Mickey Mouse and his charge were angered by The Los Angeles Times reporting on Disney’s relationship with the City of Anaheim. The Times’ story posed questions about Mickey’s influence on the City, to the detriment of other taxpayers. After the Times refused to retreat, Mickey, Daffy, Goofy, and Elsa (a new generation star), persuaded the Board of Disney to invoke a Times only ban on the Times preview of Disney’s new releases. For those unfamiliar, the press is allowed the opportunity to see new releases prior to the movies’ distribution to the public. The Times responded in kind, issuing a press release telling the public about Mickey’s edict.
NOV. 3, 2017, 6:00 A.M.
A note to readers
The annual Holiday Movie Sneaks section published by the Los Angeles Times typically includes features on movies from all major studios, reflecting the diversity of films Hollywood offers during the holidays, one of the busiest box-office periods of the year. This year, Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.
Donald was the only one who sided with the Times. Standing alone, on the right side of the Board room, one webbed foot planted on the floor, the other on the wall; leaning back, quacking, protesting much too loudly, speaking imperceptibly against the Board’s anticipated decision. A good transcriptionist would have had difficulty deciphering Donald’s mutterings; spitting out choice words, some profane, in the heart of Walt’s world. “The Board’s rule strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. The right of a free and an unfettered press,” Donald’s words, translated to plain-speak. Mickey and the others were nonplussed. Mickey turned to his right, cuffed both hands, telling Snow White – and the other seven – to stop giggling. A non-jolly Mickey, a different face than his public face; frowning instead of smiling, speaking in a lower octave – a bass not a tenor – explaining, “He knows not what he is doing,” seemingly revealing the voice the public has heard all these years was made-up, a false, comical, insulting, falsetto.
“We are not preventing them from reporting. There is nothing requiring us to allow the Times to review of our movies, Mr. Duck. Mr. Disney would be terribly disappointed in your position. I have to tell you I am. The Board is apparently in agreement, Mr. Duck. The will of the majority, not the tyranny of the majority – as I heard you say,” said the Board’s chair.
Donald stood firm, hissing, spouting, spitting his words out – not Cajun, not Bawstan, nothing like the most severe southern accent – words spilling out in an unpredictable cadence, with quacks interspersed unexpectedly, further muddling his opposition. Donald’s anger compounded the problem, distorting his diction, making the opposition doubly unreasonable.
Donald believed in free speech, even for Elmer Fudd. Fudd didn’t look like him. Fudd believed differently than he. Fudd wasn’t part of the Disney family. Donald didn’t know what Fudd was; he even sounded funny to Donald, a stuttering, cartoonish buffoon was Donald’s unkind opinion of Mr. Fudd. The interesting part of their relationship – Donald understood what Fudd was saying when he talked. His difficulty lay in Elmer’s tendency to repeat himself. He also detested Fudd calling him down for cursing. None of these differences with Fudd mattered at this time. Donald was a pure civil libertarian. He believed in the right of free speech even for Fudds; meaning others, friends and foes alike.
Donald was wrong however on his First Amendment point to the Board. The Board’s lawyer delightfully corrected him. “We are not the government Mr. Duck, and the last time I checked no one has amended the First Amendment to add anyone other than Congress. ‘Congress and Disney … shall make no laws,’ no, no, no, not how it works. I have never seen Disney’s name referenced in the Constitution.”
Oh, ‘the not how it works”, got everyone going; hissing, cackling, laughing, clapping, stomping, a rather cartoonish, clownish, clannish bunch they were – Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Belle, Princess Jasmine, Maleficent and even Elsa turned in unison, shouting Donald down, pointing to the floor. The scene took on the ambiance of a sporting event, done in a style that only Disney could produce. Thumb emojis floated across the screen located on the back wall behind the Board, pointing downward. Disney being Disney, the animations were life-like; they moved off the screen, floated through the air, pointing downward, frowning while they travelled in the unison. Riotous, cavorting, snickering behavior was the mood of those watching this mean version of the Wonderful World of Disney, converting and changing the words of the theme song, “When you wish upon a star, makes a difference who you are.” Daisy, Donald’s girlfriend, turned, batted her eyes and spit. Instead of sputum flying the fifteen feet separating them, animated block letters flew out and upward, then corrected themselves, lining up in an orderly manner, and instead of a Disney-like chorus line, they spelled out the word, L-O-S-E-R.
The Board ignored Donald’s plea, leaving Donald isolated. They voted their intent, exited stage right, and were heard mumbling over a live microphone, “He always quacks.” The comment angered Donald. He found the comment derogatory, off-putting, hateful; bordering on being … “duck-ist.”
The Board knew the law. Disney has and always has had good lawyers. The same lawyers who refused to give an interview to The Los Angeles Times when the story broke. The law firm is located in Sleepy Hollow. Absolutely, the lawyers had advised Disney correctly: “Disney can’t control the Times’ reporting (“the right of a free press is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution”) … “we don’t owe them the right to review our movies early.”
So it was, the Board accepted their lawyer’s advice; we don’t have to talk to you defense. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Iger approved the motion, followed by a second, told Mr. Duck he was out of order, followed by the previously predicted unanimous vote; putting in place a Los Angeles Times only policy. Thus the Mickey induced policy allowed Disney to raise the ladders, secret behind the moat, permitting Iger and his minions to secret away to their magical castles to cherish the applause of the admiring minions.
Joy, joy, joy filled the air, Donald grew silent, dejected and moved toward the exit, while others in Disney’s universe celebrated, anticipating a joyous holiday season and wonderful reviews of Disney’s movies with the banishment of the tattletales. Donald’s sadness permitted the door to hit him where it shouldn’t – dead center – rousing him from his stupor, causing the emission of a severe, shrill, startling quack, propelling Donald upward and outward into the arms of the Times’ reporter. She was there covering the meeting, and exited before Donald to interview him for a follow-up story.
Donald was particularly fond of the Times’ reporter. No, no, don’t jump to conclusions. Donald’s not like that; never has been; never will be; Donald is Donald, a different Hollywood star. A different relationship was theirs. He was the reporter’s source in a number of different areas: labor issues, mergers and acquisitions, even admitting he had a favorite Mouseketeer. This last admission appeared in a fluff piece published in January 2015. The reporter was forever mining sources, listening, reporting, loving the breadth and size Disney represented. A fan, a critic and now standing in the hallway, holding Donald, catching him with a basket catch, the same catch she had deployed in the Lassie League in San Bernardino when she was a child.
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The Disney universe is vast. Disney’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing of subsidiaries reflects ownership of different entities worldwide, including the familiar Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Pixar, Marvel Studios, ABC broadcast television network, cable television networks such as Disney Channels, ESPN, A & E Networks and Lucas Films. Other studios which are part of this conglomerate: Touchstone Pictures, Maker Studios, and ABC Studios. Disney also owns multiple musical publishing companies, resorts, and theatrical groups. Disney’s holdings are worldwide; delivering a gross income in 2016 of 22.91 billion. A conglomerate engaged in the business of speech through various means; movies, books, publications, entertainment, and advertisements. Cornell Law School’s website explains, “Commercial speech has been defined by the Supreme Court as speech where the speaker is more likely to be engaged in commerce, where the intended audience is commercial or actual or potential consumers, and where the content of the message is commercial in character.”
Notwithstanding, what one may think of Disney’s size, the Board’s lawyer was right with regards to her assessment of the law and the proper way of protecting her client. Moving a recognizable flock of white hair with one hand, back over her head; mingling the hair with hair a different color. A raven now appeared, hovering overhead. The lawyer emitted a laugh heard before, a familiar laugh. Her name was Cruella de Vil. Before going to law school de Vil was part of the studio’s permanent cast. A classical, mean, beauty was she. Meaning of the last statement? – One of those people who possessed a non-welcoming smile, a smile which was not a smile, an illusion. Lawyer de Vil could honestly brag that she didn’t look her age. Nary an errant line; possessing the same youthful mane when introduced to the public in 1961 (101 Dalmatians); same laugh, she was the original Frozen, frozen in place, over time, preserved. Disney’s creators served her well. Now a different profession, stacking papers, with an eerie smile affixed, talking to an associate: “Mr. Duck’s reaction when he flew off the wall was classic. When the emoji struck him on the side the head, it was better than any other animation I have ever seen. Flying, stumbling out of the room, getting struck dead smack under his tail. Bravo! Dead center, I say, dead center!”
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In 1938 Mickey, Donald and Goofy starred in a film-short in which Goofy damn near got Donald killed. Donald, for some reason, blamed Mickey. There was a considerable period of time in which they did not speak. Gossip has it Donald held the grudge for ten years and didn’t appear (voluntarily) in another film-short, until 1954. May be true, may be not true. The truth of their past didn’t matter when Donald exited, webbed feet first. Donald understood fundamental rights were not about friendship.
The initial Los Angeles Times story was written by Daniel Miller and was published on September 24, 2017. The story was entitled, Is Disney paying its share in Anaheim?: The money battle outside the Happiest Place on Earth. The article revealed some startling information, including the following introduction:
A few hours after the gates swing open at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, the cars are still pouring into the massive 10,241-space parking garage.
They zoom into the six-story concrete structure, carloads of costumed kids, foreign tourists and graying baby boomers sporting Mickey Mouse ears, “Frozen” dresses and “Star Wars” backpacks.
The cash pours in too: Each vehicle pays $20 to park at the Mickey & Friends facility, $35 for a preferred space close to the escalators and elevators.
Even if the parking garage fills just half its spaces, it would still generate more than $35 million in annual revenue and easily hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the structure.
That money all goes to Walt Disney Co. The city of Anaheim, which owns the garage and spent $108.2 million to build it, charges the company just $1 a year for the lease.
The Times’ article concluded, and rightly so, that Disney is the master of obtaining subsidies for its ventures, securing “$866 million in incentives it secured for film production, real estate development and other projects from 2000 to 2016”, far outpacing “incentives won by its rival media conglomerates, according to IncentivesMonitor, a services of data firm Wavteq Ltd. Disney’s haul was more than double what Time Warner Inc., Comcast Corp, Viacom Inc. and 21st Centruy Fox Inc. each got over the same period.” The Times’ reporting did what a free press does, the article begged the questions which needed answering, allow fresh air to enter, invited sunlight to shine on a conglomerate, even one as beloved as Disney, to ascertain whether the Government was wisely using public funds. Too much fresh air entered, The Times got itself banned the from the preview of Disney’s new releases, and the instatement of The Los Times’ only rule. A rule instated to punish the press for telling on them; telling the public what Mickey and his friends were doing to the rest of us.
Donald understood free speech meant protecting the odious message too, even if the message was hostile to his interest. Never aging, appearing in film-short after film-short, known world-wide, knowing his position may well lead to his demise – erased from tablets, deleted from computers, digitally altered, morphing into something else other than Donald Duck were the dangers he faced. Donald had treaded this path before, once helping organize Park employees, who wanted to publicly tell which characters the employees played. Fortune Magazine in June 2015 reported the dispute. This union is attacking Disney’s weirdest policy, read Fortune’s caption. The union – the Teamsters – represented the Park employees.
And what was Mr. Mouse’s position in this dispute? Suck-up Mickey could not have cared less; always the favorite son; forever supportive of management, squeaking submissively. Mickey could well have invented the quiet-ass-mouse adage (no mistake here on the adage, he was a quiet-ass mice, a suck-up). Donald has always differed, forever irascible, confrontational, however never to the extent of silencing his and others rights. Donald tendered information to the Teamsters, working toward resolving the dispute. He stuck his beak out then. He was sticking his beak out now.
On November 7, 2017, the New York Times reported thusly, Disney Ends Ban on Los Angeles Times Amid Fierce Backlash. The Times reported that the change in course occurred when a number of news outlets, including the New York Times and A.V. Club said they were boycotting Disney’s advance screenings, in solidarity, until the Los Angeles’ Times only rule was lifted. Their position was consistent with the unknown adage – because I’m making up an adage to apply to this story – Free Speech for Thee Too!
And since this musing is moving through the different levels of sanity, a few other points: The New York Times’ story wasn’t totally accurate. They failed to report on the meeting called by Mr. Duck; putting everything on the line, calling others to task, persuading they vote against their economic interest in order to support free speech for themselves, friends, and competitors. His was not a clear speech; his diction is never clear. Spitting, sputtering, cursing – in a rage, he was – he was the not nice Donald.
Maybe the reporter for The New York Times didn’t understand what he was saying; had never seen any of his shorts; had never used him as a source. The Los Angeles Times reporter sat in the corner laughing at their contempt, listening to the New York reporters mumble out loud, “A talking duck; a talking duck!” She remained in place listening, chuckling to herself, Give me a break, I have seen worse on the streets of New York … give me a frickin’ break buddy! Donald was her favorite. Didn’t I say that?
Those New Yorkers actually did a “fairly” (with contemptible air-quotes around “fairly”) good job in their reporting, biases notwithstanding. Their story accurately reported the support of “several high-profile Hollywood figures, including Ava DuVernay, who directed A Wrinkle in Time, which is to be released by Disney on March 9. Saluting the film journalists standing up for one another, Ms. DuVernay wrote on Twitter on Monday: ‘Standing with you.’”
What did those contemptuous reporters leave out? They never mentioned the flying and attacking emojis. They omitted references to the sputum which floated through the air like sputum initially before magically converting to block letters; letters which came out of nicey-nice Daisy’s mouth. There was no mentioned of Cruella de Vil’s retirement and her now being a lawyer. Disney never told us any of this, still playing the same films over and over again. No mentioned of de Vil’s presentation (arrogant, rude, devious, cutting, and unbecoming of the profession). Sure she looked marvelous (hair, skin tone, voice was the same, never aging not one day). It seems to me – since I have plum fallen off the wagon with this musing – that none of her physical attributes should have mattered. The reporting should have reported her role; she started the charge of the tyranny of the majority. Those reporters probably didn’t trust the public knowledge of the term, tyranny of the majority and the persistent historical comfort in silencing the minority view.
The sad unwarranted and belligerent conduct of Mr. Disney’s favorites was not placed in the historical record; laughing, snorting, carrying on worse than Donald did in a 1952 film-short entitled Donald Duck – Trick or Treat. Conduct worse than cartoonish, unreal. Moreover, those foreigners entering a foreign land failed to mention Donald speaking at the meeting, calling a huddle of the reporters afterwards in the hallway, leading the formal meeting two days later, as he did for the Park employees in 2015, encouraging the press organizations and assorted celebrities to collectively boycott the Los Angeles Times only policy. Seemingly those New Yorkers didn’t believe and didn’t believe their readers would believe. Now you know the truth.
Perhaps, not believing, they too were being duck-ist. Something we thought we were long past in our society. We’re better than that. Unfortunately in these times – this time – they were not.