“Feasting on fantasy”: my month of extreme immersion in Disney + | TV & radio


A A few weeks ago, on a day that was probably like today, now that the days are all awfully different and yet strangely the same, Disney launched Disney +, its new streaming service, in the UK. The precise date, for those who still follow such things, was March 24, which was also, coincidentally, the date on which the British foreclosure officially started. I was looking forward to the two. One felt frivolous, the other historic – a new thing to watch to add to the countless other things to watch against the sudden transformation in the lifestyle of an entire population – and yet here it was about bed companions entwined and perfectly compatible.

Disney could not have known that the launch of Disney + would be the same day that 66 million people would have to stay at home 23 hours a day. They must have set their launch date months ago, well before the first case of coronavirus reached Britain, or until travelers returned from their fateful mid-term ski vacation in Italy, or until the Prime Minister was content to bypass a hospital. But for the cynic, it sounded like a dark and premonitory marketing strategy. I mean, the moment was ideal. Someone somewhere in the Disney multiverse must have celebrated – timidly, inappropriately, a quiet nudge in a meeting room, perhaps.

For anyone looking for family entertainment, the prospect of Disney + was appealing. But for those of us who accept home schooling and the Easter “holidays”, followed by even more home schooling, days and weeks of days time – not the kind of time you can revel in, but time that would be filled with fear for the well-being of the people you love, and panic over the conundrum of trying to make a living and take taking care of your children – well for us, the launch of Disney + was a damn digital miracle.

Maybe it didn’t look like everyone. Maybe parents who secretly love the home school vibe, schedules and worksheets, kids happily sitting at kitchen tables, tongues sticking out of their mouths as they fill out small astronomy quizzes while the parent is stirring up a healthy stew, maybe they haven’t done so don’t sign up for Disney + a week before it’s launched. For the rest of us, tossing fish fingers into the oven with one hand while trying to slap a piece of work with the other and break up a fight with a toe, the relatively low cost of a Disney subscription + (£ 5.99 per month) contemplating the long, long, so very long, period of time before us, felt like a wise investment.

Of course, there are other TVs. There is the BBC. There is Netflix. I try everything, no frills when it comes to brilliant and absorbing entertainment for children. But Disney + is a bath of luxury content, old and new Disney. When you log into its sleek black homepage, it shows its products so easily: Thumbnails of Toy Story 4 and the new Star Wars spin-off series, The Mandalorian, casually sitting side by side like friends gathered from different planets. The animated classics are all there – Cinderella, The Lion King, Aladdin – accompanied by their “redesigned” live action versions, updated and often unambiguously ruined. But there are also hidden treats, movies that you forgot about but that you love more than your family members (Cool Runnings). There is a whole section devoted to nostalgia. Three men and a little lady? Yes please. Nestled among all of this is almost the entire back catalog of The Simpsons, over 600 episodes, patiently waiting to swallow the rest of your life.

Some early adopters quibbled that once you’ve passed The Mandalorian and a few other new offerings (Meghan Markle telling about the “documentary” nature of Elephant, nobody?), there isn’t much to do, but maybe they don’t have children happy to watch the same movie until they can recite it by heart. At one point, my husband made the 2008 Bolt movie, about an ordinary little white dog, voiced by John Travolta, who has the false impression that he is a superhero. A bulletproof concept, and of course the film worked so well that my children, ages six and three, asked to watch it again when the credits rolled. Forget the rewards, forget the critics: there is no better compliment a film can receive than the immediate need a child may have to see it again. I remember this feeling. We line our souls with these things.

Disney has been colonizing the minds and hearts of children for decades. Browse Disney + as an adult and you find that inevitably some movies are not as perfect as you remember, but you also find yourself blinking quickly, at the mercy of a cinematic formula that knows the synaptic shortcut both from your childhood memories and your tear ducts. The nostalgia section – delivered at a time when reality can be difficult to bear and when worries increase at unexpected moments of the night – has the calming effect of one of these weighted anxiety blankets. When the outside world is closed, you can dig in and travel back in time through any anachronistic creation – Hannah Montana, Boy Meets World, DuckTales – transports you to your young age, when you were watching TV on a sofa that you didn’t have to buy with your own money, and someone else was doing most of the time so that you could eat toast and think only about what you could eat after the toast .

So yes, I admit it. I subscribed to Disney + on the pretext of keeping my kids busy, but of course – Classes – I bought it for myself.

WWe started our Disney + immersion, out of respect, with the canon. It turns out that this is the week that my husband was slightly infected with the virus, days that he spent mainly unconscious, except when he got up from his sweat basin to tell the intrigues of his hallucinatory nightmares . With a quick nod to the abandoned ideals of home schooling, I decided to embrace Disney + with some academic rigor. We started at the beginning and progressed in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Pinocchio (1940), before taking a leap forward towards Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953) and Sleeping Beauty ( 1959). . Not all on the same day, I should add, but I’m not going to lie: the listening schedule was intense.

In many ways, this part felt like a duty: check the basics before you could get on to the right things. In the first films, the hosts are so respectful of their source material that the “action” begins with an old open storybook, its pages of Gothic script and hand-drawn pictures turned very slowly, like a sonorous male voice. seriously tells the story. “Come on,” my six-year-old cried out on television, accustomed to a more intense dose of cortisol to propel her through her entertainment.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, from 1937.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937. Photo: Cinetext / Disney / Sportsphoto / Allstar

The animation itself is surprisingly 2D, but from the start you can’t help crediting Disney for its dedication to its own shtick. Snow White could be almost without peculiarity in its aesthetic simplicity, like a particularly extreme Botox victim, but this winning alchemy of cute animal friends and melodious songs, adorable eyes and tight-waisted dresses, is there. in 1937 just as it still is Frozen 2, 82 years later. There are formulas so reliable that there is nothing to change except the wide variety of associated goods.

Inevitably, there are discordant anachronistic moments. Many of the early films have a warning at the start that they contain images of smoking. (In a cartoon piece at Pinocchio, a cute fish blows thick rings of gray smoke out of its bowl, an image that really wouldn’t fly these days.) The age of Disney heroines as symbols of women’s empowerment is still a long way off – many of the leading female roles share a sort of saccharine fragility that would make moana Moana its mission of veiling a woman. And there are also episodes of categorical racism. Peter Pan, for example, has a physically painful number to watch on Native Americans, called What Made The Red Man Red. Disney added a euphemistic warning to Peter Pan and other films containing similar disasters: “This program is presented as it was originally created. It may contain outdated cultural representations. The most glaring example of all – Song of the South, 1946, installed on a plantation ideally devoid of critical thinking and full of stereotypes – was completely excluded from service.

Aside from their faux pas, the early films contain moments that sound strangely true in a pandemic. As my children protested Alice’s lethargic pace in Wonderland, I found myself absurdly over-identified with her experience in Wonderland, a place where things seem superficially familiar but fundamentally altered. Towards the end, Alice reaches a door through which she can see herself sleeping: “But it’s me! I’m asleep! Alice, wake up! Please wake up, Alice! »WHO does not have felt like this in recent weeks? Not just the nightmare scenario, but the peculiar dissociation of seeing yourself constantly in the corner of a laptop screen while trying to listen to someone else speak. Wake up, I mean to myself. Stop looking at you! Wake up!

Ecartoons: we were ready for real people. An eternal Saturday, even if it could have been a Sunday or a Tuesday, or any other “day,” I decided it was time. The children had ravaged their way semi-disdainfully through the old animations and a lot of news was already as familiar to them as their own beating heart: no one in this apartment needs to watch Frozen again. At this point, Bolt was already on his fourth visit and had infiltrated many aspects of our lives. Our football had been renamed after the deceived dog and, like Wilson in Cast Away, became our beloved inanimate pet. In a separate attempt to free themselves from each other and their parents, the children had built their own cushion enclaves at opposite ends of our apartment, both guarded by stuffed dogs, also called Bolt. Before Bolt became the only name my son could answer, I decided it was time to advance my offspring in their cultural education, to expose them to one of the great artifacts of the late 80s, to a movie that will last. test not only his time, but all the time. It was time to watch Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Jesus, the opening shot. A postman delivers letters to a residential street in any city, and this is the fantastic version of the American suburb in its absolute heyday in blue skis, big shirts and ice cream. I can’t tell you how much, at 12, I wanted to live in one of these shingle houses, with a white fence and grass on each side of the sidewalk, with children riding bikes in the middle of the street and mailboxes at the end of the front path. I think I still do. In Honey, there are so many period-specific elements that seem designed to spark joy: a woozy saxophone soundtrack, those sparkling round headphones, one of those long, spiral telephone cords attached to the kitchen wall in which the characters get tangled, baseball caps and lumberjack shirts, collared sweaters with raised collars. For children, it was like watching a movie about the Victorians: funny costumes! Funny cars! But to me, it was like falling in love with someone whose life I had forgotten. I went deep, losing myself not only in reminiscence or a new appreciation of the making of superlative films, but in the surprising thematic relevance of the film for our current state. (Apologies in advance.)

Honey I Shrunk The Kids, from 1989.

Honey I Shrunk The Kids, from 1989. Photography: Disney / Kobal / Rex / Shutterstock

For the unfortunate minority who don’t know Honey’s intrigue, I’ve shrunk the kids – well, it’s all in the title, my friends. The cast includes a wacky scientific father (an irrepressible Rick Moranis like Wayne Szalinski), a long-suffering mom, two children, the neighbors and their two children, and a crucial dog named Quark. When Szalinski is absent one day, the four children are accidentally shrunk by his shrinking machine in the attic. When I say shrunk, I mean Shrunk. They are tiny. Significantly smaller than Lego men. Smaller than ants. At one point, they meet an ant and it seems to be an elephantine. They later mounted it. Above all, no one can hear them – their parents think their children are missing and call the police. There is a tragic moment when Szalinski returns from the stores, cannot hear them shouting after him in the attic, then crushes the shrinking machine on which he believes he has lost years of his life. As the screws begin to fall, not only does it destroy a miracle machine which we now know is working – dramatic irony! – but it endangers the lives of four children when debris rains on their heads. He then sweeps them without knowing it and throws them in a garbage bag at the bottom of the garden.

Thus begins this particular Odyssey. Honey is a classic travel movie: but instead of Revenant across the desert or 1917 through the trenches, children have to cross a garden to get home. No, for a seconddoubt the magnitude of this challenge. When they tear up the trash bag and watch the jungle of grass they have to cross, it’s an overwhelming sight. Much of the threat lies in the excellent effects. A butterfly flies above it and its wings flap and flap like a military helicopter. A monstrous dead beetle floats on a stream of dirty water that looks like the Amazon. There is a swarm of bees: sheer horror.

To shorten a predictable story, they do it, only so that one of them ends up on Szalinski’s spoon and is almost eaten with a bite of Cheerios. But ultimately they are restored to their normal size and everything ends well. As with any good Disney movie, all kinds of lessons have been learned along the way, such as teamwork, caring for siblings, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and not having to be manly in the traditional sense. Disney prepares its mores so skillfully, with a wink and a joke, that we drink them like milkshake.

As with everything, I had a hard time seeing Honey again without making questionable comparisons with our current situation. Don’t get overly serious about a film outlining the unique risks involved in building a machine that can unwittingly reduce your kids to the size of the breadcrumbs, but it was striking how much these kids were suddenly ultra-vulnerable, intimidated by the forces of nature superior to them. To be human was no longer a power, it was a weakness. On this scale, an ant can have dominion. Of course, children befriend the ant, learn to love and respect it, and when the ant fights with a giant beetle and dies defending the children from its attack, the tyrant kid breaks down in tears . Lessons Learned: The bully was dependent on another creature he had barely noticed before, and could even have rushed. The very creature that protected him was the one who had lost his life during the process. We have to take care of each other to survive. We all lose creatures we love.

The proudest parental moment of locking so far? When the six-year-old asked to watch Honey, I shrunk the children for the second time. If this is the pinnacle of my home schooling efforts, which is without a doubt, I will take it. As for this great parable for our time, well, a reboot is underway – according to the IMDb film site, Shrunk is one thing. Who knows if this will happen, given that Disney has had to stop production on possibly higher priority projects such as a live Little Mermaid and four Avatar sequels. But I have faith. By the time Shrunk is created, we will probably be back to our old ways and humanity will be forgotten. Or maybe Shrunk will show up just in time to remind us of our essential vulnerability and human co-dependence. It’s possible, I realize, that I’m exaggerating the future power of Shrunk, but you never know.

reIn the bowels of Disney +, a pocket of selfish documentaries reveals how drunk society has become over its own myth over the years. The Imagineering Story (first episode: “The Happiest Place on Earth”) tells the story of Walt Disney, a father of two who drew Mickey Mouse for the first time on the train and based his first drawing for Disneyland on his hometown of Marceline, Missouri. We also meet the “Imagineers”: people responsible for creating new attractions in Disney theme parks. “Creating happiness is difficult work”, Croatian Angela Bassett in the voiceover. “Only a single army of people is equipped to undertake such an enterprise. Since its inception, this cheerful bunch of misfits has challenged the odds. Did she really say “this happy bunch of misfits”? Yes she did.

Another Disney documentary, One Day at Disney, zooms in on a selection of employees, including Mark, who is almost moved to tears by his own life story – from being an obsessive train when he was a child running steam train service in Disneyland, California. This is how all the character arcs unfold in One Day at Disney, sculpted in the kind of perfect Disney shape that strongly resembles the now almost darkly comic notion of the American dream: I had a passion, I worked hard, my dream became a reality, and now the physical and emotional health of myself and my family, my whole life, in reality, belongs to an extremely profitable company.

Disney CEO Bob Iger at Mickey Mouse's 90th birthday celebration in Los Angeles in 2018.

Disney CEO Bob Iger at Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday celebration in Los Angeles in 2018. Photography: Alberto E Rodríguez / Getty Images

All Disney documentaries feature outgoing Disney CEO Bob Iger, who likes to tell his own carefully crafted story, the way it started 45 years ago, earning $ 150 a week at ABC before climbing to the top thanks hard work and optimism. Iger always appears with grandpa, in cable knit sweaters and comfortable cardigans, with deep grooves that unfold around his eyes acquired by years of smiling in the service of the company’s warmth. He often says things like: We all try to do the same thing, very convincingly: we try to touch people’s hearts. “

During Iger’s reign, Disney became the entertainment monster of our time, acquiring Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm (and therefore Star Wars) and 21st Century Fox. The company now has so much entertainment landscape that it can function as surround sound. There have been mega-hit strings: last year alone, Toy Story 4, Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen 2 contributed a total of $ 11 billion at the box office. Iger was widely rewarded for his efforts: in 2019, he earned $ 48 million. The year before, he had earned $ 65.7 million, more than 1,000 times the median salary – about $ 46,000 – of all Disney employees. Many Disney employees, like those who filed a class action lawsuit in California’s superior court last December, earn less than $ 15 an hour.

The triumphant launch of Disney + was supposed to be the closing jewel of Iger, a final five when leaving the building. The first signs were good. Prior to launch, Disney had set a target of 60 to 90 million subscribers by 2024. On April 9, 2020, the company announced that it had already reached 50 million. (It took Netflix seven years to get there.) As Iger’s retirement approached, there has been lingering chatter in the media about his presidential candidacy, rumors that he has ultimately had to publicly deny it. But by the time his character journey came to an end, the story had changed. At the end of March, most Disney operations were suspended due to a coronavirus. Disney had lost a third of its market value, $ 78.5 billion, in just one month. Iger was not going anywhere, but was staying to help his successor, Bob Chapek.

Disney World in Florida closed and empty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Disney World in Florida closed and empty due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photography: Alex Menendez / Getty Images

In the long run, unlike many of its employees, thousands of whom have been on leave, Disney itself will be fine. The company is rightly not at the top of anyone’s list of concerns. But it is striking to see how far Disney’s current reality is from its image of a well-kept company. In late March, various media released photos of Disney’s closed theme parks – empty parking lots, a roller coaster, cafes, golf courses, and a lone-looking Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The photographs are somehow more sinister than those of the empty cities that have gone around. In the best of cases, cities are conflictual and disorderly, beautiful and cruel. They rarely pretend to be something that they are not, unless there is an Olympic Games.

Disney, on the other hand, always pretends to be something it is not: it is a very efficient profit machine that presents itself as a place where a cheerful bunch of misfits evoke happiness. Its theme parks are places built for children and commerce, and the optimized interaction of these two things, but in these images they look ghostly, frozen in time like the cursed inhabitants of Sleeping Beauty Castle , still technically in existence but, in the absence of all that is animated, transformed into lifeless sets of a horror film. I somehow doubt that this is what Disney’s Imagineers had in mind.

On some days, when we have been outside in a strange silence and we have only heard birds and mermaids, the border between fantasy and reality seems rather blurred. The world doesn’t look real; something to do with the sunlight, the flower, the way everyone walks under a glaze of heightened self-awareness. There is a deceptive peace, when you know, just around the corner, there is the opposite. We switch between learning the most cruel realities and feasting on fantasy to distract us. Sometimes, coming out of a Disney haze, I would like to stay in the harsh reality, because at least, you don’t have to wake up.

Children are instructive, somehow able to navigate this time with invigorating honesty as adults nervously escape. There are ups and downs, of course: there are escape fantasies and berserk, semi-violent frustrations born of immutable proximity, but then they seem capable of resetting themselves. Snacks help. The same goes for lavatory jokes. Or a kind of half-slide built into sofa cushions. A mood can go down and pass like a downpour, rather than go down and fester, which seems to be the preference of their parents.

Children seem to have an appropriate amount of curiosity about bad news – a curiosity that knows when to move to fresh ground instead of feeding on foreign and panic-inducing information. When a situation is explained, they ask questions, listen to perhaps 10% of the answers before being bored deeply by the moralizing tone of my voice, then move away, rather than spending the next eight hours browsing Twitter looking for new and conflicting perspectives on the provision of PPE and the precise timing of locking strategies of different nations until they cannot sleep and want to go out on empty streets and rage at the perfect moon . They are very, very frank about death. Before the schools closed, my daughter came home one day and told me that she was unlikely to die from the coronavirus as a child, “but the elderly could.” “Yes,” I said, acknowledging his direct approach to the subject, “they could. “

Furthermore, distraction is not a distraction for them: it is occupation, it is life. When I interrupt the three-year-old in one of his deep play sessions, something to do with small figures at war or by performing complex stunts on Lego motorcycles, he looks at me severely and says, ” I am busy. Meanwhile, the disapproving label of “screen time” does a grave injustice to the ability of the six-year-old to immerse himself in a movie. Watching her watch Bolt for the seventh time is like watching an athlete, a tremendous effort of concentration that blocks all outside noise, attempts at conversation, offers of food.

Disney +, inevitably, stole his heart. I could tell from the moment I saw her face when it opened – the shooting star over Disney Castle, the sunset pink sky background. They know what they are doing, these people: even the brand gives you an endorphin boost. During this seventh viewing of Bolt, I realized why the kids wanted to keep watching the same movie over and over. There is undoubtedly the appreciation of the experts for a beautiful piece of computer animation, but there is also the great comfort that is found in repeated viewing. Even on several occasions, they both covered their eyes in terror during a chase scene. The fear was real, but it was that kind of pleasant fear that you know will pass. There is no uncertainty, no risk. You know, for a fact, that everything will be fine. It’s fear with a happy ending.


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