Shortsleeve, Kevin. "The Wonderful World of the Depression: Disney, Despotism, and the 1930s. Or, Why Disney Scares Us." The Lion and the Unicorn, Johns Hopkins University Vol. 28, No. 12004 pp 1-30. 2 April 2008 <http://proxy.library.upenn.edu:2239/journals/lion_and_the_unicorn/v028/28.1shortsleeve.html>.
In this article, Kevin Shortsleeve discusses the tension between Walt Disney’s messages and his actual organization. Shortsleeve finds that on the one hand Disney is committed to a utopian fantasy and a sentimental longing for monarchy in the messages of films. However, on the other hand, he also finds that the level of efficiency and production that has been achieved in Disney could not have happened in a democratically run system and that Disney is in fact run exactly like a cutthroat and semi-fascist U.S. corporation. Because of the disparities in the way Disney runs its organization and its posture as a representative of American ideals, there is a level of mistrust and paranoia surrounding the Disney enterprise.
Critiques of Disney range and vary depending on its opposition. Some authors critique the “dumbing down” and simplification of fairy tales for film adaptation. They despise the moral simplification and appeal to sentimental aesthetics, which result in the elimination of more thought-provoking and complex outcomes. P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books, expressed many of these sentiments during the making of Mary Poppins. In addition, some political critics argue that many of the films, like Aladdin for example, further U.S. imperialist aims and stereotype minorities. Feminists critique the depictions of women as Barbie-like and unrealistic. Other critiques of Disney posit that many of the films peddle false innocence and brainwash children and its employees. Conspiracy theories cite the immense autonomy Disney World enjoys in Florida and totalitarian working conditions in the Disney Corporation. This paranoia is apparent in Godzilla (1972), for example, where cartoonists who are designing a theme park turn out to be alien cockroaches with an evil plan to take over the world.
Just like in Mary Poppins, the tensions between Walt Disney’s conservatism and modernism is exhibited. Ex-employees have referred to working for Disney as ‘Waltarianism’ where collaboration and camaraderie between colleagues is prohibited and the executives rule with an iron fist. The working environment has been compared to Nazism or Big Brother, where someone is always watching and any wrong move is punished. At the same though, the corporation has maintained a rare unity in all aspects since its rise to fame in the 1930s. Disney helped ordinary Americans define themselves in a time of trauma and uncertainty throughout the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War. Disney’s essence is a set of beliefs about good, evil and human aspiration where films are imbued with a sense of optimism. Shortsleeve identifies this rift between Disney’s idealistic message and its inner workings, which has fueled paranoia, and critique of Disney. This rift can be likened to the tension of ideas in Mary Poppins where a strong patriarchal family structure and strong outspoken woman are advocated at the same time.