Criticism of The Walt Disney Company

The Walt Disney Company's media releases and company practices have prompted action from activists, artists, and causes around the world.

Contents

Criticism from special interest groups

  • Religious welfare groups, such as the Catholic League, have spoken out against the release of material which they and others found offensive, including vehement protests of the Miramax Films features Priest (1994) and Dogma (1999).[1] Disney pushed back the release date for Dogma due to the controversy surrounding the movie, and eventually sold the distribution rights to Lions Gate Films. The ABC show Nothing Sacred, about a Jesuit priest, a book called Growing Up Gay (published by Disney-owned Hyperion Press), the (unofficial) annual Gay and Lesbian Days at Disney theme parks, and similar issues spurred boycotts of Disney and its advertisers by the Catholic League, the Assemblies of God, and other conservative groups.[1][2][3]
  • The company has been accused of human rights violations regarding the working conditions in factories that produce their merchandise.[6][7] It has been criticized also by animal welfare groups, for their care of and procedures for wild animals at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park,[8] and for using purebred dogs in movies such as 101 Dalmatians. Animal rights groups claim movies with purebreds create an artificial demand for purebreds from people who may not be prepared or temperamentally suited for the animals, many of whom end up abandoned or surrendered to animal shelters or rescue groups.[9]
  • An environmental management plan for a zone of Great Guana Cay, in the Abaco Islands, criticized Disney for poor management of a 90-acre (36.4 ha) tract of the island. Disney partially developed but then abandoned the place, which was to have been a cruise ship resort called Treasure Island. The report, by the University of Miami and the College of the Bahamas, blames Disney for leaving hazardous materials, electrical transformers, and fuel tanks, and also for introducing invasive alien plants and insects that threaten the natural flora and fauna of the island.[10]

Subliminal messages

There are several conspiracy theories about Disney having sexual innuendo or references hidden in some of their animated movies, including The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Disney's original home video releases of The Rescuers.

In 1995, a pro-life lobby group, American Life League (ALL), alleged that several Disney films, including The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin contained subliminal messages and sexual imagery.[11][12] The Lion King allegation was later denied by Tom Sito, a Disney animator and a writer for the film, who claimed that the letters written in the dust cloud actually spelled the initials "S.F.X", meaning 'special effects'; instead, it was interpreted by people who saw the dust message as the word "SEX". It was intended to be an easter egg signature from the animation department, and that the controversy that followed was entirely unintentional.[13]

In Aladdin, protests were raised regarding the scene when Aladdin is attacked by the tiger Rajah on the palace balcony. Aladdin quietly says "Come on... good kitty, take off and go..." and the word "kitty" is overlapped by another, unidentifiable sound, most probably Rajah's snarl. Some people reported hearing "Good teenagers, take off your clothes,"[14] which they considered a subliminal reference to sexual promiscuity. Because of the controversy, Disney replaced the phrase with "Down, kitty" on the DVD release.[15]

In Who Framed Roger Rabbit a scene drew attention to viewers when Jessica Rabbit revealed what was under her dress in which nothing was drawn. This scene wasn't noticed until 1994 during the film's laserdisc release. This discovery caught the attention of major news media.[16]

In The Little Mermaid, King Triton lives in a castle of gold, along with his daughters. The castle is displayed in the artwork for the cover for the Classics VHS cassette when the film was first released on home video in 1990. Close examination of the cover artwork, as well as the poster for the film, shows an oddly shaped structure on the castle, closely resembling a penis. Disney and the cover designer insist it was an accident, resulting from a late night rush job to finish the cover artwork. The questionable object does not appear on the cover of the second releasing of the movie. There was also a widespread rumour in the early to mid-1990s that a clergyman is seen with an erection during a wedding scene, specifically the scene in which a brainwashed Prince Eric is about to marry Ursula the sea witch in disguise.[17][18][19] The clergyman is a short man, dressed in Bishop's clothing, and a small bulge is slightly noticeable in a few of the frames that are actually later shown to be the stubby-legged man's knees, but the image is small and is very difficult to distinguish. Because of the controversy, this scene was later altered in the film's 2006 Platinum Edition DVD release so that the clergyman is standing on a small platform box and that his knee is no longer visible underneath his robes. The combined incidents led an Arkansas woman to file suit against The Walt Disney Company in 1995, though she dropped the suit two months later.[18][19][20][21][22]

Disney's original home video releases of The Rescuers were recalled on January 8, 1999 due to the discovery of two photographs of a topless woman in the background of two frames of the movie.[23] The offending images were removed in later VHS and DVD editions.

Company officials

Michael Eisner

In 2003, Roy E. Disney, the son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney and nephew of Walt Disney, resigned from his positions as Disney vice chairman and chairman of Walt Disney Feature Animation, accusing Eisner of micromanagement, flops with the ABC television network, timidity in the theme park business, turning the Walt Disney Company into a "rapacious, soul-less" company, and refusing to establish a clear succession plan, as well as a string of box-office movie flops starting in the year 2000.

On March 3, 2004, at Disney's annual shareholders' meeting, a surprising and unprecedented 43% of Disney's shareholders, predominantly rallied by former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, withheld their proxies to re-elect Eisner to the board. Disney's board then gave the chairmanship position to Mitchell. However, the board did not immediately remove Eisner as chief executive.

On March 13, 2005, Eisner announced that he would step down as CEO one year before his contract expired. On September 30, Eisner resigned both as an executive and as a member of the board of directors, and, severing all formal ties with the company, he waived his contractual rights to perks such as the use of a corporate jet and an office at the company's Burbank headquarters. Eisner's replacement was his longtime assistant, Robert Iger.

DisneyWar

DisneyWar is an exposé of Michael Eisner's 20-year tenure as Chairman and CEO at The Walt Disney Company by James B. Stewart.

Stewart's book describes some of the following:

First "Save Disney" war (1984)

Roy E. Disney resigned as an executive in 1977 due to disagreements with his colleagues' decisions at the time. As he claimed later, "I just felt creatively the company was not going anywhere interesting. It was very stifling." But he retained a seat on the board of directors. His resignation from the board in 1984, which occurred in the midst of a corporate takeover battle, was the beginning of a series of developments that led to the replacement of company president and CEO Ronald William Miller (married to Walt's daughter Diane Marie Disney) by Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. Roy soon returned to the company as vice-chairman of the board of directors and head of the animation department.

Insane Clown Posse and "Gay Days" controversy

Another notable controversy is the incident surrounding the Walt Disney Company-owned label Hollywood Records and rap/hip hop band Insane Clown Posse. The band's manager Alex Abbiss negotiated a contract with Hollywood Records, which reportedly paid US$1 million to purchase the Insane Clown Posse contract from Battery/Jive/BMG Records. The group started recording its fourth studio album, The Great Milenko, in 1996, during which Disney requested that the tracks "The Neden Game," "Under the Moon," and "Boogie Woogie Wu" be removed. Disney also asked that the lyrics of other tracks be changed, threatening to not release the album otherwise. The band members, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope complied with Disney's requests, and planned to go on a national tour with House of Krazees and Myzery as their opening acts. During a music store autograph signing, Insane Clown Posse was notified that Hollywood Records had recalled the album within hours of its release, despite having sold 18,000 copies and reaching #63 on the Billboard 200. The group was also informed that its in-store signings and nationwide tour had been canceled, commercials for the album and the music video for "Halls of Illusions" (which had reached #1 on The Box video request channel) were pulled from television, and that the group was dropped from the label. It was later revealed that Disney was being criticized by the Southern Baptist Convention at the time because of Disney's promotion of "Gay Days" at Disneyland, in addition to presiding over the gay-themed television sitcom Ellen. The Convention claimed Disney was turning its back on "family values." Although Abbiss told the press that Disney had stopped production of The Great Milenko to avoid further controversy, Disney claimed instead that the release of the album was an oversight by their review board, and that the album "did not fit the Disney image" because of its "inappropriate" lyrics, which they claimed were offensive to women. It was later revealed that Michael Eisner had used the incident with Southern Baptist Convention as a scapegoat for the band's removal from the label. As a result of that decision, every major record label in the United States, including Interscope Records, home of other controversial bands/artists like Eminem and Marilyn Manson, wanted to sign Insane Clown Posse and publish the original recordings of the album. After the termination of the Hollywood Records contract, Insane Clown Posse signed a new contract with Island/PolyGram Records, which agreed to release the album as intended. Entertainment Weekly music critic David Browne gave the record a C-minus rating: "[With] its puerile humor and intentionally ugly metal-rap tunes, the album feels oddly dated." The Great Milenko was certified platinum with over 1.7 million copies sold. One of the group's first projects with Island Records was an hour-long documentary titled Shockumentary, which aired on MTV. The station initially refused to play the documentary, but Island Records persuaded them to air it as a personal favor. Shockumentary helped increase album sales from 17,000 to 50,000 copies per week.

Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group

Miramax Films

Miramax has come under criticism for its editing, dubbing, and replacing the soundtracks of various foreign films it releases. One notable example is Iron Monkey, which though released subtitled, had its subtitles altered to remove the political context of the story, had scenes trimmed and changed for violence and pacing, and had the soundtrack changed, removing the famous Wong Fei Hung theme. Other films that they have altered in this way include Shaolin Soccer, Farewell My Concubine (theatrical release), The Thief and the Cobbler and Jet Li's Fist of Legend.

Peter Biskind's book Down and Dirty Pictures details many of Weinstein's dishonest dealings with filmmakers.

Under the Weinsteins, Miramax had a history of buying the rights to Asian films, only to sit on them without releasing them for some years. One example of this is Hero, a 2002 Chinese martial arts film. It languished in Miramax's vaults for two years before it was salvaged with the intervention of Quentin Tarantino. And sometimes Miramax purchased films only to never release them. An example of this is Tears of the Black Tiger, a Thai film. After changing the ending of the film, Tears of the Black Tiger sat in Miramax's vaults for five years until its rights were purchased by Magnolia Pictures in 2006.

The "no cuts" policy was highlighted when Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein suggested editing the Japanese anime film Princess Mononoke to make it more marketable. In response, a Studio Ghibli producer sent an authentic katana with a simple message: "No cuts".

One reason for the delays and non-releases of films was an accounting scheme the Weinsteins used to shift potential money-losing films to future fiscal years and ensure they would receive annual bonuses from Disney,[24] while trying to bar retailers from legally exporting authentic DVDs of the films.[25]

As a result of the Weinsteins' actions, a number of Asian producers who sold their distribution rights to the company refuse to do so for their subsequent films.[citation needed]

Defenders of the company point out that prior to Miramax most of the films purchased by the company would have had little to no chance of achieving U.S. distribution other than by very small distributors with minimal marketing expertise and funds. They also state that the purpose of the company's aggressive re-editing technique was always to try help the films find a broader American audience than they might otherwise find.

"I'm not cutting for fun", Harvey Weinstein said in an interview. "I'm cutting for the shit to work. All my life I served one master: the film. I love movies.".[26]

Miramax is also accused of ignoring their more artistic, less audience-friendly films, especially when directors refuse to re-cut them to make them less challenging. Dead Man, which director Jim Jarmusch refused to re-cut, got a very limited release and critics have accused the Weinsteins of burying the film. Tarantino, among other directors working with Miramax, have happily re-cut their films to the Weinsteins' liking. [27] [28]

Miramax was parodied in the Kevin Smith film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), in which the studio attempted to adapt Jay and Silent Bob's comic book characters, Bluntman and Chronic, into a movie, thus resulting in the duo traveling to Hollywood to stop them from making the movie. According to Kevin Smith, this film is a direct response to the controversy surrounding his previous film, Dogma.

Pixar

Pixar and Disney had disagreements after the production of Toy Story 2. Originally intended as a straight-to-video release (and thus not part of Pixar's three-picture deal), the film was eventually upgraded to a theatrical release during production. Pixar demanded that the film then be counted toward the three-picture agreement, but Disney refused.[29] Pixar's first five feature films have collectively grossed more than $2.5 billion, equivalent to the highest per-film average gross in the industry. Though profitable for both, Pixar later complained that the arrangement was not equitable. Pixar was responsible for creation and production, while Disney handled marketing and distribution. Profits and production costs were split 50-50, but Disney exclusively owned all story and sequel rights and also collected a distribution fee. The lack of story and sequel rights was perhaps the most onerous aspect to Pixar and set the stage for a contentious relationship.[30]

The two companies attempted to reach a new agreement in early 2004. The new deal would be only for distribution, as Pixar intended to control production and own the resulting film properties themselves. The company also wanted to finance their films on their own and collect 100 percent of the profits, paying Disney only the 10 to 15 percent distribution fee.[31] More importantly, as part of any distribution agreement with Disney, Pixar demanded control over films already in production under their old agreement, including The Incredibles and Cars. Disney considered these conditions unacceptable, but Pixar would not concede.[31]

Disagreements between Steve Jobs and then Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner made the negotiations more difficult than they otherwise might have been. They broke down completely in mid-2004, with Jobs declaring that Pixar was actively seeking partners other than Disney.[32] Pixar did not enter negotiations with other distributors. After a lengthy hiatus, negotiations between the two companies resumed following the departure of Eisner from Disney in September 2005. In preparation for potential fallout between Pixar and Disney, Jobs announced in late 2004 that Pixar would no longer release movies at the Disney-dictated November time frame, but during the more lucrative early summer months. This would also allow Pixar to release DVDs for their major releases during the Christmas shopping season. An added benefit of delaying Cars was to extend the time frame remaining on the Pixar-Disney contract to see how things would play out between the two companies.[33]

Pending the Disney acquisition of Pixar, the two companies created a distribution deal for the intended 2007 release of Ratatouille, in case the acquisition fell through, to ensure that this one film would still be released through Disney's distribution channels. (In contrast to the earlier Disney/Pixar deal Ratatouille was to remain a Pixar property and Disney would have received only a distribution fee.) The completion of Disney's Pixar acquisition, however, nullified this distribution arrangement.[34]

ABC Network

On February 9, 1996, The Walt Disney Company acquired Capital Cities/ABC, and renamed the broadcasting group ABC, Inc., although the network also continues to use American Broadcasting Companies, such as on TV productions it owns.

ABC's relationship with Disney dates back to 1953, when Leonard Goldenson pledged enough money so that the "Disneyland" theme park could be completed. ABC continued to hold Disney notes and stock until 1960, and also had first call on the "Disneyland" television series in 1954. With this new relationship came an attempt at cross-promotion, with attractions based on ABC shows at Disney parks and an annual soap festival at Walt Disney World. (The former president of ABC, Inc., Robert Iger, now heads Disney.) In 1997, ABC aired a Saturday morning block called One Saturday Morning which changed to ABC Kids in 2002. It featured a 5-hour line-up of children's shows (mostly cartoons) for children ages 5–12. but it was changed to a 4-hour line-up in 2005. Since then, it was aimed for children more in the 10–16 range.

Despite intense micro-managing on the part of Disney management, the flagship television network was slow to turn around. In 1999, the network was able to experience a brief bolster in ratings with the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. A new national phenomenon, Survivor, on CBS persuaded the schedulers at ABC to change Millionaire's slot over to the Wednesday Time slot at 8:00 to kill Survivor before it got a ratings hold. The first results were promising for CBS; they lost by only a few ratings points. ABC tried to keep the strength running, so they tried an unprecedented strategy for Millionaire by airing the show four times a week during the next Fall season, in the process overexposing the show, as it appeared on the network sometimes five or six nights during a week. ABC's ratings fell dramatically as competitors introduced their own game shows and the public grew tired of the format. Alex Wallau took over as president in 2000. Despite the repeated overexposure of Millionaire and its switch to syndication, ABC continued to find some success in dramas such as The Practice (which gave birth to a successful spinoff, Boston Legal, in 2004), Alias, and Once and Again. ABC also had some moderately successful comedies including The Drew Carey Show, Spin City, Dharma & Greg, According to Jim, My Wife and Kids and The George Lopez Show.

Still one asset that ABC lacked in the early 2000s that most other networks had was popularity in reality television. ABC's briefly lived reality shows Are You Hot? and I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! proved to be an embarrassment for the network. By end of the 2003–2004 television season, ABC slumped to fourth place, becoming the first of the original "Big Three" networks to fall into such ratings.

Controversy

ABC Daytime

  • When Megan McTavish returned as Head Writer of All My Children in July 2003, she faced criticism for a story that depicted the rape of a lesbian character, Bianca Montgomery.[35] The show also faced opposition to its recent story of a transgender character in 2006.
  • ABC Daytime scrapped a storyline on One Life to Live which was to depict a school shooting rampage the day the Virginia Tech massacre occurred on April 17, 2007.[36]
  • The Writers Guild of America East filed arbitration suits against ABC Daytime, claiming that they violated the strike-termination agreement by retaining replacement writers (those who choose Financial Core Status) who filled in during the strike on All My Children instead of bringing back the writers who had been on strike.

“The strike-termination agreement does not allow the retention of replacement writers in lieu of allowing striking writers to return to their jobs. [ABC Daytime] are clearly violating this agreement,” said Ira Cure, senior counsel for the WGA East, in a statement. “They have left us no other option but to file arbitrations to ensure that our members will be afforded their rights outlined under this agreement.” Broadcasting & Cable: Arbitration Suit Against ABC-D

In August 2009, Frons announced that the production of All My Children would move from New York City to Los Angeles by the end of the year.[37][38]

ABC News

On April 30, 2004, Nightline host Ted Koppel read the names of the members of the United States Armed Forces who were killed in Iraq. This prompted controversy from conservatives who believed Koppel was making a political statement and from Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which felt that ABC was undermining the war effort in Iraq. Others, most notably the Washington Post television columnist, thought it was a ratings stunt for sweeps, and indeed Nightline was the highest-rated program during that time period, and had about 30% more viewers than other Nightline programs that week. Sinclair stations did not air the program.

Koppel repeated the format on May 28, 2004, reading the names of service members killed in Afghanistan, and on May 30, 2005, reading the names of all service members killed in Afghanistan or Iraq between the last program and the preparation of the program. This time, Sinclair stations aired the program as scheduled.

In the wake of the job cuts, a significant controversy erupted online in May 2010 after it was announced the former VP of news coverage, Mimi Gurbst, was leaving the network to become a guidance counselor.[39] A story in the New York Observer reported that Gurbst was a "cherished" mentor inside the news division.[40] Reporters who closely follow TV news observed that a large number of current and former ABC News staffers went online to vigorously respond that Gurbst had helped perpetuate a negative culture with ABC News.[41][42]

Dangerous Minds

Producers Andrew Schneider and Diane Frolov made a character based on real life former U.S. Marine, teacher and author LouAnne Johnson do things that she herself thinks are unethical, inadvisable and silly. In one episode, the character LouAnne Johnson took her students to a strip club to organize a fundraiser for their school by participating in a hair war. The producers thought that this would make her cute and endearing, ignoring the fact that they wrote LouAnne into taking her underage students to a strip club. In another episode a black character threatens to shoot her teacher because LouAnne encourages his girlfriend to go to college. This never happened outside of the show and the real LouAnne Johnson knew that depicting African American males as violent was wrong and unrealistic.[43]

The Path to 9/11

ABC aired the controversial two-part miniseries The Path to 9/11 in the US on September 10, 2006, at 8 p.m. EDT and September 11, 2006, at 8 p.m. EDT. The extensive pre-broadcast controversy over the film has included disputes over the accuracy of its dramatization of key events, as well as calls by historians and from former Clinton and Bush administration officials for ABC to re-edit part of the film or not broadcast it at all. According to the official statement released by ABC on September 7, 2006, the film is "a dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including The 9/11 Commission Report, other published materials, and from personal interviews.[44] "

The main source of the controversy stems from portions of the film concerned with the Clinton administration in the 1990s. Critics say that certain dramatized scenes tend to suggest that blame for the events that took place on September 11, 2001 lies with Clinton and his cabinet. One example cited is a scene in which then National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, does not approve of the order to take out a surrounded Osama bin Laden and tells the squad in Afghanistan that they will have to do the job without official authorization and then hangs up the phone. According to Sandy Berger and others – including conservative author and Clinton critic Richard Miniter – this never happened.[45] Screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh has now admitted that the abrupt hang-up was not in the script and was improvised.[46]

American Airlines reportedly threatened to pull its advertising from ABC after this program aired. The liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America named ABC its third annual "Misinformer of the Year" award in 2006, not only for the miniseries, but for the alleged conservative pandering of ABC News director Mark Halperin and for biased claims on news programs such as ABC World News and Good Morning America.

Alexis Debat

Alexis Debat, a consultant for ABC for years and also a writer for The National Interest, resigned from ABC in June 2007 after the broadcasting company discovered that he did not have a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne as he pretended.[47] Furthermore, in September 2007, the French news media Rue 89 revealed that he had made at least two bogus interviews, one of Barack Obama and another of Alan Greenspan, both published in the French magazine Politique internationale.[48][49] This in turn also led to his resignation from The National Interest.[47] Debat had specialized in reports on terrorism and national security for the past six years (writing, for example, on the Jundallah Balochi and Sunni organization).[47][50]

ABC contract dispute affecting WABC-TV and WPVI

On March 2, 2010, WABC-TV in New York along with Philadelphia sister station WPVI (carried in Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties) stated that they would pull their programming from Cablevision on March 7, 2010 (at midnight), unless a new payment structure is implemented for its network programming. Cablevision responded by citing WABC-TV and WPVI's free, over-the-air accessibility. Cablevision spokesman Charles Scheuler stated "It is not fair for ABC-Disney to hold Cablevision customers hostage by forcing them to pay what amounts to a new TV tax." [51]

The removal of both stations occurred on the weekend of the 82nd Academy Awards, which was scheduled to be one of ABC's largest yearly specials, and was projected to cause a devastating blow to advertisers for the Oscars and to Cablevision itself.

On Sunday March 7, 2010 at 12:01 a.m. ET, both WABC and WPVI were removed from Cablevision leaving a black screen in their place, confirming the rumors that if a deal with Cablevision and ABC was not reached by midnight, the network and other Disney-owned channels would go off the air.

Cablevision began looping a public service announcement on each affected channel and forcing all of its customers' set-top boxes to channel 1999, which was looping the same annnouncement, much like was done when Scripps Networks pulled their cable channels' programming. Besides providing certain details of the disagreement they stated that ABC shows could be watched online through TV websites such as Hulu.

Also that day, Cablevision announced through e-mail that their entire film catalog of on-demand movies would be available without charge until midnight that evening as an apology to their customers.[52]

At 8:50 p.m. that day, WABC and WPVI returned to Cablevision's programming, after a notification during the 82nd Academy Awards announced progression in "Work to complete our negotiations", and the return of ABC's programming during the negotiations.

Cable TV channels

ABC Family

Fox Family Worldwide Inc was sold to Disney for $2.9 billion on October 24, 2001. The sale to Disney also included TV channel Fox Kids and Saban Entertainment (renamed BVS Entertainment). The entire network was officially renamed ABC Family on November 10, 2001.[53][54][55][56]

The sale to Disney was considered one of the largest mistakes or problems occurring during the tenure of Michael Eisner. The failure was primarily due to the acquisition being done by the strategic planning department of Disney, without consulting anyone at ABC. The original plan was to use the channel to essentially show re-runs of ABC programming, but this plan was completely impossible since ABC had no syndication rights to the majority of their own programs. During this time, the network did air same-season repeats of Alias, Less Than Perfect, Life with Bonnie, and The Bachelor, almost all of which were Touchstone Television productions (The Bachelor is distributed by Time Warner's Telepictures). But in trying to change the focus of the channel, Disney also canceled several Fox Family series, like State of Grace, and cut back on the network's TV movies, which were among the few programs Fox Family was doing well with. The ratings tumbled further as the network became dependent on syndicated reruns and no original programs (save for original wrap-around segments around Bachelor repeats, and children's programming). [57]

The next major plan was to reposition the channel to market it to college students, young women, or to a more hip audience under the name XYZ, a reverse reference to ABC. Disney soon found that the channel could never be renamed as such. The original sale from CBN to Fox/Saban contained a stipulation that the channel contain the word "Family" in the name forever, no matter who owns the network. To create XYZ, the Family Channel would have had to cease to exist — terminating all existing cable TV contracts — and XYZ would have to be created as a new network. Cable companies would not be obligated to put XYZ in the spot vacated by the Family Channel. ABC scrapped the idea after discovering this clause.[58]

The name was revisited at one point in 2003, serving as a program block entitled "The XYZ.", showing programs and movies aimed at the above groups. The network was also used as a buffer to burn off failed ABC series, such as All American Girl, which featured Spice Girl Geri Haliwell.[59]

Since 2006, the critics have gone after programming on ABC Family. Most feel the network has gone from family friendly to "too risqué," and shows like Greek and The Secret Life of the American Teenager are far too racy for "family viewers." Critics feel the executives at ABC Family are only after viewership numbers and are unconcerned about showing younger generations in questionable scenarios in series and film. Mostly where the main focus is on teenage pregnancy or underage drinking.[60]

It should be noted that despite the channel's name including the word "Family", the channel's programming content standards had changed several years earlier after the sale of the channel by International Family Entertainment, and the channel had been airing even some acquired series and movies that contain profanity, violence and sexual content or dialogue after the sale, particularly since being purchased by The Walt Disney Company. ABC Family does air parental advisory tags at the beginning of some TV-14 rated programs, such as That '70s Show and some episodes of The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

Disney Channel

Disney Channel has come under heavy criticism ever since the network switched its broadcast from premium, more limited cable to more basic, widespread cable. Experts criticize the company for programming that has pulled away from the characters that the network's parent company, The Walt Disney Company was founded upon: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. Other critics disapprove of the marketing strategy made by Anne Sweeney, the President of ABC-Disney Television Group,[61] which makes the programs on Disney Channel geared mainly towards pre-teen and teenage girls.[62] Disney Channel executives hoped to become more “boy friendly” in 2010; especially when Good Luck Charlie premiered and when Aaron Stone and Zeke and Luther joined the main program line-up.

South Park parody

The Jonas Brothers are parodied in South Park episode entitled "The Ring" and play a prominent role in the episode's plot. In a television column written before "The Ring" aired, Lisa de Moraes of The Washington Post suggested creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were using the Jonas Brothers in the thirteenth season debut as a means of improving the show's ratings; Comedy Central executives, however, insisted Jonas Brothers fans do not fit into South Park's demographic of males between the ages 18 and 49.[63] The Walt Disney Company, the Disney Channel and the Mickey Mouse cartoon character are also prominently featured, and spoofed, in the episode;[64] even when Mickey Mouse says callous things or physically assaults people, he follows up most statements with the character's trademark high-pitched "Ha ha!" laugh, which in context comes off like a nervous tic.[65]

Reviewers and commentators have described "The Ring" as not just a parody of the Jonas Brothers, but also of the ethos of the Walt Disney Company.[64][65][66] The episode portrays Disney as a corporation using the ruse of family-friendly morals to disguise their primary motive, which is profit; reviewers and articles said this point is further illustrated by the use of Mickey Mouse, a cartoon symbol for the wholesome Disney image, as a foul-mouthed, contemptuous, greedy, all-powerful and violent character.[64][65] Specifically, the episode targets Disney's marketing tactic of the band members pledging abstinence through purity rings, which the script suggests is used to subliminally sell sex to young girls, while simultaneously appeasing the ethical standards of their parents and taking advantage of their fearful desire to protect their daughters, as Mickey had said. Due to other speculation on the orientation and personal activities of the Jonas brothers, the episode continued to create a running gag on the effect of the Jonas brothers on young girls of the "tween" period. Often provoking the image that they too would become like Mickey Mouse, in most unwanted characteristics. The episode further illustrates the greed of corporate culture by portraying Mickey as capitalizing on religion for profit, while secretly mocking it in a particularly cruel tone: "I've made billions off of Christian ignorance for decades now! And do you know why? Because Christians are f**king retarded! They believe in a talking dead guy!"[64]

ESPN

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

Al Lutz' Disney reports

Beginning in the 1990s, Lutz often complained in his articles about a perceived decline in value and quality at Disney's theme parks, chiefly Disneyland and the neighboring park that opened in 2001, Disney's California Adventure.[67][citation needed] Much of his criticism was directed at Paul Pressler, the one-time president of Disneyland who later was named chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and Cynthia Harriss, Pressler's successor as Disneyland's president. From 1996-2002, Lutz maintained a set of sarcastic Web pages called Promote Paul Pressler![68][citation needed], whose stated goal was "getting current Disneyland Resort President Paul Pressler promoted to a new job somewhere else within the Walt Disney Company!"

Lutz's July 2006 report on the alleged antics of Lindsay Lohan during a private party held at Disneyland for her 20th birthday[69][citation needed] drew a rebuke from a representative for the actress, who said reports of bad behavior were "complete bull".[70][citation needed] This report brought Lutz' website, MiceAge, briefly into the spotlight, and established Lutz as a Disney watchdog in the mainstream media.

In late 2007, mainstream media outlets including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and foreign newspapers referenced claims made in two of Lutz' columns. One was about a planned refurbishment of the "it's a small world" attraction at Disneyland would modify the ride's boat and flume trough to accommodate boats capable of carrying heavier park guests, a claim Disney consistently has denied in subsequent media coverage.[71][citation needed]

Walt Disney World College Program

The Walt Disney World College Program is a U.S. national internship program operated by The Walt Disney Company, located at the Walt Disney World Resort. The Walt Disney World College Program recruits students (18 years and older) and all majors for a semester-long paid internship program working at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Critics argue that Disney is using the program as a source of cheap labor, as interns do the same work as veteran employees, but at a significantly lower pay rate.[72] In late 2007, a permanent Cast Member ran for president of the local union in Orlando. Part of his platform intended to get rid of the Disney College program, claiming that the program "imports thousands of low-wage earners every year to work for Disney, depressing the local employment market and keeping wages down." Disney responded that the program is beneficial in the recruitment of cast members and that 8,000 workers out of 62,000 do not greatly impact operations.[73] It has been criticised also for its lack of Union representation and denial of Insurance benefits by the company.

Disneyland Paris

In May 1992, entertainment magazine The Hollywood Reporter reported that about 25% of Euro Disney's workforce — approximately 3,000 men and women — had resigned their jobs due to unacceptable working conditions. It also reported that the park's attendance was far behind expectations. Euro Disney S.C.A., the company that operates Disneyland Paris, responded in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, in which the company's president, Robert Fitzpatrick, claimed only 1,000 people had left their jobs.

In response to the financial situation, Fitzpatrick ordered that the Disney-MGM Studios Europe project would be put on hiatus until a further decision could be made. Prices at the resort's hotels were also reduced significantly.

Despite these efforts, in May 1992 daily park attendance was around 25,000 (some reports give a figure of 30,000) instead of the predicted 60,000. Euro Disney's stock price spiralled downwards and on July 23, 1992, the Resort announced an expected net loss in its first year of operation of approximately 300 million French francs. During Euro Disney's first winter, hotel occupancy was such that it was decided to close Disney's Newport Bay Club hotel for the season. Initial hopes were that each visitor would spend around US$33 per day, but near the end of 1992, analysts reckoned spending to be around 12% lower.[74]

Efforts to improve attendance included serving alcoholic beverages with meals inside the Euro Disneyland theme park, in response to a presumed European demand, which began June 12, 1993.[75]

In January 1994, Sanford Litvack, an attorney from New York City and former Assistant Attorney General during the Jimmy Carter presidency, was assigned to be Disney's lead negotiator regarding Euro Disney's future. On February 28, Litvack made an offer (without the consent of Eisner or Frank Wells) to split the debts between Euro Disney creditors and Disney. After the banks showed interest, Litvack informed Eisner and Wells. On March 14, the day before the annual shareholders meeting, the banks capitulated to Disney's demands. The creditor banks bought US$500 million worth of Euro Disney shares, forgave 18 months of interest and deferred interest payments for three years. The Walt Disney Company invested US$750 million into Euro Disney and granted a five-year suspension of royalty payments. In June that same year, Saudi Arabian Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud cut a deal whereby the Walt Disney Company bought 51% of a new US$1.1 billion share issue, the rest being offered to existing shareholders at below-market rates, with the Prince buying any that were not taken up by existing shareholders (up to a 24.5% holding).

Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex

A former baseball umpire and an architect alleged that they approached the Walt Disney Company in 1987 with plans for a sports complex, and that Wide World of Sports, which opened 10 years later, was heavily based on their designs. Disney claimed that, while the designs had some similarities, the complex was also similar to numerous other sporting facilities, and the concept of a sports park was too generic for any one group to claim ownership. The two men, represented in part by noted attorney Johnnie Cochran, sued Disney in Orange County civil court. In August 2000, a jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs with damages in the amount of $240 million, a fraction of the $1.5 billion sought.[76] Disney appealed the judgment, and settled out of court in September 2002 for undisclosed terms.[77]

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Even in planning stages, various Florida based animal rights groups and PETA didn't like the idea of Disney creating a theme park where animals were held in captivity. The groups protested, and PETA tried to convince travel agents not to book trips to the park.[78] A few weeks before the park opened, a number of animals died due to accidents. The United States Department of Agriculture viewed most of the cases and found no violations of animal-welfare regulations.[79] On opening day, the Orange County Sheriff's office sent about 150 deputies in fear that there may be a large protest, but only two dozen protesters showed up. The protest lasted two hours, and there were no arrests.[80]

One year after the park opened, The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida complained that a New Year's Eve fireworks show could upset the animals. A USDA inspector came to the park to find no problems with launching low-noise fireworks half a mile away.[81]

Disney California Adventure Park

Disney California Adventure, originally named Disney's California Adventure Park until a name change in June, 2010, was expected to draw large crowds when opened in 2001. A January 14, 2001 Los Angeles Times article titled "The most Jam-Packed Theme Park on Earth?" stated "Senior Disney officials acknowledge that there will be days when California Adventure will have to turn patrons away, particularly in the first weeks after the park opens, during spring break and again in the summer." The actual attendance was not close to the size that Disney expected for the park back in 2001.[82]

The reasons for this has been speculated as:

  • Bad word-of-mouth from early visitors discouraged future visitors, stating the park was lacking in Disney-quality attractions.[83]
  • Hollywood Pictures Backlot had lack of focus on the restaurants, shops and attractions.
  • Lack of rides for young children.
  • The park's Californian theme was criticized as being redundant, seeing as the park itself was located in the same state it represented. Various tourist attractions and landmarks such as the Hollywood Sign and the beaches were located less than an hour away from the park.
  • Fans criticized the Paradise Pier area of the park because many of the attractions in this area were generic rides that guests do not expect to find at a Disney park. This was ironic because Walt Disney originally created the neighboring Disneyland to provide a theme park experience unlike boardwalk piers and amusement parks of the era, and instead wanted to create a park where the entire family could enjoy themselves.
  • With an estimated price tag of $600 million, the park was criticized for being built "on the cheap," with a small amount of attractions and minimal theming.[84]
  • Many guests complained that a single day admission ticket to Disney's California Adventure cost the same as a single day admission ticket to Disneyland Park, yet contained fewer attractions, shows & entertainment.[85]

Disney's chief executive officer, Robert Iger went on record during the company's annual stockholder meeting on March 10, 2006, when someone asked about a potential third park being built in Anaheim. "We're still working to assure the second gate is successful", Iger said, referring to California Adventure. "In the spirit of candor, we have been challenged."[86]

On October 17, 2007, The Walt Disney Company announced a multi-year, $1.1 billion expansion plan for Disney's California Adventure Park.[87][88] Current plans for the renovation and expansion are on display for park visitors inside the Blue Sky Cellar at the Golden Vine Winery. Disney listened to the public and several of the attractions which drew criticism from the public will be removed in the multi-year, multi-billion dollar redesign and expansion of Disney's California Adventure. Other rides will be redesigned or replaced with a larger focus on Disney characters and stories. On May 28, 2010, it was announced through the Disney Parks Blog that the park would also be receiving a slight name change, to Disney California Adventure, as well as a new logo. The new name took effect on June 11, 2010 appearing on park maps and banners, but was first used in a commercial promoting Disney's World of Color a few days prior. World of Color premiered on June 11, 2010 as part of Disney's Summer Nighttastic.[89]

Hong Kong Disneyland

Overcrowding problems

Just before the grand opening, the park was criticised for underestimating the daily capacity limit.[90] The problem became apparent on the charity preview day on 4 September 2005, when 30,000 locals visited the park. This event turned out to be a disaster, there were too many guests. Wait times at fast food outlets were at least 45 minutes in length, and wait times at rides were two hours in length.

Although the community, and the park's biggest shareholder, the Hong Kong Government, put pressure on the park to lower the capacity, the park insisted on keeping the limit and only agreed to relieve the capacity problem by extending opening time by one hour or introducing more discounts during weekdays. However, the park said local visitors tend to stay in the park for about nine hours per visit, implying that the mentioned practices would do little to solve the problem[citation needed].

During Chinese New Year 2006, many visitors arrived at the park in the morning bearing valid tickets, but were refused entry, because the park was already at capacity. Disgruntled visitors attempted to force their way into the park or gain access by climbing over the barrier gates.[91] Disneyland management was forced to revise their ticketing policy and designated future periods close to Chinese public holidays as 'special days' during which admission would only be allowed through a date-specific ticket.

Food safety panel

Officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene department, who were asked by Disney staff to take off their badges and caps in order to enter the park, left park visitors feeling very uneasy. The officers investigated a food-poisoning case in the park's restaurants.[92] The chairman of Legco's food Safety panel, Fred Li, described the incident as shocking, and called on the director of the department to take follow-up action against Disney. Hong Kong Disneyland says what happened was inappropriate and has apologised for the incident. The Secretary for Justice has since said that the government did not have enough evidence to make a prosecution, thus dropping the case.

Fingerprinting

As at other Disney theme parks, visitors to Hong Kong Disneyland have their finger biometrics scanned at the entry gate. Visitors are not warned of the policy beforehand. Scanning is done of all visitors older than 10 years of age, and is used to associate ticket media with the person using it. The company claims that "the 50 sample points from the surface of a guest's finger ... do not contain sufficient information to recreate a fingerprint image." Nonetheless, forensic specialists note that the data collected are more than adequate to establish a positive identification.[93]

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort

Shark fin soup controversy

Disney originally planned to serve shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese delicacy, at wedding banquets.[94] Animal rights groups protested in June 2005, citing the declining shark population in global waters and the cruel methods sometimes used of cutting the fin and discarding the live sharks back into the water.

At first, Disney removed shark fin soup from its menu but said it would still offer the soup if their clients insisted on having it served at their wedding. They said they would distribute leaflets about shark conservation to discourage the choice.[95]

However, after constant and continuous pressure from environmental groups and schoolchildren,[96] shareholders concerned about the company's image, Disney announced on 24 June 2005 that shark fin soup will not be served at all, because, according to their press release, "After careful consideration and a thorough review process, we were not able to identify an environmentally sustainable fishing source, leaving us no alternative except to remove shark's fin soup from our wedding banquet menu".[97]

Other controversies

  • Fish around Ma Wan died as a result of land reclamation.[98]
  • The official size of the entire development as released by the government was 1.26 km2.[citation needed] Furthermore, the size of the first phase was reported to be only 700,000 m2. However the area of just the Disneyland theme park portion, is estimated to be between 152,100 and 187,200 m2. If it accommodates a maximum capacity of 34 000 visitors, the area per visitor would be 2.5 m2 . The commercial area is divided into:
    • Theme Park: 325,700 m2
    • Hotels: 165,300 m2
    • Parking and Transit Hub: 171,900 m2
    • Inspiration Lake 300,000 m2

Disney's PhotoPass

Disney's PhotoPass is a professional photography service offered Disney theme parks, water parks, and resorts. Photographers positioned at locations in the theme parks, dining events at the resorts, and at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Downtown Disney are linked to a free card containing a unique serial number. Guests can view or purchase PhotoPass pictures at locations in the parks (generally near the park entrance) or online by registering the card's number.[99][100]

Customers have complained about the difference in advertised prices, particularly of Photo CD products, and the actual cost. Disney has responded that advertised specials apply only to products purchased at the parks and do not apply to the website.[101]

Disney Consumer Products

Disney Princess

On December 24, 2006, Peggy Orenstein published, “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?” in the New York Times. In her article, Orenstein discussed her concerns about the effects of princess figures on young girls. Orenstein used the Disney Princesses specifically to present many of her points. Orenstein also noted the pervasive nature of princess-related merchandise and that every facet of play has its princess equivalent.[102]

Other sources have also voiced concern that the franchise could possibly give young girls the wrong message. However, other parents say that their young daughters would eventually grow out of this phase.[103]

Disney Villains

The majority of Disney's villain characters are regarded as being age 55 or older. A study from Brigham Young University reviewed seventy years of Disney films, and discovered that 42% of the 93 characters reviewed reinforced negative stereotypes of elderly people by portraying those characters as evil, grumpy or sinister. The conclusion was that Disney was influencing children to have preconceived notions about all older adults.[104]

Marvel Comics

Page 16 of Captain America #602 (March 2010) depicted an anti-tax protest march in Idaho in which one participant held a sign reading "Tea Bag the Libs Before They Tea Bag You," with a caption containing the words of an off-screen African-American superhero, the Falcon, telling Captain America, "I don't exactly see a black man from Harlem fitting in with a bunch of angry white folks."[105][106][107] The cartoon drew the condemnation of the Michael Johns, a board member of the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition.[106] Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada characterized the sign as inadvertent and as "something that we need to apologize for and own up to...."[108] Quesada explained that with a printing deadline looming, the comic's editor noticed that the protest group's signs on the original art were empty, and the editor "asked the letterer on the book to just fudge in some quick signs. The letterer in his rush ... looked on the 'net and started pulling slogans from actual signs," including a "Tea Bag" sign. Following the printing of the issue, Marvel staff "caught the mistake" and "spoke to the letterer, [who] was mortified at his mistake and was truly sorry as he had no political agenda." Quesada said Marvel "removed the sign from the art files so that it no longer appears in future reprints of the title or collections. So, while the crowd protesting has nothing to do with the villains in the story, we in no way meant to say they were associated with the Tea Party movement...."[108]

Acquisition of Marvel Entertainment

On August 31, 2009, Disney announced that it will acquire Marvel Entertainment for four billion dollars.[109] However, this led Marvel fans to angrily set up a backlash, contemplating that Marvel would become more Disney-esque than being Marvel. Marvel fans also spread numerous rumors around on the Internet about Disney integrating characters from the Disney animated films into Marvel Comics superhero issues and even casting a star from the Disney Channel in future Marvel Studios films. Although Disney wishes to market to a young male demographic with this purchase, Disney has stated that the acquisition will not affect any of Marvel's products in any way and neither will the nature of any Marvel characters or products will be transformed. The acquisition was completed on December 31, 2009. Disney appears to have lied, however, as Marvel's comics have actually become darker, rather than more "Disney-like", though this could be due to Marvel's own change in direction rather than by Disney's influence.

See also

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