The Magic Kingdom Awakens from Wokeism
Disney's powerhouse franchises have long insulated it from the consequences of putting politics over entertainment, but that could only go on for so long.
“All the adversity I’ve had, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me.…You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.”
The latest travails of the once mighty Disney media conglomerate have been well documented. Just this month, Bob Iger, the returning CEO of the company, noted, “I knew that there were a myriad of challenges…I must say there were many more of them than I expected,” Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Sarah Krouse states, “When Iger returned last November, Disney was in turmoil: his hand-picked successor, Bob Chapek, had alienated some ardent fans, creatives felt sidelined, and the company was in the throes of an ongoing legal spat with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.”
That last item began in January 2022 when State lawmakers on Jan. 11 introduced HB 1557, officially and accurately called the Parental Rights in Education bill, which prohibits lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools through the third grade. Critics quickly took to falsely labeling it the “Don’t say gay” bill. After the bill was signed into law, Disney stated, “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.” The Florida legislature responded in April 2022 with a law dissolving the Reedy Creek special district, allowing Disney to govern its affairs primarily in Walt Disney World and the surrounding area.
Iger’s desire to throw all this on Chapek’s shoulders is off-target. Chapek was named CEO in February 2020, but Iger remained executive Chairman and creative controller until 2021. This meant Chapek was only in charge for about 11 months when Iger, always reluctant to leave, plunged back in.
But the true rot at Disney wrought by Iger has little to do with corporate succession shenanigans or pointless political spats. Of the DeSantis imbroglio, Iger noted in September that “to the extent that I can work to quiet things down, I’m going to do that.”
What Bob Iger and others have overseen at Disney is nearly a decade in the making, and it has more to do with the desire to educate rather than entertain. A good argument can be made that the best intellectual property (IP) can be both. Everything from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter provides valuable lessons and entertainment. But often, one can supersede the other. If it had come to that default, we know which side Walt Disney himself was on. But what we see from Disney today, whether it be Lucasfilm’s Star Wars, the Marvel movie division, Pixar, or the core Disney animation studio, it is the desire to educate at the expense of entertainment that rules the content decisions, and because this is Hollywood, the education is almost always left-wing messaging.
One example includes Kathleen Kennedy, the leader of Disney’s 2012 purchase, Lucasfilm, which controls the Star Wars franchise. Kennedy reenvisioned the entire Star Wars universe, not just with a female, Rey, as the central lead in the sequels, but surrounded her with a host of dithering and incompetent male characters.
Storylines were made for the original trio, including Han, Luke, and Leia, to tie in the nostalgia from the original films. But in the first sequel, Han Solo, arguably the most masculine character from the originals, gets murdered. The other male, Luke, was played in the new films as a dispirited, tired, cynical old man (nothing like the original) whose soul had to be saved by Rey. Throughout the series, Rey is the tough, dedicated hero, while the men cheer on almost from the sidelines. And just in case this subtlety was lost, Kennedy and some of her staff attended one event with “The Force is Female” t-shirts.
The original Star Wars was about discovery, dedication, friendship, discipline, love, and sacrifice. The new movies were about female empowerment and a recurring Disney theme: all a woman needs to realize her true greatness is to get those lousy men out of her way. The Kennedy style became so pronounced that the irreverent animated show South Park made a meme of her with the catchphrase that all content must “Put a chick in it and make her gay.”
It was not just Star Wars. The massively successful 2012 release Frozen, rejects the age-old formula of finding love. Princess Anna may or may not need a man, but she sure does need to realize her inner female strength, and the villain is a white male who betrays her.
In the original 1998 Disney cartoon Mulan, a young woman must undergo rigorous training, use her considerable intelligence, and learn to work with the men to take down the villain. In the live 2020 version, Mulan can do it all herself if only those worthless mouth breathers would leave her alone.
And in the one that started it all, Marvel, every male character that made the franchise successful, from Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, or Black Panther, all, every single one, had a female version built for replacement. We are treated to this dialog on one particularly pungent show called She-Hulk. “I’m great at controlling my anger. I do it all the time: When I’m catcalled in the street when incompetent men explain my area of expertise to me. I do it pretty much every day because if I don’t, I will get called emotional, or difficult, or might just literally get murdered.” Murdered?
Pixar is struggling as well after providing the bright idea of dumping Toy Story favorite Buzz Lightyear into a movie with a lesbian couple and, once again, making the white male a moron.
And on the pure animation side, the one that gave us timeless treasures such as Pinocchio, Dumbo, Fantasia, and Cinderella, their last few movies, including this past weekend’s Wish, opened to a lackluster $30 million compared with Frozen’s 2012 opening of $93 million. Ouch. I will not go into all the plot details, but Wish is about a spunky girl of color fighting an evil white man. As Fox Business News reports, “Disney’s newest animated film, ‘Wish,’ fell short of expectations during its opening weekend, following a year-long pattern of box office fizzles for the company celebrating its centennial of movie-making.”
And finally, we got this from Rachel Zegler, lead of Disney’s new live-action Snow White, “The original cartoon came out in 1937, and very evidently so. There’s a big focus on her love story with a guy who literally stalks her. Weird! Weird!” She later added, “We absolutely wrote a Snow White that is not gonna be saved by the prince,” This is the actress who Disney greenlit to become the star of the movie that put Disney on the map.
Iger has noticed. He has discussed a “creative slump,” but he provides no details about exactly what that slump consists of. He is also facing a sinking stock price and the possibility of activist investors buying shares, a CEO’s nightmare.
If there was a particular time to attribute the beginning of the process from entertainment to woke education, a possibility is 2009. That was the year that Iger, for a cool $4 billion, bought Marvel Studios. Superhero movies have been commanding box office profits since Superman in the 1970s. 1989’s Batman was the highest-grossing movie of that year. And in the 2000s, three Spiderman movies were highly profitable.
Then, in 2008, Marvel’s big hit Iron Man was released, prompting the Disney purchase. Yet the company had something new in mind. Instead of releasing movies as separate stories or even sequels, each Marvel movie would be a chapter in a much larger saga, and thus, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was born. And the MCU was ridiculously insanely profitable.
Regarding left-wing messaging, the purveyors tend not to be working stiffs or harried business people. Whether it be colleges with big endowments, large unions with massive member dues, wealthy Hollywood royalty, or the federal government, the ability to possess progressive moralities often depends on cash. 2012’s Avengers was made for $200 million and grossed $1.6 billion. One estimate put the earnings of the entire MCU at $29 billion. This meant that Disney could take messaging risks with their content to mirror the sensibilities of their leadership, employees, and their entire industry.
It may be shocking to note, but since the 1970s, Hollywood has always been a tad progressive. You see the issue when Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Warren Beatty, and Susan Sarandon are the intellectual authorities. But those are old folks. What about the Gen Zs like Zegler, “Because I’m a white Latina, I hold a lot of privilege, and if that’s the conversation people want to have about my privilege in this industry, then I am absolutely welcome to have that conversation.” Since I am a glass, half-full guy, I will note she did not utter the foul Latinx term.
It was one thing to put liberal platitudes into documentaries or even a risky movie like Beatty’s Reds. But it’s another for a so-called popcorn movie tailored for large audiences. The success of Marvel, and to a lesser degree, Star Wars, enabled Disney to cater internally rather than to the large audiences needed to sustain the enormous production budgets. The spandex-clad heroes of Marvel made bank, so they could make a different Mulan, cast an African American as Ariel from The Little Mermaid, originally a red-haired girl created by a Dane, and even alter the Marvel universe itself. Altering decades-old IP by switching race and gender was now possible.
There are several factors in good storytelling. One needs to start with a compelling yet engaging plot. Then, add in likable characters played by charismatic actors. Provide a fantastic villain and back it up with special effects that support the story but do not become the story. The Avengers had all of that. A newer release from Disney, The Marvels, does not.
I can hear it already. Five of the six original Avengers were men, along with Black Widow, a likable character played by a charismatic actress. The Marvels are all women, so this is misogyny, not intellectually honest criticism. But people who say critiques of The Marvels are misogynistic have it backward. The Marvels is not a poor film just because it has female leads. It is a bad movie because the point was to have all female leads, and no one considered those other points that make a good story. Ellen Ripley is one of the most incredible action heroes in film history. She was tough, intelligent, resourceful, compassionate and brave. But she was written that way, played by an incredible Sigourney Weaver, and the alien queen is still terrifying over 30 years later.
When talking about what was once called political correctness and now woke ideology, false narratives around our nation as racist or sexist are more about those making the charges than about societal realities. And that is one of the problems with Disney. The new Snow White is about empowering females, avoiding accusations of dwarfism, and how women do not need men. The original Snow White was about the goodness of the titular character, the latent bravery of her seven new friends regardless of their size, and the redeeming power of love. These are timeless values that Disney once understood and embraced. The company's success and its very existence depend on rediscovering them.
AD Tippet is the founder and Publisher of the Conservative Historian. Tippet has conducted extensive research in Political, Religious, Social, and Educational history across all eras and geographies. He has been writing and podcasting for over 12 years. In 2020, he published his first book, The Conservative Historian. He has degrees in history, education, and an MBA. @BelAves
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