Many years ago, the late Walt Disney so succinctly captured the purpose behind his work, the cornerstone that inspired everything he touched, from film to animation to theme parks on both sides of the country. He said, “That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”
And that is exactly what he did: Disney taught generations of Americans profound moral lessons. He gave them fantastical escapes from the hardships of reality and the doldrums of daily life. And all of it, as he famously said, “started with a mouse.”
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Somewhere along the way, though, that hopeful imagination has been lost. No longer is the fantasy Walt Disney described “restoring order.” Nowadays, it seems, it’s sowing disorder.
In recent days, Disney’s core mission has been subsumed by another fantasy — a fictional creation concocted by the left and the media. One centered on a piece of legislation in Florida, a law intentionally mischaracterized by the press as the “Don’t Say Gay bill.” In reality, the five-page legislation simply dictates public school educators may not provide classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from pre-K through third grade.
Here’s where the fantasy comes in: The word “gay” never once appears in the bill and there is no ban on the usage of the word in Florida classrooms or anywhere else in the state. That fact, however, hasn’t stopped celebrities, media figures, and politicians from leading their fans, followers, and constituents to believe otherwise. Some have even taken to posting videos of themselves melodramatically singing the word “gay” on their social media accounts.
At one time, Disney was the portal out of this kind of nonsense. It was a fantastical escape from the frustrations splashed across the news. Now, unfortunately, Disney is a vehicle for the nonsense.
Bob Chapek, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, first offered a glimmer of hope. He initially did what companies have done for centuries: He stayed out of it. The CEO, facing pressure, chose not to entangle the beloved family brand in a political fight over a Florida law centered on parental rights, even acknowledging such actions are “counterproductive.”
I have to imagine if Walt Disney were alive today, he would’ve done the same. Maybe the company could benefit from a new mantra: W-W-W-D. What would Walt do? But I digress.
Alas, the pressure proved too much. Although Chapek reportedly worries Disney is drifting leftward, he still caved. And all of it was based on a fantasy: He condemned the bill after a group of employees published an open letter claiming the legislation affects “all members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the company and beyond,” which is, in and of itself, a stunning role reversal: Employees are now dictating to their employers how they ought to act not just internally but externally as well. And in deeply partisan ways, to boot.
The country’s most iconic family brand has been hijacked by a cluster of its own staff members, injecting itself into a fight between parents and woke elites. Early signs suggest it won’t go over too well with Disney’s target audience: families with young kids.
It’s no wonder why: Disney is trading in the hopeful imagination of its namesake for a woke fantasy.
Though it got much less media attention, a group of conservative and Christian Disney workers — yes, they exist — penned their own open letter urging Chapek to lead a “politically neutral Disney,” decrying the prevailing “environment of fear that any employee who does not toe the line will be exposed and dismissed.”
There are plenty of talented Imagineers, artists, and innovators at the Walt Disney Company (I follow several of them on Instagram), and all of them — progressive, conservative, or independent — would be best served by a “politically neutral Disney” devoted, above all else, to the vision of Walt Disney, a vision not poisoned or held back by politics but tethered to the limitlessness of one’s imagination, dedicated to “instill[ing] hope again and again and again.”
And yet, conservative employers wrote, ”This politicization of our corporate culture is damaging morale and causing many of us to feel our days with [the Walt Disney Company] might be numbered.”
Perhaps the most disheartening result of Disney’s decision to kowtow to the woke fantasy is this: Disney is too big to fail. It was positioned better than possibly any brand to deal a serious blow to cancel culture.
The mob would have come, but Disney is Disney — it could’ve weathered the storm and withstood the heat of opposition long enough to send the mob running in shame simply by refusing to give in. Chapek didn’t have to even say anything: all he had to do was ignore them.
We should all expect more of Chapek and his fellow Disney executives, all of whom seem willing to sacrifice the grandeur of Walt Disney’s legacy along with the current and future artists who feel they no longer belong in the world Walt created.
Good leadership is knowing what’s right, and sticking to it. Disney fans deserve better. The House of Mouse deserves better. Most of all, Walt Disney deserves better.
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