We are at our most impressionable between the ages of 3-8 years old. There is some slight difference dependent on gender and circumstance, but that’s basically the age the advertising companies have, pinned upon the bullseye of their audience targets. Toys, sweets, online tech, anything pushed towards that age range sells. And a big slice of this market is the empire of Disney. With the assimilation of both Star Wars and Marvel, look for the House of Mouse market share to skyrocket even further to the heavens. Which is great news. Unless you’re a parent, a movie buff, or someone with a phobia of giant biped mice, with big plastic heads and squeaky high voices.
I’m not affected by Disneyfication. I use that term as a pejorative. But I think the reason for this has nothing to do with my upbringing, aside from the specific time-period. I was born in the late seventies, and thus spent the eighties immersed in the 3-8-year-old indoctrination period. A time, which many don’t know, Disney was bottoming out, both commercially and critically.
Anyone seen ‘The Black Cauldron’? Nope, me neither.
We all watched Disney films like Dumbo, Robin Hood and Sword in the Stone, but the youngest of those was made almost a decade before I was born. Since then nothing ground-breaking had arrived. And it wouldn’t before Little Mermaid arrived in 1989, winning Oscars and kickstarting the rebirth. The period in between these points stands as the lost generation to Disney. We were never exposed, and thus I know few of my friends look at Disney with anything other than scepticism.
That’s not to sat I had a horrid childhood. We all watched the Disney alternatives; An American Tail, The Land Before Time, The Secret of Nimh, and holdovers from the seventies, the bloodthirsty Watership Down. I supplemented this with The Ewoks sequels (as horrific as they are) and Care Bears marathons. So I can safely say the cutesy aspect of my life was thriving just fine. At one point my father counted the number of stuffies I had. 24. Impressive for an eight-year-old.
While we had up-to-date American television, that was far as our eighties luxury items went.
Examples of this disparity included, but not remained with such things as:
Having a Betamax VCR until the early nineties.
Having a hired TV for two summers, a black and white one for one summer, and even when we bought our own, there was no remote.
Having a coal-powered heating system until the mid-nineties.
Homemade sweaters and cardigans. Most of my non-school clothes, were hand-me-downs or second hand. Jumble sales and visits to car-boots sales were frequent in our house.
Much of my parent’s wardrobe and the family items (tents, for example) dated to the previous decade. This is not to indicate disparity, many of my friends now went through similar childhoods. Bristol, where we’re from, had ice rinks, soft-play, and swimming was a big thing as consecutive governments, shocked at statistics suggesting that over 50% of UK kids couldn’t swim, offered lessons and subsidies to schools to get the kids into the water. Jaws fear had come and gone, we could go in the sea now.
We also had elder brothers. And they had access to the movies we weren’t allowed to see.
In 1987 I saw Robocop and The Terminator, thanks to a friend in school. Mom was not happy. That opened the floodgates. I wanted to run around Los Angeles at night with Michael Biehn, or be like Jenette Goldstein in Aliens, armed with a MaHOOSive gun blasting away with reckless abandon.
Then Terminator 2 landed in the UK, and despite not being 15 I got admitted through the doors to see it.
Wow!!!!! Linda Hamilton set the bench mark high that day.
Later on I’d get a chance to see Alien 3, (I couldn’t pass as 18 in 1993) and while it wasn’t what I was expecting, it’s now in my all-time favourite movies, Ripley’s shaved head and the general abandoned atmosphere of forgotten and obsolete space prison and its inhabitants influences much of my fiction to this day.
I haven’t seen Beauty and the Beast.
And, with the live-action version coming out this year, I think that’s a real pity. I could watch it now, of course. But it wouldn’t have the same influence over me. even though I was a teenager at that point, Belle was hardly a child, and I feel like it would’ve given me a degree of grounding as a teenage girl during a difficult time. Something akin to Jo in Louisa Alcott’s ‘Little Women’.
Since Beauty and the Beast, Disney has exploded. Even before the acquisitions of the aforementioned companies, the studio, alongside Pixar, was carving out gem after gem, in a seemingly endless financial and cultural goldmine.
I have seen few of them, though. But not because of the Disney brand.
I find it hard to watch a cartoon movie. Because the concepts or stories within them aren’t something I relate to, something I want to emulate, or something that can’t be told better in a live-action alternative.
I understand what I’m missing out on, and last year’s Zootopia is a direct example. Anthropomorphising animals with human characteristics, sprinkled with pop-culture references is a great idea, and the financial success proves as such. But I am cynical, and the more I see of great animated movies, the more I see the dollar-signs in the eyes of Hollywood.
Disney is squeezing the film world dry. Sucking up audience attendance like a cultural black hole. With the cartoon/Marvel/Star Wars trifecta in play, imagine for a second how much revenue kicks-back to Disney from all three brands?
I won’t attempt to fathom numbers, let’s just say A LOT.
And where does that leave the rest of Hollywood? Or culture as a whole?
I am on the outside looking in, on this one. Disney didn’t get me. but, it makes me both envious and fearful of those people around me who do follow Uncle Walt’s dreams to the nth degree. To the extent that if I did live my life over again, I wouldn’t watch hard-core eighties movies at such an early age. Maybe then I would’ve kept some degree of innocence alive just a little longer. Maybe then I wouldn’t be as jaded and weary as I sometimes feel, as disassociated as I sometimes wonder, and as cynical and questioning as I sometimes act.
Being a sheep is never a good thing, but do the sheep know that?
As Cypher is so often quoted as saying, back in 1999: “Ignorance is bliss”.