Something's happening at Walt Disney Pictures. After years spent ruining its brand, the company seems determined to regain its position as the standard-bearer for family movies, recently with one winner after another. Think "Cars," "The Chronicles of Narnia," and "Pirates of the Caribbean."
Now add to that list Disney's newest offering, "Invincible," the story Vince Papale, a nobody from Philadelphia who was given the chance for a try-out with the Philadelphia Eagles, and against all odds, made the roster. It is every young boy's Walter Mitty fantasy - except the story is true.
My youngest son Reid may only be nine years old, but he could hold his own as an ESPN commentator. There's nothing he doesn't know about sports. It explains why, after viewing a trailer for "Invincible," he announced that we would be going to see it.
So we went - reluctantly. It's a movie about a professional football team, and it's rated "PG." One imagines the possibilities. Raunchy locker-room language. Sexual innuendo, or worse. Graphic violence. "PG" means anything these days, and anything could happen. I was prepared to leave, if necessary.
What a delight. The movie is terrific, in many ways. But the best part was that none of the ugly possibilities materialized. The MPAA rating warns of "some mild language," but I didn't hear a single curse word. No raunch. Nothing objectionable. Just a wonderful, uplifting story. You walk out of the theater wanting to shake the hands of those in charge at Disney who made a simple decision: if it's a movie with a target market being youngsters, their innocence will be protected - period. That's the Walt Disney company I remember.
But then you return home, and turn on your television set, and it's like a frying pan to the face. You see how others in the industry are deliberately doing the exact opposite, doing their level best to insert mature, sometimes even disgusting material into their programs, not in spite of the fact that impressionable children are watching, but
Take this year's broadcast of the "Teen Choice Awards," on the Fox network. The hosts were Jessica Simpson, recently featured vamping skimpily through the "Dukes of Hazzard" movie, and Dane Cook, a hot stand-up comic with a tour called..."Tourgasm." Within the first ten seconds of the show, Cook was joking about being high on drugs and, acting as a pirate in a "Pirates of the Caribbean" spoof, joked about all the "booty" he hoped to find at the awards show.
As a demonstration of the intended atmosphere, the show featured teenage girls in bikinis bathing in an on-stage hot tub directly in front of the podium. The hot tub served no purpose other than to suggest this wasn't a stuffy awards show, but a hot, happening, sexually charged party - smack-dab in TV's family hour at 8 PM.
Later in the show, Dane Cook introduced the two 15-year-old winners of a J.C. Penney casting call by joking, "Look at them, so young and innocent, and they'll both be pregnant by the end of the night." Comedian Marlon Wayans presented an award for best MySpace.com video. That website is notorious for teenagers posting inappropriate pictures of themselves, and Wayans joked to the teen audience that "you've got to be naked to get in my [MySpace] Top Eight." A rapper named Chingy helped introduce the best love-song category by noting love songs are good for "popping the buttons" of girls' clothing.
Some of the award winners did feel obligated to offer a public service to the teenagers watching. Following one of her three awards, young singer Nelly Furtado threw out the usual "safe sex" sermon: "If you are going to be sexually active, then be safe and use a condom." A rapper named Timbaland added, "don't be promiscuous."
Ironically - no, hypocritically - these comments followed their performance of their big hit song "Promiscuous Girl." Timbaland raps, "I can see you with nothing on, feeling on me before you bring that on." Furtado sings back, "promiscuous boy...what are you waiting for?"
ABC's trashy series "Desperate Housewives" was nominated in the Comedy/Musical category. These are role models for children? The "Choice" animation show winner was Fox's own sleazy "Family Guy," the epitome of Hollywood's pillaging of decency in prime time. Every - EVERY - episode seeks to offend on as many fronts as possible. Masturbation, defecation, racial insults, sexual innuendo, foul language... it is all common fodder for this putrid prime-time offering. In one episode this season God was shown in bed with a woman who hands him a condom to which God replies, "But it's my birthday!"
All of which is why I want to shake the hands of the Disney folks.