The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence is a 1999 English language nonfiction book by Penn State education professor Henry A. Giroux, about the Walt Disney Company. Giroux discusses how Disney's early successes as the definitive "American family friendly" media corporation, its contributions to wartime propaganda, and its appropriation of familiar public domain narratives (such as fairy tales) for films have given it disproportionate access and influence over the nation's children. Giroux asserts that "Uncle Walt" as a person and legacy has cultivated a tutelary narrative framework which undermines democracy and encourages mental habits which trend toward eventual fascist leanings, using numerous aspects of artistic design in animation to depict the "cultural other," such as people of colour, as villainous and cowardly.
Giroux spends several chapters discussing how employees at Disney theme parks are subjected to cult mentality and cult mechanisms of control. The features of a high control group are also seen throughout the municipalities surrounding these parks, like Celebration, Florida, the territory around Walt Disney World where the Walt Disney Company acts as both local government and homeowners association, dictating such things as residents' window shade colour, and disallowing human beings to be declared dead until they are removed from Disney property, to falsify the appearance of safety in the park.
According to Giroux, Disney pioneered the idea that children are themselves an entire consumer demographic who participate in making decisions about how money is spent, meaning that merchandising methods to target children will yield more purchases of Disney products, than attempting to directly convince adults to buy those products. The films and parks are vehicles for delivering this purchase motive to children, and the films especially make the related characters and ideas ubiquitous for a child to encounter, either directly at home, out in public in shops, or among peers who share an obsession with whatever film was most recently released. Disney avoids appearing obnoxiously profit-motivated, by avoiding advertising through television commercials, billboards, and other intrusive formats, so parents do not habitually see the actual advertising medium as intrusive or propagandistic.
Giroux approaches all these topics with an air of shock and outrage, and to a reader in the 2020s, his conclusions register as virtually self-evident rather than shocking. The book is nonetheless an excellent read, largely because it serves as a time capsule to convey a 1990s awareness of the WDC's scope of influence. Some conclusions Giroux draws are downright prophetic, through the lens of thirty elapsed years, because he accurately anticipated much of the racially-motivated political divisiveness of the new millennium, and how the introduction of greater racial diversity into Disney films would incite widespread outrage, after decades of racial homogeneity in film.
If this topic interests you, I recommend for further reading Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard (1981) and Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World by Carl Hiasson (1998).
Iron Noder 2022, 27/30