Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I thought it would take me longer than it did, but I finished the book THE MOUSE THAT ROARED - DISNEY AND THE END OF INNOCENCE by Henry A. Giroux already. It wasn't a long book, clocking in at 173 pages, with many of them being pages of sources and footnotes. It's a well documented work, done from an academic perspective. Not my usual cup of tea.

But it was still interesting, even if I found myself skimming various paragraphs of argument in order to get to his point. The book consists of an introduction and 5 chapters. The intro is titled "Disney's Troubled Utopia", and it takes the approach that one cannot separate Disney as a teacher and a purveyor of values and knowledge from the mega-corporation, and that this is the angle that the book will cover.

The five chapters are titled "Disney and the Politics of Public Culture", "Learning with Disney", "Children's Culture and Disney's Animated Films" "Memory, Nation and Family in Disney Films", and "Turning America into a Toy Store". Giroux seems to be arguing that since Disney is tying its marketing and sales to the idea that they are the embodiment of American patriotism, responsibility comes with the content they deliver. That content is imprinting upon young minds and shaping them into some Disney version of a consumer; that is, one who will buy lots and lots of Disney products. I can't say I disagree with this point, but wonder how much of an effect they are actually having on young minds. And I think that some of the responsibility for this issue lies with parents. Disney is, after all, a corporation beholden to the interests (ie, turning a profit) of their shareholders. When he discusses their control over the news, however, and the potential for abuse (like the tale he cites where, after acquiring ABC/Cap Cities, the upper management killed a 20/20 piece that was going to be critical of the new owners), I feel there is a significant potential for abuse. And there is a responsibility by the company to keep editorial content free of corporate control.

The rest of the book seems to be a lot of analysis suggesting that Disney is in it for money and not for the best interests of the public. I would suggest that most of us already know this. The same holds true for every corporation. Ostensibly our government is supposed to be in it for the public's interest, and I believe that generally they are. Where do we draw the line with a corporation? I suppose when they actually break a law. You can't blame a guy for trying, as the saying goes. They want to sell tickets to their films, they want to sell their videos, their toys, and they want to have people visit their theme parks and properties. That's what they do.

There is a bunch of interesting analysis of Disney's cartoons and then also of two pictures that I believe were released through Touchstone: Good Morning Vietnam and Pretty Woman. Giroux gives the reader the most sinister of readings of underlying messages for all of these films, claiming racism and paternalism, suppression of women's rights, and a whitewashing of culture to promote white middle class culture...which also happens to be the target for Disney's corporate marketing strategy. I suppose it's one way of looking at it, and Giroux points out early on that it isn't the only way, that not everyone will get these messages out of the cartoons or films. But it also seems to me, based on the type of analysis, that one could make a scholarly analysis of almost any fictional work and find similar undertones if one wishes.

All in all, it's a thought provoking book, but it often seems to be talking about stuff I never got from the company or from its films. Still, I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in "Disney Studies".

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TEAM RODENT by Carl Hiaasen

I was on a few days ago, and since I've purchased some Disney books from them recently, and have a few others on my wish list, the recommendations the site has for me sometimes includes books on subject Disney. This last time, for some reason, a few of the books recommended appeared to be critiques of Disney of some sort, and I was interested.

One of the recommendations was for TEAM RODENT by Carl Hiaasen, who I've not read before. His work is one of the holes in my experience with fiction reading. I keep meaning to correct that, because by all accounts he's very witty and funny.

He's also a resident of Florida (he lives in the Keys, or at least he did when this book was written in 1998). And as such, he's had quite a lot of experience with Disney and their dealings with the Florida government. He obviously is not a fan of Disney, and the subtitle of his book is "How Disney Devours the World". I didn't want to buy the book from Amazon, but fortunately, my library had a copy, and I checked it out.

I read it in about an hour. It's only 83 pages, and it's not like it's small print or anything, so it wasn't much of a feat to do this. Also, as I suspected, Hiaasen is an entertaining writer, quite good at his craft. It is funny and thought provoking even while being critical.

Hiaasen seems to have a major problem with a few parts of the Disney story. First is the way they strong armed (his characterization basically, not mine) into accepting Disney as a government entity in Florida, with the Reedy Creek Improvement District. I don't know, though - if I could get the same sort of power, wouldn't I want it? I guess that's the point - no other corporation could have gotten the same types of power, the same lack of oversight. He tells a story about some kids goofing around on Disney property, being chased off the property at high speed by a security officer with flashing red lights, and crashing about 1 mile off the property with fatal results. The family of the passenger (who died) sued, and Disney was, as usual, very close mouthed about the involvement of their security forces in the incident. The security officer says she never left Disney property with their vehicle, and the accident happened a mile off the property, but I suppose that if you had someone chasing you at high speeds, you might keep going for a mile or two before you were sure you'd lost them. The suit apparently went nowhere.

This sort of story really seems to frost Hiaasen. But I think it's the sort of thing that can definitely have two sides. Disney really did NOT do anything wrong technically, though chasing a couple of kids who hadn't really caused any harm might be questionable judgement on the part of the security officer. And when did it become okay for kids to avoid authority figures? Especially kids who are tresspassing in the first place (or so it appears)?

Another of Hiaasen's peeves with Disney is their determination to make over everything to their own value system and sense of esthetics. That's okay, too. He doesn't have to like it. Just like we Disney fans should be clear on the fact that the world isn't a Disney fantasy, and should make sure that reality is part of our kids' cultural upbringing, not just homogenized versions of that reality. But Disney is, after all, out to make a buck. A lot of bucks, actually...and if they're selling something that people want to (and the key word there is "want") buy, why should we begrudge them that?

In the end, it seemed to me to be a fairly mild diatribe from a talented writer who just doesn't quite "get" Disney, nor does he want to. He makes some points, but in the end, mostly I found myself saying, "So?" Disney fans (myself included) pick it for the entertainment value of a vacation, for the entertainment value of a family film, for the enjoyment we get from their products and their synthetic world. Sure, things can go wrong, and sometimes they do. But basically we go for the emotion, the feelings we experience when we go.

My next book appears to be more critical, longer, harder to read. It's a title called THE MOUSE THAT ROARED by Henry Giroux. We'll see how that one plays out.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kiddieland Closes

Just a quick post to note that Kiddieland, one of the (if not THE) country's oldest amusement parks, closed its doors for good on Sunday, September 27th.

Kiddieland was not a park for "big kids". Teens who like the coasters and such are not going to love it, but for those toddlers and elementary school kids, it was a good choice to ease into the whole "ride" thing.

There was a small coaster there, an old, vintage carousel, a miniature train that ran around the park, even into the parking lot, a log flume ride, an antique driving cars ride, a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and a slew of little rides for the little ones. One thing I loved about it was that they allowed you to get soft drinks for free all day. This could be a godsend on a hot August day.

I blogged about it .back here, but wanted to post a quick update and say my goodbyes. I think the park will be missed...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Paleofuture blog post

I enjoy perusing the Paleofuture blog; the author always has some interesting items about the past's views of the future.

Recently he posted this entry about Epcot and Horizons. It's called My First Thoughts on Paleo-Futurism, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Disney. If you're interested, check it out.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hidden Mickeys?

I was looking at the Main Street Gazette and was amused to see the article about Hidden Mickeys and the books by Steven Barrett. My kids love this little game. They start seeing hidden Mickeys everywhere they look. A few examples:

These are at the top of the walls of the Italy pavilion in World Showcase. I don't think they are real "Hidden Mickeys" but to my son, they are.

The rest of these are at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

This one is the form made by the logs in the lobby. I think this one is actually in the book. (Sorry it's so dark. My brightness edit of the photo didn't save for some reason and I was too rushed to do it again.)

Something hanging up there in the rafters. I don't think this one is in the book, and it may not count, since the circles don't touch (like the ones at Epcot).

These are some sort of surfboards hanging from the ceilings in the lobby of AKL. I think they're in the book, too.

If you get bored standing in line or waiting for something or other, pretty much anywhere in the resort, this game can be a godsend!


Monday, September 14, 2009

Disney on Ice - That's Nice!

We attended the Saturday September 12th performance of Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Disney Magic, at the United Center in Chicago. One night after arguably the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan, got inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, we went to see his statue outside the UC, and got some nice pix of the kids in front of it. And we checked out all the banners, the retired numbers - my kids thought that stuff was pretty cool.

But that wasn't what we were there for. The main event was the ice show. I wish I would have brought my camera, but I forgot it, and my wife only got pictures of the kids. So you'll have to trust me when I say it was a very good show. Maybe not the best I've ever seen, but a lot of fun. The basics are as follows: Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy take the audience through classic Disney tales, with a couple of Pixar tales tossed in for good measure and one scene built around the classic attraction "it's a small world". My kids liked the part featuring the Incredibles; my wife and I liked the "it's a small world" part best.

We had a lot of fun; it was sort of like going to Disney without actually going there, for one night. Even down to the expensive merchandise and snacks. (The cotton candy DID come with a neat crown which the kids are fighting over.) The performers might not be the best skaters (as in Olympic perfection on their moves) in the world, but they're professionals and they do a very good job. My only quibble was with the costume of Mr. Incredible. It really didn't look much like the guy from the movie. But that's pretty minor. Sets were well done, and the production quality was high. We had great seats, and I'll be kicking myself for a while about not bringing my camera and getting pictures for this entry.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Walt Disney - The Man Himself

A while back I read a pair of biographies on Walt Disney, the first being WALT DISNEY: THE TRIUMPH OF THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION by Neal Gabler, and the second one called THE ANIMATED MAN, by Michael Barrier. Aside from some controversy about Diane Disney Miller (Walt's daughter) not liking the portrayal of Walt outside of the business by Gabler (which I noted on Barrier's website), the two books were quite similar in their portrayal of Disney the man, in my view.

What I learned about Walt: He wasn't a great artist. But he was a driven motivated individual who didn't let much stand in the way of achieving his dreams. He started with almost nothing except some ideas and some drawing skills. His real genius came in his ability to take a story or a drawing or any sort of play and add to it, or subtract from it, or change it, and almost always make it better.

He was a man who didn't really fit in with the Hollywood folks. He was not highly educated, and behaved as a common man, probably part of his huge appeal to Americans and probably part of his ability to understand what everyday folks would enjoy. He was a family man, loving his daughters and his wife even when he didn't have a lot of time to dote on them.

He was an intense guy who could by sheer force of will accomplish things that others would just scoff at. He made color short cartoons when no one else thought that it could be done profitably. He made a feature length animated film that stands up with some of the best films of all time (SNOW WHITE). He saw the importance of TV and used it to his advantage. And he dreamed up this thing called a "theme park" and made one that was different from anything anyone else had ever tried. All the while being told that he couldn't do it, couldn't make it work.

Had he lived, what would EPCOT have become? Would it have actually have become a lightning rod for advancement? A model of utopia? What other new venues of entertainment would have intrigued him?

I came away impressed with the man, even as I always admired his work without really knowing anything about it. Those books, along with my visits to the theme parks, have inspired me to put some thought into Disney - the man AND the company.