From Disneyland to Dismal Land

COMMENTARY: How did the Mouse get caught in such a fiendish trap?

A statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse is seen in the foreground at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
A statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse is seen in the foreground at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. (photo: Unsplash)

Where did it all go wrong, Walt? 

Disney. 

A word once synonymous with wholesome family entertainment has today a wholly different ring. That is because the present Walt Disney Co. is foregrounding an agenda that rejects the traditional values espoused by its founder, Walt Disney. 

In the past, Disney had a simple enough business strategy aimed at children with respect to its movies: It was about well-made films for all the family. As it happened, children loved Disney films. Those children became parents, and they, in turn, introduced their children to the studio’s output, and on and on it went. 

Until now, that is

For a start, the modern-day producer heirs of Disney would be appalled at the views of their founder. Once seen as a harmless purveyor of home-spun, patriotic values, Walt Disney is now looked upon as the product of a world riddled with inequality and culturally sanctioned oppression. His “innocent characters” are no such thing, it is claimed, as, in all its guises, they are nothing less than cinematic agents of American cultural colonialism. This evaluation of the studio’s founder was summed up in the American Dictionary of National Biography (2000), where Mark Langer notes in his entry on Walt Disney, “Earlier evaluations of Disney hailed him as a patriot, folk artist, and populariser of culture. More recently, Disney has been regarded as a paradigm of American imperialism and intolerance, as well as a debaser of culture.”

In any event, what we have today at Disney is an Anti-Walt, if you will, who promotes another “paradigm of imperialism” and wishes to foist its values — and especially its sexual mores — onto America and the rest of the world, whether that world is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc. With Anti-Walt there is only room for one worldview when it comes to sexuality, marriage, family, gender. And that view must, by definition, be as fluid as the thinking underpinning it is fixed. 

This is the real imperialism today, and it brooks no dissent. When it comes to debasing a culture, it seems that the Anti-Walt has its sights on just about anything that does not adhere to its newfound mix of moral certitudes.

The Disney Co.’s embrace of this thinking has been growing for years. In the current controversy over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, however, the Mouse Mask slipped finally to reveal a very different creature masquerading behind its smiling facade. 

In recent videos online, the public saw Disney propound its true agenda. 

Disney Corporate President Karey Burke wants “many, many, many LGBTQIA characters in our stories.” No doubt a result of this, Disney’s “Reimagine Tomorrow” program has committed to a minimum of 50% of characters to be “LGBTQIA” and from racial minorities. Furthermore, Disney production coordinator Allen March is committed to “exploring queer stories,” creating enough “gender-nonconforming characters,” “canonical trans-characters” and “canonical bisexual characters.” This is all welcomed, no doubt, by executive producer Latoya Raveneau, who says her team is implementing a “not-at-all-secret gay agenda” that is “adding queerness” to Disney programming. This is already well underway; for example, Disney Channel’s The Owl House (2020) animation series has both openly lesbian and bisexual characters. And the studio’s 2022 theatrical release, Lightyear, a spin-off from the much-loved Toy Story series, features Disney’s first on-screen kiss between a same-sex couple. 

In addition to all this, Disney’s diversity and inclusion manager, Vivian Ware, has now said that its company theme parks will no longer refer to children as “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls.” Instead, she said, children should not be addressed as “children” but as “dreamers of all ages.” Whatever that means is anyone’s guess. What is all too apparent is that Disney’s “diversity” is one size fits all. 

The resultant message here for many will be clear: If Disney — its films and theme parks — have no place anymore for children, then it follows that Disney is no place for children.  

This is sad news for children of all ages. Few today in the Western world have not grown up with Disney movies. For many, the first films they saw at movie theaters came from that studio. Then, parents were confident in the knowledge that if a movie had the “mark of the Mouse” upon it, it would not only be inoffensive but very likely good fun, too. The list of those films is endless — and so, too, are the memories associated with them. And that is why changing the brand of Disney is not something to be simply shrugged off as an inevitable caving in to “progressive” forces at work within the corporation. It feels more like a betrayal. 

This all comes just as, next year, Disney movies turn 100 years old. Walt Disney had, from an early age, an interest in drawing. At 18, he had obtained his first job as a commercial illustrator. At 22, with his brother Roy, he moved to California and, on Oct. 16, 1923, founded the Disney Brothers Studio. In January 1926, Disney Brothers Studio's name was changed to the Walt Disney Studio. Two years after that, Walt Disney drew a mouse called Mickey. 

The rest is not just history, but part of our collective consciousness. Starting with classics, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942), the roll call of Disney blockbusters seemed endless; it also seemed timeless. Because these were animation films, Disney movies from the 1930s were still being shown to children at the end of the 20th century and to equal appreciation. 

It proved a successful business model. At the time of its founder’s death in December 1966, Disney Co. was valued at $100 million. By 2021, the company’s revenues exceeded $67 billion. By April 2022, however, Disney shares have dropped nearly 15%, making Disney one of the worst performers in the Dow, which is down just 4% this year.

Today’s Disney is not the first movie studio with an agenda, nor will it be the last. But the agenda and indoctrination proposed by its top executives appears more chilling, given the changes undergone at Disney. At one time, the studio’s name was identified with innocence and childhood. Now, we hear from that same studio that there are no children, and, more worryingly still, there is no innocence that needs now to be protected. 

The whole point of the Florida bill is to allow children to be children — innocent of the adult world until such time as they will be immersed in it (N.B.: And when their parents should choose to introduce it to them) — which will be soon enough. Given that the new Disney has an agenda directly opposed to the rationale of the Florida bill, parents will draw their conclusions. And, moreover, Christians will discern what entities are really at work there.

“Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination left in the world,” Walt Disney once said. His heirs are not short of imaginings. In fact, peering into the darkness, these same Disney executives see clearly their own vision

Come to think of it, the word “Disney” does have a different ring today — a hollow one: something more akin to the laugh of a classic Disney villain. 

Formerly the Magic Kingdom, today, it is just a tragic one. Hitherto we had the dream of Disneyland, now merely a nightmare called Wasteland. No longer “Disney,” let’s just call it “Dismal.”

Farewell, Walt; it was fun while it lasted. 

As part of Jewish-Christian dialogue, a joint concert was given on Sept. 4, 2021, in the Dohány Street Synagogue by the Solti Chamber Orchestra in Budapest. Hungary.

US Bishops Express Outrage at Increase in Antisemitic Attacks

The statement was issued on the 60th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical ‘Nostrae Aetate,’ which made clear the Church’s condemnation of hatred and violence against Judaism, beginning a new era of understanding and cooperation between the two faiths.