Jonathan VanBoskerck Should Stop Whining About Disney World

Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World Resort/Getty Images. It’s usually a little alarming when my home state of Florida is trending in the n...


walt disney world orlando florida cinderella castle magic kingdom

Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World Resort/Getty Images.

It’s usually a little alarming when my home state of Florida is trending in the news — between Florida Man’s escapades and our “ethically creative” politicians there seems to be an unending supply of weird, wacky, and wonderful stories — but an Orlando Sentinel op-ed by Jonathan VanBoskerck was really something else.

VanBoskerck (who, by the way, lives in North Las Vegas, Nevada and is not a Florida Man) begins his whinging screed by saying that he and his family “have been loyal Disney customers for decades,” including vacationing at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida every year.

“Consequently, we spend way too much money in Orlando,” he writes, before dropping his threat of “rethinking our commitment to Disney and, thus, Orlando” because “[t]he more Disney moves away from the values and vision of Walt Disney, the less Disney World means to me.”

“The parks are less fun,” he explains, “because immersion and thus the joy is taking a back seat to politics,” mentioning some of the recent updates to rides and cast member appearance requirements that he claims make him focus on “Disney’s political agenda” instead of being able to “immerse” himself in the fantasy theme park experience.

One of the examples VanBoskerck lists is the coming renovation to the Splash Mountain ride to remove references to the 1946 movie Song of the South. Well, as an actual Orlando native and authentic Southerner (I can defend the grammatical merit of “y’all,” have opinions about to which occasions it is appropriate to wear a Lilly Pulitzer sundress, and refuse to drink unsweetened tea), Mr. VanBoskerck, bless your heart.

Specifically regarding Song of the South, I vaguely remember watching it as a kid, thinking Br’er Rabbit was so clever and funny, but I’m not surprised at all that Disney has chosen to mothball their own movie, refusing to release it on home video in the U.S. and not including it on its streaming service, Disney+.

In addition to the humorous animated critters, the film also includes live-action scenes where Black characters were portrayed in a way that “helps to perpetuate a dangerously glorified picture of slavery,” as the NAACP said in a statement at the time of the film’s release. Song of the South purportedly takes place after the Civil War, but never makes that date clear in the film, and even if the characters are former slaves, their depiction is still a far cry from what is acceptable today.

“Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is a fun bop of a song and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, but if VanBoskerck doesn’t want to be reminded of wokeness on a theme park ride, could he maybe understand how Black Americans might not want the “plantation myth” nonsense shoved in their faces on a theme park ride too?

VanBoskerck has an overly idealized view of the company when founder Walt Disney was still alive, praising how he “used his corporation to express his patriotism during World War II and his pro-capitalism beliefs afterward.”

Some of those “patriotic” cartoons have also been self-censored by Disney, such as a 1944 cartoon created for the U.S. military, “Commando Duck,” in which Donald Duck is sent on a mission to Japan, where he encounters Japanese soldiers who are drawn very stereotypically, speak in sing-song accents, and say they believe it’s best to shoot enemies in the back. There is value to studying that cartoon for the historical context, but I’m not upset Disney doesn’t want to stream it for little kids to see. Watch for yourself, around the 2:30 mark:

As far as being “pro-capitalism,” Disney has never allowed Song of the South to be shown in the U.S. since a 1986 theatrical re-release, and has been very adamant about not releasing it on video. There are very capitalist reasons why Disney would prefer to switch one of their most popular rides from a 75-year-old outdated relic to instead promote Princess and the Frog, a 2009 film which grossed $269 million at the box office and continues to generate profits for the company from all the little princess-loving girls who want to be like Tiana.

VanBoskerck’s objection to the changes to the Jungle Cruise ride are similarly ridiculous. Among the removed scenes was one where the native people are shown boiling a captive man alive, suggesting that they are cannibals.

And then there’s the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which used to include a scene where pirates were chasing after women, insinuating some raping-and-pillaging was about to commence; this was updated to have the women carrying trays of food, as a general scene of merriment and not sexual assault.

The more notable change to the Pirates ride was the “bride auction,” in which animatronic women are tied up in front of a banner reading “Auction: Take a Wench for a Bride.” A redhead lifts up the edge of her skirt to show off her legs and twirls back and forth flirtatiously as a pirate yells, “We want the redhead!”

pirates of the caribbean walt disney world

Photo by HarshLight via Flickr.

The update changes the scene to a regular auction for goods and the redhead as the auctioneer.

I find it difficult to be nostalgic about a ride that had scenes of attempted rape and sexual slavery. What exactly is VanBoskerck missing? The chance to teach his children that it’s humorous to call women “wenches” and treat them like nothing more than sexual objects?

And it’s hypocritical of VanBoskerck to tout Mr. Disney’s “pro-capitalism beliefs” but then complain when Disney the company seeks to promote their multi-billion dollar Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise by adding Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow character to the ride that literally inspired the movie.

Disney is in the business of selling entertainment to an international audience. They do not exist as propagandists for VanBoskerck’s preferred political agenda or anyone else’s. The idea that someone can’t figure out how to enjoy a fictional story on a ride at a theme park because it is updated to include a different fictional story is absurd.

Like many longtime Floridians, I have nostalgic memories of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, based on the 1949 animated film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The ride still exists at Disneyland in California, but the Florida park’s version was replaced with a Winnie the Pooh ride in the late 1990s. Sharp-eyed Disney aficionados can still detect a few tributes to the original ride as they travel through the Hundred Acre Wood with Christopher Robin’s pals. Do I miss careening down the train tracks with Mr. Toad? Sure, but I’m not going to spend any energy being personally offended by it.

Disney being “woke” is not even a new phenomenon. “Gay Days” has been happening at Disney World since 1991, growing to a weeklong event around the Orlando area that draws in over 180,000 LGBTQ people and their families. Disney doesn’t directly promote the annual event, but they don’t really need to and they make clear their support with extended park operating hours, additional entertainment performances at Cinderella’s Castle, and enhanced fireworks displays normally used only for holidays and peak summer events.

VanBoskerck’s real problem isn’t that Disney is overly politicizing everything; it’s that he is. Getting upset because a theme park makes a few updates to a ride old enough to qualify for the first round of Covid-19 vaccines isn’t defending any conservative principles or sticking up for American culture. It’s being an insufferably irredeemable Eeyore.

Normal people, liberal and conservative and everything in between, can go to Disney World and just enjoy the experience, knowing that the only true horror is the theme song to It’s a Small World. (Seriously, I once worked with a woman who was stuck on the ride when it broke down. For almost an hour. And they never turned the music off. She was still traumatized years later.)

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.



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