AKA: Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood and Corporate Power
Year Released: 2001
Distributor: Media Education Foundation
Running Time: 52 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Consuming Kids, Culture Politics & Pedagogy, Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti, The Corporation, The Lion’s Share, Remote Control
-Mickey Mouse Monopoly is offered to preview at MEF’s website as well as Kanopy.
-I make a serious confession when it comes to how Disney’s racism in certain movies affected me. This will be an uncomfortable read for a good portion of my readers.
-Mickey Mouse Monopoly is directed, co-produced, and edited by Miguel Picker. He had a fifteen-year tenure at WGBH which is a Boston PBS affiliate (you might have seen their logo on Zoom, Nova, and Arthur). Picker has directed Ulises’s Odyssey and The Early Music Workshop.
-One of the prominent interviewees is author/cultural critic/educator Henry Giroux. He’s originally from Rhode Island but is currently based in Ontario, Canada. Some of his books involve Politics Beyond Hope, Against the New Authoritarianism, and The Mouse that Roared which is mentioned in Mickey Mouse Monopoly. I’ve bought and read that book and I strongly recommend both Disney fans as well as Disney haters to read it.
-In one review from Frank Batavick who is a professor at McDaniel College, he claimed that covering other topics at school would barely make the students react. When he played Mickey Mouse Monopoly, the students became incensed. One quote he said was “How dare I, or this documentary, attack the Disney legacy embedded in their psyches!” (credit to MEF for that quote).
Here I go again in critiquing Disney on this blog in another review. I used to love the works of this company during my childhood, but even in my teens, I felt like I fell away from that company. During my adulthood especially over the past few years, I’ve become jaded and even angry at what this company has done. Covering documentaries that critique the house that Walt built isn’t new to me. I’ve watched and reviewed Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti which dared to cover their sweatshop organizations back in the 90s. The Corporation took shots at them as well as several other companies. The Lion’s Share REALLY went in on an actual music plagiarism case that involved a very certain ultra-successful movie of theirs (WARNING! Expect me to talk about said movie again in this review!). That’s not even counting the film Escape from Tomorrow which is a brutal satire of the Disney Corporation and one of the most elaborate pieces of guerilla filmmaking to date. This time, I get to review a documentary that I remember seeing years ago as it deals with Disney and how it affects everyone with their animated canon, their business practices, and even as an American cultural icon for better or worse.
For those who are newer to Iridium Eye or aren’t aware of my vocal critiques of the Disney corporation, this is going to be a very uncomfortable read for you. If you don’t feel like reading about some uncomfortable truths or some legitimate opinions against the House of Mouse, then I suggest you hit the back button right now. Still here? Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’m sure I’ve been more critical towards Disney more than any blogger or professional film critic here or anywhere.
Mickey Mouse Monopoly is a documentary that analyzes and critiques the impact of the Disney corporation especially in regards to their famous Animated Canon, their business practices, and how people have been shaped by their products. Various psychologists, educators, and even some everyday people get interviewed for this film. Disney is one of the most dominant media companies in the world which isn’t even debatable and these scholars deconstruct the messages of their animated films that millions around the world have seen. The documentary is broken down into three major segments among other interviews. The first major segment is about gender portrayals and representation as various Disney movies show how people should react (mainly their female audience) in relationships and everyday life. The second segment involves racism in Disney movies as numerous interviewees point out hurtful racial misrepresentation with human characters as well as animals who play up negative bigoted stereotypes of different ethnic groups. The last segment is about the commercialization of their films. Disney certainly has several products sporting their names, characters, and films on them and there are arguments about how the movies are commercials in their own right and how their products can stymie the imaginations of impressionable children. Was this sense of innocence nothing but a pretense and a facade to the masses? The answer is a resounding yes as these intellectuals provide several bits of evidence why it was the case.
This is one documentary I wanted to review for years now, and I finally got the chance to do so. Besides my prior experience in reading Dr. Henry Giroux’s book as well as seeing him on some news interviews here and there, so many of these interviewees offered brilliant insight into the situations with Disney. This could’ve been an academic-only affair, but they also managed to get college students, children, and regular parents to be interviewed. There were some concerned parents who had legitimate insight and they don’t even come off as Mrs. Lovejoy types, if you will. The children being interviewed was intriguing as one could see their psychology, saying their honest feelings about liking certain movies or characters, while also showing their naivete to real-life issues most of the time. Even some of the college students said positive things about Disney and one of them randomly sings “Les Poissons” from The Little Mermaid of all things (Yeah, it is a weird song choice). There is some balance with these interviews, but I was certainly most impressed with the scholars, psychologists, and professors having lots of wisdom with these subjects. The video production was a healthy mix of interview footage, archived film (commercials, news reports, etc.), and clips from the Disney movies themselves to accentuate certain points being presented. The content within this documentary is quite powerful and some cases are even stronger in hindsight. The commercialization aspect is certainly more prominent with all the companies they’ve bought out years after this was filmed such as Marvel, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, Maker Studio, and they even have a minority stake in Vice Media (Even the hipsters aren’t safe from Mickey Mouse!). There are even more products out there now and a lot of it is marketed towards adults like various T-shirts, accessories, and some nerd memorabilia like Funko Pop Vinyls. Any Disney fan who bashes anime for being too commercial should really shut the Tartaros up. The aspect of silencing or forcing people to ask permission to use or reference characters is just a mess. They’re worried about someone infringing on them? Come on, it’s not like Disney has ever infringed upon other works. I’m being sarcastic. Just look at Kimba the White Lion, Nadia: Secret of Blue Water, and The Snowman short. I rest my case.
The three major segments offered a ton of sagacity with many experts showing their knowledge on these subjects. The concept of gender representation and presentation was a big one, especially with the female characters. One aspect that did get my attention was the fact that so many female characters at some point act seductive to a man. They used examples of Jasmine pretending to seduce Jafar in Aladdin or how Ariel literally has to use her body to get Eric to notice her since she doesn’t have a voice. Even animal characters aren’t immune to this. They showed the female rabbit from Bambi totally hitting on Thumper which is very weird in hindsight. Don’t even get me started about those burlesque mice in The Great Mouse Detective. Also, has any adult watched the “Love” musical segment from Robin Hood or “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” from The Lion King and didn’t think Maid Marian and Nala respectively were giving bedroom eyes to their boyfriends? The furry jokes write themselves (there, I said it). I was also glad that Dr. Carolyn Newberger called out the domestic abuse and Stockholm Syndrome implications of Beauty and the Beast while even showing multiple scenes to prove her point. I was legitimately disturbed because I didn’t think those scenes were that bad as a kid, but as an adult, the Beast totally sounds like a wife beater or at the very least an emotional abuser even in the context of the story. So many of those movies don’t look the same as they did back then.
The racism segment was the most powerful part of the documentary in my opinion. This shouldn’t surprise some of my loyal readers since I’ve been vocal about this subject even in the things I’ve reviewed in the past regardless if it was on principle in my case or not. I have to give the creators major props for letting several non-white interviewees talk about their own experiences and/or give their insight as to why these movies are problematic. The first example was the anti-Latinx stereotypes which are represented by two separate Chihuahua characters from Lady and the Tramp and Oliver & Company respectively. Teacher Marisa Madeira gives such scathing insight on the matter (definitely on principle in her case) by criticizing the buffoonish and sleazy presentations and even comparing those depictions to the problematic Taco Bell mascot in the 90s. She points out that Tito is an offensive character since he knows how to hotwire cars as well as being emotionally masochistic to Georgette’s caustic remarks about him being low-class trash by insinuating that the more someone (implying a white person) insults someone in the Latinx community, the more they “like them” which is very disheartening. Dr. Jack Shaheen rips apart Aladdin for the original version of “Arabian Nights”. The original line in the intro actually went “They’ll cut off your ear, if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home!”. This caused the Arab-American community to be outraged (rightfully so) and got Disney to change the lyric in the VHS release even though they left the “barbaric” line. Disney was ticked off and blamed the Arab-American protestors for giving them “negative publicity”. Please, it’s the same logic as a racist calling a nonwhite person a racist for calling them out on their bigotry. Children’s author Chyng Feng Sun talked about the issues of Asian representation. While she admitted that things did improve when Mulan came out, there was still the history of Asian stereotypes being perpetrated in Siamese cats, specifically singling out Si and Am from Lady and the Tramp for playing up crafty Asian villain yellow peril tropes. I’ll even add to her point that it wasn’t limited to just that movie. Just look at The Aristocats or Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers for featuring Siamese cat villains in one episode that runs an illegal Siamese fighting fish ring underneath a dry cleaner business and having their top fighting fish named Juice Lee (I’m not making any of this up). Native Americans Dr. Deirdre Ameida and Nancy Eldredge completely bash Peter Pan and Pocahontas for being very disrespectful to the Indigenous community. They talk about how children thought all Native Americans acted like they did in those movies as well as how incredibly inaccurate the Pocahontas movie was even by Disney standards. Dr. Ameida went further about how dangerous historical whitewashing was with how the song “Savages” was a racist false equivalency strawman and how the Native Americans were subjected to an “American Holocaust” since so many tribes were wiped out over the last few centuries. Last but definitely not least came the anti-Black racism in multiple movies. This went so hard with the interviewees making so many legitimate points. The most obvious example was the crows from Dumbo. I dare anyone to say the portrayal wasn’t bigoted. Some of them were voiced by white men doing “Black-cents” so cringe-worthy that they make Skidz and Mudflap from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen look politically correct by comparison. Let’s not forget that the lead crow’s name is JIM! Do I even have to explain how or why that pun is super offensive? King Louie and by extension the rest of the monkeys from The Jungle Book were offensive and the song “I Wanna Be Like You” has bigoted connotations as these jive-talking primates want to be seen and treated as real people which perpetuates the stereotype that Black people are subhuman. Tarzan takes place in Africa, but there are no Black characters. One of the professors argued that it forces Black audiences to vicariously relate to the gorillas and how that’s a slap in the face to African children who watch this movie in the continent (people do know that Africans have movie theaters, too, right?). They even argue that the imagery is a form of white supremacy which is inarguable. The final example is one that made me want to give an extra point to the score. They had the balls to call out Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed from The Lion King for their racist undertones. Oh my God…THANK YOU! They talk about obvious things with how they talk in Ebonics/“hood” voices, the Elephant Graveyard is basically a ghetto (although I’ve argued it being a concentration camp in Namibian Genocide & The 2nd Reich as well as Vigour of Film Lines, so you should know the reasons why), and how they’re evil since they help out Scar and all. Jacqueline Maloney brings up a powerful story where her white female friend told her that her three-year-old child thought a group of Black children were like the hyenas because of how they talked and associated them as being evil. That broke my heart hearing this story. It is also frustrating when I see people in real life saying the hyenas aren’t racist and how people just overreact to those depictions. Even Disney denied these implications which I find to be insulting. If they talked in Yiddish accents instead of so-called “ghetto” Black and/or Latinx voices (Hey! Cheech Marin played both Tito and Banzai!), then people would riot. Nobody should be dehumanized at all!
I do have a confession to make when it comes to the whole hyena issue. When I first heard about the Namibian and Congolese Genocides (this is even before finding out I was part Congolese, by the way) and seeing the parallels to these characters in the Elephant Graveyard made me depressed and disturbed. That and seeing the backlash (including that from a friend of mine) against me criticizing the depictions of the hyenas in The Lion King made me have this horrifying thought. I actually thought this: “Do most white people see me as those hyenas? Do they expect me to act or talk like them? Do they want me to be removed from the circle of life?”. While I know my dad, paternal relatives, or my true friends of that complexion wouldn’t think that of me, I felt furious that Disney and their fans could see me as some thug or worthless person just because of my melanin. For those who defend the depiction of the hyenas by saying “They [Disney] didn’t mean it!”, then what did they actually mean by having them act and talk the way they did? It was one reason why I hated The Lion King even more in my adult life and this was before I found out other reasons with the “Hakuna Matata” trademark issue, watching The Lion’s Share, or even finding out that Beyonce ripped off Petite Noir’s La Maison Noir long-form video. I felt stupid for not seeing those bigoted implications when I was a kid or for even liking that movie during my childhood. My anger towards Disney fans grew when I had that thought and I’m glad I didn’t interact with certain bloggers back then or else I would’ve made some very hurtful accusations towards the ones who don’t think those bigoted thoughts. Don’t misconstrue me. I’m not asking for sympathy and I’m still not forgiving them for all the malicious stuff they’ve done with The Lion King franchise at large. What I am saying is that I shouldn’t have to have my self-esteem crushed by some problematic depictions in so-called innocent movies and that’s not even getting into the other racist crap in other Disney movies. Okay, I need to get to the next part of the review.
Mickey Mouse Monopoly doesn’t always have the right to collect $200 after passing go if one pardons my board game pun. I need to use some humor after the last paragraph. The footage and presentation are quite dated. This was made in 2001 and it clearly uses archived footage from the very early 00s as well as the 90s. It shows with the hair and fashions over there. The interview shots were far too reliant on talking head segments except for a couple of subjects like Dr. Giroux or Marisa Almeida. Another dated aspect would be the female representation segment. There are parts that still hold up, but if there’s anything that Disney has improved in, it would be female presentation with their lead characters. Despite my issues with the Frozen franchise or Moana, I can at least say that the lead heroines are improvements over previous generations of the Disney Princess Breakfast Club. There was also a missed opportunity when it comes to female imagery when you consider how the princesses are more or less the same from a physique standpoint while the female villains have a very stark set of body types. In the words of my sister from a conversation we had years ago, the female antagonists are either “Yzma or Ursula” when it comes to physiques if you know what I mean. Part of the segment on racism was a bit dated. The children don’t remember seeing any Black characters, but eventually, more would show up after this documentary would be released such as Kida from Atlantis: The Lost Empire or multiple characters from Princess and the Frog for example. The conversations about how positive of representation they are is debatable though. I’ll even add that Disney actually put a ton more effort in positive Pacific Islander representation with Lilo & Stitch and Moana, so I will give credit where credit is due, but they still need to work on presenting other ethnic groups much better. The presentation could come off as a bit more like a school-ready documentary which isn’t always a bad thing, but I think they could’ve used some different approaches in these critiques like interviewing people off the street or talking to former Disney employees. These arguments are still powerful, but I think some tweaks could’ve made this better.
This documentary is certainly an eye-opener for the average viewer. It packs a mighty punch in just under an hour with loads of sound arguments as well as legitimate amounts of evidence to back up these claims. Having a diverse and intelligent set of interviewees was certainly impressive. Unfortunately, one could tell this is an older work when the newest Disney movie that’s mentioned or referenced is Tarzan when Mickey Mouse Monopoly came out a year after Dinosaur and The Emperor’s New Groove. Mickey Mouse Monopoly is still a powerful watch as the information is still timely and in some cases more powerful with time. It’s one of the better critiques of the Disney corporation that I’ve seen in documentary form. Recommended.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you like healthy critiques of companies.
Subtract 1-2 points if you want more recent documentaries.
Subtract 2-5 points if you’re a hardcore Disney fan.
-Amazing set of interviews covering racism, sexism, and rampant commercialism
-Powerful amounts of evidence
-Some arguments are stronger in hindsight
-Dated camera work and footage
-Disney has admittedly gotten better in female presentation in recent years
-Some missed opportunities in the critiques
Final Score: 8/10 Points
Content Warning: Mickey Mouse Monopoly is fine for most audiences except for the youngest of demographics. Dr. Giroux does say “What the hell?” when it comes to people critiquing him for critiquing Disney. There are hard topics presented with sexism, sexuality, racism, genocide, cultural appropriation, censorship, police states, and white supremacy being explicitly brought up. Even though it uses clips from Disney movies, let’s be honest that not everything was childish. Cases in point: Jasmine faking seducing Jafar, the “body language” scene in The Little Mermaid (#FanDisservice), and Scar killing Mufasa.
All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Mickey Mouse Monopoly is property of Media Education Foundation. The DVD cover is from IMDb and is property of Media Education Foundation.
Mickey Mouse Monopoly Review
AKA: Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood and Corporate Power