NEW YORK (AP) — Abigail E. Disney has been critical of the company that
bears her name before. But for the first time, Disney, the granddaughter
of co-founder Roy O. Disney, has put her views into the medium the Mouse
House was built on: a movie.
In the new documentary “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” Disney
argues that the Walt Disney Co. has lost its moral compass. As one of the
company’s most prominent and outspoken critics — one who happens to be
from within the Disney family — Disney lays out an unflattering portrait
of the company, particularly in regard to pay inequity and the struggles
of some theme park employees to sustain their families on minimum-wage
“They have gone the way of most every other company in this country. They
started with a bigger idea of themselves than that,” Disney said in an
interview. “The Walt Disney Co. was better. It was kinder, it was gentler.
It was a human company.
“We have lost the plot,” said Disney.
“The American Dream,” which is playing in select theaters and debuts
Friday on video-on-demand, is directed by Disney, an activist and film
producer, and the filmmaker Kathleen Hughes. It was made on the heels of a
series of tweets from Disney in 2019 in which she slammed Bob Iger, then-
Disney chief executive, for compensation that in 2018 surpassed $65
million. Disney’s siblings, Susan Disney Lord and Tim Disney, are also
executive producers on the film, which was made without any interaction
from the company.
“No one’s reached out to me. I’m a little mystified by it, frankly,” said
Disney. “I’m happy to talk if that’s what they want to do. I am rooting
for them. I love this company. This is a love letter to the company. But
when you really, really love something and see it going off the rails, you
can’t be silent.”
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The film follows four Disneyland custodians who on a salary of $15 an hour
struggle to make ends meet in the high-priced Anaheim, California, area.
Growing pay gaps between executives and low-rung workers is an issue
Disney knows goes far beyond the company her film concerns. At one point
in the film, she describes her hope for change as “a little Disney.
“I know that people think I’m just living out here in abstract land,”
Disney said. “But the abstractions matter a lot, and the sensibilities
Wages for some Disney workers have been changing. Unions representing
9,500 workers at Disneyland averted a strike by ratifying a contact that
raised pay from $15.45 an hour to $18. A union representing hotel workers
at an Anaheim hotel also recently reached agreement on $23.50 an hour.
(Anaheim’s living wage ordinance, which is $23.50, was earlier ruled not
to apply to Disneyland.)
In response to “The American Dream,” a Disney spokesperson replied with a
“Our amazing cast members, storytellers, and employees are the heart and
soul of Disney, and their wellbeing is our top priority. We work hard to
ensure that our team is supported in ways that enable them to grow their
careers, care for their families, and thrive at work — which is why so
many people choose to spend their entire careers with us.”
The spokesperson also cited medical coverage, access to tuition-free
higher education and subsidized child care as worker benefits. “We are
committed to building on these impactful programs by identifying new ways
to support our cast members and communities around the world,” said the
When Roy E. Disney, who founded the company with his brother, Walt, in
1923, stepped down from the board in 2003, the family ceased participating
in running the company. Since Abigail Disney made her documentary, which
first premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, Iger has been
succeeded by Bob Chapek, who had previously run parks for the company. In
that period, prices have risen sharply at the company’s theme parks —
another point of contention for Disney.
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“I just don’t think it’s a good idea for Disneyland to become a luxury
vacation that most Americans can’t access,” she said. “I don’t know how
much more the brand can take.”
Disney, though, was encouraged by workers who protested Chapek’s response
to Florida legislation that critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
To Disney, the situation reflected the corporation’s struggle to maintain
a role as any kind of moral authority amid such politically polarized
“There is no such thing as not having a position on this question,” she
said. “There is no neutral ground. To pretend you can stand still on a
moving train is a terrible mistake.”
Ultimately, Disney increasingly doesn’t recognize the company that for
much of her life was the family business. Making a movie about her
disapproval, she says, was “exquisitely uncomfortable.” But she hasn’t
given up a happily-ever-after ending.
“I really do mean well,” Disney says. “You can say a lot of things about
me, but I mean well.”