Tinker Belles and Evil Queens: The Walt Disney Company from the Inside Out

Tinker Belles and Evil Queens: The Walt Disney Company from the Inside Out

Tinker Belles and Evil Queens: The Walt Disney Company from the Inside Out

Tinker Belles and Evil Queens: The Walt Disney Company from the Inside Out


From its Magic Kingdom theme parks to its udderless cows, the Walt Disney Company has successfully maintained itself as the brand name of conservative American family values. But the Walt Disney Company has also had a long and complex relationship to the gay and lesbian community that is only now becoming visible.

In Tinker Belles and Evil Queens , Sean Griffin traces the evolution of this interaction between the company and gay communities, from the 1930s use of Mickey Mouse as a code phrase for gay to the 1990s "Gay Nights" at the Magic Kingdom. Armed with first-person accounts from Disney audiences, Griffin demonstrates how Disney animation, live-action films, television series, theme parks, and merchandise provide varied motifs and characteristics that readily lend themselves to use by gay culture. But Griffin delves further to explore the role of gays and lesbians within the company, through an examination of the background of early studio personnel, an account of sexual activism within the firm, and the story of the company's own concrete efforts to give recognition to gay voices and desires.

The first book to address the history of the gay community and Disney, Tinker Belles and Evil Queens broadly examines the ambiguous legacy of how modern consumerism and advertising have affected the ways lesbians and gay men have expressed their sexuality. Disney itself is shown as sensitive to gay and lesbian audiences, while exploiting those same audiences as a niche market with strong buying power. Finally, Griffin demonstrates how queer audiences have co-opted Disney products for themselves-and in turn how Disney's corporate strategies have influenced our very definitions of sexuality.


In the summer of 1988, I was hired by New Wave Productions as a courier, production assistant and general all-around “go-fer.” New Wave Productions functioned in the film industry as a “trailer house”— a company producing theatrical trailers and TV and radio spots for feature films. New Wave worked exclusively on projects for the Walt Disney Company, making ads for all of its feature films, both under the Disney label and under its newer logos Touchstone Pictures and (beginning in 1990) Hollywood Pictures. Although New Wave wasn't the only trailer house working exclusively for Disney, and New Wave was not a subsidiary of the company, for all intents and purposes, I was working for Disney.

Disney had become a major force in the film industry by the summer of 1988. Over the preceding Christmas season, the studio, under the new management of Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg, had released its first film to bring in over $100 million domestically at the box office—Three Men and a Baby. Only a few weeks later, Good Morning, Vietnam was released, which also made over $100 million. That summer, Disney would surpass all of the other Hollywood studios in box-office share, with the Tom Cruise star-vehicle Cocktail, the re-release of Bambi (1942) and the top summer hit Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It was stunning to begin work for a studio that was riding on a crest of energy, ambition and measurable success.

As I continued my career at New Wave, I was gradually promoted up the ladder—first as an all-around assistant to a producer of spots, then, more specifically as the assistant producer overseeing the sound mix of the TV spots, and finally as a producer myself. The success of 1988's summer releases were followed by the next summer's Dead Poets' Society and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, then the Christmas 1989 release of . . .

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