NEW YORK — (AP) — Abigail E. Disney has been critical of the company that previously bore her name. But Disney, co-founder Roy O. Disney’s granddaughter, first brought her perspective to the medium on which the mouse house was built: a movie.
In the new documentary “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” Disney credits The Walt Disney Company. The moral compass has been lost. As one of the company’s most famous and outspoken critics — who happen to be from within the Disney family — Disney has painted an unpleasant image for the company, especially with pay inequality and some theme park employees struggling to maintain families. And struggling with issues regarding minimum wages.
“They’ve gone down the path of most other companies in this country. They started out with a bigger idea of themselves,” Disney said in an interview. “The Walt Disney Company is better. It’s kinder and gentler. It’s a human company.
“We’ve lost the plot,” Disney said.
“American Dream” is in select theaters and premiered on video-on-demand Friday, directed by activist and filmmaker Disney and filmmaker Kathryn Hughes. It was made in 2019 after a series of tweets in which she lashed out at then-Disney CEO Bob Iger from Disney for more than $65 million in damages in 2018. Disney siblings Susan Disney Lord and Tim Disney are also executive producers on the film, which was made without any interaction from the company.
“No one has contacted me. Frankly, I’m a little bit confused about this,” Disney said. “If that’s what they want to do, I’d love to talk about it. I support them. I love this company. It’s a love letter to the company. But when you really, really like something and watch You can’t keep silent until it goes off the rails.”
The film follows four Disneyland custodians struggling to make ends meet in the pricier Anaheim, California area on $15 an hour wages. Disney knows there is a growing pay gap between executives and lower-level employees, an issue that extends well beyond the company’s focus on movies. At one point in the film, she describes her hope for change as “a little Disney.
“I know people think I’m just living in abstract land,” Disney said. “But abstraction is important, and sensitivities have to change.”
The salaries of some Disney employees have been changing. The union representing 9,500 workers at Disneyland avoided a strike by approving contacts that would raise wages to $18 an hour from $15.45 an hour. The union representing Anaheim hotel workers also recently reached an agreement for $23.50 an hour. (Anaheim’s living wage ordinance of $23.50 was previously ruled not to apply to Disneyland.)
A Disney spokesperson issued a statement in response to “American Dream.”
“Our amazing cast, storytellers and employees are the heart and soul of Disney, and their well-being is our top priority. We work hard to ensure our teams are supported so they can develop their careers, care for their families and thrive at work – that’s why so many people choose to spend their entire careers with us.”
The spokesman also listed health insurance, tuition-free tertiary education and childcare subsidies as worker benefits. “We are committed to building on these influential shows by finding new ways to support our actors and communities around the world,” the spokesperson said.
After Roy E. Disney, who founded the company with his brother Walter in 1923, resigned from the board in 2003, the family was no longer involved in running the company. Iger has been replaced by Bob Chapek, who ran the parks for the company since Abigail Disney made her documentary and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. During this period, prices at the company’s theme parks have risen sharply — another point of contention for Disney.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea for Disneyland to be a luxury vacation that most Americans don’t have access to,” she said. “I don’t know how much more brands can take.”
Disney, though, was encouraged by workers who protested Chapek’s response to Florida legislation, which critics called the “don’t speak gay” bill. For Disney, the situation reflects the company’s efforts to maintain its role as a moral authority of any kind in an era of political polarization.
“There’s nothing without a position on this issue,” she said. “There is no neutral position. Pretending you can stand still on a moving train is a terrible mistake.”
Ultimately, Disney increasingly dismissed the company, which had been a family business for most of her life. She said it was “very uncomfortable” to make a film about her disapproval. But she did not give up an eternal happy ending.
“I mean really good,” Disney said. “You can say a lot about me, but I mean good.”
Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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