The Uncle Walt Fallacy

Lots of American Christians have a grudge against Disney, even though most studios make far more toxic films. I think it's the "Et tu, Brute? Effect". We don't expect 20th Century Fox or Paramount to care about us. But with Disney, I think American Christians toss childhood, wonder, cartoons, innocence, "let the little children come to me", Sunday school, and their religious beliefs into one unexamined soup and then are outraged to discover that one major part of that soup (the cartoon part) is basically the product of a large, impersonal and soulless corporation like any other. It's like growing up and learning that a favorite uncle, whom you only knew from visits during summer vacation as a child, is really a boor and a penny-pinching lout. You expected more, but you weren't really justified in doing so. He hasn't exactly betrayed you. You just childishly expected him to be something he wasn't.

However, saying that Disney isn't as bad as the malignant creatures who gave us Fight Club is not exactly a compliment. Disney has, for instance, shown itself to be particularly helpless in its prostration to all the most tiresome bromides and caricatures of political correctness. With increasing frequency, Disney accepts without question all the dominant and ignorant prejudices of the chattering classes in Hollywood and happily enshrines them in its products.

So, for instance, virtually without exception, Disney fathers are a) incompetent ninnies, b) abusive thugs, or c) not there for you when you need them. Indeed, as Steven Greydanus points out at www.decentfilms.com, Tarzan managed to have all three negative father figures: Tarzan's dead human father, his nasty ape father, and Jane's dimwitted ineffectual father. These join a long line of moronic fathers (Mary Poppins, Aladdin), abusive fathers (Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid) and absent fathers (Hercules, Bambi).

Another annoying trend, exhibited most recently in the direct-to-video Cinderella II is the tiresome "Follow your heart" refrain. Don't misunderstand. I'm all for authenticity and not being a phony. But the endless refrain to kids that "Rules are made by ninnies to be broken by people who Follow their Hearts" is a rather stupid message to send to a emotionally immature children liable to do lots of stupid things on impulse. Similarly, Return to Never Land wanders rather far from the spirit of Peter Pan by ignoring the fact that the Island of Lost Boys, though frothy fun, is suffused with grief over the fact that there are no parents--and especially no mothers--to tuck you in at night and sing you a bedtime song. In Return to Never Land, the big problem is lack of imagination, not lack of parents.

In addition, Disney seems to be increasingly wedded to all the normal caricatures of white, military men as the Locus of Evil in the universe. Exhibit A: Atlantis--one of the worst films the Mouse has ever made (second only to Pocahontas in predictability, preachiness, and wearisomely PC attitudes). In Atlantis, the mere appearance of a white, military male figure lays down railroad tracks straight to the end of the movie. Even though the film is set in the first decade or so of the 20th Century, only a fool could watch this film and not know that the plucky team of multicultural and feminista heroes (including--preposterously--the perky little Hispanic gal who knows all about mechanics and is a boxer) will be betrayed by the Evil White Male Military Guy and the blond UberChick who (of course) knows martial arts but is too blond and Aryan to be good. Before this happens, however, money-grubbing capitalists must be lectured by the Atlanteans on Living in Harmony with the Our Mother the Earth, Finding the Truth Within, etc.

Sound familiar? That's because it's the same New Age twaddle and preachy eco-spirituality of Pocahontas vs. the rapacious Evil White Military Guys (in Elizabethan garb). Message received: worship the creature instead of the Creator. In this film, every last shred of interest in the historical Pocahontas (who was a baptized, believing Christian and went to England, wearing Elizabethan clothes) is abandoned in favor of Pocahontas, the Buff, Kick-Bootie Eco-Babe, who holds mystical conversations with trees and urges your kids to worship the earth and despise all that is European (except for her Love Interest, after his consciousness is raised). It's more ham-fisted than a Maoist re-education film.

Meanwhile, the last time a Christian figure was shown as something besides an idiot (as in the doofus bishop in The Little Mermaid) or grasping and self-centered (like the "faithful" in The Hunchback of Notre Dame) or twisted and evil (like Frollo in Hunchback) was in Fantasia--60 years ago. Interestingly, that film ended with the contrast between good and evil shown in the famous "Night on Bald Mountain" segment, followed by "Ave Maria". In Fantasia 2000, the biblical references were for yuks (Donald Duck in a dumb slapstick based on the story of Noah). The solemn and earnest piety was reserved for the transformation of the "Firebird Suite" into a hymn to Mother Earth.

So is Disney part of some "conspiracy" as some more paranoid Christians assert? No. It's simply drifting (like a dead fish) along with the rest of a de-Christianized American culture. We can still enjoy what's good there (I note particularly, The Emperor's New Groove and Beauty and the Beast). But don't expect a large corporation to care about you. They want your money and the approval of their peers. They don't want to be your nice uncle. They never did.

Copyright 2002 - Mark P. Shea