Disney is a Marketing Genius… (“Why We Love Disney” Chapters 5 and 6)

The one thought that kept coming to me as I read these two chapters was how good Disney is at identifying and pleasing its audience, despite its few failures over the years. Disney seems to have always been good at marketing, right from the beginning. Additionally, the company seems to have always been open to experimentation and trying new forms of media and entertainment. Disney is able to go back and forth between giving the audience what they want, as well as giving the audience something new and different.

Right from the beginning, with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, I noticed this trend beginning to form. No one had ever dared to make a feature-length animated film before, and people loved it. Subsequently, there appeared many different Snow White products, from records to soap. This shows how Disney has always been good at identifying what its audience likes and exploiting it in every possible way. The same was true of Mickey Mouse and all of those related products, as we read in the other book. Much of the same thing is true with the way Fantasia was promoted and presented. The film is something new and unique, and as such, Disney needed to find creative ways to market it to the public.

Disney is also very wise when it comes to adjusting to their audiences. For example, the WWII films show how they shifted their priorities to suit the public interests and to stay relevant. Similarly, Song of the South is an example of a film that did well and was accepted by the public at the time of its release, but has since been swept under the rug by the company, because they know that today’s audiences would (and do) not approve of it. As far as trying new mediums of entertainment, Disney has managed to carve a permanent niche in both live-action  film as well as in television. With both of these forms of media, Disney was at first reluctant, but them accepting. In television, you can see this in the way they began to target teen and tween audiences with relatable, iconic young actors and actresses. From Annette Funicello to Miley Cyrus, and beyond, they have always been good at finding new talent and turning them into household names.

I think we still see these characteristics of Disney to this day, and I think it is one reason why they are still so successful and beloved. The best example of this that I can think of is with the film Tangled, and the way its promotion was handled. First of all, it is a computer-animated film, as opposed to a traditional 2D, hand-drawn film. Almost all popular, wide-release animated films these days are computer-animated, so it makes a logical sense that Disney would embrace this technology for such an important film. (I say it is important, because even though this is not the first computer-animated film they have release, it is the first one to feature a new Disney Princess, and I think that even if the film had been a failure, the Princess aspect would have been pushed and marketed to death. I hope this makes sense. I can’t really think of a better way to explain this.) Secondly, there is the way that the film was marketed. I’m sure I’m not the first one to notice this, but look at this promo poster for Tangled: 

The characters are looking very mischievous, almost edgy. The cocky expressions seem to say “Hey, this might be a Disney film, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be cool and hip.” It’s very reminiscent of a lot of the posters for various DreamWorks animated films: 

What is it with that cocky eyebrow expression?! This shift in promo technique shows Disney’s adaptability. They clearly have taken note of the popularity of films such as Kung Fu Panda and Shrek, and are doing their best to grab the audience’s attention with a similar marketing technique.

The trailer for Tangled does much the same thing:

To be honest, I felt severely let down by this trailer. It made me not want to watch the film. The obnoxious music, the fact that her hair seems to have a mind of its own or something… it all just left a sour taste in my mouth. I wanted another classic Disney Princess movie, in the style of my beloved Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella. I was sure that the film would be—if not outright horrible—at least not something anyone over the age of 10 or 11 would really enjoy. It would be the start of a new generation of Princess films, full of snarky, stupid humor and obnoxious pop songs.

Obviously, I was wrong. Tangled is nothing short of pure Disney magic. It has it’s shortcomings, but all in all, it follows the same classic formula and delivers a Princess film no less wonderful or beautiful than any of the others that have come before it.

But it’s all in the marketing. Ultimately, I think that Disney was very smart in the way they presented Tangled. Regardless of what the film actually is, they knew that promoting it in a certain way would attract the most viewers. Perhaps if it had been marketed as another standard Princess film, box office sales would not have been as good.

I realize that this post has become a weird review of Tangled, and not so much about the chapters. But this is all I could think of as I did the reading. Disney’s adaptability has allowed the company to stay relevant while at the same time remain loyal to their own tried and true formulas. I think this is one reason why the company is so successful. No matter what medium of entertainment they endeavor in, they find a way to make it their own, and make it work.

Drunk in Disneyland (News Article and Video)

Found a story today about a man who apparently got drunk and caused a scene in Disneyland the other day. There’s video and everything. Considering how protective Disney is of their image, I wonder how they’re going to handle this? I wonder if they’ll ask the person who posted the video of the incident to take it down…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2103867/Moment-belligerent-man-Disneyland-gets-pepper-sprayed-adventure-park-security-guard.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

“Rethinking Disney”- Introduction

It was hard to find something to comment on, when this chapter is really just an overview of what is to come in the entire rest of the book. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that a book titled Rethinking Disney isn’t filled with praises and love for the company. The introduction begins by pointing out the numerous problems with Disney. There was one small aspect to this section that I kept coming back to as I read: the comparisons between the Warner Brothers’ Looney Tune characters, and the Disney characters. There were only a few mentions of them, but it got me thinking. Although the Warner Bros characters all have been marketed to various forms of media and merchandising, they still do not retain the level of sacred popularity as the Disney characters. Yet, as shown in the example about the US Postal service, and their battle to use Disney characters on stamps, Warner Bros seems like a far nicer company to work with—at least in terms of their more tolerant nature when it comes to things like copyright.

Why is this the case? Why are Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck only second in the American public’s mind to Mickey and Donald? I don’t have an answer yet. But it’s an interesting question, and I’m going to keep thinking about it.

The second half of the introduction goes into detail about what the rest of the book contains. The editors outline the various chapters and types of criticism the following essays are about. Most notable in my mind as I read was the section on gender and sexuality, and the discussion of Disney’s relationship with the LGBT community. To me, the Gay Days held at the Disney parks seem like a very outdated tradition. Why have a specific day set aside for a minority group? Granted, it’s not like the Gay Days are the only days Disney allows gays and lesbians into their parks—that would be horrible. But I don’t know… 125,000 people attend the parks on Gay Days, so clearly it is a popular event. It almost feels like a publicity stunt—Disney openly proclaiming how accepting they are and advertising it to the world. And while this might make some people like Disney even more, the retaliation from extreme Christian organizations proves that no matter what Disney does, there will always be opposition and criticism.

The introduction does what it is supposed to do—prepares the reader for the rest of the book. It brought up some interesting criticisms and questions, and I’ll be reading the subsequent essays with those in mind.

The Mickey Mouse Club

Much of the premier episode of the Disney’s 1955 Mickey Mouse Club TV show was what I expected it to be: dated—to the point where it seemed almost like a cliché of TV programs from the 50s, and also filled with a lot of cute, classic Disney moments. There were also, however, several aspect of the show that surprised me.

For one, much of the cartoon parts of the show reminded me more of Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry, than the sweet kindness of the Disney cartoons I watched on TV as a child. Both the introduction and the cartoon at the end with Pluto and the puppy, were filled with cartoon slapstick and violence (Donald getting blown up,  etc…) I think it’s interesting that Disney apparently began with this type of cartoon-making, and then branched away from it towards a softer, nicer style.

Second, there was the way other cultures were portrayed. The world news bit about the Seminoles, as well as the children in Italy and Japan, all had a distinct Disney spin on them. I noticed, as the narrator told viewers the story of the Seminole man’s great-grandfather, who was chief, he skimmed over the part about how he was tricked into leaving the swamp and subsequently died in prison. To paraphrase, it went something like this: “Then he tells Bobby and Mikey about how his great-grandfather was tricked into leaving his swamp hideout, and how he died in prison. But this has been a day that Bobby and Mikey will never forget, and they seem to fly across the sawgrass in their boat…” There was no lingering on the unpleasantness of the situation; the narrator moved right along to the next topic. I thought that was almost comical.

Lastly, I found it interesting that so much of the episode was about children saying what they wanted to be when they grew up. So much of Disney is about preserving childhood, and the message to “never grow-up” or at least, not to grow up too fast. Yet the sequence with the boy and girl who wanted to be a hostess and pilot seemed to be encouraging children to think about their futures and decide what they wanted to do with their lives as soon as possible. On the other hand, though, Disney is also about following dreams, and making dreams come true. So perhaps that’s what was the ultimate message of the segment.

When the end song began to play, I suddenly remembered my father singing it to me, and I suddenly felt all sort of nostalgic and happy. It’s weird, because obviously I’ve never watched an episode of the Mickey Mouse Club before, but it is part of my father’s nostalgia, and he passed that on to me. That’s the classic Disney legacy right there, and I think that’s why Disney will never go away. The love for it is passed from one generation to the next, always keeping the old fans, and also creating new ones.

Reading Response to “Understanding Disney”, chapters 7 and 8

In reading about the “audience” for Disney, and what (or who) exactly that is, I was surprised to see how many different reactions people had to the company and its products. Most interesting to me were the opinions of the students mentioned in the survey on page 191. I was surprised to read that so many of them had adopted such a blasé attitude towards Disney, and how many had the viewpoint that it was just for kids, and that they had outgrown it. This is such an opposite reaction to Disney than what I or any of my friends have. We all fit more into the category of the other group of students mentioned on page 193—the Disney/nostalgia lover. All of my friends, myself included, are avid Disney fans who grew up with heavy influences all around us, and we continue to love and appreciate both the nostalgic older films, as well as the newer ones that have come out more recently, such as “Tangled”.

This is not to say that we are as obsessed with Disney as the tattooed George Reiger, or any of the other “Disney freaks”. The world is full of crazies—people who are about as far from the squeaky clean image or ideals that Disney promotes, yet these people are so in love with Disney. I think that’s such an interesting juxtaposition.

When I said above that my friends and I all appreciate both the older and newer Disney films, part of it is because of the aesthetics and wonderful animation, as mentioned on page 207. A friend of mine from high school is an aspiring animator—his dream is to work for Disney. He studies behind-the-scenes clips of the Disney animators, and watches the films again and again, from an animator’s point of view. But he also is the biggest fanatic out of all the people I know. He knows all of the lyrics to the songs, and can spout facts like a Disney encyclopedia. Even though I’m not an aspiring animator, I can still appreciate the beauty of, and also the effort that went into, a well-crafted animation sequence.

Another group of the Disney audience (or perhaps, a better phrase would be “former audience”) were the Disney resistors. All I could think (biased as I am) was how sad it was for them. But I find this outlook interesting as well, particularly because they are seeing as negative something that I defended as a positive attribute of Disney in my last post on Chapter 5. Whereas in that post, I argued in favor of the clean, escapism of the Disney animated universe, these people seemed to find it to be a disheartening and cruel lie. Perhaps it is because I have always been able to tell the difference between the real and imagined worlds (I may have wished to live in them, or played make-believe that I did- but I always knew deep inside that it was fantasy. The people who have become disillusioned because of Disney kind of annoy me, to be honest. There is such a stark contrast between the Disney universe and the real world, (just look at “Enchanted”) that I find it very hard to believe someone, even a child, could become so confused as to think that Disney was telling the truth about the real world. I think that if you have suddenly come to terms that the real world is not a Disney fantasy land, those films would become even more special- because they are still just the same as ever, and can be a real escape.

Finally, this chapter concludes with the mention of “sacred Disney”, and what a true statement that is. For many—from the crazed fanatics to the nostalgia fans, as well as every form of negative critic—Disney is viewed as almost like a religion. (Whether this is good or not, depends on who you’re talking to, I suppose). There is a genius behind Disney’s decision to make so much of their content geared towards children, because once something has your childhood in its grasp, it will never let go; it’s there for life. And I think that is the real genius behind it all—more than the messages or the wonderful animation or music. The real genius behind it all, both from a business and an entertainment/artistic viewpoint, is that the company puts so much effort into making content for children, because so many of them will grow up to have a continued appreciation for it, and will continue to spend their time and money on Disney-related things, either for themselves or their own children (thus starting the cycle again). And I really admire that. How can you not?

I think that’s the real magic of it.

“Understanding Disney” Chapter 5 Reaction Post (In Which I Do My Best To Defend Disney)

This was the first chapter in this book to really get me riled. Many of the statements, most of them direct quotes from various Disney critics, really bothered me.

First, there was Frances Clarke Sayers’ comment on page 126 that Disney’s films “falsify life” and are “not really related to the great truths of life”. This upset me, because, while true to a certain extent, I don’t see how this is a bad thing. Surely a little escapism is good every now and then? Walt Disney himself is quoted in this same chapter as saying, “I do not make films primarily for children. Call the child innocence. The worst of us is not without innocence… In my work I try to reach and speak to that audience” (118). I think the point of all of the “Classic Disney” films- as well as the later animated films that try to emulate that same formula- is to depict a simpler, happier world; a place where even when bad things happen, there is always the guarantee of a happy ending. And what is so wrong about that? Children are exposed to enough of the harshness in the “real world” that the majority of them are able to tell that the world of a Disney film is make-believe.

Many critics do not give children enough credit; they think that no one under the age of thirteen is able to differentiate between real and the imaginary. But I think that many kids today are smart enough to tell the difference. And as more and more mainstream media becomes soaked with violence, it’s nice that there are still these pretty little animated worlds where everything is alright for audiences to retreat to.

Going along that same topic, the same critic, Sayers, is quoted as saying that the Disney adaptations of classic fairy tales make it so that “there is nothing to make a child think or feel or imagine” (128). Again, when I read this, I audibly groaned. I have distinct memories from my early childhood (around ages six and seven) of that amazing feeling after a Disney movie finished, when I wanted nothing more than to be one (or more) of the characters I had just been watching. For example, I would stroll through my house with my nose stuck in a book, trying to emulate Belle from “Beauty and the Beast”. Disney films provided the basis for so many of my childhood make-believe games. (Even my younger brother would dash around the house in an old fur coat, shouting, “Get those puppies!” a la Cruella DeVille…. But that’s an entirely different story…)

As I said before, critics such as Sayers are not giving children enough credit. While it is certainly true that Disney distills and changes the original fairy tales, I don’t think one is better than the other. The Disney versions are certainly more widely known in today’s society, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. They are simply another version of the Anderson and Grimm stories, but neither is better than the other.

Lastly, there were the few offhand critiques about “The Lion King” made in this chapter. One reviewer apparently found that there are no strong female characters in the movie (133). What about Nala? She goes further than anyone to find some sort of food for the rest of her family and friends. She convinces Simba to go back and take his place as king (or at least gets the wheels turning). Not to mention the fact that even without all of that, she is a lion. There isn’t really a more majestic and powerful creature (even just symbolically) in the world. The other comment made about “The Lion King” was about the apparent racism of having the three main hyena characters be voiced by black and Latino actors. In response to this, I only have to say, Couldn’t it just be because Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin (two of the voices) are popular comedians, and they’re playing hyenas, animals known for the way they sound like they laugh when they bark. This is a classic example of critics looking far too deeply into something, as if they are simply determined to find flaws, no matter what.

I don’t mean to blindly defend Disney, no matter what. There are several points made in this chapter that I couldn’t come up with an argument for, beyond just saying, “But… it’s DISNEY!” Interestingly enough, my NOT being able to adequately defend Disney made me just as upset as the offending criticisms. However, there is no denying that fact that the changes Disney made for their version of “The Little Mermaid” eliminate all of the strong, supportive female characters and replace them with male ones. As  a Creative Writing major, I am constantly asked to examine craft. With this film, the question has to be asked: Those changes were made for a reason. Why were they made? Wouldn’t it have been just as easy for Flounder, Sebastian, or Scuttle to be female sidekicks? Or perhaps she has a mother instead (or as well as) a father? I honestly can’t think of a legitimate reason to eliminate and change the characters so that Ariel is placed in such a male-dominated world.

Similarly, it was interesting to discover that the original story did not have the titular mermaid wanting to become human, but wanting a soul instead. I find this a bit more excusable, though, because of today’s uber-secular, uber-PC world. I don’t think Disney would want to be accused of forcing any one particular religion on their viewers. They get enough criticism as it is…

I feel like I’ve gone on for far too long. I’m not sure how long these blog posts are supposed to be, or even if there is a set length… But these are just my initial reactions to what really stood out to me as I read the chapter.