Lessons I’ve Learned From Disney

I am going to try to stay mentally engaged by writing a little bit so I can stay awake and carry on with the rest of my plans for today without sleeping through everything. It should be a simple enough setup for a moderate disaster, now just to wing it from here.

So I had a micro thought– like forty-five seconds ago, I was thinking to myself about Johnny Tsunami of Disney Channel fame. That movie came out in 1999. I was 12 or 13 years old at the time, and man, I loved that movie, much as I loved just about any Disney Channel Original movie that they grinded out, except that one, Double Teamed. That movie simply offended me on every level; as an athlete/basketball player, as someone who bases half of his moral philosophy on all of Federico Fellini’s work from 1950 – 1969, and mostly as a young man who had always dreamed of one day being able to reincarnate as a pair of twin sisters– one soul, two bodies– that became a highly unappealing dream after that movie, plus I don’t even believe in reincarnation anyway, so I had to move on.

Getting back to Johnny Tsunami, in 2007, the Disney Channel released Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board. For whatever reason, maybe even God’s calling, I just so happened to have the TV on and on the Disney Channel the very night and minute it premiered. Given how much TV I watch on the actual television these days, just having the set on was a major miracle. I was 20 years old. Given the rarity of such a cosmic alignment and coincidences, I had no choice; I watched the sequel.

Now let’s make one thing clear here, I don’t believe there is any type of sanctity protecting any TV movie franchise, especially not Johnny Tsunami (now Smart House, Luck of the Irish, or any one of the other ones that starred a young Ryan Merriman, well we can at least discuss their possibly sanctity), but I can’t ignore a few things. For one, I have a childhood memory of liking a Disney Channel Origianl Movie (I guess I might go ahead and start abbreviating it DCOM) about a kid, who was my age, who is a surfer, which was cool, and he had a grandfather, who was also a monster surfer, which was cool, who moves to Vermont and becomes a snowboarder, which was cool, and obvious, since surfing 20 ft. waves on a board is practically the same thing as surfing a 10,000 ft mountain; cool. Of course, much in the vein snow and mountains, this all avalanched into a snowball effect of coolness, he gets an attractive girl (well, she was attractive because Disney casted her in the role of the attractive girl that the protagonist gets, at least), he sticks it to the man (his dad) and ultimately makes some punk preppy pricks (like my dear pal, POOP aka Corey Griggs, because all Vermontians fit this stereotype) look like absolute CLOWNS; not of the Bozo or Krusty class even, but more of a Bello Nock level, and he isn’t even actually a clown, by standard definition, just a guy who’s always filled a clown’s shoes. Escalating levels of coolness for my vulnerable 13 year year old mind. So clearly, not holy in any regard, but still has a small stamp on that section of my heart reserved for things classified dear.

Finally beginning to put frayed threads of thought together, as soon as I got hit with this memory of Johnny Tsunami and his conquering of the Pacific Ocean, Vermont and what I assumed following the movie, the world, I was subjected to the awful reality of Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board– Johnny didn’t conquer the world, in fact, he wasn’t even cooler than me anymore (though when I was 20-21, I was probably at my peak coolness, probably guy with 3d glasses for a 2d movie level of cool, not bad, but not my goal of Pointdexter ranking from Toejam & Earl). It was almost as demoralizing as when you saw Benny ‘the Jet” Rodriguez in his Dodger’s years and just knew, albeit at a much later point in life than initial viewing, that some Hollywood prick was just playing games with you, because there is NO WAY The Jet would ever rep the mustache, especially not at that point in his pro career. Granted, The Sandlot is a movie that is anointed into the ranks of movie sainthood, so you learn to look past stuff like that, and the faith-shattering TWO sequels that they have released this decade, but here is the bottom-line: this sequel took a piece of my childhood, and discredited it.  And what are the implications of discredit? Well consider this, when I so happen to re-watch one of these pieces of my childhood, which while not happening often happens enough to matter, the only thing that keeps such a piece of entertainment protected from the razor sharp eye of criticism and willingness to make merciless incisions upon the material, with the same willingness and enjoyment as the stereotypical case of the plastic surgeon gone bad, is the fact that I do have this fond perception of it that stayed with me from my youth. Johnny Kapahala represented the American dream of coolness, as did Andy ‘Brink’ Brinker, and countless others who were created for that exact purpose. It is an antique curtain, of highly flammable material; Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board was a mere spark which exposed me to the harsh light and poisonous radiation of reality. Bummer.

So here we are, with a multitude of decently threaded ideas, time to finally try and braid it all into a solid rope. When you’re younger, you and your parents have this concept of anything that is made in the name of Walter Disney being both good (if not timeless) entertainment, while instilling valuable life lessons that uplift and educate fellow kids on the good in the world. When you get older, if you’re lucky and don’t become a parent too young, you learn that most things created in the name of Walter Disney is good capitalism and the greater picture gives us a clear image of yet another vandal in a land where nearly the entire population has caught the virus of vagrancy.

So what are some things I have really learned from Disney? Well look at some of the lessons they apparently learned from their long journey through the 20th century to the 21st; from a wonderland so brilliantly crafted by the prestigious minds of the Imagineers, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, to Beauty and the Beast, to the troubled history of The Land Before Time— all thirteen of them; from monochrome Davy Crockett to autotuned Hannah Montana– nothing is safe or precious if it can make you a buck or two and there’s no such thing as sloppy seconds.

Now, I’m not a historian, nor have I been alive long enough to really know, so without research I’m only making an educated guess relative to my knowledge of the timeline, but it seems like Disney spent much of the 80’s taking notes. For instance, I consider this the true rise to prominence of the sequel, you know, the one with the colon after the title followed by some obvious caption that must have been written by some hive mind intern. Now, you might convince me that the 70’s or 60’s or even 1820’s are the real decade responsible here, and you could make a good case for the 90’s, as that was likely the highest output of this class of sequel, but as it stands, I am certain it was the 1980’s. The output may not have been the highest, but it was like when the guys in suits had the big apple fall from the top of one of their sky scrapers and crush them, leaving their then brain-damaged heads with the realization that there was easy money to be made, thus paved the way for another gold road. It is already hard enough to make a decent movie, and I think there is a certain responsibility that any filmmaker who really loves what they do should have to at least try to have some kind of balance between entertainment and art. Obviously, with most things the best balance needs to favor entertainment, but the point is that there needs to be some art to it too. Without the art you have no heart, too much and you’re likely self-aggrandizing to the point of no return; balance. This ‘invention’ of the corporate sequel takes both of these key ingredients out.

What are we left with? Soulless celluloid, alive but not living. It eeks onto our screens and into our minds and hearts, as if it were exclaiming, “feed me!” Our children and parents of all ages are feasted upon by the living dead until their soul too, is devoured and a thirst for anything more than over-processed, synthetic marketing campaigns of arts and entertainment abandons us and never returns.

So did I really just assert what it seems I just did? You bet. I’ve learned the Disney is ultimately responsible for sucking the souls out of the populace, likely holding them captive in briefcases, which they use to store and refrigerate until they finally sell them to the devil, at a great profit. Furthermore single-handedly maintaining the world’s largest prostitution ring running, whoring out every one of the creations and machinations until we get the message; it is ok to be whores, Disney gives us the green light! Personally, I’ve felt less ripped off by Nigerian princes. Back in the day people used to get cool stuff for selling their souls to the devil, like guitar chops.

I will end this with a message of hope though– Disney hasn’t quite caught on to the’ reboot’ sensation of the 2000’s, yet. There have been a few signs of life here and there, but I guess when the new Tron finally drops, we will know how well they have been taking notes. Personally, I’d rather have the sequels.