Is Disney a good thing? The answer depends greatly on what I’m doing when you ask me. If I’m crying my eyes out at the end of Toy Story 3, I’ll tell you it’s the highest expression of mankind’s infinite potential that has yet been seen on Earth. If I’m stepping barefoot on a shitty Olaf the Snowman toy my daughter got in a Happy Meal, I’ll tell you it’s one of the foulest blights ever visited on this benighted planet and its unhappy occupants.
Disney’s like that: it divides opinion, not just between different people, but within individuals themselves. And the uncertainty has only gotten more uncertain in recent years, as Disney’s always-vast influence on the world’s culture has become more and more ubiquitous.
Because once upon a time, Disney was Disney. It was huge, it was greedy, it was powerful, but it exerted its power via loveable cartoon musicals, forgettable live-action b-movies, and a plethora of cute merchandise. We knew what Disney was.
Nowadays, Disney isn’t just Disney. In fact, Disney is edging ever-closer to being everything. Pixar? Obviously. The Muppets? Yep, they’ve owned them since 2004. Marvel? Yes, every superhero in the MCU is a Disney character now. Lucasfilm? Sure – everyone in Star Wars is Disney too, and so is Indiana Jones. Twentieth Century Fox? Oh yeah, naturally – so the X-Men are all Disney now, which is pretty cool if you’ve been wanting to see them merge with the Avengers on screen.
The list of companies and properties owned by Disney now is far too long to enumerate here. Suffice to say that as well as Mickey Mouse, Monsters Inc, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Avengers, the X-Men, the Millennium Falcon and Miss Piggy, Disney is now home to The Simpsons, Family Guy, Die Had, American Idol and Home Alone. For starters.
But again…is this a good thing? Well, it could be worse. Fact is, of all the Hollywood studios, on average, you’ve always had a better chance of a good time if you go to see a Disney movie than any other. Their rapacious corporatism may be terrifying, but it’s a company that knows how to make a cracking picture. If you’re going to entrust the entire world’s popular culture to one entity, better it be the one that came up with Aladdin than the one that came up with, say, Ernest Goes to Camp. Which Disney probably owns now.
So if you accept it as inevitable that everything is consolidating and we might as well enjoy the ride along the road to a homogenous global culture, Disney is an OK corporate behemoth to entrust humanity’s hopes and dreams to.
But that doesn’t mean it’s exactly ideal, does it? We can recognise that Disney makes great movies, and that under their aegis, Marvel and Lucasfilm and the rest will probably keep making great movies too; while also conceding that in a perfect world, everything might be a bit more…spread out.
Because it’s not so much that I think movies and TV will be worse when Disney owns everything. It’s just that I think they’ll be more the same than they were before. There’ll be less left-field weirdness, less crazy punts on ludicrous ideas, less objectively awful crap that nevertheless you’re glad to have around because it reminds you how adorable human beings are when they try something stupid.
Disney doesn’t really try stupid things. They do hilarious, heartbreaking, breathtaking and inspiring works of rare genius: but they don’t like taking risks. And the more Disney-fied the world gets, the less risk-taking will happen. No matter how great the stuff the House of Mouse does turn out is, that’ll be a shame.