"Fantasia Under The Dome,
Only Disney Movie Deal Doesn't Hold Any Water"


by Ken Garcia, San Francisco Chronicle, 11 March 1999

You might think that because Dopey, Goofy, Grumpy and Sneezy are already represented on the Board of Supervisors, San Francisco should not feel a need to invite Walt Disney into our historic center of power.

Think again.

The board is apparently set to allow Walt Disney to take over its chambers for a few days in the name of top-notch entertainment. It may seem like a good way to promote San Francisco — at least until reality sets in.

And reality in this case is represented by the folks at Disney, the company that filled the world with talking animals, dancing brooms, unbelievably happy endings and merchandising mania. It is also the corporation that put on a smiley face to mask one of the most aggressively litigious acts in all of Hollywood. Disney at one time threatened to sue the motion picture academy — the Oscars! — for not getting permission to let someone dress up as Snow White.

It should be noted here that city officials are being asked to sell their souls — and their headquarters — for a movie whose plot involves a robot who wants to become a man. It is based on a science fiction book, but we already know it can happen, because Al Gore is on TV every day.

So much for flights of fantasy.

The city has not yet signed the deal with Disney, which offers a tiny speck of hope that the board will still do the right thing. Call me Mr. Doubtfire, force me to watch Flubber or make me listen to Disney sing-along songs, but whatever it takes, call it off.

Because once the Mouse House gets its corporate claws in, the city will be doomed. San Francisco's legendary snobbishness should certainly keep it at a level above Orlando or any other place whose culture is defined by cartoon characters. It's a small world after all, and quite enough of it has already been ruined by Disney.

San Francisco, which has made enough civic mistakes to be considered Toontown North, should understand this, but apparently our officials get a bit giddy under the camera lights. The city's prized lefty ideals should include a measure that protects what remains of its history — at least before the theme parks roll in to Treasure Island.

The amount of money involved in the Disney transaction amounts to peanuts, and it's too bad that the supervisors seem intent on focusing in on financial details and insurance protection rather than the cultural harm posed by Mickey Mouse's presence at City Hall.

People on the outside, such as voters, look at such deals with quizzical alarm. The city needs Walt Disney like Dorothy needs witches. The company has so permeated and disfigured American culture that someone needs to take a stand before it's too late. But judging from the fact that Disney already owns a good portion of the world's entertainment and media companies, maybe it already is.

This very premise forms the basis of a movie script that is now in the development stage with a major film production studio. It was written by two San Francisco screenwriters, Tom Molitor and David Munro, and is both a terrific satire and a great take on modern politics and urban planning.

The screenplay, titled "The City," details what happens to San Francisco after the next big earthquake, when the city is in physical and financial ruins and tries to quickly rebuild.

You'll never guess who comes to the rescue.

Before long, the attractions division of a corporation called Universal Magic manages to quiet the protests from the liberal cognoscenti with payoffs and promises, and uses its political muscle to push its theme park design for San Francisco through the City Planning Commission and the Redevelopment Agency.

The company's plan is further aided by a mayor who is up for re- election (hello, Willie) and is looking for a fast fix for the city's problems. The fact that the corporation is offering a huge jump in tax revenue overtakes the obvious drawback of its project — that it is basically turning San Francisco into a giant amusement park, with merchandising and film tie-ins and rides like "The Big One."

Faster than the line at the Indiana Jones Adventure ride, the city is incorporated, trademarked and copyrighted by UM and split into seven theme zones.

Needless to say, the next Happiest Place on Earth doesn't stay that way long, but I don't want to give up too much of the plot. Yet anyone who recalls the project floated by the Grateful Dead to erect a Deadland theme park South of Market — which was supported by the mayor's office — knows that in San Francisco, anything is possible.

So the board members like Supervisor Tom Ammiano who have expressed some caution about the Disney deal should trust their instincts and jump off the monorail before it's too late. Blocking the film project may seem like a small step, but it's worth the effort.

Because amusement park cities are not very amusing. And if you don't believe me, it's probably because you've never been to Anaheim.

©1999 San Francisco Examiner



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