Merriam Webster actually has a definition for this word even thought my spell checker has never heard of it. Disneyfication is: the transformation (as of something real or unsettling) into carefully controlled and safe entertainment or an environment with similar qualities. That definition itself is almost sanitized enough to not be useful. The Urban Dictionary, which seems to pride itself at times on coming up with the most outrageous definitions imaginable, says: To censor or bar so that the entire world is safe for a 3 year old to walk into at any time; to prohibit all adult activities; to censor with the aim of ‘protecting families’. ie” They got rid of all the adult book stores as part of their plan for the disneyfication of down town.
Among writers this term has gained life for meaning that their stories are truer, grimer, more real to life complicated and definitely NOT like Disney. Unfortunately there is a growing implication in the writing world that Disney has somehow done damage to the original stories, and that somehow as a result we have to get back to them. But have they? What did Disney really do?
French philosopher Jean Baudrillard believes Disneyland is the most real place in the US. Most real because the rest of We the People are false, a hyper real simulation surrounding the park, and Disneyland is not “pretending to be anything more than it actually is–a theme park.”
“The whole Walt Disney philosophy eats out of your hand with these pretty little sentimental creatures in grey fur coats. For my own part, I believe that behind these smiling eyes there lurks a cold, ferocious beast fearfully stalking us.”
I’m not sure of Mr. Baudrilland actually has children, or if he does whether he reads them anything but Sartre at bedtime, but if the beast he refers to are the simplified characters of Disney’s gentler world stalking us to keep us from seeing the stark reality of America behind the illusion…I don’t think I’m all out of favor with kids getting to enjoy that rarest of privileges in human history–getting to be kids for a while. I mean my tweens may be of marriageable age in some countries, but I don’t think I want them worried about sex and babies and infant mortality and being nine months pregnant at, say, 13. Much less whether I could die defending my family from a home invasion. No, if my children want to laugh about how Ariel fills out those sea shells, or how silly love at first sight is in the real world that’s fine with me.
Because what Disney did was follow a long trend that began with the Bros. Grimm. What? The brother’s Grimm? Aren’t they the source? The base material that Disney butchered to make safe for young people? Yes. They sanitized their work to strip out sex and violence that were too harsh for children and for the adult sensibility of their day.
Remember the outcry when Disney implied a date rape in Maleficent? Well in the original sleeping beauty she is raped by the prince, likely repeatedly, gets pregnant, has children, and only wakes up when one of them sucks on her fingers. Oh and did I mention her underage status? The original story is so hard that it falls outside the publishing guidelines for Ellora’s Cave, the erotic publisher, because of un-consensual sex and the rape of a minor.
And many of the original stores Grimm worked with are as bad or worse in terms of their violence generally, violence to women, etc…
Ultimately what Disney did was capture these stories and make them accessible to the general public. I have no interest in reading stories that center on the abusive treatment of anyone, and so I might never have read Briar Rose or the Girl in the Glass Coffin if not for Disney making a tamer version accessible to the general public.
The Hogfather said, “It was much earlier even than that when most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than children themselves (who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it’s being shed by the deserving* That is to say, those who deserve to shed blood. Or possibly not. You never quite know with some kids.), and then wondered where the stories went.”
Where the stories went was into the world of the masses, to entertain and teach and distract us for a while. Because the Hogfather is wrong. No matter how much the lit critics may be upset, the masses simply don’t want Ariel to die at the end. And they have voted with their wallets to make Disney the most successful story engine in history. But if you want the darker story, as an adult, on a stormy night, it’s out there. To be upset that it is not as popular as the gentler version is unproductive because Disney has made the market for those adult versions larger per capita than Grimm ever had.
Because when people are reacting to Disney, writing those adult stories with more complexity than “Happily Ever After”. What they are writing and readers are reading is not a ‘return’ to some original and better story–unless you love little match girls who freeze to death in the snow, or worse, much worse, fall violently victim to predators of the two legged kind. No, they are reading the adult versions of stories that Disney made real for the masses and taught them to love in the first place.