Before I begin, I want to be honest about my background before reviewing Abigail E. Disney and Kathleen Hughes’ The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales. Prior to my life as a critic, I was a Walt Disney World Cast Member for more than four years. Therefore, the life depicted in Ms. Disney’s film contains similarities to my own experience, yet at the same time, differs in other ways. While I like to remove myself from my personal feelings on some films, this was an impossible task when watching The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales. Still, in the following review, I will do my best to provide an objective opinion on the film and its messages.
The Covid-19 global pandemic interrupted life for many across the country. It stopped vacations and trips. We were isolated from friends and families. For some, it meant halting the purchase of a house or a car. For many more, Covid caused our situations before the pandemic to intensify. Trends that had already been in motion took further root. Issues regarding high prices and low wages had been the subject of criticism for the Walt Disney Company. For Abigail Disney, the co-director of The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales, this criticism did not just reflect on a random company. It reflected on her very legacy as a family. With co-director Kathleen Hughes, the two women deconstruct the company’s impact on modern capitalism in America.
Abigail is the daughter of Roy E. Disney, granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, and grand-niece of Walt Disney. She sought a life away from the company that shares her name, but in America, you can only get so far away when your name is Disney. Early in the film, she addresses this frustration, making it clear The American Dream will not present itself as an unbiased document. Instead, the film serves as a reckoning.
Much of The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales focuses on the weakening labor unions across America. Home to one of the most unique unions in the world, the Walt Disney Company knows these issues intimately. Additionally, the film loops truths about the economic circumstances of minority communities, which have always faced systemic oppression. As Abigail parades in experts and historians who understand the problems, the film lays a foundation for the personal stories that provide the film its power.
Providing the perspectives of actual cast members becomes integral. Abigail and Hughes juxtapose the corporate speak of Disney with the stark realities of heartbreak, food banks, and a loss of agency. These impactful stories remind the audience of the real-world consequences of decisions by major corporations. The film explicitly argues that companies have long violated the social contract with their workers. In the case of Disney, this violation is more hurtful than the typical capitalistic venture. The personal stakes of putting oneself on camera and telling their story are far greater than one might expect.
Additionally, Abigail and Hughes turn to the long-term consequences of Disney’s practices in the parks. They take footage of Disneyland’s opening in 1955 and explain how the corporation has shaped cultural attitudes on race, ethnicity, and gender over the past hundred years. To openly call out the company during this era is no small thing. After all, Abigail’s grandfather and great-uncle created this company. These were not strangers but people she knew and loved. It may be easy to call the film’s themes out as an outsider, but to be inside the family and call out the hypocrisy is another aspect entirely.
Abigail and Hughes use this commentary and introspective work to craft an essential vision of one of America’s most influential corporations. While Disney has become a key cog in the culture war and entertainment industry, its origins hint at a corporation that can do more. In a capitalist society, it becomes difficult to accept we have enough. Disney is a metaphorical and literal kingdom highlighting a family’s rise from nothing to rule the world. Yet according to The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales, the current corporation has become the opposite of that ideal. Worst of all, it stomps out those opportunities for the people who make its magic real.