Like many kids born in the late 90’s, I have felt the Walt Disney Company as an ever-present force of media in my life. The brand squirmed its way into my childhood, tickling me with a Lady and the Tramp VHS tape. Disney held me in a warm hug throughout my first (mind-blowing) cinema experience with Finding Nemo and kissed me on the forehead as I cried endless tears Inside Out. And just last week, Disney struck again. Bob Iger’s greedy and greasy fingers, dripping with gold jewellery, dragged me into a theatre to watch Toy Story 4. I tried, so desperately, to retain a kernel of cynicism. I wanted to be able to see the dirtiness of this cash grab and picture Walt’s cryogenically frozen face stretching into a wide grin, dollar signs flashing in his eyes. But despite my best efforts, I was bawling my eyes out two minutes in. The Randy Newman track started up and we were back in Andy’s bedroom, adventuring with the whole gang, and it was all too much. I cried three more times before the movie ended and zombie-walked my way to the car, suffering from severe dehydration. I had been successfully mind wiped again, and forgotten all about Disney’s monstrous mission of monopolisation.
It’s pretty difficult to say that Disney films are devoid of any artistic merit. The Pixar animations especially, though tied up with so much nostalgia, are generally rich in cinematography, character and story. One shot of Woody and Bo under the car in Toy Story 4 made me audibly gasp, confusing the crowd of children I was buried in. That isn’t to say they are perfect, and that the morals they teach have no flaws whatsoever, but the quality of these big budget, mainstream movies are impressive. I generally don’t have an issue spending my Studylink coin on Pixar movies, because I still feel as if I am supporting artful creation and want to see more stories by the studio. However, my dollars aren’t only supplying talented Pixar directors and animators. The money spent here feeds back into the Disney company, which merged with Fox and now also owns ABC, Touchstone, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Hollywood Records, just to name a few. Pop cultural iconography under their control now includes Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Iron Man, The Simpsons and Avatar.
I am definitely not precious about these media properties. Somehow, I ended up as a major defender of Ready Player One, and love to see iconic characters flung around blockbusters doing fun, stupid things, in an entirely new context. Unfortunately, with the amount of cultural and economic capital Disney has acquired, they have gained the ability to construct pillars of pop culture. Since their merger with Fox, Disney World Florida has opened Pandora, a section of the theme park that brings to life the world of James Cameron’s Avatar. A publicised schedule shows that there are 4 MORE Avatar films scheduled to release in the next 8 years. Do you know anyone who is a massive fan of Avatar? It was released 10 years ago, and I’ve never heard anyone express love and admiration for the film. It made 2 billion dollars due to a viral marketing campaign, purely based on impressive aesthetics and the cyclical fad of 3D films, and then dropped off the face of the planet. Disney is attempting to give people the impression they already care about the franchise. They have placed it next to other properties in Disney World, which are surrounded with serious, nostalgic fandom, weaponizing feelings of wonder to chase down more capital.
This is where I enter into a bit of a paradox. I’m hyper-critical of Disney strategy of striving for complete monopolisation of the media market, their live action remakes and Avatar, but am first in line to see Marvel and Pixar movies. Sure, I can distinguish a level of quality in my favourite Disney products and justify my spending as a vote for the media I want to see from the company. I’m still feeding the beast with my economic contribution, and ultimately my criticisms will not make a difference unless it’s backed by financial action. Putting my money where my mouth is, if you will. So, the decision is made. No more funding for Disney products. Only supporting those arthouse, low-budget indies that are politically poignant. We can’t let them control our feels of joy and wonder any longer.
But I’ve got to go see The Lion King first. It’s such a classic!