Disney, once the byword for all- American family values, has recently fallen foul of right-wing Christian groups. The liberal handling of adult themes in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame isn’t likely to improve relations, reckons Alan Morrison.
Uncle Walt would be spinning in his grave. Or at least he would. if his head wasn‘t cryogenically frozen in some American laboratory. The man whose studio output was the pinnacle of morally pure family entertainment has become Public Enemy No I as far as right-wing Christian groups are concerned. ‘What we've seen is a change in the entire culture of Disney.‘ ranted David Caton of the American Family Association. as he urged a boycott ofall Disney ﬁlms and merchandise at the end of I995. ‘They‘ve shown an outright disrespect and arrogance in their attitude toward the American family.‘
What‘s at the root of this outburst? Two tnain factors. First. Disney was seen to be condoning the annual Gay and Lesbian Day at Disneyworld in Florida. when. on the ﬁrst Saturday ofiune. upwards of 30.000 gay and lesbian people turn up at the turnstiles and buy a ticket for a weekend of fun with Mickey and Co. ‘A Mission To Pervert America‘s Children.‘ screamed AFA‘s July 95 newsletter. but Disney doesn‘t give the event any special support or unusual ticket discounts.
Secondly. the studio decided to extend its health care beneﬁts to the same-sex partners of gay
the Hunchback 0t liotre Dame: ‘champions forgiveness and acceptance of others’
employees. A campaign letter signed by ﬁfteen conservative Florida state legislators strongly disapproved of Disney‘s ‘endorsement of a lifestyle that is unhealthy. unnatural and unworthy ofspecial treatment‘. In fact. all ol'the major Hollywood studios had already made this move and Disney was belatedly catching up.
It‘s doubtful that such a stink would be raised ifthe culprit was anyone other than the creator of Bambi. Snow White. Dumbo and other inoffensive cartoon characters. Disney‘s detractors don‘t like the fact that the studio‘s subsidiary company Miramax distributed the gay-themed l’riesi or the controversial Kids. And so. in paranoid fashion. they‘ve also started seeing a corrupting inﬂuence in all the studio‘s recent animated movies. They‘ve even argued that. in Aladdin. the hero mutters ‘Good teenagers. take off your clothes‘ when he mounts his magic carpet (everyone else hears ‘Scat. good tiger. take off and go‘).
Disney‘s latest release. The Hunchback ()j'NaIre Danie isn‘t likely to endear the studio to the right- wingers. as it lifts some very adult themes from Victor Hugo‘s novel. In fact. this is a ﬁlm about how
sexual obsession leads to social prejudice and racial
oppression. Judge Frollo‘s carnal desires for the voluptuous gypsy Esmeralda. cloaked by his self- righteous demeanour. uianifest themselves as attacks on her race. as he burns their ghettos in a manner that pie-dates the Nazis.
At one point. Esmeralda. ﬁnding sanctuary in the cathedral. stands before a statue of the Virgin Mary and begins to sing ‘God help the outcasts‘. ll'the audience expects a sitnple religious message here. they‘re wrong. for hers is the only pure prayer — the supposedly upstanding citizens around her are all praying for wealth or fame or personal glory. hypocrites each and every one.
‘Who is the monster and who is the man'." asks the song that opens and closes the ﬁlm. pitting the deformed Quasimodo against Frollo. the ﬁgure of virtue and authority. In The Hunchback ()i'Na/re Dame. Disney champions forgiveness and acceptance of others who are different in race or physical stature. It seems that. in the workplace. the studio practises what it preaches in terms of different sexuality too. If these aren‘t moral values for the children of America — and the rest of the world -— to look tip to. what are? The Hunchback ()I'Nali'e Danie opens ml l’ri / 2 Jul and is i'et'ieii'ed in [his issue.
From the lovable hlclt in Cheers to a rabid, aworal murderer In Natural Born Killers- Woody llarrelsoa is still best ltaewa tor these polar roles. Yet, while most actors would crave sach contrasts, deep down you can sense his desire to get a laugh, perltaps because the comedy success he enjoyedontheswallscreeahassolar eluded him on lib.
man Baa'tluphad a tow hard-earned moments ot humour, but Manny train was certainly no laughing matter, which makes his return to
Woody harrelson aims tor laughs in Kingpin
comic term in Kingpin - a ﬁlm which delines the lowest common denominator, then savagely undercuts it - all the more pleasing.
“That humour thing is really plaguing me,’ the actor smiles shyly. ‘ln tact, i had been trying to make comedies all along, but they just weren’t iunny. low I think with Kingpin we’ve made one that is actually iunny.’ .
The men who relreshed ilarrelson so thoroughly, brothers Peter and Bobby Family, have done so by combining the sympathetic side ot his amiable Clients persona with their own unique sense of humour - a rude, crude and tasteless approach that served there so well on their last tilnt, Dumb And Dumber.
ilarrelsoa plays ace bowler iioy Manson whose slide to tailed hustler
device he wears over the book, he is
is completed when he loses a hand in a nasty accident. Stuck now with a hook and unconvincing rubber replacement, he spots lshrnael (iiandy Ouaid), a natural talent who unfortunately happens to be Amish and isn’t supposed to be in a bowling alley in the ﬁrst place.
this delicious mood oi political lncorrectness extends beyond the lilnr and into the interview, even when Woody is aslred in all seriousness about his caretul preparation lor the role. ltelerring to the prosthetic
admirany succinct. ‘lt’s rubber and you slip it on,’ he sniggers with schoolboy glee. ‘Oh, and the hand itself? It was rubber and you slipped it on.’ (Anwar Brett)
Kingpin opens on Fri 12 Jul.
22 The List 12-25 Jul 1996