Review by Sean Boelman
People may recognize Abigail Disney as the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, older brother of Walt and the business mind behind the Walt Disney Company. However, she is also a documentary filmmaker in her own right, and her newest film, The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales, points her camera back at her family’s empire.
In the movie, Abigail Disney uses an exploration of her grandfather’s own company, the Walt Disney Company, to expose how the American economy is unfair to lower-class workers, making the American Dream a myth. However, rather than proposing legitimate solutions, Disney just points fingers at who is to blame for the issue.
Abigail Disney’s role in the film is questionable in and of itself. Her ability to make this movie is largely tied to nepotism and the fact that she lived her life in privilege as an heiress to the Disney empire. Although she isn’t exactly in the inner circle of the Walt Disney Company, her role is still largely that of a savior. It has slightly more emotional authenticity than an Undercover Boss episode, but not by much.
The film does make some decent points, but many of them are things that people already know. Audiences will already know that the executives of the Walt Disney Company are paid disproportionately more than the average Disneyland employee and that the wages earned by entry-level employees are hardly livable, but the movie fails to put this into context of the larger wage gap issue plaguing the American economy.
Instead, the film attempts to appeal to the audience’s emotions by presenting case studies of Disneyland employees who have been affected directly by the wage inequalities of the Walt Disney Company. However, what the movie fails to acknowledge is that the number of people who are working in these low-paying positions as their long-term career is actually rather small.
Indeed, a majority of people working at these theme parks tend to be pursuing something else — whether it be moving up in the company, a degree in hospitality or a related field, or have retired and are doing this job for supplemental income or to fill their time. Although the wage gap certainly is frustrating, and people should be able to make a livable wage, there are people for whom this structure is exactly what they need.
The format of the documentary is pretty straightforward. There are some sequences which incorporate animation or archive materials in intriguing ways, but for the most part, it’s mostly a bunch of interviews that Disney conducts. Worse yet, it’s pretty obvious that Disney is asking loaded questions to guide the conversation in the way she hopes it will go.
The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales explores an issue that is undeniably important, but Abigail Disney’s approach is questionable to the point of defeating its point. It’s clearly meant to start a conversation around the topic, but it hardly adds anything new to the conversation.
The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales hits theaters on September 16.