Illustration by Bob AulSomewhere during the third hour of Disney's 84-minute America's Heart and Soul—the movie that reminds us it was stunt pilots and blind mountain climbers that made this country great—one finds oneself asking the inevitable: Is Michael Eisner out of his frigging mind?!
The man helped create the CEO as celebrity and, lo, just a decade or so ago, could do nothing wrong to the point that people cheered his idea of morphing a so-so movie into a so-so NHL team and, oh, by the way, revitalized the feature-length animated film to the point that the genre is a dominant moneymaker complete with its own Oscar category. Under Eisner, Disney became the epitome of corporate proficiency, and he so identified with it that he took over Walt Disney's role of introducing The Wonderful World of Disney each week.
He was brilliant, 'member?
But how long ago all that seems while sitting through this dreadfully cynical paean to America—where black people sing gospel and box in prison and whites are farmers and wear cowboy hats. And especially when in this same complex (Orange's Century Stadium 25, just 10 minutes down the street from Disneyland), Fahrenheit 9/11, the movie Eisner passed on distributing for fear of looking partisan, is playing to near-capacity crowds in two theaters. This early-evening showing of America was attended by myself and five others.
Now it seems Eisner can do nothing right. Remember a little something called California Adventure? Or that Disney-owned ABC has sunk to just above UPN depths? Or that no Disney movie this year has made as much as $20 million its opening weekend? Or that when that first Oscar for animation was given out in 2002, it was awarded to DreamWorks' Shrek. Yes, Disney had a huge hit last year with the Pixar-generated Finding Nemo, but not long after that, Pixar announced it would end its exclusive relationship (Toy Story; A Bug's Life; Monsters, Inc.; Nemo) with Disney.
That Eisner's star hasn't so much as dropped as veered into oncoming traffic makes you wonder if he isn't doing all of this on purpose. That perhaps Eisner long nursed a grudge against the Walt Disney Co. and rose Monte Cristo-like just to destroy it. It seems impossible the man who produced films that not only entertained but were also usually subversively smarter than the room could have ever thought America had anything to do with the America of the past 30 years, let alone the past three. A movie so cloying and out of touch that we're shown more people driving tractors than cars. There's not a single person shown behind a computer and nary an image of a suburb.
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If the movie is out of touch, then, increasingly, Disney seems to be as well. Well, that and sad. If you go to the America's Heart and Soulwebsite, you will be asked by Disney, the company that created the term synergy, to help them market the film by downloading fliers and e-mailing ads to friends—you know, the way kids push their friend's Goth band.
It hasn't worked. America took in just $200,000 its first week—Fahrenheit made $21 million its first weekend. Why isn't America seeing this film? Probably because Americans can sometimes spot crap; America's Heart and Soulhas the cheap sentimentality and look of a Wal-Mart commercial . . . or California Adventure. Or maybe because Americans are getting wise to the fact that lots of shots of majestic mountains and waving wheat, accompanied by shameless appeals to our national vanity, usually get us in trouble, and we end up somewhere bad, say, Iraq where, on July 8, the 1,000th coalition solider lost his life.
I dunno. Right now, entering Day Nine of this 84-minute movie, it hurts to think, and I don't think I can take much more. We're just being shown a Native American sitting in a drum circle —because that's all those people do—and he's praising the American bald eagle as the sign of "freedom." A quick recap: a Native American is calling the very symbol of the country that visited genocide upon his people a sign of freedom. Geez. I am seriously considering leaving. I can't help but wonder if Eisner is also.