I’m beginning to think people are starting to pay attention to me, if only in an attempt to piss me off.
A few months ago I wrote an article about Disney’s upcoming live-action Alice in Wonderland film, an article that garnered an awful lot of negative press across the board (because apparently Tim Burton is the Patron Saint of Filmmaking and I don’t know what I’m talking about).
For those of you who haven’t read the article, here are the talking points. I took issue with Burton’s approach to the film because Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” stories are (in my opinion) very dark and rather scary, and Burton’s movie looks like it’s going to be set in the same wacky, oddly-coloured world he brought to the likes of “Batman” and “Big Fish” – not necessarily a bad thing in its place, but not for “Alice”. I argued that “Alice” should more closely resemble American McGee’s realization – there’s a lot of frightening things to be said on the subject of madness, and “Alice” would be a great vehicle for that.
But you know what’s not a great vehicle for realizing a darker, grittier character?
This morning, while fumbling around on the internet looking for a decent story, I came upon an article in the New York Times discussing Disney’s latest attempt to stay relevant in an increasingly cynical culture. Apparently the first step in that attempt involves the production of a video game for the Nintendo Wii, tentatively entitled Epic Mickey.
And on a side note, I’d like to thank the legions of internet nerds out there who have co-opted the term “epic”. Congratulations – you’ve managed to single-handedly strip a word, originally defined as pertaining to impressively great heroism on a grand scale, of all pertinent meaning. Surf culture did the same to “awesome” years ago: as Eddie Izzard is wont to point out, a hot dog cannot by definition be “awesome”, nor can a person (or in this case, an anthropomorphic mouse) be accurately described as “epic”. The only thing “epic” about your use of the word “epic” is the epic amount of FAIL you’ve brought to the table (and thanks for that one, too, while we’re on the subject).
Now that I’ve broken the record for sheer number of quotation marks used in a 127 word paragraph, we’ll continue with the thrust of this article: namely, how much I hate Disney.
I’ve never made any secret of my disdain for Disney’s recent incarnation. Once upon a time, Disney set the bar for excellence in animation, and while their stories were generally saccharine and far too musical-friendly for my tastes, they produced some outstanding work. Anybody remember how extraordinary “The Lion King” looked when it came out? I remember watching a documentary on the making of the film in which dozens of animators sat around for countless hours, sketching out the anatomically accurate movements of the real animals upon which they were basing the film’s primary characters. Leaving aside that overplayed “Circle of Life” song, the opening scenes in the movie were nothing short of visually astounding. Even the writing was good (and I admit that begrudgingly); it was funny while still being family-friendly, without having to resort to lame tongue-in-cheek pop culture references a la “Shrek”.
And then, somewhere along the line, somebody at Disney (I’m looking in your direction Eisner) decided that producing quality films wasn’t nearly as important as clogging the shelves of Wal Marts worldwide with direct-to-DVD sequels to movies that didn’t require sequels, complete with sub-par cartoony animation and plot lines that couldn’t be thinner if they’d been cursed by an old Gypsy with a bad attitude. Money won out, as it always does, and the result has been that even die-hard Disney fans like a few friends of mine have been consistently underwhelmed by the corporation’s recent “efforts” at animated films, efforts that have been fewer and farther between over the last ten years, especially since they bought out Pixar and turned a great CG company into another arm of a multi-limbed monster that has been slowly working its garish tentacles into every facet of popular entertainment for almost a century.
I’m beginning to think Disney is so corrupt it deserves its own Middle Eastern dictatorship.
Not content to ruin its own reputation through half-assed production quality and uninspired storylines, Disney is now taking the next step in its inevitable, implacable fall from grace: rebooting its’ most time-honoured character in an attempt to make The Mouse more accessible to the modern generation.
Their solution? Scrap the good-natured, squeaky-clean image that’s defined Mickey and the gang ever since Steamboat Willie went the way of the dinosaur in favour of a grittier, “cantankerous and cunning” character who will have an opportunity to be “naughty”.
Thanks a hell of a lot, Disney. The image of Mickey Mouse being “naughty” is one that all the slash fiction on the internet didn’t prepare me for. I’ll never sleep again.
Essentially the idea of Epic Mickey is not incredibly dissimilar from earlier incarnations like Kingdom Hearts (an action RPG incorporating Final Fantasy and well-known Disney characters in a fantasy environment), only the world they’re placing the Mighty Mouse into is significantly darker – downright dystopian according to the website. Here’s the gloss from the Times:
Epic Mickey, designed for Nintendo’s Wii console, is set in a “cartoon wasteland” where Disney’s forgotten and retired creations live. The chief inhabitant is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character Walt Disney created in 1927 as a precursor to Mickey but ultimately abandoned in a dispute with Universal Studios. In the game, Oswald has become bitter and envious of Mickey’s popularity. The game also features a disemboweled, robotic Donald Duck and a “twisted, broken, dangerous” version of Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World.” Using paint and thinner thrown from a magic paintbrush, Mickey must stop the Phantom Blot overlord, gain the trust of Oswald and save the day.
I’ll be honest – a lot of this sounds downright awesome. I for one have always considered Disneyland a creepy place to begin with: especially that God forsaken “It’s a Small World” ride. Maddox once said that apart from Utah, that ride is the closest you’re likely to get to Hell on earth, and I tend to agree. All those animatronic puppets with their soulless little eyes, always watching…watching and waiting for their moment to rise up and slay the unsuspecting tourists who have ventured into their domain. Frankly, I’d forgo the pansy paintbrush approach and make the whole game about some kind of Rambo Mickey (with his cyborg sidekick Donald), armed with large, cumbersome artillery, carving a swath of destruction through that scary-ass ride.
But at the same time, the whole concept sticks in my craw a bit. Matt Britton, a New York media consultant, said this of the reboot:
There’s a distinct risk of alienating your core consumer when you tweak a sacred character, but at this point it’s a risk they have to take.
Is it? I don’t know about that. It’s going to sound awfully odd coming from me, but there’s a certain innocence and purity to a character like Mickey Mouse that I don’t know if they ought to monkey with. From a purely fiscal standpoint, Mark Britton is right – if Disney is going to continue to compete in the modern market with their trademark characters, on some level it makes sense to update them somewhat (sort of like how Archie and the Riverdale gang now have Blackberries and internet access). But like the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t turn it into a Christopher Nolan movie.
I don’t like the idea that you have to take a famous character that once stood for family values, optimism and friendship and turn him into yet another wisecracking anti-hero in order to appeal to a younger generation. I don’t like what that says about the younger generation. Do all our heroes, even the cartoon ones, have to be snarky and flawed? Is it too late in the game for us to still appreciate a character that embodies the best human qualities, even if he’s a giant anthropomorphic mouse? And more to the point – even if this move is what’s required to connect with the current generation, don’t you think after years of straight-to-video “The Little Mermaid Part Seven: Ariel Becomes a Paraplegic” and “Bambi Part 9: Take Back The Woods”, it’s a case of too-little, too-late?
Oh well; I’ll still play the game when it comes out (even though I hate the Wii – more on this issue here) and I’ll try very, very hard to give Disney one last chance, even though I still think they have it bass-ackwards: Alice in Wonderland is dark; Mickey Mouse is not. And I’ll ruminate on the fact that it could be worse: given Disney just bought Marvel, at least we haven’t yet seen Spider Mouse.
Don’t get any ideas, Robert Iger – I’m watching you.