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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Disney doesn’t want me to see ‘Up’

Oh yes, I’ve had it right from the Mouse’s mouth: Disney will not be extending me an invitation to see its new Pixar flick, Up, before it opens on Friday. It’s all because of what happened in March, with Race to Witch Mountain, when my Disney rep lied to me repeatedly about whether the film was screening for critics or not — as if I were not a professional who talks to other professionals and knows what’s happening in my field — but mostly, I suspect, because I dared to speak publicly about it.

I emailed multiple contacts at Disney several times over the past few weeks to ask if all were forgiven and if I’d be allowed to attend an advance screening of Up, and those emails were ignored — I received no replies at all. So I made a phone call to L.A., and my rep answered, and — this is priceless — I was told that no invitation to see Up would be extended because my “tone” in the Race situation had not been appreciated.

My tone.

See, I was not deferential enough to the Mouse.
And for this, I shall be punished. By not being allowed to see Up in advance. And probably not future Disney movies, either, once I post this.

Now, it’s true that if I had been allowed to see Up last week, when my fellow NYC critics saw it, I probably could have sold my review to some of the alternative weekly newspapers who rely on me for reviews, newspapers that have deadlines early in the week in which a movie opens. I was not able to do that, so I’m out, at the most optimistic, a couple hundred bucks.

My soul is worth a helluva lot more than a couple hundred bucks, however. The idea of kowtowing to a huge corporation so that it will be nice to me turns my stomach. (I was always polite and cordial and profession in my dealings with Disney — it was when Disney suddenly failed to return the favor that things went south… because I will not tolerate that and refuse to keep quiet when I am not treated fairly.)

I’m in excellent company, as a critic banned by a studio from critics’ screenings. There’s a rundown from the Columbia Journalism Review reprinted at CinemaDope.com about all the many critics who’ve gotten themselves on studio shitlists. A taste:

Some of America’s most influential critical voices have been muted by angry publicists and powerful agents. The venerable [Pauline] Kael and Judith Crist (formerly of The Today Show and New York magazine) were barred from screenings by Warner Bros. in the 60s and 70s. Jami Bernard (New York Daily News), Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader), Judy Gerstel (Toronto Star), David Elliott (San Diego Union-Tribune), and [Armond] White of the City Sun have all been punished for various trespasses on studio sensibilities.

Wow. If my name could even be mentioned in passing in the same breath as someone talking about Pauline Kael, I’m delighted.

Anyway, dear readers, I will of course see Up on Friday morning — having paid for a ticket to a public multiplex screening — and will have a review posted by afternoon. I will not, of course, let this bullshit with Disney influence my review of the movie, which is its own entity separate from the studio releasing it. I’m still totally psyched for Up, and hope desperately to be wowed by it.



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  • PaulW

    Personally, I wouldn’t give them the money.

    If you genuinely think the movie makers are separate from the studios themselves, you ought to contact the director/producer/performers and let them know Disney is screwing you over.

  • Sarah

    To the Disney employees who will be reading the comments posted in this thread:

    My name is Sarah Thomas. It does not matter who I am, or who I work for, or how exactly I imagine my small economic and social agency stacks up to the wealth of cultural and financial clout your company possesses. So rather than bore you with that, I’d just like to inform you that I read Mary Ann’s reviews for films religiously, and while her taste and mine might not always dovetail, I respect her views and knowledge of the film reviewer’s trade. She rarely talks me out of a film, like Up, which I really want to see, and rarely talks me into a film in which I have no interest. But she often influences my decisions on movies I’m on the fence about.

    The shabbiness with which you are treating her will not go unremembered by me. Once, your affiliated studio Pixar released a movie called Ratatouille which contained in it one of the most moving and persuasive defenses of critics I’ve ever heard. I suggest you revisit your old words and reconsider your policy.

    Thank you for your time.

    Sarah

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