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THE TWO FACES OF DISNEY

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thirty years ago Disney was in the throes of an existential crisis of sorts. After decades of building a reputation as the go-to studio for ‘family movies,’ Disney dipped its toe into more adult fare by developing projects through a new production/releasing label, Touchstone, and found success with its first two efforts, the comedy ‘Splash’ and the drama ‘Country’ (both 1984 and rated PG). The second two, ‘Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend’ and ‘My Science Project’ (both 1985 and rated PG) were less successful, but Disney nonetheless felt emboldened to try its first R-rated film, ‘Down and Out in Beverly Hills’ (1986), which was a big hit. After that, Touchstone began a run of hit-and-miss efforts and the studio began to find it difficult to balance its new found mature pictures with its family fare, prompting this ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column, published in the Deseret News on July 20, 1989, under the headline, ‘Disney having trouble separating snow-white fare from raunchier stuff.’

As anyone who follows current movie trends can tell you, the Walt Disney Co. is a leader in the industry.

The company’s incredible track record for success, under both its Disney and Touchstone film divisions, has come to set the standard in more ways than one.

But lately, there seems to be a strange trend afoot, one that seemingly signals that Disney has still not completely sorted out the differences between its “family” film fare and the more adult movies it produces.

Simply stated, Disney seems to be creating movies that are too silly for adults and yet are too raunchy for kids.

So who are these movies for?

This trend isn’t exclusive to Disney, of course. But this year three specific Touchstone films fit the category — “Three Fugitives,” “Disorganized Crime” and the just-released “Turner & Hooch.”

Each of these movies revels in silly slapstick, each was publicized with trailers (previews) that seem to appeal to youngsters and have elements that seem to specifically shout out to kids.

At the same time, however, each movie boasts “adult” overtones that might make parents think twice before allowing younger moviegoers to see them.

     

For example:

“Three Fugitives,” released in January, is the story of a bumbling klutz (Martin Short) who attempts to rob a bank and in the process unwittingly takes as his hostage a paroled bank robber (Nick Nolte) who’s trying to go straight. Reluctantly they hit the road together, along with Short’s young daughter. The previews made this look like a jolly on-the-road slapstick farce that children would enjoy, with no warning that there is also a lot of graphic bloody violence and a good deal of profanity, not to mention a rather morbid subplot about Short’s motivations for turning to crime. It is rated PG-13.

“Disorganized Crime,” which came out in April, is also a slapstick farce about bungling bank robbers, a gang led by Fred Gwynne, Ruben Blades, Lou Diamond Phillips and Corbin Bernsen. The film’s violence and most of the profanity is easily in the PG arena, but the use of “The Eddie Murphy Word” a few times gives the movie an R rating. This was one of Touchstone’s few outright bombs, and I’m convinced that if it were not rated R, parents would have let their children see it, and the children doubtless would have enjoyed it.

“Turner & Hooch” is a PG-rated film that my young kids have been asking to see. That’s because the ads portray the film as a goofy comedy about prissy Tom Hanks reluctantly adopting a slobbish mutt who changes his life. What you do not see in the previews, however, is that the film overdoses on graphic violence, especially in the final quarter when it turns into a predictable thriller, tossing aside the comedy. In addition there is a sequence between Hanks and Mare Winningham that has some frank sexual discussion parents might not want their young children exposed to.

All of these films were released under Disney’s Touchstone label but that doesn’t change the fact that the ads may have led parents and children to believe these pictures were no more harmless than a film currently in release under the Walt Disney Pictures label — “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

Ironically, “Honey” is the first kids’ film to come along in some time that isn’t so silly parents are likely to squirm before it’s over, and yet it doesn’t include a single profanity and has very few vulgar underpinnings. (And what vulgarity there is, is not sexual.)

Too often modern filmmakers seem to feel that a movie aimed at the “family” audience will somehow exclude other moviegoers unless there is a certain amount of sex, violence or profanity included. In “Turner & Hooch,” for example, the sex is purely gratuitous, the graphic violence is out of step with the rest of the film’s tone, and there is a single profanity spoken in the film, which stands out by virtue of being alone in a sea of otherwise clean language. (Oddly, the profanity is spoken by Hanks — even the villains don’t swear in this picture.)

As a colleague pointed out, this is bad enough for parents who take their children expecting the film will not contain such material, but it’s even worse for the children themselves, already the victims of far too many mixed messages in today’s society.

  

As mentioned earlier, this trend is not exclusive to Disney — other films that have exhibited similar problems include “K-9,” “She’s Out of Control” and the upcoming “Parenthood,” all of which appeal to children in their advertising, all rated PG or PG-13, and all far too raunchy for small fry.

By the very dividing of its film production center into Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures, Disney has seemed to have a better handle on which movies are meant for families and which are not.

But apparently Disney is still having an identity crisis.

When I have brought up issues like this to filmmakers, they always have the same answer — kids are more sophisticated today, they know more about sex, have seen more violence and hear profanity every day in the schoolyard.

I don’t argue with any of this but it’s also true that the more movies like this kids see, the more sex, violence and profanity they are exposed to. Why dish it up just because they get too much already? It seems to me this is an argument for not doing it, instead of an argument for doing it more.

And, though I’m not too sure how popular this argument will be, I also wonder if profanity in the schoolyard isn’t more common and accepted today because children hear so much in movies — and videos and TV programs.

Maybe if our children’s heroes didn’t use profanity so much our children wouldn’t either.

Personally, I’d like to see our children being allowed to be children a little longer.