Escape Artist

From The New York Times:

Hand600span_1 WALT DISNEY PICTURES must be the most enduring entertainment brand ever created. Look at the studio’s peers, all forged, like Disney, in the 1910s or ’20s. What does it mean, many decades later, to be a Warner Brothers picture, an MGM film or a Paramount movie? When my mother was a little girl, she knew what she was getting with a Disney picture. So did I when I was a kid. And so do my kids today (although, at the ages of 10 and 8, they’re now more interested in the tween shows on the Disney Channel). And what were/are we getting? Wholesome family entertainment with cheerful humor, wisecracking sidekicks, happy forest creatures, scary parts, some occasionally disturbing psychological or social implications, and often — this is the part my mom, the softy, has hated her whole life — a dead animal. Plus a sentimental ending. While the recipe has coarsened in the hands of the studio’s more recent stewards, the basic idea remains.

Forty years after his death at the age of 65 from lung cancer — he was a heavy, lifelong smoker — the man himself has largely receded. Those of us old enough remember the midcentury mustache and the warm but ragged “Uncle Walt” voice, familiar from his gig as host of his “Wonderful World of Color” TV show. Otherwise, he’s the George Washington of popular culture: familiar but indistinct, ubiquitous but remote. Like his most famous but oddly personality-less creation, Mickey Mouse, Disney became a talking, moving logo. He himself was complicit in this, at once fostering it and resenting it. Gabler quotes him telling a colleague: “I’m not Walt Disney anymore. Walt Disney is a thing. It’s grown to become a whole different meaning than just one man.”

More here.