Childhood is a funny time in our lives. We’re still working through everything, trying to figure out how the world works and trying even more desperately to figure out our place in it. In this sense, movies play a lasting role in shaping us, telling us of a world outside of our homes and schools. They inform us in ways we can’t even imagine at such a young age. This isn’t to say that movies are entirely responsible for how we come into adulthood or that movies create murderers and rapists. Both the negative and positive influence that movies have on their audiences is just that, an influence, but by no means a cause. The interesting thing about this is we’re never really entirely aware of our edification process through the world of movies, particularly children’s movies. Those of us who are still caught in that middle ground, somewhere in between adolescence and adulthood, can attest to the shift in consciousness. I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I still watch some movies that are undoubtedly intended for children, but I watch them with a different lens and from a different eye.
That “different eye” is the central focus of the documentary, Mickey Mouse Monopoly. Now, I know it’s taboo to speak ill of the creator of childhood dreams, but there’s compelling evidence that there needs to be a certain level of awareness as we watch these movies and as our children watch these movies. The fact of the matter is children watch differently. I’m not telling anyone how to parent, because lord knows I’d make a mess of it, but this documentary takes a look at that child-like imagination as it tries to make sense of the world. To say Disney doesn’t play a role in how our childhood is shaped is ludicrous. The fact that it is such a powerful entity makes it messages ever present, but the question of “what are these messages?” remains.
As for the documentary itself, I find myself torn. It’s a well-intentioned piece of work that forces a discussion of some very important ideals and attitudes, but there are moments when I question its way of presenting these problematized moral findings. Like many documentaries, Mickey Mouse Monopoly comes off as rather one-sided. I didn’t need an hour long documentary to convince me that Disney is morally questionable, but that’s what this documentary sets out to do. The easiest way it could strengthen its case is by an admission of its own bias or possible failings. There’s no way, even if I buy into it, that someone can surmise an intended moral message. Nevertheless, Mickey Mouse Monopoly attempts to do just this through a series of interviews.
If you ask me, the most effect are the interviews with children themselves. These kids tell, in no uncertain terms, what they think the movie is about or what they got from the movie, and it’s a little frightening to see what these children come up with. It makes me realize how unaware I had always been of Disney’s influence when I was a child. There was never any critical engagement, like these children are going through, but rather unadulterated enjoyment at any cost. The main fault of the movie is in its “expert” witnesses. These children’s interviews are frequently offset with interviews of professors and sociologists which are compelling testimonials, but tend to come on too strong. We understand that everyone in this game has an agenda, so its difficult to make sense of who is “better”, morally or otherwise, when both parties are trying to sell something. Still, with the interviews with children, Mickey Mouse Monopoly effectively problematizes Disney and forces audiences to re-examine our relationship between child-like innocence and the moral messages that help us make sense of the world around us and our place in it.