Anyone who grew up in the pre-streaming age remembers those super-effective Disney commercials that would air with a fair warning that a beloved film would be available for a limited time before being locked away in a “vault” for “years to come.”
I watched those commercials and promo clips and practically ran my mama and grandma ragged in a panic, begging them to secure those VHS tapes before they disappeared into the mysterious Disney vault (which, I imagined to look like an even larger version of Richie Rich’s vault, for the record).
Well, thanks to the magic (or monopolizing?) of Disney, we now have access to said vault. And all added content will be there forever! For a monthly fee, of course. On Tuesday, the much-anticipated Disney+ (also referenced as Disney Plus) launched for fans willing to pay either the monthly $6.99 fee (for Disney+ alone) or $12.99 a month (for Disney+, Hulu and ESPN). With the wholly-owned platform, fans will be able to access a bounty of Disney content, from classic to current. And yes, that includes all of the media juggernaut’s family of brands such as Pixar, National Geographic, Marvel and the Lucasfilm franchise, Star Wars.
All variations of the term “Disney Plus” immediately shot to the top of trending topics on Twitter with fans either expressing excitement, confusion, disappointment or flat out frustration over the platform’s technical issues (the latter of which may be blamed on the unprepared servers). There were a lot of emotions, and they were all over the place.
Back in April, the Hollywood Reporter confirmed Disney wouldn’t be adding their Oscar-nominated 1946 film Song of the South, which was criticized for perpetuating stereotypes and glorifying post-Civil War plantation life, to the streaming platform. And while Dumbo (1941) would be included in the nostalgic bundle of classic content, the film would be edited to remove the Jim Crow animated character, which depicted both blackface and minstrel-show tropes. (And yes, there is a special internal reconciling that occurs when you realize that super catchy song you sang as a kid was racist as fuck. I’d know.)
Slate touches on the concept of revisiting a once-beloved film and realizing some of the content may have been problematic:
If there does end up being a long-term issue for Disney+, it’s not that people will be shocked to discover the depth and breadth of weird movies that Walt Disney Pictures made in the 1960s and 1970s. (No one’s forcing you to watch Mr. Boogedy or Fuzzbucket.) It’s that audiences may stream something like Dumbo and be shocked at what they’ve forgotten from beloved classics or familiar characters. The studio’s most iconic character, Mickey Mouse, will be accounted for on Disney+ in the form of kid-friendly shows like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and specials like Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas. But there’s been no mention of the dozens of Mickey Mouse shorts from the first half of the 20th century, including Mickey’s Mellerdrammer, in which Mickey and friends perform a version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, complete with blackface.
“Unpacking how, why and when these projects were made would provide context for newcomers and those who haven’t seen these films in decades,” film critic and entertainment writer Aramide Tinubu wrote for NBC News. “It would offer an opportunity for growth, conversation and healing. But, by sweeping these issues under the rug, Disney suggests they would rather shut the door on their past atrocities than take the time and space to learn, grow and evolve from them. Sometimes doing what’s best for the generations that follow us means we must get uncomfortable, and expose our past faults and failures to them for us all to evolve.”
The Root has reached out to the Disney+ team for comment.
Update: 11/12/2019, 4:13 p.m. EST:
As it turns out, it looks like Dumbo may now be available in its final form, after all. Twitter user @Animated_Antic posted a screenshot from Dumbo’s film title description on the Disney+ platform, which noted, “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”