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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Disney does not want me to see ‘Race to Witch Mountain’

Disney does not want me to see Race to Witch Mountain. Take from that what you will. I must wield some awesome power that I’m not aware of if Disney thinks what I have to say about a movie could be a problem for it.

It seems like it should feel pretty cool to have that much power. But it doesn’t feel good, actually. Disney’s been lying to me for the last week. First I was told that the film would not be screening at all, for any critics. But I learned from my fellow critics — of course we talk to one another, just like any other group of professionals do — that the movie is, indeed, screening all over North America early this week. And then I learned from a fellow critic here in New York City that, sure enough, there will, in fact, be a screening of the film here on Monday night. When I asked Disney to clarify this, I was then told that the movie wasn’t being screened for “online press.” Which is, naturally, also bullshit: As a member of the Online Film Critics Society, I communicate with other online critics, and I know for a fact that plenty of online-only and hybrid print/online critics (as I am) have been invited to screenings and will attend.

Disney has the right to invite whomever it wants to its screenings, and the right to exclude whomever it wants from its screenings. I understand and respect that. What is mysterious, though, is being lied to about something that it is quite obviously easy for me to refute. Being lied to in that way is an insult, and it never feels good to be insulted.

What is even more inexplicable, however, is how Disney can make any distinction about “online press.” All press is online these days. And if Disney doesn’t care that, say, the Los Angeles Times or Entertainment Weekly will have a review of Race to Witch Mountain up on the Web on opening day, if not earlier — when those outlets have much larger readerships than I do — then why should Disney care if I do?

Here’s the thing: I think it is all about readership. What it really means that “Disney does not want me to see Race to Witch Mountain” is that Disney does not want you to know what I think about Race to Witch Mountain. You, dear readers, are the ones with the power that I am in awe of. The readerships of the L.A. Times or EW are not particularly discriminating: everybody reads them. (Which isn’t to say that individual readers of those publications cannot be discriminating, of course.) But that’s not true here. I’m not exactly the most populist critic, and I’ll flatter myself by assuming that those of you who do come around here regularly aren’t doing so necessarily because you agree with me all the time, but because you like really thinking about movies in a way that isn’t dominant in most online movie coverage. And for some reason, even though you are not like most moviegoers in this respect, and so cannot possibly have an enormous impact on the opening-weekend box-office numbers of this film (or any film that opens in thousands of theaters), Disney doesn’t want to take the chance that you might rely on what I have to say about the movie when deciding whether to see it or not.

It’s either that, or Disney truly doesn’t understand that everything is online these days. Could be I’m giving the company much too much of the benefit of the doubt in assuming there’s an actual, bona fide reason behind excluding me from screenings, and not just random thoughtlessness. Which may be too much to assume…

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