend money to create a quality experience that Disney is known for and cutting corners resulting in a subpar experience.
I will always rail against cheap attempts to inflate the guest experience at Disney with dance parties, dessert parties, and other gimmicks that are light on substance and often times still charge for the privilege. But to this day, I still can’t forgive the creation of Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama. Everything about it reeks of cheapness. The toys and auto parts that fill the gift shop are easily things found for 50 cents at yard sales. The cracked asphalt is cheap to replicate a crappy parking lot because it’s the same exact stuff used to pave acres for cars to park. The rides Triceratop Spin and Primeval Whirl were a basic spinner and wild mouse coaster with no substantial differences between them and rides at local carnivals. The Fossil Fun Games are basic carnival games that, until 2020, only provided insanely cheap quality stuffed toys as prizes of such thematic appropriateness as…basketball player bears, sea serpents, octopuses, and neon fish skeletons. Above all that, in a park as richly detailed as Disney’s Animal Kingdom, why did they ditch the original theme of “Intern paleontologists turn dig site into their personal playground” into “cartoon cutout dinos and their wacky shenanigans with extinction”? The answer is simple: the latter one’s a lot cheaper. And it shows. Even with the twisted logic of using its transparent cheapness as a meta gag that it’s supposed to look cheap to parody actually cheap roadside carnivals makes no real sense when you spend more than three seconds thinking about it.
Some decry the same about things like screens as part of ride experiences, but I’m more flexible on that, knowing animated screens mean you can use actors’ likenesses and have characters that can do things animatronics and special effects can’t pull off, like flight. Cheap, yes, but not entirely unnecessary.
Food at the Disney parks is probably a debatable one, as many will swear by Dole Whips, the Mickey Mouse ice cream bar, and the turkey legs as not just amazing but iconic and standards. Yes, I love them, too. But like I said, I spent seven years there. I ate at most every quick service restaurants, and a few of the nicer ones, and I got to say, I was only wowed a few times, and it was usually at the higher-end places like Artist’s Point at Fort Wilderness. Heck, I even worked for over six months at Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian Village Resort, and while I mean zero disrespect to the hard-working chefs who make it all happen, it’s pretty obvious the food is all supplied from the same vendors, overpriced, and typically pretty bland. I get that having to feed millions of guests daily quickly and reliably is a tall order, and you have to streamline what you can. But the food quality itself is terribly, terribly underwhelming.
10. True innovation won’t happen if there’s no money in it.
I could come up with the coolest scientific breakthrough of all time. Let’s say I invent a real, honest-to-gods light saber straight out of Star Wars. Naturally, you’d think the number-one consumers would be Star Wars fans, but even if I were to break even, the cost to make it would be prohibitively high and far too dangerous except to rich eccentrics like Elon Musk and Martin Shkrelli. I could sell it to the military, but melee weapons would be a hard sell to an organization focused on long-range weapons like guns and drones. It might have some engineering purposes, but its lack of precision wouldn’t make it terribly useful. In the end, as an astounding leap in technological achievement it would be to create a light saber…no one would fund the research and development because the profits just wouldn’t justify the cost.
A real world example is exemplified by He Who Must Not Be Named. No, not that guy…the Hawaiian shirt-wearing co-founder of Pixar. Yeah, him. Let’s call him “Uncle Pervy”. Uncle Pervy was a CalArts grad in the late seventies, early eighties when he and buddy Ed Catmull found these cool things called computers that made cool-looking animation. After a pitch to use the technology in an animation test for Where the Wild Things Are, Uncle Pervy was told unless computers could speed up animation production or minimize costs, the executives saw no reason to invest in computers for animation. Some might dismiss this anecdote since he met Steve Jobs, secured funding, and created Pixar, the point is nullified. However, I would argue the opposite. Why does innovation require this kind of leap of faith from a guy with money, instead of just making something cool for the sake of making something cool? Hell, the question was even posed as the inciting incident in Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, that making new tech “for fun” just doesn’t fly.
If biographies like An American Original by Bob Thomas are any indication, Walt Disney was the kind of guy who loved tinkering around with whatever grabbed his attention at the moment and it often resulted in miraculous success, with almost no concern about money. But sadly, at best, that just means he had a knack for knowing what the masses wanted. Still, the company was in debt for nearly forty years. That kind of financial leeway would be unheard of today. Disney established itself as company spearheading numerous technological marvels from the multiplane camera to audio-animatronics. And while they’ve made some significant leaps since the days of Walt, they’ve been fairly limited in comparison. But to illustrate my point, allow me to point to two technological inventions that speak to their greed.
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom debuted in 2012 as an interactive game using scanning software to have guests battle villains (You might recall it in my review here.) But aside from some merch that didn’t sell well, the attraction didn’t involve directly making money and didn’t expand, causing interest to dwindle. It closed in 2021. Its novelty as a free attraction couldn’t be sustained. In contrast, the Magicbands were also state-of-the-art scanning technology, but between literally thousands of designs and motifs, Disney could sell like their beloved pins, and make serious bank.
Now, it’s clear Disney could do a lot as technology advances. Sooner or later, they’ll find a way to make character interactions as realistic as possible. You know, so that they can talk, emote, be the appropriate sizes, etc. But of course, that’s a ton of money on R&D with no immediate guarantee. So of course little if anything will be spent, but they’ll filch the technology as soon as someone else comes up with it.
11. Taking advantage of us when we’re a captive audience.
Disney gets how easily hyped we get over new announcements. They wield it quite effectively using the D23 Expos, Disney+ Day, and Destination D to strut on stages with swagger and allude to their next projects that often have a 60% chance at best of becoming what we’re promised. That’s not a problem, that’s being a salesman, especially when using social media like a bullhorn. But the devious side to this is turning a want into a need. Thus, in certain situations, the need becomes so strong it overrides common sense.
I love my Disney movies. That is without doubt. But over the past year, when Disney had to find a way to release its backlog of movies delayed from the pandemic, they also queried about how to make even more money when people were already paying $8 a month to watch Disney movies. Like, sure, incentivize those still hanging onto their DVDs and blu-rays with a streamlined, digitized process. But now certain original content has to be an extra $30? Disney caught a lot of flak over the past year for releasing movies like Cruella, Black Widow, Raya and the Last Dragon, Jungle Cruise, and the critically-panned Mulan on their “premier access” tier, which meant if you wanted to see these when they came out, your meager $8 a month wouldn’t cut it: you had to open your pocket book and PROVE how loyal a fan you are…or risk seeing these movies (gasp!) a whole three months later! This touched several nerves when A) Pixar, the former cash cow of Disney, found out their releases Soul and Luca did not get honored the premier access treatment, sewing seeds of resentment, B) Scarlet Johanson was cheated out of her back-end deal with her solo Avengers film since the contract specified box office ticket sales, not streaming revenue, and C) we average joes were stuck indoors BECAUSE OF A FREAKING PANDEMIC and we already watched every Netflix and Hulu release!
Again, I’m gonna pick on Disney’s high theme park prices here. But seriously, food prices are insane. Merchandise I can forgive because outside the parks’ official lines, you can get Disney anythings anywhere, and if you NEED those rose gold mouse ears, the Shop Disney Parks app lets you buy them and get them shipped. But we need food when you get off Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters and lugging around picnic lunches is unwieldy and heavy. So instead, stop by Alien Pizza Planet for a slice of pepperoni! For only…
Yeah. And for point of comparison, for another same-day comparison (12/18/2021) at a Barro’s pizza in Arizona, a slice of objectively higher-quality pepperoni pizza will run you…
Yeah. They can get away with this not just because of a placebo effect making us think “Disney brand, ergo, better”, but also because no one’s able to easily leave the park and get lunch elsewhere. We’re captive, thus Disney can charge us an arm and a leg for heated frozen pizza.
12. If meritocracy actually existed…
It’s common practice in the corporate market to throw at least some lip service at its employees with phrases like “We can’t do what we do without you!” and it is factually true. Bob Chapek could not run Disneyland without help. But this line is completely hollow at best. It’s bad enough to say something like that and still pay your staff minimum wage, but it’s even more frustrating when he has a 8 – 5 job in an air-conditioned office making decisions – while far reaching and impactful – at least he can outsource those decisions to his board of directors and accountants. Oh, and strut onto a stage or in a televised interview and boast about how the next $500 million plan is going to be even more interactive and technologically cool while charging another $15 per person. Meanwhile, cast members working at Casey’s Corner will sleep in their car and get fired for eating some uneaten fries off a guest’s tray.
See, the question becomes, how do we quantify “work”, exactly? Chapek works, most certainly. He controls how Disney operates. He is the be all, end all decision maker. So was Iger and Eisner before him. But does his paycheck reflect how hard he works? Just because he operates a Fortune 500 company doesn’t necessarily mean he works hard. It just means he says yea or nay when an idea gets brought up at shareholder meetings. But compare him to Walt, who built the company from the ground up, spending 40 years in debt until it was paid off. Or Eisner, who moved it into the 21st century with new ideas and modernity. Or even Iger, who wrangled some incredible negotiations? Chapek’s thing seems to be more about flaunting the Disney brand because it’s awesome and we got characters. But again, does that constitute as “work”?
Conservatives frequently argue that a good, hard days’ work is the backbone of American life, and that upward mobility will reward the ones who work the hardest. But this has only been true for a handful of people, because between the curtailing of social programs and corporations VERY skilled at silencing its workers, what ends up happening is millions of workers struggling to pay their bills and feed their families, under the delusion that if they work even harder, even longer, and kowtow to every demand from the boss, their ship will come in tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, then the day after. See, they’re not so much “poor” as they are “temporarily inconvenienced millionaires”.
But I don’t really care what metric you use. Though Chapek talks about how he had learned about work ethic from his parents, his Wikipedia article shows he worked for Heinz’s marketing department in his 30’s before jumping over to Disney. Most 30-year-olds these days can’t get gigs like that without connections, so the idea that he “worked hard” for it bears questioning. Bosses promote and refer you if they like you, not by objective work standards. Compare that to the 35-year-old custodian working third shift. Unless his boss really, really likes him, especially if he does his job AND doesn’t upset the system, he MIGHT get a supervisor position. But to work his way up to CEO? Laughable.
Walt’s rags-to-riches story is often fetishized as one of the few examples how an average, broke American dreamer could make it big, but that’s just one of only a few, when there have been billions of Americans who have come and gone, and by default, only a select few are allowed to succeed like that. But I will argue til my dying breath the in-between animator who was up all night trying to nail a nuanced microgesture…
The young lady who endured groping and sexual harassment by horny dads while staying character as Ariel…
The mother working at the confectionery who is sleeping in her car because she just got evicted, yet still shows up on time, every day with a smile…
The actor who stars in one of the highest-grossing box office films of the year but only receives a fraction of the back end because of slippery weasling…
The imagineer applying plaster to the next ride in the background of a shot while Joe Rhode and and Tony Baxter are interviewed to boast about the dedicated but unnamed staff do the physical work…
The underlings and interns who submit genuinely good, quality ideas, but are always met with at worst, silence, or at best, disclaimers to waive ownership IF the company ever acts on them…
And every other underpaid, disenfranchised worker bee who happily obey a renowned brand in the vain hope their loyalty will be repaid, either with a bigger paycheck or some level of control. My heart goes out to them, and make me wish I could find a way to swap out that third-shift custodian with Chapek and see how things turn around.
13. Artificial Scarcity
If you grew up as a millennial like me, you’re probably very familiar with the term “The Disney Vault”. It’s not a literal vault, it was barely a figurative one. And it was one of Disney’s most effective and devious marketing ploys.
When Disney began releasing its biggest hits on the home media market, they were scared that its constant availability would deter potential consumers from going to the theater to watch them. It started tentatively, with Disney pricing the VHS tapes highly to promote rentals over ownership. When that plan fell through, the idea became to only allow the videos to be for retail for a short period of time before the studio would take them off the shelves, unable to be seen for a good 7 to 10 years. While this practice isn’t necessarily evil, what IS is when the marketing campaign really went out of its way to emphasize how if you miss your chance to pick up a copy of Cinderella or Dumbo…that was it, buddy. The kids are gonna be heartbroken because you let them down.
However, we found a way: secondhand media stores, in my case, like Bookmans and Zia, both of whom buy, sell and trade used books, toys, CD’s, cassettes, VHS’s, DVD’s, and Blu-rays. Thanks to these stores, I was able to buy ALL of the Disney movies on DVD. Of course, Disney would have had to move mountains to stop me from owning my favorite Disney movies, really incentivize some system where they can completely control-
Yeah, the crazy thing about the streaming service is if Disney were to decide one day to yoink Avengers: Endgame or The Lion King off Disney+, they very well could. Either lock it behind a premier access paywall or withhold them for a month while they rerelease them to theaters. There is literally no stopping them except bad PR, but not even then, as long as they have the means to spin it in a positive way. They made products we like, if they yank it away, we’ll happily fork over $40, $50, even $100 just to have the pleasure of enjoying it, and they’ll laugh all the way to the bank. I regret selling my DVD’s for this reason, but like everyone else…I needed the cash more importantly. So wouldn’t they create a system where you can force whether or not a product is accessible?
14. Hates the poor ‘cuz they’re inconvenient to look at.
Like in most American cities, Anaheim is vulnerable to a homeless population. Regardless of why they’re there in the first place, these folks are just looking to survive on a day-to-day basis and – seeing as how they, too, are stuck in a society that requires money, a thing they are renowned for not having – need to panhandle so they can at least eat. Of course, this makes travellers uncomfortable. So do you A) work out a generous social safety net that ensures homelessness is reduced by making sure every citizen has access to a home, food, and a bed, or B) shoo them away so we don’t have took at them and feel guilty?
American cities are renowned for putting spikes, bumps, arm rests, and other deterrents to make sure no one has to see a homeless person where it’s inconvenient. This is called hostile architecture and it’s a cruel practice because it simply defers the issue elsewhere rather than fix the underlying cause. Cops are regularly called on them to do the same, often more concerned about getting rid of the person instead of providing a place to go. America is not wanting for resources to help its citizens like this, but the mindset is hellbent on moralizing homelessness and sweeping the problem under the rug, when a strong welfare system could actually curtail this issue significantly.
What does this have to do with Disney? In 2017, the City of Anaheim removed bus stops around Disneyland to deter the homeless. Concerned too many homeless were using the benches and the stops, the city just up and removed them because, as the article states, an unnamed spokesperson claimed they promote illegal activity. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a city council decision that worried precious dollars weren’t being spent at their biggest cash cow for the city because a homeless man was sleeping on a bus bench and made everyone uncomfortable. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney bribed a few officials to make sure no revenue was lost because of a few panhandlers.
The net result is the same: it’s more important Disney gets their full revenue, uninhibited by homeless people on the sidewalks of Harbor Boulevard. Again, it’d save the city a lot of money if they fronted the effort to help all these folks who need it, but it’s just easier to shoo away the problem then enact meaningful change while morally aggrandizing about it. Again, it’s just easier to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, hide it away, and not think about it. And in the short term, cheaper, too!
Of course, try doing this in Florida. Disney owns so much of the surrounding area around their parks, you’ll NEVER have to see a bum just outside Epcot!
Disney, I love what you’ve created. I love what you’ve done. But let’s be super clear…capitalism is not the ally of the proletariat. It rewards the haves, penalizes the have-nots, and has taken advantage of every opportunity they could in the market and rigged it against everyone else. This is why capitalism angers me so much. Being forced to rely on this system creates class disparity, misery, wealth inequality, and in the end, a dystopia that will end in a revolution unless something is done on a federal level to limit Disney’s corruption. Tax the rich! Strengthen monopoly laws! Empower welfare systems! Incentivize reuse of space and preserving ecosystems! Take money out of politics! Raise the minimum wage! Seriously, we can’t keep doing nothing. Letting Mickey get away with this egregiously criminal extortion of the people, we’re silently admitting it’s okay that they’re taking advantage of us.
I’m not doing much myself, I’ll admit, because I just don’t have time. As an American citizen, I’m currently working three jobs and raising a family, the kind of scenario conservatives salivate over, but I am no closer to being the next Walt Disney than I am to becoming a rock. There is no ship coming in to save me. But if it does, by some miracle, you can damn well bet I’ll fight and advocate for a system that helps everyone, and not just holding some crappy gala charity benefit where a few thousand dollars benefits a single organization and gives me a bloated tax write-off. Because we deserve better than what we have now.
Becoming an adult is a tradeoff like no other. Sure, you can drive a car, but that means gas, insurance, and repairs. Sure, you can eat ice cream for breakfast and McDonald’s every night, but your body will soon make you regret those choices. And you can, in fact, find a job you enjoy, but chances either they either don’t pay well or require an insane amount of work to get there. A crushing realization for people like James Maury Henson. And by “becoming an adult”, I mean it as a metaphor for owning your own enterprise.
Much like George Lucas in 2012, Henson spent years developing his brilliant craft as an artist and producer, but began to feel the pressure of what it meant to own his creations, and turned to the Walt Disney Company so he could hand the business responsibilities off to someone else, while he could go back to performing and directing. Throughout 1989, Henson negotiated with Eisner with the hope of letting them deal with the business end of things. Eisner was giddy about getting Henson on board and wanted to make a splash about it to the public. In celebration of this seemingly-garaunteed deal, Henson produced this made-for-TV special where after the frogs and pigs and bears and chickens and things explored the Floridian resort, they would stop by and say hi to their newest bestie, Mickey himself.
The plot: Kermit the Frog brings several of his Muppet friends deep into the alligator-infested swamps of Florida, in time for the Annual Frog Festival and Bug Fry with Kermit’s extended family. The gang are decidedly less enthused about being stuck in a bog with a myriad of frog-specific events lined up…until it’s casually mentioned that the Walt Disney World Resort is right next door.
When the gang arrive at the park, they are rebuffed by an overzealous security guard, Quentin Fitzwaller (Charles Grodin), who reminds them they need to buy tickets first. When Animal rips away the turnstile, all felt breaks loose and everyone rushes in, going in separate ways. Gonzo and Camilla stumble into the backstage areas with childlike wonderment. Fozzie and his mother try to raise money by telling jokes so they can get lunch in Frontierland. Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker stumble around Epcot Center’s Future World. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem perform a “world tour” at Epcot’s World Showcase. Despite demanding to go to the Chinese theater, Beauregard drags a dazed Miss Piggy from thrill ride to thrill ride. Kermit and Robin try to track everyone down, already somber that no one wants to go back to the family reunion. And Fitzwaller has bought off Rizzo the rat with snacks in an effort to apprehend the Muppets.
How’s the writing?: The special was written by longtime collaborator of Henson’s, who’d written for The Muppet Show to Sesame Street to Muppets from Space, Jerry Juhl. While the special feels exactly like a well-done Muppet special would look like, you can’t help but feel Jerry had one hand tied behind his back.
The Muppets have never needed much beyond each other and a mildly interesting setting to make their magic, much like how a kid needs a single stick to make a million adventures. And while having giving them the set of the Most Magical Place on Earth sounds like giving little Timmy a million dollar check to a Toys ‘R’ Us, the premise is surprisingly underutilized. Rowlf getting caught and brought to the pet care center could happen anywhere. Beaker getting his head stuck in a bucket is…just that. There’s nothing specific about why Fozzie’s trying to earn money other than it’s for him and his mom to eat at the Crystal Palace. While Beauregard name drops the rides the Piggy keeps referring to the Chinese theater, it doesn’t amount to much. If you like the Muppets, you’ll get exactly what to expect, just with the background featuring Spaceship Earth or Star Tours instead of a red velvet curtain.
Does it give the feels?: In The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan, amid the insanity and gags the gang perform, there’s a general thtough-line where Kermit is the emotional center of it all. He tends to have a moment of morose reflection where he gets introspective, and it works for a small and gentle soul like Kermit. Thing is, here, there’s something off.
The show’s premise is that he surprised all of his friends by bringing them to Paradise Swamp and thought they would appreciate bluegrass, scum-skimming, and eating flies. In fact, he is genuinely shocked that all of his non-amphibian friends aren’t interested, much less their desire to instead go to Disney World.
In a bizarre moment, Kermit is even more despondent when Robin accidentally gets swept away in a monorail, and is almost entirely heartbroken, when who should show up but a 4-YEAR-OLD RAVEN-SYMONÉ to sing “The Rainbow Connection”. Why is he heartbroken, though? Mostly because his friends would rather go to Disney World instead of spending time with his family. I understand being disappointed when your friends don’t want to do what you want to do…but it doesn’t change the fact Kermit couldn’t accept that his friends might not be terribly interested in what he wanted to do.
The “Rainbow Connection” aspect – while adorable – is kind of shoehorned in since Kermit refers to the Frog Festival with all of his friends there as his dream. All it takes is Raven to sing it to him for Kermit to realize he needs to continue wrangling up his friends for the festival. Kind of weird, isn’t it?
Who makes it worth it?: It’s hard to nail down any specific performance I was particularly wild about. Grodin is definitely hamming it up to a serviceable degree, and little Raven is just supes cute, but that’s about it. Therefore, I am forced to find a performance out of the Muppets that stood out to me. While none really wowed me, I think I need to tip my cap to Henson, performer for not just Kermit, but Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, the Swedish Chef, and Link Hogthrob.
See, remember what I said about what Henson was trying to do in 1989: the man was 52 and has dealt with a number of setbacks, such as the failures of Labrynth, The Jim Henson Hour, and The Dark Crystal, the man was looking for a means to escape the agony of being in charge of his own company and desperate to get back to doing creative endeavours. Trying to negotiate a deal with Eisner was both a dream come true and only exacerbated his woes, as Eisner kept requesting for the rights to Sesame Street, too, to which Jim was vehemently opposed. Still, Jim’s creative energies allowed him to plan out a whole Muppet land at the newly-christened Disney-MGM Studios, which included Muppet*Vision 3D, a parody of the Great Movie Ride, and a Swedish Chef restaurant. If Henson staved off his passing and gone through with the acquisition, there’s no telling how successful it might have been. But the fact is, Jim had every reason to be jaded, disillusioned, and frustrated. I love Disney, too, but if Bob Chapek kept making power moves to take more of my product than I was willing to relinquish for months on end…I’d be pretty cynical and unenthused. And Jim was much more soft-hearted than I’ll ever be.
And yet…Jim couldn’t betray Kermit and his pals. Watch this special or Muppet*Vision 3D and you can tell Jim is still giving it his all. Kermit was more than just a role: he was a personality. One whose role was to bring joy and laughter to a world full of anxiety and doubt. So even if there wasn’t anything spectacular or distinctly outstanding from the special, remember what the man was going through at the time and how he still delivered another top-notch performance.
It’s also worth noting the deal the two men were working on never came to fruition. The special aired May 6th of 1990, and Henson passed away ten days later. Due to his death, the Henson family withdrew from negotiations aside from the singular Muppet*Vision 3D attraction and the two highly successful features, The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island. The Muppets wouldn’t join Disney until 2004.
Best quality provided: If you love the Muppets, it’s what you pay for. Wordplay, sharp wit, a bit of slapstick, and a lot of genial enthusiasm make up these skits with varying accuracy. It’s all the OG performers: Frank Oz, Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson, David Goelz, and Steve Whitmire. Fans of these guys will still thrill over a lesser known Muppet special from the original masters.
What could have been improved: So…do these guys know how geography works?
When the gang arrives at Walt Disney World, they arrive at…Disney-MGM Studios. Not a bad place to start, except Bean Bunny urges Scooter to…It’s a Small World…and next time we see them, they’re at the leapfrog fountains…in Epcot. Beauregard drags Miss Piggy from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to Star Tours…back to the Mad Tea Party. Robin steps onto the monorail at the Grand Floridian…and Kermit is next with Raven in the Magic Kingdom behind Cinderella Castle. If you’ve never been to Walt Disney World before, allow me to spell it out for you: these parks are miles apart and involve going in and out of park gates, so Animal ripping out one does not allow this kind of park hopping, much less with these guys not even bothering with queues for the rides, apparently.
I noticed these with the “We’re Going Disney World!” sitcoms in the nineties, too. For the sake of iconography and condensing for television, it makes sense to showcase the best parts of the resort, not necessarily take into account if you left Thunder Mountain for Star Tours and went back to the Teacups, you’ve lost at least two hours. Let’s say you leave Frontierland to the front of the park (At least a 15 minute walk) wait for the monorail (let’s assume walk-on), ride the monorail to the TTC (Express monorail, 5 minutes), walk to the studios bus stop (3 minutes), wait for the bus (at least 5 minutes), the bus ride (20 minutes), walk all the way to Star Tours (10 minutes, assuming little wait at the park gate), the queue for the ride and the ride itself (at least an hour in 1990 total), head back to the bus (7 minutes), bus ride back (20 minutes), walk and monorail to MK (8 minutes), walk to the Teacups (12 minutes), wait in line given what we see in the shot (20 minutes). Even by these conservative estimates, that’s 3 hours and 5 minutes! So the gag of Piggy dizzily getting tugged along doesn’t even work! Never mind she insists on going to the Chinese Theater (She never calls it The Great Movie Ride), and they could clearly see it on their way to Star Tours!
Am I actually upset about these discrepancies? Well, “upset” is much too strong a word. Baffled, maybe. Annoyed, I guess. In Disneyland, it makes better sense because everything is all in one spot, even the park across the promenade. But really, there’s several reasons why this whole thing is the way it is: it’s a promo special, so they gotta show only the cool stuff. It’s the Muppets and nonsense is their bread and butter. The special’s only 47 minutes long. They only had so much time to film on location, as evidenced by the several green screened shots. None of these really placate me, because a great story wouldn’t be that hard to work out.
Maybe Fozzie is made an honorary Jungle Cruise skipper and actually learns better jokes, much to the shock of Statler and Waldorf. Maybe Bunsen and Beaker explore Innoventions and Horizons, and while Bunsen marvels at the science, Beaker keeps putting his hands outside the vehicle, and other violations with disastrous results. Maybe Bean struggles to conquer his fears at the Haunted Mansion with Sweetums (Who wasn’t in the special, sadly), who actually is also scared, and both bond on It’s a Small World. Maybe Miss Piggy tries to soak up attention at the Chinese Theater and is annoyed everyone is just gawking at the handprints. Maybe Rowlf gets drawn to Tony’s Town Square restaurant, meets a lovely poodle, has a spaghetti dinner, and he plays the piano for her at Casey’s Corner. Maybe Sam Eagle (Also absent) hates the trip until he witnesses the Hall of Presidents and American Adventure, and is moved to tears. And lastly, Kermit witnesses just how much his friends are essentially becoming better people with these encounters. I’m no writer and this is all stuff I thought up on the spot.
Verdict: I griped a lot here. I’m aware and I sound super bitter. But I’m not. I guess I’m more disappointed that with some more time to plan out, this could have been a masterpiece. There is great potential, and it’s sad Juhl didn’t take full advantage of it (Maybe he wanted to, but was denied, who really knows?) Still, it’s far from bad…it’s just a Muppet special, plain and simple. It was one of Henson’s last projects, for a deal that was souring right in front of his eyes yet it failed to dampen his enthusiasm. Even though we never got a whole Muppet land as he envisioned, we do see just how excited he was to join the Disney family. Overall, I’m glad it exists, because we could never not use more of Jim in our lives. I give this one six rainbow connections out of ten for the lovers, the dreamers, and you.
Now, here’s hoping they make a sequel, with Pepe at the Seas with Nemo and Friends, Walter sitting through Muppet*Vision 3D 50 times, and above all, they finally build that Great Muppet Movie Ride we were promised.
I love my Disney, that much is true. But if you read my Animaniacs blog, you might have noticed my interests lie deeper than one brand. Sometimes I get the inkling to talk about Scooby-Doo or politics or hypnosis, but I set up the parameters by which I abide, so I just try to get clever when I can. Like finding multiple examples of hypnosis in Disney shows and movies. Or when a non-Disney pops up on Disney-owned Hulu.
In today’s case, I see the 20th Century Fox logo twice when I pop the DVD in, despite the fact it was produced by Orion-Nova Productions and distributed by United Artists. And also the DVD features the MGM logo, too. It’s confusing. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s all I need to talk about one of my favorite movies of all time!
Yeah, for all my love and appreciation for animation, I do, in fact, love a variety of live action fare. I mean, just because I love bright, colorful cartoons doesn’t mean that’s all I like. Criminy, with that logic, I should love Minions. But no. In fact, this movie is the complete antithesis to cartoons its ilk. It’s something I just wanna gush about, so let’s not waste time.
The plot: The trial for an 18-year-old boy has ended, with a frightening amount of evidence indicating he stabbed his father to death. Now the jury – the titular dozen irate adult males – must come to a unanimous vote. Guilty and he gets the chair. Not guilty and he goes free.
As they convene in the jury room, eleven of them confidently vote guilty…save for juror #8 (Henry Fonda), who doesn’t necessarily think the kid is innocent so much as the evidence doesn’t quite stack up. As the summer heat intensifies, the time ticks away, and tempers flare, the men have to reevaluate the evidence piece by piece to determine the boy’s fate.
How’s the writing?: What I think is most impressive about this movie is its minimalist approach. The entire film takes place inside a single room. The jurors are identifiable only by their number and occupations instead of names. Unlike a Law & Order episode, they’re not concerned about who might have actually killed the father or any legal procedure, or even whether or not the boy is actually innocent. There’s no flashbacks for visual appeal. There’s almost no score to flavor the scenes. A lot of dialogue meanders “pointlessly” (I’ll come back to that in a bit). There’s not even any color. So by virtue of lacking seemingly ANYTHING interesting, the strength of the movie comes almost purely from the actors and the writing. And with no obstructions to hide any potential issues…it’s practically flawless.
I’m dead serious. There is hardly a misfired line of dialogue to be found. There are spectacular outbursts followed by some savage burns that are worthy of a Tiktok video. There are plenty of insightful monologues revealing the profound depth these characters have. And each line is immaculately tailored to each characterization: from the polite juror #11 to the snarky juror #7. The analytical juror #4 to the gentle juror #9. The brash juror #3 to the meek juror #2. All of these men are profoundly unique in their ideals, actions, and words, and switching out a single word is unthinkable.
To a lot of other people, this movie might seem sluggish or slow, but the movie makes zero pretense about being anything else. In fact, its pacing is spectacular, with frequent breaks by the characters as they get frustrated so we can digest everything that gets discussed. You can even tell with what little actions get carried out while each microgesture has a purpose, nothing feels forced.
Does it give the feels?: This movie was written by the original writer, Reginald Rose, who originally wrote it for TV three years earlier. It was produced by both Rose and the film’s A-list star, Henry Fonda. This was also Sidney Lumet’s first directing gig, where he’d later go on to direct Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict. It is a feat of immaculate wonders that this script came out so damn good.
Lumet takes great advantage of the cramped setting by inducing claustrophobia in the audience, making us feel just as irritable as the jurors. Several scenes are just a bunch of hunched shoulders of grumbling citizens getting sweatier and crankier as the time drags on. The tension rises minute by minute, and you realize how trepidatious things get as the jury is threatened to be hung. So while you root for juror #8 and the boy’s freedom, it’s not going to be easy as his stubborn colleagues threaten it with every passing sentence. The movie’s greatest asset is displaying how difficult it can be to champion for compassion and empathy when rage, prejudice, and disinterest are far easier.
Who makes it worth it?: I adore this movie because it reminds me of a Winnie the Pooh movie.
Hear me out.
And no, I don’t mean because Juror #2 is John Fiedler, the longtime voice of Piglet from 1968 to 2005. What I mean is the plot is almost incidental and the characters are the primary focus. Instead, we have 12 disparate, vivid personalities in a single, somewhat uninteresting environment. These characters have no choice but to ricochet off each other, sometimes complimenting each other, sometimes causing painful friction. And as such, you almost don’t care what the story is about, because the characters themselves make the movie worth watching.
First, there’s juror #7, a human version of Yogi Bear who throws out wisecracks and gripes about missing his baseball game. Juror #11 is the immigrant whose unwavering faith in the system is heartwarming. Juror #5 is the shy one from the ghetto, not unlike the defendant, who is incredibly uncomfortable with his past, but uses his insight to help analyze the case.
But of course, Fonda is the star, along with Lee J. Cobb as the primary antagonist as juror #3. What makes Fonda interesting is it would have been so easy to make him sanctimonious or didactic, unyieldingly certain of the boy’s innocence. But instead, when everyone asks why he’s being contrarian, he insists that coincidences and mistakes are simply possible. And yes, he is even asked a few times what if the kid actually IS guilty…to which he doesn’t have an answer. While everyone is willing to send the kid to the chair and be done with it, juror #8 instead wants to fully discuss every bit of evidence, wanting to affirm “beyond a reasonable doubt” to its fullest conclusion. He is hardly infallible, too, as at one point, after feeling like he failed to convince anyone, he proposes to go along with a guilty conviction should he remain alone…and is surprised to have gained an ally.
By contrast, juror #3 is the biggest opponent of #8’s resistance. Hot-tempered, misanthropic, and an abusive father, juror #3 is thoroughly convinced the boy is guilty and is typically the first to argue against every contrary point. It’s revealed he’s mostly projecting his feelings of disappointment and rage onto the defendant because of his own unresolved feelings about his estranged son. However, I take this with a grain of salt in 2021, having seen numerous men scream with frothing rage because kids don’t respect their elders, what it means to be a man, and literally fight tooth and nail to their ideals, even when they’re clearly proven wrong.
In the end, to further emphasize #8’s ideas of empathy, he still helps the shell-shocked #3 with his jacket as they finally file out of the room.
Best quality provided: The script and the cast. Simply because they can’t hide behind anything else, and everything is laid bare. As such, 12 Angry Men is a master class in character development and relationships. Moreover, the characters can say and do anything as long as it shows off who they are. Juror #12, for example, is easily distracted and gets off topic thinking about sales pitches and quirky idioms that provide a breath from the debate at hand but maintain a sense of discomfort. Another great scene has juror #10 go off on a thinly-veiled tangent demonstrating his racist ideals. Even #3 won’t put up with him as one by one, each man gets up, walks away, and literally keep their backs to him. He loses steam as he sees no one’s listening, and only when everyone turns on him does he slink away and shut down.
Also, there are moments of inherent badassery that make this story astoundingly compelling. One of the most notable is when they debate over the murder weapon – a switchblade – and point out just how unique it is…then #8 pulls out an identical knife and stabs it into the table, silencing the debate once and for all. And while there are several great retorts, my personal favorite is when racist #10 gripes about the kid and his kind, that they “Don’t speak good english!”, #11, the immigrant, adds, “Doesn’t speak good english.” It’s a thing of beauty.
What could have been improved: If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed I haven’t mentioned two of the jurors. And that’s because they have so little to offer it’s kind of a shame.
Juror #1, the foreman, is tasked with calling for votes and while he talks a lot, he rarely says anything that has any bearing on the case at hand. It’s kind of a shame we don’t know much about him beyond he likes organization and he’s a high school football coach. Juror #6 blends in the background, with his most striking contribution when he threatens #3 with physical harm should he insult the elderly juror #9 again.
Through no fault of the writing itself, there are multiple moments where characters use outdated phrases that might sound cumbersome at best and antiquated at its worst. They might distract a modern viewer, but that’s hardly Rose’s fault, now, is it?
Verdict: This movie deserves all the praise it gets and more. If it isn’t already, it needs to be on the curriculum of every theater/dramatic arts class as a means to demonstrate character, camera movement, writing, and plot without needing anything else. It’s essentially the antithesis of James Cameron’s Avatar…in fact, I think these two movies should be shown side-by-side for that very reason.
But one other thing I like to state here before I end the review: I love politics in my movies.
Movies cannot exist in a vacuum. They are made in specific time periods by people with opinions. Of course the director’s ideals are going to slip through. And with my liberal preferences, I like to scope out what certain films have to say about humanity and what is the “right” way of doing things. Yes, a lot of them do have liberal ideals, but you get movies like Forrest Gump, which extol the values of meritocracy, or Fiddler on the Roof, which fetishizes tradition in changing world.
And 12 Angry Men, to me, is far more significant than a spectacular courtroom drama. As a story and character piece, it’s exemplary. But it’s a story I take to heart because it advocates empathy and kindness above everything else. Juror #8, as I said, is often asked what if the boy actually committed the crime, and he admits it’s a possibility. But he’d rather the boy be guilty and free than innocent and dead. A conservative ideal lately often takes the opposite stance, afraid of someone taking advantage of the system more than supposing someone being at the wrong place at the wrong time. (Currently, the GOP would rather suppress legitimate votes than risk any illicit votes, and constrict social safety nets rather than risk a single “welfare queen”) The context of the movie makes it clear that valuing his life to more than a dismissive five minutes of consideration is something everyone deserves, even a non-white boy from the slums with a criminal record.
His staunchest opponents are systemic attitudes that keep him down and unable to rise out of his living conditions. Cold, analytical rationalization from #4. Complete indifference from #7. Simple racism from #10. Spite and cynicism from #3. Impotence from #2. Indecision from #12. Disinterest from #1. Shame from #5. All of these elements are bad enough on their own, but blended together create a systemic issue intended to oppress ethnic kids from the slums and negate any potential for him to grow, yet pretending to be justice. I’m still haunted by Kirsten Sinema’s mocking dance as voted no on raising the minimum wage, while wearing her coat and purse: how a system meant to serve the people fail when the people deciding civilian’s fates just don’t care and want to go home, much like half the jurors in the movie. In fact, when the scene pops up where four of them are playing Tic-Tac-Toe as #8 is trying to make a point, just try to not imagine your local elected officials doing the same.
And I guess that’s what impresses me most about this movie. Over six decades later and we still haven’t changed a damn thing. Not a single argument or perspective, no matter from which side, is not pertinent in 2021. We need movies like 12 Angry Men to show just how important it is to practice kindness, patience, empathy, compassion, and benefit of the doubt. Yes, it is entirely possible our efforts will not always be reciprocated, and there will be those who abuse the privileges we grant…but I’d rather live in a world where a messed-up, possibly violent kid can grow up and get help rather than one that assumes coincidences can’t happen and innocents are sentenced to death.
So yeah. Ten identically matching switchblades out of ten. No contest.
On April 23rd, 2021, the Orlando Sentinel published a commentary called “I Love Disney World, but Wokeness is Ruining the Experience” written by Jonathon Vanboskerck.
Isn’t that just a title you get good vibes from?
I’m reprinting the article verbatim here, as context is neccessary, but it does not make it that much better. Shall we?
“My family and I have been loyal Disney customers for decades. We vacation at Disney World every year. We take a Disney cruise every year or two. Consequently, we spend way too much money in Orlando.”
Oooh. He means business. Spending money as a consumer is the metric by which we measure seriousness, apparently! To be honest, even if you’ve been only once, you’ve spent too much money at Disney. Just the admission tickets and a single plush and you cross that threshold. But this establishes that because he spends money, of his own volition, he demands to be heard.
“Unfortunately, I am strongly rethinking our commitment to Disney and, thus, Orlando. The more Disney moves away from the values and vision of Walt Disney, the less Disney World means to me. Disney is forgetting that guest immersion is at the core of its business model. When I stand in Galaxy’s Edge or Fantasyland, I know I am in a theme park but through immersion and my willingness to set the real world aside, something magical happens.”
Dude, the values of Walt Disney? Yes, Walt was very focused on immersion, but to say it’s the core of their business model is a bit of a stretch. Their four keys have been safety, courtesy, show, efficiency, and recently, inclusivity, but not immersion. Frankly, reality has to be a part of it. You’re still in a park where a bottle of water is $4 and the water fountains taste like sewage. There are still queues and humidity. But if you’re willing to forgive those, then great. Enjoy. Done?
“That spell is broken when the immersive experience is shattered by the real world. And boy, has Disney been breaking the immersion.“
Yeah…when I have to choose between an expensive Dasani or crappy tap water. Or when a ride goes 101. Or when the crowds make waits too long. What’s your point?
“Recently, Disney announced that cast members are now permitted to display tattoos, wear inclusive uniforms and display inclusive haircuts. Disney did all of this in the name of allowing cast members to express themselves.”
That’s…a charitable way of putting it. Disney still won’t allow things like crazy colored hair (As awesome as that may be). But Disney was doing this less to be inclusive than as a PR boost. You want the values of Walt Disney? Tap profitable markets, like young adults who love Disney but no longer are interested in the social norms our Boomer parents were happy with.
It’s clear he clings to the old-world fear that colored hair, tattoos, and gender-neutral costumes meant you were a sexual deviant, but that hasn’t been the case for a while. Some of the nicest people I ever met have nose rings and arm tats. Limiting your hiring pool by excluding someone with some sick ink limits the options in finding the best cast members to host the Most Magical Place on Earth.
“The problem is, I’m not traveling across the country and paying thousands of dollars to watch someone I do not know express themselves. I am there for the immersion and the fantasy, not the reality of a stranger’s self-expression. I do not begrudge these people their individuality and I wish them well in their personal lives, but I do not get to express my individuality at my place of business.”
Okay…so why does it affect you? No, seriously. Why does it bother you? Does it humanize them so you can’t demean them when they deny your fastpass? I’m at a loss. I’m so used to seeing tattoos these days I probably wouldn’t have noticed if Disney hadn’t said anything. I don’t pay attention to CM’s forearms.
And if you don’t get to express yourself at your job…so? Why shouldn’t they? Lots of places now don’t care what you wear unless you’re wearing their approved vest or nametags. A lot of office jobs allow you to decorate your desk. Is this a jealousy thing? You jelly?
“What’s next, is Disney going to end the rule barring on stage cellphone use by cast members as an infringement on self-expression.”
Um…that’s quite a “slippery slope” narrative of a take. No. No, because phones are a safety issue. No one’s going to be injured by someone else’s tattoo. But taking out your phone steering a ride vehicle? That’s a no-no.
I’ll give you I had a brief period as a cast member where I pulled my phone out and used my translator app to help guests who didn’t speak english. While effective, the act was shut down pretty quickly. But I get it. You don’t want those darn kids checking their whatsits for their Twitter-Dees for memes. The same way they haven’t allowed CM’s to read the newspaper or a book while at the greeter position.
“More broadly, like many corporations, Disney has been politicizing its business. Full disclosure: I am a Christian and a conservative Republican, so the people who run Disney and I do not see eye to eye.”
Okay, fine. So? You admit you love going to Disney regardless. So the politics of the company clearly don’t bother you THAT much. And they’re “politicizing” because they’re realizing just how important it is to acknowledge marginalized people after decades of at best, ignoring them, and at worst, demeaning them. Cynical, yes, but still progress.
“Regardless, corporations have always made politically motivated decisions. Usually, it is due to the desire to make a profit, but sometimes it is due to the values of the people in the corporation. Walt Disney used his corporation to express his patriotism during World War II and his pro-capitalism beliefs afterward. The difference today is that the people who run Disney use social media to scream to the whole world that a decision has been made for political reasons.”
Basically, from what I can tell, he’s less mad at Disney for making changes than he’s mad at Disney for taking advantage of how social media works. Social media, by design, is meant to put certain topics on blast. Disney is well-loved and often controversial, so any time an announcement turns out with a hashtag, it’s guaranteed to trend for a day at least. On top of that, Disney knows the power of PR, so of course they’re going to take advantage of the bullhorn that is social media and get people to notice them.
And honestly, what’s wrong with them being politically motivated as they were in the forties? Sure, it was Walt’s choice to go all in on the war effort, but he also received a ton of funding from the government to make the propaganda shorts he ended up making. But if he has no problem with Walt making DerFuehrer’s Face but bristles when they allow a few tattoos, are you really mad about politics or that Disney’s not on the side you’d prefer?
“Disney is in the process of taking the woke scalpel to the Jungle Cruise. Trader Sam is out because he might offend certain people. Every grown-up in the room realizes that Trader Sam is not a representation of reality and is meant as a funny and silly caricature. It is no more based in racism than every Disney caricature of an out-of-touch white American dad.”
I despise the context of “Might offend certain people”, as if there have been zero people who have been actually upset about Sam’s presence. There have been. I guarantee it. You just never heard any because they don’t live in your bubble. And it’s not about being immature and thinking having Trader Sam be there is a personal attack. It’s the fact that making fun of POC or other indigenous peoples has been a bread and butter punch line in Hollywood for friggin’ decades. The context has always implied “ha ha, lookit the backwards jungle man who can’t civilize good”. Sam is just one of many, many, many examples of stereotyped brown people, and removing him won’t solve racism, but it’s a step in the right direction.
And even if it’s the same as making fun of “out of touch white American dad” (Which it very much isn’t), he doesn’t realize the historical context in society plays a larger role in this. Europeans have been demeaning non-whites (And in some cases, like the Irish, Italians, and Jews, fellow whites) since they first stepped off their boats hundreds of years ago, and only in recent centuries, we’ve come to acknowledge that’s not really a good thing. Making fun of American fathers, though? Well, we’ve idolized them as patriarchs and moral leaders since forever, and even as late as the nineteen fifties, we saw Andy Griffith and Ward Cleaver as perfect fathers. Before long, we got our Archie Bunkers, our Fred Flintstones, our Homer Simpsons, our Earl Sinclairs, our Peter Griffins, and so on…but even that trend is dying down. So no, you can’t compare centuries of institutionalized racist attitudes to maybe 50 years of making fun of dopey dads. Context matters, and guests do not experience Disney attractions in a vaccuum.
“The next time I ride Jungle Cruise I will not be thinking about the gloriously entertaining puns of the skippers, I will be thinking about Disney’s political agenda. That’s a mood killer.”
Oh, boo hoo. Cry me a river. You can’t stomach a ride that is keeping integral parts – the jokes and the animals – but the tertiary bits ruined it? Imagine if I got this upset if Haunted Mansion removed the musical instruments in Madame Leota’s seance room? If you told me to get over it because the ride hasn’t fundamentally changed, then there ya go.
“Disney proclaims that Splash Mountain must change because of its association with “Song of the South.” Disney owns Splash Mountain so it can do what it wants. But if Disney screams at the top of its corporate voice, which is pretty loud, that it is changing it to appease a certain political point of view, now every time I look at the ride I am thinking about politics.”
Look, dude. I’m just as saddened about the loss of Song of the South in Splash Mountain as anyone else, but c’mon. Disney may have done this for cold, calculating reasons, but what matters is the execution. At the time of this writing, the Splash Mountain with Br’er Rabbit hasn’t even closed yet. For all you know, the Princess and the Frog version might be even better.
Disney knew this was a move to improve its self image, and even if they didn’t blast it out on social media, it took no imagination to understand why this was happening. Rehabilitating Song of the South was never going to happen. So might as well utilize one of their most popular animated films this century and give it its own ride.
And again, look at yourself. “Appease a certain political point of view”. This isn’t pandering to five kids on a college campus. Have you not seen the magnitude of all those BLM demonstrations? These are marginalized voices that are sick and tired of being told to shut up and go away. Just because your echo chamber features one black man who agrees last summer’s demonstrators got too uppity doesn’t mean everyone else’s voices barely exist.
“The same with Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney has made significant changes to Pirates of the Caribbean over the years. Whether Disney caved to political pressure or really thought the alterations were necessary is irrelevant.”
In the grand scheme of things, yes, it is irrelevant. Because time will bear out if this was the right move. And this progressive ideal that mocking women because implied of rape jokes are losing their luster, then what’s the problem?
By the way, did you know pirates had tattoos? Just saying, if you’re so obsessed with immersion…
“Pirates used to be one of my favorite attractions. My family would always ride it first on our first day at the Magic Kingdom. Now, we do not even ride it every trip. When my family rides Pirates now, each of the changed scenes takes us out of the illusion because they remind us of reality and the politics that forced the changes.”
I discussed the changes in a previous article, but let’s go over them: the first was the pooped pirate snickering about a naked woman in a barrel and the potential harrassment and even implication of gangbanging (“I be willin’ to share, I be!”) was seen as a bit in poor taste. Wait, aren’t conservatives usually the first to cry out “Won’t someone think of the children?” When it comes to sex in children’s entertainment?
When the joke about women chasing the pirates in lieu of women being chased by lusty pirates was replaced, what was being lost?
If you miss the Auctioneer’s iconic lines, or the Redhead seductively catfishing the horny pirates, fine, but what’s wrong with the Redhead being a captain auctioning off rum? Are you mad that these weren’t in effect to begin with? Is that was this is about? Nostalgia?
Seriously, nothing’s being lost here. The pirates are still ripping apart the town for food, treasure, and booze. They’re still devils and black sheep and really bad eggs. They’re just no longer targeting women’s victimization as the be all, end all punchline. It just sounds like you’re complaining about change because you’re nostalgic, not for any substantial reason.
And I think I speak for the rest of us when I say, “Cool. Can I take your place in line?”
“Disney World is going to lose us as customers if it continues down this path. I do not want to have Disney World taken away from us because Disney cares more about politics than happy guests.”
You do realize those aforementioned thousands you spend are a drop in the bucket, right? Everyone who goes to WDW spends thousands. What makes you more important everyone else? Your boycott will not hurt them. You are part of a generation that is okay with comedy demeaning others. The newer generation now has expendable income, and a fiery love for Disney. The company knows it has to adapt to the times and modern sensibilities if it has a chance of surviving the next few decades. Millenials and Gen Zers are okay with black people, trans people, people with tattoos, etc. It just makes sense to go with it and stop catering to the legions of close-minded boomers who take the time to write articles screaming into the void about how scary change is. Yes, I’m taking time out of my day to do something similar, but I’m trying to do so as a cis het white man who is trying to advocate for the marginalized.
“This should matter to the people of Orlando because, if Disney drives away customers like me, Orlando loses money. I can take my tourist dollars elsewhere. I would rather keep spending them in Orlando but people like me feel more and more excluded by Disney’s decisions.”
Look, it’s no secret Disney is a HUGE boon for the Florida ecomony. But it’s far from their only source of income, especially when it comes to tourism. And it is awful cute to think your attitude is widespread enough and important enough that Disney’s going to go back to its old ways.
Seriously, go to International Drive. Go to Legoland. Go to SeaWorld. Heck, Universal Studios is basically Disney with different IP’s and a prominent attitude that geared toward those who think Disney is too cute and inoffensive. And they also don’t have much in the way of offensive humor toward the marginalized. Disney’s adapted. No one cares whether Universal did or didn’t. It’s like how no one cares about Warner Brothers’ Censored Eleven, but talk about Song of the South, and Facebook threads go bonkers.
And again, you think your corner of the world is the world, thus you think you and all your fellow cis het white male friends constitute a sizable portion of Disney’s consumers.
“The parks are less fun because immersion and thus the joy is taking a back seat to politics.”
Remember, dear readers, this is about letting cast member men grow out their hair, tattoos no longer being hidden, and costumes being more flexible in regards to gender. This man has admitted that these new announcements will ruin his trips to Disney because he doesn’t want to see tattoos on the girl who dispatches the bateauxs at It’s a Small World. Somehow this ruins his fun.
“Disney, please return to the values and vision of Walt. The customer experience should be the core of your business model. Immersion should not be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness and appeasing the Twitter mob.”
Okay, I’m gonna have to ask you to stop invoking Walt’s name here. You don’t know what he would have thought. This was the guy who hated the idea of Disneyland being near a beach because he didn’t want guests showing up in swimsuits, but he also had no problem with his staff drinking during work hours so long as they did their job. He had early 20th century standards and beliefs. He was supposedly racist against Jews and blacks, but both claims are unfounded. He hated communists. At best, a reference made by Bob Thomas in his biography revealed his only regard to homosexuality was a studio staff member who was arrested. Walt rationalized it was a “mistake” and offered his job back, and this unnamed worker stayed for years afterward.
But you’re talking about the guy who gave us It’s a Small World, an attraction specifically about acceptance and compassion. The guy who married a woman who was very vocal in her disapproval of anything he did. A man who loved to travel and learn all he could about different cultures, like he did for his South American goodwill tour. He could barely have imagined the idea of gender fluidity, so stop putting words into a dead man’s mouth.
And customer experience? Yeah, that hasn’t changed. Just because the girl who greets you at the Main Street Emporium has an awesome Minnie Mouse tattoo and is now wearing pants doesn’t affect how she treats you. If anything, like I said before, Disney can now expand that hiring pool to seek out potential cast members who better qualified rather than booting them from the interview because of their ink.
Look, immersion is important, but as long as they wear the costumes to evoke the setting and the ride itself does its job. Beyond that, it’s hardly relevant. And why it affects him this much is anybody’s guess.
But if I could address Mr. Vanboskerck directly…Sir, the next time you go to Walt Disney World, and you’re walking up Main Street U.S.A., take a look around you. How many people of color do you see? How many younger people who don’t seem traditionally “masculine” or “feminine”? How many have tattoos? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see that there’s a lot more than you see in your Facebook groups. And – surprise! – their lives do not affect you. If making changes to cast member attire and attractions are so anger inducing, then I reiterate: just go up the road to Universal.
I never set out to be a Disney hipster on purpose. Yes, I like Song of the South, but if I were a true Disney hipster, I’d unironically prefer movies like The Black Cauldron or Home on the Range or Treasure Planet. I have nothing against the greats like Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t love them because everyone already does. I mean, everyone already loves them, so how dull and uninspiring is it if I, like hundreds of others, claim Beauty and the Beast is my favorite? And how did I come to claim this B-lister as my favorite?
I didn’t watch it until I was a teenager, so it’s not like it’s a childhood favorite of mine. Hypnosis freaked me out as a kid, so the scenes with Kaa should have been a deterrent. The only reason I can recall why I started to get interested in it at all was buying the CD soundtrack. I’d heard all six of the film’s songs on my Classic Disney cassettes, but the CD also included the score, two reprises, an interview with the Sherman brothers, two songs from the More Jungle Book album, and two deleted songs. My thirst for Disney trivia deepened as I discovered more and more about this movie. Even though it’s typically regarded as “The last film Walt was involved with”. But does it deserve better than that?
Just join me and jam with the jungle juvenile and his genuinely jumpin’ journey!
The Plot: The black panther Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot) discovers an orphaned man-cub and leaves him with a nearby wolfpack to be raised. Ten years later, the boy, Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman) is being forced out, as the feared tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders) is returning to their part of the jungle, and will kill the man-cub and anyone who dares to protect him. Bagheera volunteers to escort the boy to a man-village to keep him safe. However, there’s just one problem: Mowgli doesn’t want to leave the jungle. Thus, in spite of Bagheera’s best efforts, the jungle repeatedly proves itself to the boy it’s just as dangerous as it is fun.
There’s of course, the self-righteous and aloof Colonel Hathi (J. Pat O’Malley) and his jungle patrol of elephants, the hypnotic and hungry python Kaa (My Hero Sterling Holloway), a dancing orangutan looking for the secret of fire, King Louie (Louis Prima), a band of musical British vultures, and of course, Baloo (Phil Harris), a bear who basically invented Hakuna Matata. Can Mowgli steer clear of danger or will he be forced to seek refuge with his own kind?
How’s the writing?: RudyardKipling’s novel of the same name was a series of disjointed vignettes, with several chronicling the adventures of Mowgli and his friends. This allowed flexibility for the writing staff to put together a simple story with episodic elements, not unlike Alice in Wonderland. In fact, Walt even assured them to not worry about the “icky-sticky story stuff” and encouraged them to make it fun. As far as I’m concerned, that was definitely the right move.
You could tell me the greatest story ever written: perfectly paced, perfect action, perfect three-act structure, perfect continuity…but if it’s being told with boring characters, good luck trying to get me interested. The Jungle Book, much like the aforementioned Alice in Wonderland and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, has a bare thread of a plot: little more than hooks on a wall to hang the characters on. Sometimes the plot does need to stall for a moment while we spend time with these characters we enjoy spending time with. Does Hathi provide anything substantial to the plot? what was the point of spending so much time singing and dancing with King Louie? Did the vultures really do much to help Mowgli? Did Kaa really need two separate scenes? And after all that happened to show Mowgli just how perilous the jungle could be, he couldn’t be bothered to grow or develop or learn from everything? The answer is no, none of it was “necessary”, per se. It was an adventure with friends. Like, you don’t need a reason to hang out with your friends, you do it because they’re your friends and you enjoy spending time with them.
So because of that, we get through dialogue, musical numbers, and all sorts of great action scenes where we get the full brunt of just how entertaining these characters really are. As a result, we get a story only strong enough to let us spend time with a variety of oddball characters and regale in their interactions.
Does it give the feels?: Because The Jungle Book is often regarded as wild, raucous musical adventure, little light is shed on the emotional aspect. In that Sherman brothers interview on that CD I mentioned, even Richard Sherman admitted the movie “sorta dies at the end”. It definitely is cute and kinda wholesome, as Mowgli goes from wanting to pal around with his friends to getting distracted by the little girl (Named Shanti in the 2002 sequel) and following her into the village, signifying the onset of adulthood. Her song, “My Own Home” is a lovely melody, but its lyrics are fairly unremarkable.
No, if you’re looking for the emotional hook, it’s the relationship between Mowgli and Baloo. You got an impetuous child and a lazy ne’er-do-well coming together and appreciating the fun they bring together. It would be a common trope as time went on, that the child would learn to grow up and the man-child would learn to take on more responsibility, but there’s something special about a big, affable friend like Baloo. Christopher Robin can’t float on top of Pooh in a river, that’s for sure!
Who makes it worth it?: Shere Khan is easily one of my favorite Disney villains. Rational, haughty, and quietly dangerous, Shere Khan loves casually dropping hints about his renowned capabilities, like a mafia crime boss. He’s often compared to Scar, which is hardly fair. Scar was a manipulator, knowing full well what he lacked in muscle he made up for by being clever. While Shere Khan isn’t dumb by any stretch, be clearly values his innate physical prowess and tries to cloak it in a proud, dignified demeanor, as if his ruthlessness and his demeanor gives him permission to be as cutthroat as he desires.
Kaa has always been a fan favorite. Ideally, Kaa could be the most feared threat in the jungle as both a predator and due to his hypnotic abilities, but aside from being a touch narcissistic and clumsy, Kaa gets a little bit drunk on his own power and ends up playing with his food and gloating over it before getting around to eating it. Like Br’er Fox, he’d have accomplished his goal by now if only he’d set his ego aside and eat him already. But as such, Kaa has a bit of a woobie appeal, getting foiled by distractions, and eventually, getting thrown out the trees by his own body weight.
Of course, I gotta give a shoutout to my ursine brother from another bruin, Baloo. He’s so chill, so funny, I would love a lazy afternoon of floating on a river, gorging myself on food, dancing to the bare necessities. Even when times aren’t so good, watching Baloo go full protector mode is a treat. He may not be as threatening as Elliott the dragon, but he’d go down swinging if he felt you were in danger, be it monkeys or tigers. Gotta respect that.
Best quality provided: Andreas Deja is one of Disney’s greatest animators. He was the supervising animator for characters like Scar, Jafar, Gaston, Hercules, Lilo, and Mama Odie. The Jungle Book was one of the first movies he ever saw growing up in Germany and it stuck with him as his biggest career influences. As an animator, Deja’s job is to draw how a character moves every 24 frames a second. Where do their hands go? Should they tilt their head this way? Maybe they should fidget with their coat? How can you convey them thinking? Animation is very nuanced and if you ever tried to act natural and you over thought your every micro gesture, just imagine having to draw it out. To this day, Deja claims The Jungle Book has some of the finest character animation in the entire Disney canon. And he’s definitely onto something.
For starters, most of the characters don’t have hands, and can’t hold props, so everything has to be conveyed through body language, facial expressions, and voice. In lesser hands, this movie would have been dull as dirt, but instead, their personalities radiate off the screen. Ollie Johnston agonized over the right actions for Baloo as he struggled with his guilt. Milt Kahl’s layered Shere Khan with so much cool arrogance in every head tilt and smirk. Kaa was given crazy amounts of leeway considering he doesn’t even have arms, and yet was still able to communicate just as clearly as Mowgli.
And thanks to the strong vocal cast of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, Sterling Holloway, George Sanders, and J. Pat O’Malley, we have an array of wildly colorful and vivid characters that make this film a treat.
What could have been improved: While I’m happy to profess this movie is my favorite out of the WDAS canon, I fully acknowledge this movie has some flaws that certainly hinder it. Even though I truly appreciate most of Favreau’s efforts in his 2015 reboot.
First and foremost is Mowgli himself. I don’t hate the kid, but I am frustrated that the central character lacks a lot of serious potential. The plot hinges on Mowgli’s refusal to return to the human world and the exhilaration he finds every time he meets a new animal. But why not more than that? Did he miss his wolf family? If so, why didn’t he express it? Heck, Bagheera seems to have taken Mowgli off to the Man-Village without letting him even saying goodbye, and the kid is at most, confused. For a kid who was raised ten years in the subtropical rainforest, he seems decidedly not very lupine in demeanor, in fact, he seems to seriously lack ANY survival skills. How is it this kid has never encountered any of the animals in – again – the entire decade of growing up with the wolves? After all, Bagheera seems to know everyone. And when Baloo betrays Mowgli and he wanders around aimlessly, why couldn’t we have a more introspective moment? Yeah, I get Mowgli’s not terribly adept at reflection as most ten-year-olds are, but it might have been beneficial to show Mowgli in a more contemplative mood, lending some weight to the scene instead of – let’s be honest – a rather dull/pointless scene of him throwing rocks at a waterfall and walking along a log.
Furthermore, Mowgli doesn’t learn anything. Bagheera was perpetually frustrated that Mowgli could not understand just how life-threatening jungle life is. Over and over again, the kid’s life was in danger, and Mowgli just kept enjoying himself, as if it were all a game. Ideally, his encounter with Shere Khan – a killer stronger than a pack of wolves, a panther, a bear, and even Kaa – should have made Mowgli realize just how badly outmatched he was. Instead, Mowgli gets his scrawny butt saved by Baloo and a flock of buzzards. Afterwards, he’s so happy his papa bear’s alive again it doesn’t even register just what could have happened. And after soundly defeating the tiger and making the jungle safe for himself again…suddenly he gets his head spun by seeing a girl. A fairly typical plot point, to show child growing into adulthood by way of falling in love. But it renders the journey pointless.
I guess what saves it from being truly disappointing is the movie is the same reason why the narrative is so thin. While I don’t think greater emotional depth would have been a bad thing, it might have given the movie some tonal whiplash. It definitely helped the movie keep its freewheeling, light-hearted tone it became known for.
Because the characters are so entertaining, it’s a shame we never got to see Rocky the rhino. In an earlier draft, the vultures would manipulate Mowgli into antagonizing a near-sighted and dim-witted rhinoceros. But after evading Rocky’s charges, the vultures decree Mowgli an honorary vulture, which, like in the movie, prompt the birds (Plus Rocky) to sing “That’s What Friends are For”, though whether he would have played a role in battling Shere Khan is uncertain. Walt himself suggested Rocky be dropped since there were too many ugly characters between him, the monkeys, and the vultures. But at least Favreau gave a nod to the character in the 2015 reboot.
Verdict: I know the last section was pretty long and involved, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s my favorite animated Disney film.
It’s just so…fun. Unapologetically fun. Unlike The Three Caballeros, where it’s a nonstop party, The Jungle Book is just as content taking a nap or floating down a river as it is having wild dance parties. And best of all, each scene contains at least one robust and fun character that makes it so enjoyable (Except for Mowgli). No regrets, just a complete nine paw paws out of ten.
Did you ever watch a movie or a show, maybe read a story somewhere, where something about it freaked you out in some weird way you couldn’t explain? Usually when people ask this on Facebook about Disney movies, I often bring up Dumbo‘s “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence. It’s not a lie: it really did scare me. As I got older, I grew less scared and more fascinated at the uninhibited artistry. I eventually came to terms with it, and analyzed why it had the impact on me that it did. I still think it was a combination of the dark ambiance, the thundering music, the blank, expressionless, black eyes of the elephants, the eerie vocals, even the raucous, plodding beat. I couldn’t have been the only one. But now that I’m an adult and I watch so many horror and slasher movies with the wife, I’m thinking I was probably just a wee little scaredy-cat.
But there was something else in movies, TV and books that never failed to set my terror in full swing: mind control. It didn’t matter how, whether it was a magic spell, a microchip, or old-fashioned, real-world hypnosis, I was sure mind control would be the doom of us all. Robot armies? Yawn. Stealing national monuments? Lame. Usurping sovereign nations? Boring. Hypno-rays? YOU MONSTER!
These scenes in my Saturday morning cartoons terrified me for years. Yet when I would look around at more real world examples of it, I was much more surprised at how…well, boring and unremarkable hypnosis actually was. In ninth grade, I tasked myself to research the subject for a term paper and was blown away by what I was able to find. I quickly discovered it was just as boring as well as fascinating as I could have ever imagined. I hadn’t even graduated high school yet and I was already practicing it on fellow classmates.
Now with my eyes opened and a generous stack of hypnosis books in my bookcase, I continued to watch Disney cartoons (Don’t judge me) and became gradually more aware of the exaggerated nature of animation and children’s media. We knew, as kids, our eyes didn’t stretch to six feet in diameter with a klaxon ringing out when we were surprised, but our exposure to everything else was framed by what we saw on our television screens, movie theaters, and books. Sure, real life helped, but how many kids grew up ever even seeing a single stick of dynamite, an anvil, or an actually-slippery banana peel? It’s the same reason we grew up thinking of racist stereotypes perpetuated by writers who were more concerned about comedy than anything else.
I look back on some of these and I ask myself a lot of questions. Like, was there any sort of attempt to capture the reality of hypnosis? Did anyone actually care? Was it just a wacky hijink to use as a plot device? Or did a villain want to just use it to take over the world? And how much should I let my suspension of disbelief go given the context? So I pulled from various sources at Disney to demonstrate the division between fiction and reality when it comes to depicting hypnosis.
1. You can’t be hypnotized if you don’t want to be hypnotized.
In order to be hypnotized, you’d have to put forth a concerted effort…for the most part. Hypnosis is scientifically characterized as a state of heightened concentration. You’d have just as much luck stumbling into taking an algebra exam. Whisking a fully cognizant person into a trance without their knowledge is borderline impossible, for the most part. But to make hypnosis seem sinister, or sometimes just a contrived way to get someone to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, it becomes rather commonplace for people to zonk out with little to no effort.
In most of the examples of Disney movies and shows where people are hypnotized, this kind of shenanigan is frighteningly abundant. The whole plot is often set in motion because – Whoopsie! – the wrong person got hypnotized, or someone was trying to do so for diabolical reasons. In Recess‘s “The Hypnotist”, the titular character tries to hypnotize a very nonplussed Miss Finster, who is not interested in participating. Realistically, she rejects his attempt and never even blinks. Principal Prickly, on the other hand, watching in the wing, muses about the nice pen the hypnotist is using, and subsequently tumbles into a trance like Alice did down the rabbit hole. This isn’t not impossible (More on this in a bit), but it is unlikely. Most people of average intelligence who are watching a hypnotist onstage wouldn’t plunge into a trance because they’re too focused on the subject’s reaction. That’s why when you go to hypnotist shows, no one has to ruffle up the entire audience because they were hypnotized right along with the subjects onstage.
Weirdly enough, Gretchen manages to break Prickly out of his suggestion by inducing hypnosis while he’s clinging to a pole on top of a jungle gym, eyes clamped shut, throwing a tantrum. If you were in the same situation, you too would not be terribly concerned with the nine-year-old trying to calm you down with a pen, even if – unlike Prickly – you wanted to have the suggestion reversed. Sure, the idea that enticing, repetitive, calming stimuli that draw you in seem plausible that they could make you slack-jawed, drooling, and foggy-headed, but give yourself a little credit.
2. Can you be unwittingly hypnotized? “Yes, but”.
The odds of someone hypnotizing you against your will while you are cognizant of them doing so is pretty much impossible. But there can be times where it can be snuck up on you without your knowing. The most common form of this you may recall from your DMV driver’s test: highway hypnosis.
Imagine you’re driving along an open highway at night. It’s a long, straight road where nothing really changes, not even oncoming traffic. You’re mostly comfortable, there’s no distractions, and the only thing happening is the repetitive flashing of those yellow lines in the road. If you’re not careful, that’s all it takes to lull you into a state where you’re not concentrating on the road anymore and you wind up in a terrible accident. On a less dramatic level, hypnotists are happy to boast any time you completed a task that required little effort on your part and you barely remember even doing it, that’s considered a state of hypnosis. So that time you wound up at the bank and was in line for the teller, and you can’t recall anything after pulling out of the driveway? Boom. Mind. Blown.
But if someone were to jump in front of you with a hypno-disk while you were bingeing Netflix, nah. There’d have to be something about you mentally that’d warrant concern if that were the case. Basically your attention span would already have to be fixed on the stimuli that’d pull you in and your guard would have to be down. In the episode “Wake Up Victor” from That’s So Raven, Raven’s dad is busy getting ready for his big TV appearance when he stumbles onto his son Corey and Corey’s friend Beans as they try to hypnotize Raven and Chelsea into loving them. Predictably, Raven and Chelsea laugh it off, much less take in the suggestions, but Victor goes stone cold entranced, prompting a Weekend at Bernie‘s skit. Ideally, given Victor was so nervous about his opportunity there’s almost no chance he’d just get distracted by a pretty pendant. If he were, chances are he would have been distracted out of it just as easily. It goes both ways.
3. You can’t be hypnotized to do anything you wouldn’t do if you were awake.
Movies and shows LOVE showing the idea that hypnosis is so powerful you can make anyone do anything, laws of physics permitting (Sometimes not even then). And sure, it’s pretty impressive, as you can tell from all those news stories you read about all those hypnotized victims murdering people and robbing 7-11’s. Oh wait, you’ve never heard of that happening? That’s because hypnosis doesn’t work like that. Your moral compass doesn’t shut down the moment your eyes close.
So why do people onstage act like babies, milk cows, and do the funky chicken in shows? Simple: they want to to do something silly, and have the excuse to do so without fear of reprisal. You wouldn’t fall down intentionally, but it’s kind of okay to blame the alcohol if you were drunk, right?
In 1964’s The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, the title character is asked by the town judge Holmsby to hypnotize him to commit a crime so he can understand the mindset for his new book. Merlin does so…and the judge kidnaps the school chimp. (It’s a weird movie.) It’s been proven time and again that if you were to hypnotize anyone to do anything they weren’t already preempted into doing on their own, they’d either block out the suggestion or, if severe enough, stir from the trance entirely. The judge would only do what he did if he were already intending to commit a little larceny, just needed a slight boost of confidence to follow through.
In Lilo and Stitch: the Series‘ episode “Swirly”, Lilo accidentally catches sight of the experiment’s suggestible gaze and is accidentally given the suggestion to “Be more like Mertle”, a girl from her hula she bit in the first movie. While acting out as another persona is a common act in hypnosis, Lilo would have already wanted to, in some way, act like the kid whom she clearly despises. On the more serious side, in the 1987 DuckTales episode “Spies in their Eyes”, Donald Duck is hypnotized to steal a remote control for a Naval submarine, which is more than grounds for a little court martialing, as well as a huge contrast to Donald’s ethics. The Sultan in Aladdin, as we know, would never have handed his only daughter to Jafar, even before he realized he was evil. But because hypnosis can do a lot of crazy things, it’s led people to believe a highly skilled and highly unscrupulous hypnotist somewhere can persuade anyone to do anything. And it’s baloney.
4. There are no set “rules” in place for how hypnosis works.
This one’s weird, because in both real life and in movies, I’ve never heard the phrase, “Oh no, they’re hypnotized! Quick, someone snap their fingers!” Often the trademarks of hypnosis are things like spirals, pocket watches, metronomes, bells, or the snapping of fingers (Mostly because it’s film shorthand). Really, to conduct hypnosis, nothing is required but one’s voice. You can induce hypnosis in a million different ways, and there’s a million more how to bring them out. If hypnotists do use the fixed gaze induction (The “look at a thing while I put you under” technique), literally anything can be used, like a spot on the ceiling. To bring someone out of hypnosis, or to induce a post hypnotic trigger, literally anything can be used. In fact, the most common method hypnotists use for bringing someone out of trance is not by snapping fingers, but by counting, while suggesting the subject awaken as they do so. It’s much less jarring that way.
I distinctly remember watching 102 Dalmatians, and the movie begins, of all places, in an asylum, where a Dr. Pavlov (Yes, really, but clearly not that Dr. Pavlov) has successfully found a way to treat psychological impairments in both humans and animals, going so far as to condition everyone’s favorite puppy-slayer Cruella DeVil to love them instead of their coats. At first, she’s truly reformed, but Dr. Pavlov finds out the chiming of Big Ben jars his subjects into reverting back to their old habits, and demands this revelation be kept secret. Cruella later overhears Big Ben, and her old obsession creeps back as her hair sproings back to life in an over-the-top fashion. While an argument can be made that it’s clearly not hypnosis, but merely Pavlovian conditioning, as indicated by the doctor’s name, tell me: when has undoing a psychological treatment ever been done except in hypnosis-related plots? Case in point, in the Phineas and Ferb episode, “A Real Boy”, Stacy hypnotizes Candace to forget about obsessing over her brothers upon hearing “holy guacamole”, but relapse upon hearing “leaping lizard”. In no way, shape or form is this kind of practice even useful, but it exists as an easy comedic opportunity for a character to go from hot to cold and back instantaneously. While it’s rarely a bad idea to instill a suggestion to undo all previous triggers so they don’t affect the subject in the future, it’s done explicitly so, you know, itdoesn’t affect them in the future.
And while hypnotic triggers can be inconvenient, they’re not padlocks. For years, I’ve read this idea that subjects cannot be stuck in trances, I’ve never known anyone to think that to be the case. In “Wake Up Victor”, Victor is completely out cold from the moment he’s entranced and cannot wake up, per the misconception. It’s revealed he was given the trigger to wake up when he hears the word “Okeechobee” a word no one but Beans can pronounce. And as I said before, Raven conducts a Weekend at Bernie’s routine for maximum hijink outcome, which would jostle awake most anyone out of a trance. Maybe this would be more likely if Beans said he could ONLY wake up upon hearing the trigger, but bear in mind, Victor’s mind would have to be completely shut off to ALL external stimuli, including touch, in order to stay hypnotized. Yeah, you can jostle someone awake, but just counting backwards from 5 to 1 and coaxing them awake would do the trick.
Back to “Swirly”, how does Lilo revert back to being herself? A snap of the fingers, of course. Does this make any sort of sense if you’re not familiar with the common tropes associated with hypnosis? Not likely, but it’s a comedy cartoon series where a genetically-modified creature from outer space can corrupt anyone’s mind with a simple glance. Maybe I should give it a pass?
5. Hypnotists have no interest in being sued.
No matter who you are or what you do, you never plan on getting legally called out on the repercussions of a sub-par job. It’s either because you plan on doing a good job in the first place, or you’re a corrupt sleazeball akin to Max Bialystock and hoping you just never get caught. If you’re the latter, shame on you.
But anyway, stage hypnotists and hypnotherapists similarly don’t want to be served with a court summons due to any sort of malpractice. I can at least say Pavlov was negligent in his studies, however egregious. But it seems to me a serious oversight that results in undoing all his hard work is grounds for a serious lawsuit, especially by someone as ruthless as Cruella.
In the Suite Life on Deck Episode, “Shipnotized” (Okay, that’s a good pun), Bailey and London attend a hypnosis show and the subjects, a married couple, are given a suggestion to act like each other. Like I said before, being suggested to act like someone else is fine, but this essentially is airing out dirty laundry in front of a crowd of strangers. Have them act like Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, or Kanye West, but no one really wants to see someone doing an impression of their wife mocking her constant nagging. Worse still, can you imagine the emotional strife of your spouse doing that to you, in front of a crowd like that? Yeah, even if there’s no real legal leg to stand on, you know a good lawyer could make a sound case.
In the episode, London, the Paris Hilton-parody character, accidentally gets hypnotized and accepts the suggestion, and acts like her country-born-and-raised bestie and roommate, Bailey, much to her annoyance. But she got off easy. Even if the hypnotist were negligent in not making sure only his subjects onstage were hypnotized, at least he was still around for Bailey to ask him to remove the suggestion, even though in reality, it’s a super easy fix Bailey could’ve done on her own. And, you know, not disrupt his show by shoving London onto the stage during a following performance.
Similarly, the hypnotist from Recess, who looks like the much-less successful brother of Professor Hinkle from Frosty the Snowman (And that’s saying something) isn’t seen or heard from after Prickly is made to think he’s a kid again. Miss Finster tells the staff he left for Peru, so calling him back to undo the suggestion is out of the question. But seriously, he couldn’t even recommend another psychologist in the area? Even if he awkwardly failed in front of a whole school to hypnotize Miss Finster, he couldn’t be bothered to make sure no one else got accidentally tranced? Again, he could very easily have been sued by Prickly afterward, claiming mental strife or lost wages or anything, really.
But again, these are kids shows, so litigation wasn’t really a concern.
6. Hypnotizability is a spectrum.
So if you cannot be hypnotized against your will, but you can unwittingly be hypnotized, and as we saw in the previous example, sometimes people actually CAN be hypnotized and accept suggestions without meaning to, just what the smoo are the circumstances in which people can just zonk out into a trance? Well, it’s not entirely up to the hypnotist. Like any talent, be it athletic or artistic, hypnotizability is a trait you’re born with, but can be enhanced with constant practice. Sounds nuts, right? Some estimates range between 5 – 10% of the population being highly hypnotizable, and roughly the same amount as similarly unhypnotizable, leaving around 80% to 90% of the rest of the population somewhere in the middle. The common idea is that dumb or otherwise gullible people are the easiest to hypnotize, whereas others are “too smart” to be hypnotized. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, champ, but the opposite is often true.
As I stated before, hypnosis is characterized by heightened concentration, so if someone is unfocused or unable to concentrate due to mental disability, alcohol, or drugs, the odds of them going under are next to zero, no matter how skilled the hypnotist. And because hypnosis often employs mental visualization, creative people are more adept at this. Too stubborn? That means you have a will to enforce your convictions, so if you’re given a suggestion, your stubbornness basically enforces it even more. The only grain of truth I can find to this is people like me, who overthink everything, with a touch of being on the autism spectrum, are unable to just concentrate on listening to the suggestions without my mind attaching itself to random words or phrases and losing track what told to me after that. But that’s what confusion inductions are for.
So might London be easily hypnotizable in real life? Probably. Principal Prickly? Maybe. Victor from the That’s So Raven episode? Not likely, considering he probably would have had A LOT on his mind at the time.
Oh, and you know who else you would have a heck of a time trying to hypnotize? Animals. In The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, Merlin hypnotizes a cat and Stanley, the chimp, which kind of weird. In Home on the Range, cows are rendered into slack-jawed, technicolor automatons by yodeling, but at least they’re cartoons with autonomy. In the classic Donald Duck cartoon The Eyes Have it, Donald hypnotizes poor Pluto into becoming a mouse, a turtle, a chicken, and a lion, complete with physical changes. If most humans can’t be hypnotized unwillingly, you can assume you can’t really do it the same way you’d hypnotize a human.
7. You need more than a spiral, a watch, or your eyes to induce hypnosis.
“But wait!” I hear you cry out, “You just said you didn’t need anything but your voice to hypnotize people! Are you lying then or are you lying now?” First of all, it’s very rude of you to interrupt me while I’m typing. Presumably days or even months after I’ve posted this online. Still rude.
What I mean is, just because you have a cool doodad doesn’t mean you’re a great hypnotist. It’s a akin to having a cool set of gloves, a awesome leather jacket, and a sweet helmet and saying you’re a great motorcyclist. You need the bike first, then you’ll know what to do with add-ons, if you even need them at all. (Okay, yes, you need the helmet, but the metaphor stills stands!)
So why are these things used for hypnosis? Because repetitive, compelling stimuli can be very useful in allowing subjects to relax, let their guard down, and just look at something that fatigues the eyes. Sleep has been associated with hypnosis for hundreds of years, even the term “hypnosis” is derived from the Greek God Hypnos, the god of sleep. Similarly, those flashing yellow lines from highway hypnosis qualify. Some hypnotists even use metronomes. Sometimes even using multiple stimuli can overwhelm a subject into a hypnotic state, which can be effective for subjects that have a harder time concentrating, called a confusion induction.
In The Incredibles 2, Screenslaver uses giant spirals and flashing lights on screens to captivate their victims. Corey and Beans used mail order pendants. Señor Senior Senior in the “Coach Possible” episode of Kim Possible uses a big, flashy disco ball to subdue Kim and Ron. Cinnamon Teal from DuckTales uses her enchanting eyes. In the Gummi Bears episode “Music Hath Charms” a magic set of bagpipes used by Duke Igthorn enslaves the Gummis, save for a temporarily deaf Grammi Gummi. In all these examples, all it takes is something captivating to reduce every subject into a stupefied zombie. A very odd one is from the 101 Dalmatians: the Series episode “Howl Noon”. In this one, puppy Cadpig uses hypnotherapy as a tool to help Lt. Pug overcome his fear of childhood bully Persian Pete. However, when all else fails, and Cadpig tries to handcuff Pug to her to stop him, Pug eventually confronts Pete. And by swinging the puppy from the handcuffs like a pendulum, manages to hypnotize Pete and scare him away. Yes, pendulums of most any kind are helpful in inducing hypnosis, but that one is just absurd. Maybe I have to chalk that one up to kid’s comedy trumping realism, I guess.
But what’s even sillier than needing the props is the idea that taking away the prop or hindering it dispels the trance. The Sultan would still be hypnotized whether Aladdin smashed Jafar’s staff or not. Both Cinnamon Teal and the Seniors are thwarted by their subjects…wearing sunglasses. Donald Duck uses some hypno-goggles novelty, probably from a comic book mail-in order, but once they break, Pluto’s stuck as a lion. Thank goodness Gregarius the robot was smashed in order to break the spell he had on Aladdin and the gang in Aladdin: The Series‘ episode “I Never Mechanism I Didn’t Like”. Imagine if I used a pocket watch and smashed it with a hammer to wake you up. Sounds kinda dumb that way, huh?
By far the most renowned example of hypnosis in Disney is Kaa from The Jungle Book. In the original Kipling novel, Kaa hums and dances in the moonlight, his serpentine body captivating the bandar-log into literally walking into his mouth, which also affect Baloo and Bagheera, but Mowgli is clearly immune, further preserving the idea only smart people can’t be hypnotized. For the Disney cartoon, the python was made a sinister antagonist instead of an ally to rescue Mowgli from the monkeys. Here, the snake seeks to encourage Mowgli into a state of docility as he prepares to consume the Man-cub. His famous looping eyes are his trademark technique, which draw Mowgli in, even when the boy actively resists in a later scene. He also uses his cottony-soft voice (Courtesty of My Hero Sterling Holloway) to lull his victims into a state of sleepy bliss, exemplified best by his signature song, “Trust in Me”. Mowgli, Bagheera and in the sequel, Shanti, all fall victim to Kaa’s gaze, but the only one able to resist is the highly intelligent and strong-willed Shere Khan.
But if you watched any of these shows or movies and suffered no side effects as the spirals spun or loopy eyes whirled or the swinging pocket watches swung, then congratulations, you realized that just those things on their own don’t do squat. And you didn’t even need sunglasses.
8. For hypnosis to be effective, it typically has to be BORING, REPETITIVE, and TAKE A VERY LONG TIME.
You’ve probably noticed movies have a tendency to emphasize or glamorize exciting things that don’t happen much in real life, or at least they happen a lot faster. For example, from The Empire Strikes Back to Rocky, we get the montage, where our hero musters all their determination and hard work into a few minutes of onscreen progression from novice to expert. In reality, this kind of dedication would take months, if not years, but as a now-ancient meme once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”. It’s the same thing with depicting hypnosis in media.
While there are ways to induce hypnosis within seconds, or even ways to execute induction, suggestions, and awakening within moments, like all talents, they rarely happen without preparation and practice. In order for hypnosis to be executed for maximum chance for success, you must take your time. The induction is the trickiest, guiding a fully cognizant and usually willing subject from wakefulness to a state of quiet drowsiness. Then next is the deepening stage, because for better results, subjects would need to be in a deep state of relaxation, often characterized by using peaceful imagery, fractionation, going down steps, or simply counting down. Depending on the subject, this may be all that is necessary to execute suggestions, and then the hypnotist would resume with awakening, which usually involves counting upward. This is by no means the only way to conduct hypnosis, but the goal is to get the subject as deeply entranced as possible so they can better absorb the suggestions given, and often require patience, minimal distractions, a relaxing ambiance, and a rapport between hypnotist and subject. Does that sound dull and uninteresting? That’s because it is. And because movies and TV can’t waste time with long, drawn out sessions, they often use shorthand: edited clips, emphasis of prop iconography, or most often, technological, magical, or otherwise generally fantastic circumstances, like loopy snake eyes, mail order novelties, yodeling, disco balls, bagpipes, or alien genetics. It’s that much easier to use a prop to suddenly zap an unsuspecting victim into a drooling zombie. And much more visually interesting.
9. Posthypnotic amnesia typically needs the prompting suggestion.
What’s funnier than seeing your friends acting like a monkey onstage? How about that brief, bewildering look on their face when it suddenly dawns on them they’re crouched on a chair, clutching a banana, when seconds ago, they were sitting in a chair on the other end of the stage? It’s like a great prank to not just warp their minds into making them think they’re seeing/doing/something no one else can see, but then have a minor mental crisis as they try to piece together what the heck just happened. This phenomena is referred to as posthypnotic amnesia. And it only sometimes happens on its own, but it typically happens when the hypnotist suggests it.
It’s not clear why it happens, but if a subject goes deep enough, posthypnotic amnesia happens naturally. But chances are the subject didn’t go quite that deep, so stage hypnotists often like to add the aura of mystery by showing the gap in their memory. Thus, they often suggest to their subjects to have no memory of being hypnotized or what was told to them under hypnosis.
Sometimes the posthypnotic amnesia emphasizes comedic effect, like Principal Prickly howling in impotent confusion. In the DuckTales episode, Donald insists he’s innocent of any wrongdoing, adding to the mystery. The Jungle Book at least gets this right, as Mowgli is clearly aware of what Kaa does to him, trying to avoid his eyes in their second scene together and even chastising Kaa for lying to him.
I really respect the Phineas and Ferb episode, “A Real Boy” for this. Yes, Candace does clearly blank out on her obsession with her brothers mid-sentence the moment Stacy gives her the trigger (When in reality, she more likely would have simply lost interest). But when Stacy suggests she get ready for her date with Jeremy, Candace asks “Who’s Jeremy?” Though revealed to be a prank, it cleverly teased at another typical cliche we might’ve expected.
10. You wouldn’t be echoing suggestions in a robotic monotone.
Talking requires effort when you’re so deeply relaxed, and when your mind is so thoroughly engrossed in concentration, remember you have to form thoughts before you can express them verbally. So if a subject is deeply hypnotized and the hypnotist requests the subject talk for any reason, chances are the response would be a drowsy mumble. But of course, in family media, it’s not enough to have a character stand stiff, eyes wide with whirling spirals, arms outstretched like a sleepwalker. No, they also have to repeat every command they hear, and acquiesce to ever order with a monotone, “Yes, master.”
You’re still you under hypnosis, no matter how deep you go. If your scruples stay in place, then there’s similarly no chance a switch in your brain goes from “Normal” to “Slave” when you go under. And unlike posthypnotic amnesia, it’s rarely suggested upon. In hypnotherapy, a client may be asked to state affirmations to boost conviction while under, or they may be interviewed as they explore their memories, but otherwise it’s not terribly useful. Even less so if the stereotype were true.
“Coach Possible”, “Music Hath Charms”, “Aladdin”, and “A Real Boy”all had this in their plots. The really odd one is “A Real Boy”where Candace is given her suggestions by Stacy, and when asked if she understands, Candace says no, adding “A brief recap might be helpful…” definitely a line for comedy more than anything, but worth bringing up.
11. It’s a real therapy tool, you hacks!
I’ve had to come to grips recently that, as a millennial, the media of my childhood was mostly written by baby boomers. Meaning, despite the push to have mind-altering substances and eastern concepts like yoga and meditation be normalized, psychology and psychiatry were thought to be the domains of quacks and shills. This wasn’t helped by the eighties and nineties, when pop psychobabble became trendy. So imagine how difficult it was (And frankly, still is) that a phenomenon popularized by carnies and barnstorming frauds had to push itself to have itself taken seriously. Hence why it’s become a trope in media at this point that every conversation about using hypnosis for a real, therapeutic issue, the reluctant subject says something like, “You’re not gonna make me cluck like a chicken, are you?”. Insert tepid, unamused “ha” here.
But before I refer to 101 Dalmatians: the Series‘ “Howl Noon” and Darkwing Duck‘s “Days of Blunder”, first I want talk about The Search for Bridey Murphy.
Published in 1956, Bridey Murphy was a nonfiction account of author Morey Bernstein, a Colorado salesman who stumbled into hypnosis and studies of extrasensory perception (ESP). He caught wind of an idea that instead of simply guiding a subject to go mentally back in time through their own past (a practice called “age regression”), what if they could go even further? The second half of the book is mostly the transcripts of the six sessions Bernstein had with subject Ruth Simmons, where she began talking in an Irish brogue and began recalling a life in 19th century Ireland in alarming detail. Bear in mind, this was an American housewife who had no ties to Ireland in the fifties, with no internet access, or even a library card. The logical conclusion seemed to be that hypnosis could awaken the dormant memories of one’s past lives and support the theory of reincarnation. Not long afterward, researchers dug into the details Bernstien published, and found A) there were several historical discrepancies that couldn’t be overlooked, and B) Ruth, real name Virginia Tighe, was a neighbor to an Irish immigrant as a young child, and unwittingly recalled long-forgotten anecdotes that came out as faux memories of a past life. Whoops.
Now, using hypnosis in therapy is very, very real. Hypnosis is the embodiment of “mind over matter”, so it can be extremely helpful with things like losing weight and quitting smoking. Using age regression can be helpful in recalling memories with great clarity, or the therapist can restructure a past trauma into a more positive experience. Of course, the human brain is fallible: memories aren’t perfect video recorders and memories are VERY easy to manipulate under hypnosis…but it does help.
In both 101 Dalmatians and Darkwing Duck, when Lt. Pug and Darkwing get hypnotized, they get indirectly steered back to supposedly past lives to gain insight on their current predicaments. Pug is facing a childhood bully, the cat Persian Pete, and Cadpig looks into his past lives in ancient Rome and the Pleistocene age showing he was beaten around by lions and saber-toothed tigers, which isn’t terribly helpful. A childhood bully returning doesn’t really require greater investigating. For Darkwing, villain Quackerjack is trying to get D.W. to switch careers away from being a superhero, and poses as a psychologist to do so. Once again, the use of past-life regression is supposed to help D.W. gain insight into why superheroing just isn’t for him, and he, too, flashes back to the pleistocene era, getting beaten up by a brawnier caveduck.
No therapist worth their salt would jump to past life regression as a therapeutic tool because there’s almost never any reason to think hang-ups from your time as a neanderthal would affect your ability to face a childhood bully or fight crime effectively. Both these plots wanted to use a quick-and-easy visual to demonstrate the characters’ traumas, and both, incidentally, use hypnosis to resolve their problems…not as therapy, mind you, but to hypnotize their foes. At least Pug just scared Pete away. D.W. sadistically mentally trapped Quackerjack in the same caveduck fantasy of being beaten up, and last we see of him is catatonic in the backseat of the Thunderquack, in a mental prison. Yikes, D.W., just…yikes.
Give Robin Hood some credit: at least in their one and only hypnosis scene involved Sir Hiss (As much of a Kaa ripoff he was) trying to cure Prince John’s oral fixation, however unsuccessful as he was.
My last note on “Days of Blunder” is this: it became a cliche to have shrink characters named “Quack” or “Loon” to imply the regard the writers had for their profession (Also: THEY’RE DUCKS!! GET IT?!?!), but also have a thick German accent. This is, of course, a reference to the most renowned and controversial psychologist of all time, Sigmund Freud. However, Freud actually did try his hand at hypnosis…but gave up because he wasn’t very good at it.
So have I de-mystified hypnosis for you? I kinda hoped using some of these examples would give you a starting point if you wanted to learn more, and if you made it all the way here, awesome! Thanks for sticking with me.
Now, when I count from 5 to 1, you’ll slowly awaken, forgetting everything we just discussed, and you’ll want to read this article again. 5…4…3…2…just kidding!
At last, the day has come. The 2017 reboot of DuckTales has come to a rather abrupt and disconcerting close after only three seasons of solving mysteries and rewriting history. And honestly, this show has been a spectacular treat since day one. I was stoked when it was first announced, and my only disappointment was the first teaser image that featured the angular designs I wasn’t wild about, but if after three seasons, that’s my biggest complaint, then what do I have to gripe about?
DuckTales slowly rose to its status ever since Huey, Dewey, and Louie first appeared in 1937 and Scrooge McDuck ten years later. Artist Carl Barks took the characters and soon began making the classic comic books we love today. Everything, from Scrooge’s vast money bin and obscene wealth, to the globetrotting adventures, from the Beagle Boys to Flintheart Glomgold, was birthed from this series of books and continued to inspire millions, even Steven Spielberg, who remembered a booby-trapped ancient South American temple equipped with a giant rolling boulder in Seven Cities of Cibola, published in 1954. Sound familiar?
In 1987, the comics were adapted into a weekly television series that we millenials treasure, where Huey, Dewey, and Louie were finalized in their popular color-coded designs, and we got even more fan favorite characters such as Launchpad McQuack, Mrs. Beakley, Webby, Ma Beagle, and Fenton Crackshell/GizmoDuck. It was Disney’s most successful animated series, running at 100 episodes over four seasons, is the only Disney Afternoon series to have ever gotten a theatrical release, and the NES game is frequently rated as one of the best for the system.
It’s no surprise that in 2016, as millenials became adults, that their childhood favorites during the Disney Decade would soon reemerge, and we’d obsess over everything from the Disney Afternoon to A Goofy Movie, Hocus Pocus to Nightmare Before Christmas. And what better way to evoke the feels than to reboot the most popular show from that period and bring it to a whole new generation?
So in dedication to this incredible reboot, I turn the clock back to August of 2017, a simpler time before a global pandemic, and relive this awesome pilot episode. Designate a daring driver for these delightful ducks of derring-do!
The plot: Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo) is late for a job interview and can’t trust his nephews Huey (Danny Pudi), Dewey (Ben Schwartz), and Louie (Bobby Moynihan) to behave themselves alone. He begrudgingly takes the boys to McDuck Manor, home to the reclusive Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant), the once-great super-squillionaire who “used to be a big deal”…and the boys had no idea they were his grand-nephews. The boys are locked in a room, but escape with the help of a shut-in little girl and Scrooge’s maid’s granddaughter, Webbigail (Kate Micucci). When the kids fool around with some of his mystical artifacts in the garage, it takes the combined efforts of Scrooge, the kids, and chauffer/pilot Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett) to stop them.
Impressed with their fortitude and ingenuity, Scrooge invites all of them on an expedition to the lost city of Atlantis. However, Donald’s newest employer, Flintheart Glomgold (Keith Ferguson), is also seeking the jewel of the submerged city and will stop at nothing to defeat Scrooge through any means necessary.
How’s the writing?: In a word, brilliant. In more than one? Exciting. Funny. Engaging. Loaded. Emotional. Quick-witted. And so many more adjectives that would just be redundant.
In just under 45 minutes, we are given a far better introduction to the characters and their emotional arcs than we did in the original series’ five-part pilot, Treasure of the Golden Sun. What starts as just needing someone to watch the boys for a few hours turns into an excuse to bring the indefatigable nephews to Scrooge’s home without abandoning Donald off-screen in the Navy, relegating him to just cameos. Scrooge is shown as a morose has-been who just needed the right injection of thrills to get him into his adventures again. We even see the boys – for the only time besides 1996’s Quack Pack where they’re given three separate voice actors! – are given distinct personalities, all reflecting a different aspect of their grand-uncle (Huey respects his cleverness, Dewey his sense of derring-do, and Louie for his love for wealth and treasure).
Right away we see each one carries some emotional strain that brings to mind J. J. Abrams’ “Mystery Box” storytelling: to plant the idea of a big, underlying mystery to hook viewers and reward them later with the answers. Here, we see the seeds being laid for why Donald and Scrooge are estranged, why Glomgold hates Scrooge, why Scrooge has such bitter feeling toward family in general, and of course, that question at the very tail end of the pilot. Creators Matt Younberg and Fransisco Angones were damn masterful in their planning, not unlike the MCU. All the while fast-paced, witty, and hilarious. I’m sorry, fellow millenials, but it sweeps the OG series, easy in that regard.
Does it give the feels?: The show’s tone is mostly intense and witty, focused on great legwork, but again, there are some great foundations for emotional payoffs, even solely contained here.
Dewey overhears Scrooge scoff talking about them, telling Mrs. Beakley “Family is nothing but trouble!”, which upsets the young child. After escaping to the garage and watching his great uncle swiftly defeat three mystical entities in one fell swoop, Scrooge crossly reprimands the kids for getting into mischief. In a retort as savage as all get out, Dewey snaps, “I guess FAMILY is nothing but TROUBLE. Right, Uncle Scrooge?” And just seeing Scrooge’s barely-repressed rage warp his beak is chilling. You even get a rather sweet moment where Donald shows off pictures of his nephews to a couple of mercenaries, exemplifying Donald as an overprotective caretaker, which – you guessed it – gets explained in later episodes.
There’s even a sweeter moment where Webby announces her desire to explore beyond the manor, by declaring she’ll finally eat a hamburger. When Louie assures her they’d bring her one, just the tone in which Webby says, “You guys really are my friends” is just so sincere and touching.
I’m sorry, guys, but as great as the OG show was, it barely flirted with emotional depth like this. And it only got better as the series progressed.
Who makes it worth it?: I do admit that there was something appealing…cuddly, if you will…about the 1987 versions. Maybe it’s the rounded, less angular designs, but there was something much more approachable about the originals. And I admit, I miss the more happy-go-lucky, jovial Scrooge over the more cunning one in the reboot, but he’s no less likeable. Heck, I’ll always miss the thick Glasgow burr of Alan Young. But if I had to choose the characters that I’d point to to convince others to invest their time into this show, it’s Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby.
Three of these guys had essentially been clones for years, finishing each others’ sentences, with only the color of their clothes to really discern them from each other. Now, at last, we have three robust personalities that make the show that much more enjoyable. Huey, designated the eldest, is the smart, analytical, and the one most easily frustrated when things don’t go 100% according to plan and is the only Junior Woodchuck among them. It’s so cute seeing him geek out on their Atlantis trip by making everyone matching t-shirts and putting on sea shanties.
Dewey is the crazy one, most in dire need of attention and acclaim. Filled with reckless abandon, he’s also the most egotistical, loving to use his name as a catchphrase, singing “How does he Dewey it?”, unintentionally setting off a series of death traps.
Louie, the “evil twin”, is hilarious as the greedy, lazy one. He takes it upon himself to put sticky notes on artifacts to claim dibs when Scrooge passes away. Dark, yes, but still hilarious.
Then there’s Webby. The thing is, Webby was a transparently naked attempt by marketing to cater to little girls, much like Arcee in Transformers, Smurfette in The Smurfs, and the Chipettes in Alvin and the Chipmunks, among others. Dressed entirely in pink, her baby voice, always carrying around her “Quackypatch” doll…she was less a character than a “girl” stereotype. But in the reboot, Webby got a MASSIVE upgrade, and was made a much more complex and nuanced character. She was cute and naive, but was also trained in self-defense. She loved meeting people, but barely understood social situations. She knew everything about clan McDuck, but never ate a hamburger. Even better, there was no boy-girl dichotomy as there was in the series. It was clear there was no bad blood between the sexes, and the boys didn’t consider Webby a “tagalong”, like they did before.
Best quality provided: I truly appreciated the show’s sense to be snappier and wittier than its predecessor, even incorporating nods to other Disney Afternoon shows, referring to Cape Suzette, Spoonerville, and St. Canard (Not yet realizing this was just a sample of what we’d get in later seasons). I even loved the updated theme by Felicia Barton.
But aside from those things, by far the best thing this pilot gave us was a good story. Characters made decisions. Characters got emotional. They acted in character. Personalities bounced off each other. And it left us by establishing the status quo and ending by beginning a season-long arc that would answer one of the biggest questions in Disney duck history. Aside from three five-part episodes, the OG series couldn’t carry that kind of follow-through, and they rarely did so with much emotional investment.
What could have been improved: Like I said earlier, the only thing I wasn’t really a fan of was the art style. I loved the modern redesigns, particularly the characters’ clothes better updated for modern audiences. But that jagged, pointy aesthetic could be a bit alienating at times. It seemed like further highlighting the fact these characters weren’t real. Though this style does seem to lend itself to the show’s comedy.
I miss Alan Young’s voice. I miss Scrooge’s rounded, cuddly look. I miss his blue coat. I miss his jovial streak. Scrooge remains one of my favorite Disney characters, but you know what? This reboot has been just that good. I could throw a fit that “It’s not my DuckTales“, as if the 1987 show were something I owned to begin with. In exchange, I got a show full of intrigue, sharp wit, better developed characters, and a greater expansion of the duck universe. I’d call that a crazy awesome tradeoff.
Verdict: Reboots often miss the mark as to why certain things were popular to begin with. Beauty and the Beast thought we needed answers to plot holes. The Lion King thought we needed greater realism so the animals didn’t need to emote. Maleficent thought we needed the backstory of one of Disney’s greatest villains and give her a rape allegory. But once in a blue moon, the stars align and we get a reimagining that takes what we already love about the original – great characters and fun stories – and stir in things we really love: like deeper emotional moments, a fresh spin on the characters, multi-episode arcs, and genuine mystery. This pilot was a far and away everything I wanted in a rebooted DuckTales and more I didnt even know I wanted. It’s a shame the series has come to an end after only three seasons, but all things considered, the world was just that much brighter as I continue to get older, especially over the past few years. One might even say it was one big duck-blur. A solid ten jewels of Atlantis out of ten.
And now, a moment of silence for the characters who never got to see themselves brought back for an encore (Pops in cassette of Sarah Mclachlan’s “I Will Remember You”):
Yeah, I’m not letting that last one go. Having Keith David voice a demonic horse, as the Gargoyles overture plays and he bellows, “I live again!” is close…but not quite close enough for me.
How are you? I am fine. Things are okay around here, I guess. Coronavirus is still ravaging the nation, but at least I don’t have to worry about a clueless orange narcissist continually bungling efforts to have all of us not, you know, die. So things are good, sort of.
It’s been just over three years since I left Walt Disney World as a cast member and two since I was last there at all. I like to think I had a pretty good finger on the pulse of what theme park fans did and didn’t like, particularly when my buddy SurferClock and I did our podcast, What’s the Attraction?. Even today, out in the Disney park-less landscape that is Phoenix, Arizona, I still skulk around these days on theme park vlogger videos on YouTube (Yesterworld, Defunctland, Some Jerk with a Camera, Theme Snark & Friends, TPMVids, Theme Park History, Expedition Theme Park, Park Ride History, etc.) and various Facebook groups to keep up on all the latest gossip going on in Lake Buena Vista and Anaheim.
Of course, that doesn’t change the fact at the end of the day, I’m still just some shmuck with a platform on WordPress who hasn’t been to Galaxy’s Edge (Nor do I have any desire to) who takes the occasional pretention to know better than anyone else. Still, if seven years of guest interaction on the ground and observing social media reactions have taught me anything, it’s that there are some things WDI could afford to take to heart. So I present to you my heavily researched list of general policies and suggestions the company may want to keep in mind when preparing Disney parks in the future.
And don’t worry, I’m not going to cite some hackneyed, bad faith arguments to you like “Bring back Horizons!” or “When are you gonna build that fifth Disney Villains park you said you were gonna do?”. I don’t… I don’t care. This is meant to be a more sincere list, aimed at bettering the organization in the future. Because, you see, at the end of the day, we love Disney. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t spend countless hours online crying foul at every perceived indiscretion.
10. Not Everything has to be based on an I.P.
This is a popular rallying cry among many online, and honestly, I disagree. I see nothing wrong with putting Disney characters in Disney rides, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate on behalf of my fellow theme park fans.
Sixty-plus years ago, Imagineers had little choice when building attractions to be based around themes like the wild west, turn-of-the-century America, tropical jungles, the future, and fairy tales. Aside from Fantasyland, At best, Frontierland could use Pecos Bill and Davy Crockett to cross-promote. As time wore on, and more Disney films joined their backlog, it just made sense to incorporate more and more films and TV shows into the park, both to cross-promote and to draw in visitors who knew Disney better from their hometown theaters and living room TV sets. But through it all, several concepts pushed through the synergy barrier to become attractions without the benefit of being tied to a particular film. The Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, Expedition: Everest, Journey into Imagination, and Test Track all became classics without the benefit of film association (Sort of…but you get my point, right?) Today, when a character from a Disney film shoehorns themselves into a Disney ride, or overtakes a ride devoid of an independent property, fans get…testy.
Now, me, I don’t really get this mentality. Sure, I like Jungle Cruise as much as the next guy, and no, I don’t think it’d benefit from having Simba, Shere Khan, and Terk infused into the attraction. But to not want Disney characters in Disney rides? But…I’m speaking as a devil’s advocate for others here.
Sometimes infusing Disney characters into attractions that didn’t have them is really grating or even unnecessary. Adding Disney characters to Disneyland’s It’s a Small World is pretty much a complete waste of effort, and putting Zazu and Iago into the Tiki Room ruined the attraction for over a decade. Other times it felt patronizing, like replacing Stitch with Alien Encounter. I think, though, that last point is probably this feeling of resentment comes from, more than anything.
When Maelstrom at Epcot was announced to be removed for Frozen Ever After, fans were incensed, which struck me as odd, because Maelstrom wasn’t really all that great. It had a few memorable moments, but it had one thing going for it: it didn’t talk down to anyone. It was a pretty straight laced and somewhat maturely-toned boat ride that showcased what Norwegian culture meant. It lasted for nearly thirty years and kids who went to Epcot grew up with it, were surprised it went away…only to be replaced by a guaranteed moneymaker of a theme, based on what was seen as an overhyped kiddy princess cartoon for kids too dumb to know what REAL entertainment is.
I.P.’s are a great hook, but when they replace something that was a unique experience, it feels like watching a ma and pa diner replaced with a McDonald’s. So go ahead and build new rides and shows starring Moana and Wreck-it Ralph or Baby Yoda. Just let us keep the truly unique stuff.
9. We’re not looking for edutainment.
Edutainment, as I call it, is the practice of making an entertaining product where its primary purpose is teach its audience something. It’s a practice that’s been around since our boomer parents were kids, when they used to watch Bert the Turtle warn them about the impending atomic apocalypse. By the time we millenials came onto the scene, television was the primary medium. Sesame Street and a million other kids’ programs taught us social skills, Bill Nye, Beakman, and Ms. Frizzle taught us science, Animaniacs taught us geography and history, and every other show in the nineties never failed to warn us of the dangers of drugs. Most of the time, it’s not done very well, because if it’s too fun, we forget the message. Too focused on the message, it’s not fun and we write it off as another PSA. But usually, it fails because it’s written by grown, usually white men who don’t know how to talk to kids yet think they do.
We know Epcot was based on the founding principle to educate the masses about human civilization, and it’s a noble, worthwhile goal. But it was clear from the moment it opened its gates in 1982 that people did not go there as if it were a field trip destination. Disney execs back then sure seemed to think so, but let’s be real, as Tony Goldmark once said:
A bit of an absolutist perspective, as many museums and historical landmarks can attest, but let’s face it: If you’re going to Six Flags, Knott’s Berry Farm, Legoland, Cedar Fair, Universal Studios, or Disneyland, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re not going there because you’re seeking an educational experience. No, you’d want to go on some thrill rides, find a popular cartoon character to do selfies with, eat some wildly unhealthy food, maybe even buy an overpriced t-shirt. But to learn how Exxon-Mobil uses oil to fuel our planet? To see animatronic vegetables sing lame parody songs about nutrition? To slowly drift through bullet points of Mexican history? To learn how Mission-brand tortillas are made? Not as much of a slam-dunk as you might think.
Now, there have been instances where this has worked well. World showcase does provide some genuine cultural exposure from the native cast members who work there to the imported merchandise. Kilimanjaro Safaris demonstrates the necessity of caring for wildlife at the fictional Harambe Wildlife Reserve with mere exposure to the animals. Disney-MGM Studios was built on the premise of teaching people on how movies were made. But you get places like Universe of Energy, Bountiful Valley Farms, Hall of Presidents, the Disney Institute, and Golden Dreams, where the focus is clearly to lecture you, it’s going to annoy your audience. Why bother watching Mark Twain and Ben Franklin discuss American history when Soarin’ is literally a ten minute walk away?
One place where this really irks me in particular is Dinoland U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While a land themed around dinosaurs was a central tenet in the park’s trinity-based identity (Animals of today, animals that were, and animals that never were), Dinoland took on a theme of “extinction is forever”. This mission statement was meant to reinforce the idea that the nature we love can disappear if we’re not careful. First, dinosaurs were wiped out long before humans came in, so it’s not like we were exactly culpable. If it were dedicated to passenger pigeons, tasmanian tigers, dodos, and other fauna eliminated due to human stupidity, that makes sense, but not dinosaurs. Second, in Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama, the former Primeval Whirl wild mouse coaster decorated its tracks with cartoony dinosaurs dodging meteors with Saturday morning slapstick, entirely negating the gravitas of the message.
Like I said, good edutainment is hard to come by and incredibly hard to do well. But it shouldn’t be a tentpole idea to hang an entire theme park or even attraction on.
8. Dance parties have not ever counted as an attraction. EVER.
We Disney theme park fans LIVE for the day a new E-ticket prepares to open for the first time. We know not every ride can be the next big thing, and even basic carnival rides, with the right amount of Disney theming, can be a beloved attraction. We get it: even for a a company with as deep pockets as Disney, you can’t churn out new rides every year to keep interest going…
But for the love of every deity in heaven, could you just freaking CUT IT OUT with the freaking DANCE PARTIES?
So at a fraction of the cost of even a simple spinner, guests at the parks who spent over $100 a ticket can wander through an area with a fair amount of pedestrian walking space on their way to Space Mountain or DINOSAUR or whatever when suddenly…a crowd of forty people start dancing to a blasting DJ remix of some Disney song while a couple of totally kewl hosts hype up the crowd, and a handful random characters clumsily mingle to further hype the party. And this is done at least seven times a day, typically during hottest, most-direct-sunlightest parts of the day.
I admit I just may be a grumpy old curmudgeon, but I detest these dance parties for being loud, obnoxious, inconvenient, and worst of all, transparently cheap. At the cost of some equity talent, a stage, and a decent sound system, a whole dance party could run less than a single ride vehicle, plus it can literally be installed overnight, entertain the kids rather effortlessly, and inject some good vibes and energy into the crowd. But man oh man, fewer things feel like a bigger waste of time than these dance parties.
There’s also the fact that essentially a dance party is asking park guests to make their own entertainment. A ride or show asks nothing of guests except to “sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride”, to coin a phrase. But after setting up a playlist, a venue, and some choreography, the fun guests get out of it is by dancing, making the onus entirely on them. To top it off, it’s bad enough when these shindigs cut off traffic flow in an area barely big enough to handle these crowds, but what about Sunset Showcase?
Accessible by Rock n’ Roller Coaster’s entrance, Sunset Showcase was one of the most recent border extensions of any Disney park (By bulldozing a cast member parking lot). Nothing was announced upon its opening, but when it did in 2015, it was basically a dance club/lounge. It’s been used for that other waste of everyone’s time, dessert parties, but mostly it’s been used to host Club Disney, then Club Villain, before becoming the Lightning McQueen Racing Academy. I will not turn down a chance to cool down in some A/C, grab a drink, and take a breather at Hollywood Studios, but how relaxing can it be with pounding bass and dubstep remixes of “Let it Go” and “Be Our Guest”?
7. If Disney’s going to pride itself on theming, then commit to it.
Since Disneyland opened, the company revels in applying thematic elements to their parks. It was they who pioneered the idea that everything, from light fixtures to trash cans, had to look as though they meshed with their surroundings. For the most part, the wonderful idealists at WDI have been conscientious toward this notion and pressed onward, doing their best to allow whole worlds to embrace the wayward park guest.
So what the smoo is going on with Disney’s Hollywood Studios?
Once upon a time, Disney-MGM Studios had a very decided theme: movies and movie production. Half the park was dedicated to soundstages and set pieces where tourists could see movies and TV shows being made. The other half was dedicated to how animation, sound effects, green screen, and stunts were used in creating the productions. This was a model that resembled Universal Studios Hollywood and the new sister park up in Orlando. However, the behind-the-scenes motif wore off quickly, never mind that film production at both MGM and Universal was basically a non-starter. ‘Cause, you know, Universal Hollywood at least had the benefit of having the legacy of real, historical filming locations. The trend began with Star Tours as a movie-themed ride that was more about participating in a film than being taught about a film. Thus, more and more attractions about themed experiences replaced the edutainment ones (See what I meant?), and now Disney’s Hollywood Studios has only one attraction about film production: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
Of course, lest we forget the attractions were intended to be housed in generic, featureless soundstage buildings, because not only does that fit the theme of a studio, but also like a studio, each one can contain literally any set of any world. So it makes perfect sense one building can house a recording studio with Aerosmith and another can contain an immersive stage production of The Little Mermaid.
But now I pose a question: What exactly is the theme of the park now? It still calls itself Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but it hasn’t been a legitimate studio since the mid-nineties. It’s more than a studio setting itself by having a Hollywood Bowl-type amphitheater, a Chinese theater replica at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, a California Crazy-style ice cream stand based off a pre-Disney animated cartoon, and a haunted hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Some buildings look like soundstages and others still evoke the 1940’s Art Deco architecture Eisner wanted, but it’s also home to whole lands with as much dedication to immersion as Fantasyland or Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The park is also home to Star Wars, Muppets, Pixar, and a few other notable Disney properties…as well as The Twilight Zone and Aerosmith, which have absolutely nothing to do with the Mouse.
Magic Kingdom dedicates each land to conform to its themes so hard cast members are literally restricted from wandering through areas in costume where they thematically belong. Animal Kingdom is almost wholly devoted to its message of conservation and the preservation of our planet. Epcot’s Future World still adheres to a general technological/futuristic/space theme that would interest any scientific-minded individual, however loose. But DHS is what I call a Frankenpark: a park made up of several non-matching elements so that while it looks like a whole product, it’s clearly stitched together haphazardly from a variety of disparate sources.
I don’t have a suggestion as to how to fix DHS without a California Adventure-type overhaul that’d cost millions. Because even consolidating the Frozen Sing-Along, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage into one land would mean having to build whole new venues. Star Wars Launch Bay would either have to shut down entirely or move to Galaxy’s Edge. Indy might have to, at best, become the ride that already exists in Disneyland. It may not be a studio anymore, but if it isn’t, then what exactly is it?
And also, why is a Finding Nemo Musical in the dinosaur-themed section of Animal Kingdom?
6. Being cheap ironically doesn’t work as well as you think it does.
I absolutely despise Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama for a variety of reasons. It’s basically the Big Lipped Alligator Moment of Animal Kingdom. (Ripped from YouTuber Lindsey Ellis: referring to the scene from All Dogs Go to Heaven, Big Lipped Alligator Moments refer to scenes in movies that 1) Come right out of nowhere, 2) Has little/no bearing on the plot, 3) Is tonally dissonant from the rest of the film, and 4) After it is over, no one speaks of it ever again.). My point is that in a park dedicated to conservation and the natural world doesn’t really call for a hokey roadside carnival. But that’s only part of the problem. What arguably is the bigger issue is the land is purposefully made to look as cheap and tacky as humanly possible.
Just look at it. If you had no idea it was at Walt Disney World, would you have ever guessed it? I guess that was the intended idea, but much like Imagineering’s lengthy history with incorporating circuses, Disney park guests almost never come to Disneyland looking for a roadside carnival. Overall, we’re okay with a few off-the-shelf spinners and other standard ride systems, but we come to Disney for the thematic experience. The cheap cutouts of the cartoon dinosaurs don’t look like they were crafted by the company that gave the world Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and Simba. The carnival games have no layer of subterfuge to make you think it’s any more clever than just average games you’d find at a state fair. The asphalt was even made to look sun-bleached and cracked, complete with faded parking lines. Immersive theming? Yes, but the average patron doesn’t pick up on that. It’d be like if Disney included a land full of cardboard boxes and bubble wrap, claiming they were the boxes the roller coaster parts were shipped in. Thematically appropriate, sure, but tell me you wouldn’t be a trifle miffed a company with the resources as Disney would put together something so transparently cheap. (Much like those dance parties I mentioned) It’s kinda like when Scrooge McDuck would pay his grand-nephews pennies for the tedious work he’d have them do. In the end, you feel ripped off.
I kinda put the studio motif I cited in the previous entry, but instead of beating a dead horse, why don’t I move on to the next entry?
5. Understand the power you wield when you market your legacy.
As of October 1st, 2023, the Walt Disney Company, formerly the Disney Bros Studio, will have passed a complete century of existence. By now, there is hardly a soul alive today who hasn’t grown up with Disney in some way. The Greatest Generation grew up with the classic shorts and Snow White. The Baby Boomers grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club, Davy Crockett, and Disneyland. We millenials grew up with the Disney Afternoon, Aladdin on Sega Genesis, and The Lion King. Gen Zers have grown up on Lizzie McGuire, High School Musical, and Cars. Pretty much every generation alive today has a multitude of fond memories when they grew up during those formative years. Similarly, starting with the boomers, kids from around the world have been flocking to the Disney theme parks and experienced every ride, show, and promotion, however short-lived or critically received. And as we adults see now, just because we loved something as kids doesn’t necessarily mean it was any good to begin with. And thus, in the most literal metaphor for adulthood ever, what might have caused us immeasurable joy as kids now leaves us as husks despair and crushing misery.
AND YET…Disney still continues to weaponize nostalgia in its marketing. Effective it may be…heck, HUGELY effective…but completely runs counter to Disney’s other marketing initiative: that there’s always something new to experience!
Sure, there are plenty of attractions that have stuck around for decades and continue to entertain the young and young at heart to this day, but by pandering to both groups, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for compromise. The very first Disney attraction I ever experienced was The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management! Often regarded as one of the very worst Disney attractions ever built, I admittedly have a bit of a soft spot for it, though I shed no tears when I read about its flame-induced demise in 2011. Of course, personal anecdotes can only say so much.
Appealing to nostalgia means reminding people of the past and the best parts of it. Even when Disney tries to invoke your memories of the first time you sampled a Dole Whip or rode Space Mountain, this invariably brings back similar fond memories of things that no longer exist at the parks. And Disney becomes shocked when they announce a ride closure and whole swathes of people seethe in fury.
I’m not saying they shouldn’t invoke nostalgia when Disney’s marketing department is coming up with new ideas to appeal to the masses. I’m saying to understand that a tool as powerful as nostalgia is a double-edged sword and should be used carefully.
4. Abandonment issues
When I first went to Walt Disney World in 1999, I was fascinated with an oddly-shaped building that sat in front of the massive silver cylinder that was Test Track and near the Mayan temple of the Mexico pavilion. It sat at the end of an outstretched walkway over a massive expanse of water, adding to its aura of mystique. Just what was this thing? Why was there no signage? What purpose did it serve? Well, come to find out it was called the Odyssey Restaurant from 1982 to 1994, and has since been referred to as the Odyssey Center since. For the average guest, it’s the first aid/baby care center station and restrooms, but nowadays…it’s a flexspace building, meant for anything from promotional events to corporate retreats. How weird a prolific building like this just stands in full public view but offers almost nothing 99% of the time?
The former Wonders of Life pavilion only recently got pitched to be renovated after 15 years of also being a flexspace building. River Country and Discovery Island continue to hide in plain view after twenty years of closing. World Showplace is almost always closed to the public. Streets of America at DHS stood inert for nearly twenty years after the last Backlot Tour tram rolled through, say nothing of the Premier Theater hidden behind the San Fransisco façade. The Fantasyland skyway chalet sat next to It’s A Small World for almost two decades after the last gondola unloaded. Aunt Polly’s Dockside Inn on Tom Sawyer Island just kinda stopped existing. The ABC Sound Studio was home to Sounds Dangerous before it became a promo center for various movies, and ultimately gave up and became a Star Wars clip show theater and later, a bunch of Rudish Mickey Mouse cartoons. In Disneyland, the critical failure of Rocket Rods destroyed the infrastructure of Tomorrowland so badly it cannot be fixed or removed.
As I understand it, capitalism only works when the power of money is involved. Developers will fall all over themselves to build a new brick-and-mortar store in anticipation of making money, but when the business goes under or moves to another location, there’s no reason to demolish the building and return it to its original, natural state, not even a tax incentive. As a result, we get abandoned, decrepit buildings that only get use as places for urban explorer youTubers to exploit or homeless people to sleep in. It’s no different, surprisingly, at Disney (Minus the homeless people part), whereas if real estate is viable, it’ll get repurposed, typically for limited-time events, but otherwise it just sits around, closed to the public. I cited why these venues didn’t get supplanted with new experiences right away, but it’s no less frustrating that a company like Disney would rather abandon it and only sometimes cover up valuable real estate when it could become a rest area, a restaurant, or, yes, a new attraction.
3. Wasting theaters on stuff I can watch on Youtube.
I’m gonna keep picking on Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a little bit longer if that’s okay with you guys.
Since I’m stuck in Arizona, mid-pandemic, I’m unable to make it out to California or Florida for awhile, even if Disneyland were to reopen soon. So like any obsessed weirdo, I spend a lot of time on YouTube watching videos about Disney and Disney theme parks. Yeah, it’s not the same as riding the Haunted Mansion, but it’s the best I got. Ideally, you go to the parks to get an experience that you can’t get at home, right?
So why on Earth would I waste my hard-earned money going to a theater at the parks showing something can find online?
I already don’t care about Star Wars. And I was already super salty about the loss of Magic of Disney Animation turning into Star Wars Launch Bay. So imagine my frustration when the MoDA show became a ten-minute puff piece of people involved with the franchise praising it, as if I couldn’t find this kind of thing on a blu-ray bonus feature. The ABC Sound Studio ended showings of Sounds Dangerous in 2012, only to showcase teaser clips of movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lone Ranger, Maleficent, and Cinderella, back when the park was struggling to maintain its studio image for cross promotions. After those, they gave up entirely and showed Path of the Jedi, which was – no exaggeration – a clip show of all six canon Star Wars movies, which I could easily find on YouTube. What’s worse, both venues were used in promoting upcoming Disney films, but when Star Wars took over, the teasers had to go somewhere…so they took out the Walt Disney bio-film at the end of One Man’s Dream and shoved the promotional teasers there. It’s bad enough Uncle Walt was evicted in favor of synergetic teasers, but evicted for synergetic teasers because Star Wars took precedence. And again, for movies I could easily find on YouTube or on blu-ray bonus features!
Probably the most insulting one I ever came across was the Disney-Pixar Short Film Festival at Epcot. After Honey, I Shrunk the Audience closed in 2010, the Imagination Theater was the temporary home to the revived Captain EO until 2015. The following year they premiered the Disney-Pixar Short Film Festival, which shows three whole short subject cartoons…but in 3D! Given the shorts here are all previously-released without the benefit of 3D effect, sitting to watch them in a theater is moot. Even if the demand for both previous shows was so low, what makes imagineers think I’d rather see Get a Horse! or La Luna in a theater, especially since they’re all available on Disney+?
No, not every show has to be an immersive, effects-laden extravaganza like Muppet*Vision 3D or Mickey’s Philharmagic. But they ought to be unique shows we can’t get elsewhere. After all, that’s the whole point we come to Disney parks in the first place.
2. You know you don’t have to recreate the movies’ plots, right?
Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid are two of Disney’s most enduring films, beloved by fans around the world, and there’s good reason. Though they aren’t my personal favorites, I still respect them. If I were to go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I can watch both Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage!, which re-tell the same story, complete with the mostly same story beats and songs we all know and love. Kind of redundant, but okay…so why do both have rides in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland – Enchanted Tales with Belle and Journey of the Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure – also recreate the same movies’ plots?
If both of these movie have anything to offer for theme parks, it’s arguably the best asset any film could bequeath to an attraction: a cool world to explore. But instead of Ariel or Belle escorting us around Atlantica or an enchanted castle of our own volition, we instead are strung along through a story we’ve already seen a dozen times. Universal didn’t bother reenacting Deathly Hallows for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and instead just let us muggles get lost in Hogwarts. Heck, even Frozen Ever After had the right idea, and they, too, have a reenactment of the movie in stage musical form at DHS. Never mind Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Alice in Wonderland, and Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh all suffer this same, uncreative issue. I admit, there are some moments from those movies I’d like to be a fly on the wall for, but that’s not as important as just creating an immersive attraction where the most important things are ambiance and atmosphere.
Years ago, Snow White was not featured on Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and guests complained that the heroine they came to see was nowhere to be found, even though her name was part of the marquee. Imagineers back then insisted that patrons were meant to BE Snowy, and the creative touch was just a tad too nuanced for the average guest. Sure, it wouldn’t make sense for Alice to be in Wonderland again or to have Pinocchio go through all his escapades all over again, but there are ways to develop a cohesive narrative without copy/pasting the movie. Maybe Alice invites us to explore Wonderland, or Jiminy Cricket tries to guide us through Pinocchio’s decisions in an effort to steer us clear of the same fates he suffered. If the worlds are developed well enough, we don’t necessarily need to have our hands held, much like we don’t need even a story to guide us through the Haunted Mansion.
Though, given, we just might start veering away from that formula. The Princess and the Frog layover of Splash Mountain coming soon is said tell a story after the events of the movie. You just know a decade earlier, they’d have made yet another stage show musical if they had the space for it.
1. Spending more money does not equal better quality, but…
Like I said, we’re always gonna want more as Disney fans, especially E-ticket attractions. And we get it: they’re expensive. Plus you need stuff for the tykes and those with heart conditions. And good rides aren’t always about thrills, they’re about emotional investment. And if capitalism in America has taught us anything, it’s that just because you sank a ton of money into a project, it does not guarantee it will pay off. And with a company with the resources Disney does, as well as their proven ability to make quality attractions, we expect them to pursue their commitment. There are times when saving money is worthy of praise, like when the scrapped America Sings animatronics were repurposed for Splash Mountain characters. But in the business the company’s in, spending money on quality attractions is like setting out the fine china, sterling silver flatware, and crystal stemware when you have dinner guests coming over. You exert the extra effort because you know they’ll appreciate it and come back for more. Yes, the plates may break, the guests may have elevated expectations from then on, and you know breaking out the paper plates is unthinkable…but that’s the standard that’s been set and it’s not like you can stop inviting them over.
Whew, I got a bit lost in that metaphor. Where was I? Oh yeah. Spending money.
So, back in 2011, when it was announced that the 21st Century Fox film, 2009’s Avatar, was being made into its own land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we all laughed. Avatar had nothing to do with Disney (yet)! It was the highest grossing movie of all time, sure, but I didn’t know anyone who remembered it, even if they saw it! Why build a whole land, instead of a single attraction? And if DAK was about celebrating Earth, why incorporate a land that took place literally on another planet? In 2017, the land opened…and the critics (mostly) shut up. Whether Disney was doing this to one-up Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (As was the pervading theory) or maybe in response to all the nay-sayers, Pandora: World of Avatar decided to go hard or go home. By utilizing a ton of breakthrough technology and absurdly high levels of details, we were decidedly impressed. Of course it wasn’t cheap (Budgeted around $400 million), but it’s safe to say the long lines at Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey show that with that kind of financial dedication, it can pay off in dividends.
Adversely, whole parks were built in the aughts, like California Adventure, Walt Disney Studios and Hong Kong Disneyland where they were built with such stringent budgets they just ended up annoying their patrons, who expected huge, immersive worlds and got parks cost them the same as their superior counterparts but delivered half or less the experience. On the flip side of the coin, Tokyo DisneySea and Shanghai Disneyland were built with crazy astronomical budgets and are now considered the most beautiful and detailed parks on the planet. The thing is, Disney clearly has more than enough money to pay suppliers and labor, and these theme parks will only continue to raise money as long as people are willing to pay the prices and come visit.
Look, my dedicated, creative friends in Disney’s Imagineering division, I dont blame you, really. It’s a tough job. No one denies that. And we really, really appreciate when you pull a rabbit out of your hard hats and create stunning masterpieces of Disney attractions. It seems the biggest naysayers are the guys who control the purse strings, so afraid of investing money in things that we could use, like routine maintenance or increased cast member wages.
But I hope we can still be friends, and this list is a good code of conduct that can be passed on to the higher-ups who’ve lost touch with the average theme park guest. But otherwise, rock on, guys. Keep up the hard work, and hopefully I can return to either American park sooner rather than later.
Welcome aboard the world-famous Jungle Cruise, everyone! My name is skipper TAP-G and I’m gonna be your skipper, captain, cruise director, snake charmer, alligator wrestler, life coach, sous chef, and if you don’t laugh at any of my jokes, your swimming instructor…maybe. Please keep your hands, arms, feet and legs inside the boat at all times, permanecer sentados por favor, and please keep an eye of those kids of yours, or as the crocodiles like to call them, the tater tots!
Ah, the khakis. The puns. The jazz queue music interspersed with the “Voice of the Jungle”. The alliterative boat names. The backside of water. The Jungle Cruise has been a guest favorite since Disneyland’s opening day and is the latest attraction to get a makeover in these changing times.
So…let’s talk about it!
The Backstory of Water!
The Jungle Cruise as we know it dates, as I said, all the way back to a certain sweltering day in 1955. Walt’s studio had been making nature documentaries called True-Life Adventures since 1948, and he’d always been obsessed with nature. One of the earliest plans of his Disneyland theme park included a land dedicated to the exotic corners of the globe, dubbed – what else? – True-Life Adventureland. Walt was eager in one particular aspect: he wanted a ride for guests to see real, live animals.
Now, if you’ve ever been to a zoo, you know animals tend to sleep, hide, lay around, and sometimes engage in activities kids don’t really need to see. On top of that, animals do not perform on cue multiple times a day, all day. Walt was eventually dissuaded from this idea, and resigned to doing robot animals, which are essentially predecessors to the audio-animatronics they developed less than a decade later. This allowed lions to roar, rhinos to charge, crocodiles to snap, and hippos to surface at exactly the right time. To boot, since the purpose of the True-Life Adventure series was meant to be educational, the original script was similarly straightforward. Not a punchline anywhere to be seen. The boats themselves were inspired by the 1951 Humphrey Bogart film, The African Queen.
The urban legend goes that Walt overheard a child asking his mother to ride the Jungle Cruise, but she said no, rationalizing they’d already done it once before. Well, of course he couldn’t have that. Thus, in 1962, Walt turned to his old friend Marc Davis and requested he add some humorous tableaus featuring the animals getting into all kinds of comical engagements, like the indian elephant bathing pool and the the treed safari. On top of these, Walt overheard a young skipper doing an off-script spiel involving jokes instead of the usual educational narration, so he implemented the famous comedic take of the attraction we know and love today. The ride has continued to evolve, adding some show scenes, dropping others, but largely staying pretty much the same.
The ride’s theme is the Jungle Navigation Co., a cargo transport business that has come upon hard times during the Great Depression, and is trying to recoup their losses by doing guided tours through the Amazon, Congo, Nile, and Mekong rivers. Hence why the skippers are so haphazard in their approach to show off what they know as your boat careens further and further from civilization.
Hey…Why’s it in the News?
On January 26th, 2021, Disney made a new announcement: the Jungle Cruise is getting an update, which will feature a story involving the beloved treed safari, who had foolishly left their boat. This means adding a show scene involving a community of chimps have taken over the beached wreckage. The general story is to find said wreckage. The script will of course be updated to reflect this story, and presumably, will inject some fresh jokes into the skipper’s spiel.
Okay, That Sounds-
Oh, and they’re doing away with the racist stuff, too.
OH MY GOD. They’re Really Doing This Again.
Doing what? Oh! You mean that thing where they renovate and update vintage Disney theme park attractions for a world more progressively and culturally aware than the generation before it for the sake of compassion, decency, and cultural sensitivity? Why yes, yes they are!
And are YOU, dear reader, denizen of the world wide web, “doing this again” where you throw a temper tantrum because something you treasure is ebbing away, becoming a relic of a bygone generation, and being replaced by a more progressive ideal that you deem unwelcome? Decrying phrases like “PC culture!” or “Cancel culture!”, as if these were inherently bad things?
Heck if I know. I can’t see you through this blog.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
As many have pointed out, this is isn’t Disney’s first time overhauling a classic ride in the name of “wokeness”.
In 1997, just thirty years after opening, Pirates of the Caribbean had its first major renovation. Where once lusty buccaneers chased after frightened damsels, now were chasing them for trays of food. Where once the portly “Pooped Pirate” snickered with perverse glee, tightly gripping the slip once belonging to a clearly naked woman in a barrel nearby, now the same pirate stuffed his face full of food. The changes outraged in particular one of the attraction’s original Imagineers, X. Atencio, who famously stated, “This is Pirates of the Caribbean, not Boy Scouts of the Caribbean!”
Just twenty years after that, a second major transition took place when the famous auction scene was renovated. Before, as the auctioneer peddled an overweight woman, a firtatious redhead seductively teased the leering crowd. As of 2017, the redhead was promoted to a pirate captain herself, peddling rum to a crowd of drunken reprobates. Traditionalists online were quick to lash out and complain, sparking often bad-faith arguments about gender balancing versus historical accuracy.
Just last summer, Disney proudly announced the long-controversial theming of Splash Mountain was set to be renovated entirely from Song of the South to The Princess and the Frog. Once again, arguments broke out between the necessity of change against the desire to maintain tradition. And once again, the internet frothed with giddy vitriol as discussions on race reached a fever pitch.
Ah, feminism and racism. Two topics that ALWAYS inspire calm, rational discourse online!
So What’s Wrong with the Jungle Cruise?
If you hadn’t ridden the Jungle Cruise in forever, you’d be forgiven if you forgot all but a few animals and the fact the skippers told a lot of corny jokes. Since I’m much more familiar with the Walt Disney World version, I’m using that one as a spring board here.
At the first major bend in the river, the boat skirts by a beach with a few traditional native boats, with the skipper referring to the pygmies who own them. However, they are not present due to being scared away by the giant python in the tree across the river.
Aside from the treed safari, there aren’t any more human sights along the river until after the hippo pool, where a tribal African village, complete with a skiff full of human skulls, comes into view. The natives are hopping around in their grass skirts and headdresses, shaking their spears and shields, obviously some mock-up of a white man’s perception of a war dance. As the boat veers around the corner, a war party jumps out of the bushes and attacks the boat, shouting and crying out at the tourists. One in particular mentioning his love of disco amid the ruckus because seventies.
Finally, the final tableau of the attraction is a beaming native man, the legendary Trader Sam. What’s his deal? Well, he’s a sort of a witch doctor/shaman and all the jokes the skippers tell about him are about head-shrinking and cannibalism.
Because as we all know, Africa is just chock-full of cowardly, superstitious brown people that kill out of sport, gruesomely eat fellow humans (Particularly the white meat variety, if you catch my drift), and are generally savage, bloodthirsty heathens who can’t civilize good.
Look, even if you grant the diegetic (The 30’s) and non-diegetic (The 50’s) contexts in trying to justify that these kind of depictions were okay, the point is they haven’t been okay for a while. We thought it was because most African tribespeople don’t go to Disneyland often and voice their outrage, and the assumption is made that they wouldn’t understand, so it’s okay. You know, like how we make jokes in Garfield about how cats are lazy, entitled, and selfish, but it’s okay because cats don’t read newspaper comic strips. But therein lies the issue: when you equate a fellow human’s intelligence to that of an animal, THAT IS RACISM. There is just no two ways about it.
So, What, Are We Gonna Stop Making Fun of Animals Because They’re Probably Offended, Too?! When will it Stop?!
This kind of bad faith argument is often spurred by people who are already inherently resistant to change and paint a picture of a world where humor can’t exist because someone somewhere has the potential of being upset. It’s a red herring and a slippery slope narrative that misses the point entirely: in the year 2021, Disney has declared that jokes in regards to a marginalized group troubling and is making an effort to fix the issue. Same thing that happened to Pirates and Splash Mountain.
Comedy without putting others down is possible: you just have to be clever enough to find it and execute it. To pretend it didn’t offend people or its intentions were all in good fun is, at best, disingenuous.
But it’s a Classic! You Can’t Just –
So? Disneyland is built on attractions that evolved or were discarded as time went along. The whole darn point of the place was letting it grow and evolve and adapt. It’s like being mad the Jungle Cruise doesn’t still have the original educational, joke-free script.
Disney’s Just Trying to be Woke! They’re Pandering to the PC Crowd!
That’s…probably also true. While I’m sure the Imagineers who are working on these developments have their hearts in the right place, the people who greenlit it are the ones who benefit financially from this. And someone somewhere probably said, “You know, if we remove and update the archaic depictions of backwards natives on the Jungle Cruise, we’ll see a decrease in complaints at guest relations, which means happier guests, which means greater likelihood for repeat visits, which means they’ll spend more money!”. Plus, these kinds of announcements get their company trending, however brief a time, so publicity factored in, too.
The way capitalism works these days is by hedging their bets and trying to figure out who has the money to spend. Over the past several decades, as marginalized groups were taken with greater credibility, companies saw these as untapped, viable markets, and began jockeying for their money. It’s like before when companies were terrified to depict gay people in ads because they worried about alienating the mainstream audience. Now, as homosexuality has become mainstream, companies are much less afraid to do so. Sure, there were trailblazers who started the trend, but that’s exactly the point. You have to start somewhere.
Disney has never been truly progressive in its ideals, and often waited for others before jumping in, which says a lot. Is it better late than never? Of course, but let’s not forget when it comes to being woke, sometimes they can be awful tone deaf and miss the mark entirely. Characters like Jasmine from Aladdin and Nala from The Lion King are great, well-rounded characters, and I daresay most feminists don’t have a problem with them. But in their 2019 remakes, both of them were made super mega ultimate Girl Power Icons, with Nala given more screen time and agency and Jasmine wanting to be the first ever female sultan (Which, historically speaking, was already a thing.) 2019’s Dumbo sidestepped the issues the original had by eliminating the crows, actively not getting Dumbo drunk, the circus made animal-free, and Dumbo and his mother released to the wild.
So yeah, I won’t deny there are some people at the company doing this with their hearts in their wallets, but it’s ultimately better than not making the effort at all.
What Does This Mean for the Future?
Smoo if I know. Short term, we may see renovations at the Enchanted Tiki Room next. I’m not sure what they can do to improve World Showcase at Epcot, but there might be some small efforts here or there. Who the heck knows if anything even could change on It’s a Small World.
Long term, that’s a great question. Facetious as I was earlier, maybe we WILL find ourselves having to change jokes about animals. I don’t know. But right now, we have to find ways to adapt. Sure, transgressive comedy is good, but is the time and place for it at Disneyland? Especially since there’s alternative comedy, deadpan comedy, observational comedy, spoof comedy, physical comedy, prop comedy, and surreal comedy, just to name a few. We’re not wanting for quality humor if we ditch the gags at others’ expense.
I will not cry foul at these changes. They were going to happen anyway, whether it was 2021 or 3021. And it’s entirely possible the new version could be even funnier. So let’s stop pretending the only way to make a good joke is at the expense of a marginalized group. Because if you think so, then…well, the joke is literally, decidedly on you.
Well folks, you’ve been outstanding. But now I need you out standing on the dock. If you enjoyed that, I’m Skipper TAP-G and this was the Jungle Cruise. If you didn’t, my name is Dan and this was was the Haunted Mansion.