It’s been dark for Disney and the magic just seems to be fading as the days pass by. No company is perfect, but it seems like the recent troubles have become media landslides; and have happened under the watch of the new CEO, Bob Chapek.
The Disney Parks
The issues began at the park-level, when theme park prices increased. The company added a new paid concierge program, Genie+, that gives park guests the opportunity to optimize their trip with dining reservations, “Lightning Lane” passes (formerly known as Fast Pass), and attraction wait times. All conveniently in one place. Additionally, for $15 per person (per day), Genie+ gives guests the opportunity to reserve Lightning Lane passes for a variety of rides.
The biggest drawback, however, was that not all the rides were available under the paid concierge program. For an additional fee, you can reserve Lightning Lane passes for the more popular attractions, such as California Adventure’s Cars-themed Radiator Springs Racers, and Disneyland’s newest Star Wars-themed attraction Rise of the Resistance.
If you’ve been to Disneyland before 2020, I’m sure you’ll remember the old Fast Pass system. Access to these passes used to be included in the price of the ticket, whereas now “premium” Lightning Lane passes cost an additional $10-$20 (depending on the ride).
The added cost to general admission aside, Disney also completely eradicated their Annual Pass program. They replaced it with the Magic Key program, another annual pass system with tiers (each tier granting various perks—such as fewer blackout dates, more discounts, etc.). Since all of these changes in the past year, Disneyland and California Adventure became nearly inaccessible to a good chunk of people.
Speaking of theme parks, earlier this year, a racist depiction of Indigenous Americans was put on full display at Orlando’s Disney World. A viral video of the Port Neches-Groves High School “Indianettes” from Texas shows the team dancing and chanting “scalp ’em Indians, scalp ’em” while performing moves that appear to appropriate Indigenous American culture in a parade at the Magic Kingdom.
In a statement to KFDM, a local news station based in Beaumont, Texas, a spokesperson from the school said the team performed the routine at Disney before with no issue. “This is our eighth time at Disney,” the spokesperson said. “They don’t ask what you’re going to do as far as a performance. It’s just contest video and they see the uniforms. They asked for nothing else. This is the same performance we’ve done all eight times.”
The “Don’t Say Gay” Bill
But wait, there’s more. On top of excluding a large class of people from parks, and repeatedly displaying racism in said parks, Disney became the center of controversy over their silence in regards to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. CEO Chapek’s silence was louder than he probably expected, and set in motion an organized employee walkout on March 22. Disney employees, who wished to remain anonymous, organized quickly with a Twitter account (@DisneyWalkout) and website outlining their stance on the issue.
Disney’s tip-toeing around LGBTQIA+ issues have become a real problem, as it has turned into a creative hurdle for production crews. Despite Chapek publicly apologizing for his ill-timed silence and openly communicating the company’s opposition of the bill, the company is still playing backseat driver, and instructing production crews to suppress LGBTQIA+ content in its films to appease more conservative foreign markets such as China, Russia, and the Middle East. The most recent project to suffer from this censorship was Pixar’s Lightyear.
The film follows Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) and tells the story of the man who inspired the toy in the Toy Story film series. Although the film centers around Lightyear, there is a supporting female character, Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), who is in a relationship with another woman. Sources close to the production told Variety that while Hawthorne’s relationship was never questioned, studio execs opted to axe a kiss in an apparent move to avoid controversy.
However, production insiders claim the kiss was reinstated after Disney employees called on the entertainment company to take action against HB 1557. In an open letter published on March 9, Pixar employees expressed that “even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are barred from creating it…beyond the ‘inspiring content’ we are allowed to create, we demand action.”
Things are looking pretty grim under Chapek’s rule. “I don’t think this would have happened under Iger,” said a source who has worked for both men. “Disney now finds itself in the middle of a culture war and it shouldn’t have been there.” “Chapek’s contract is up in a year and a half,” another Hollywood executive added. “I’d be worried.”
So was Disney+’s Racial Stereotype Disclaimer just damage control and completely insincere? We’ll let you decide.
Photos via Disney/Pixar and Conde Nast Traveler