Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Magic king-dummies: 8 fictional Walt Disney surrogates

Illustration for article titled Magic king-dummies: 8 fictional Walt Disney surrogates

1. Roger Meyers Sr., The Simpsons
In his lifetime, Walt Disney’s public perception was that of the film-going and television-watching world’s kindly older relative—it’s not for nothing that he was given the nickname “Uncle Walt.” But Disney was as shrewd in the boardroom as he was at the drawing board, and an extremely private personal life gave rise to many sinister myths and urban legends following his 1966 death. These parallel visions of Disney make him a frequent subject of homage and a ripe target for parody, as evidenced by the many faux-Disneys dotting the pop-culture landscape—like The Simpsons’ Roger Meyers Sr. The man falsely credited with creating beloved homicidal mouse-and-cat team Itchy and Scratchy, Meyers stands as the humble, if possibly anti-Semitic, symbol of an innocent property sullied by rampant commercialism. But Meyers wasn’t all sunshine and “Bort” license plates: He stole the characters that made him millions from a former partner, a likely reference to the role played by the largely forgotten Ub Iwerks in the creation of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters and a clever reverse of the way Universal swept ownership of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit out from under a young Disney.


2. Grant Walker, Batman: The Animated Series
The most-popular—and impossible to substantiate—postmortem rumor about Disney involves his body (or just his head) being cryogenically preserved and kept in a frozen stasis until medical science advanced to the point that it could reanimate dead tissue. More engaging than any of the poorly sourced biographies that spread this bit of apocrypha is Batman: The Animated Series’ “Deep Freeze,” in which a wealthy industrialist with a grand vision for the city of tomorrow enlists Mr. Freeze to unlock the key to subzero immortality. Walker is half Big Brother, half Uncle Walt, and all megalomaniacal, his theme-park/self-sustaining utopia Oceania akin to EPCOT as overseen by a fascist dictator. By the time Walker is sealed within his own cryogenic suit, his ice-blue mug, complete with pencil-thin mustache, is the closest to an image of a frozen Disney anyone will ever see.

3. Roy Brisby, The Venture Bros.
Leave it to an Adult Swim cartoon to find the most magically tasteless way to riff on the myth of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty-esque slumber: The creator of Bizzy Bee (a beloved cartoon character in The Venture Bros. universe) is frozen stiff not by technology, but by a stroke suffered while trapped beneath “an unstoppable metal Lincoln” (like the Audio-Animatronic Honest Abe who regales Disneyland guests to this day). Roy Brisby’s methods and dreams are not unlike that of Grant Walker, right down to the recruitment of a bald, unhinged super-scientist. If Dr. Rusty Venture successfully clones the Brisby Land mastermind, he will usher in a shining new age of “Brisby Life,” a sterile existence conducted within the Spaceship Earth-inspired Brisby Dome. There’s one undeniable link between Disney and his Venture Bros. analogue: He can’t resist stamping his name across cartoons, amusement parks, and entire ways of life.

4. Roy Walley, National Lampoon’s Vacation
“We watch his program, we buy his toys, we go to his movies—he owes us. Doesn’t he owe us? Fuckin’ A right, he owes us.” So Chevy Chase spoke for a nation of fathers fed up with lining the Disney coffers, the cratered snout of Marty Moose standing in for the blow they themselves wouldn’t dare land on Mickey Mouse. Naturally, the only presence that could defuse such sentiment—and talk Clark Griswold off his Walley World-hijacking ledge is that of Eddie Bracken as the benevolent, sweater-clad entertainment mogul, Roy Walley. Being a father himself, Walley understands the hell of dragging a family across the country—it’s enough to drive a man insane, even at the gates of America’s Favorite Family Fun Park. As such, he fulfills his “debt” to the Griswolds and gives them their day at Walley World.

5. Walt Kidney, Fairly Odd Parents
No bit of wordplay goes to waste on Nickelodeon’s The Fairly OddParents. So, naturally, when fairy godparents Cosmo and Wanda find themselves touring the innards of the show’s main antagonist, Vicky the Babysitter, their journey leads to Kidneyland, a renal theme park run by genteel proprietor Walt Kidney. It’s a throwaway gag—though one that lasts long enough to be accompanied by an instrumental approximation of “When You Wish Upon A Star”—but Cosmo and Wanda’s euphoria in the presence of Walt Kidney is true to The Fairly OddParents’ manic sense of humor and to the hero worship incited by Disney and those who helped make his dreams a reality.

6. Howard Stark, Iron Man 2
Stan Lee modeled the appearance and disposition of Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark, after eccentric entrepreneur Howard Hughes—a debt acknowledged by the fact that Hughes also served as the namesake for Starks’ father. As portrayed by John Slattery in Iron Man’s second big-screen adventure, however, Howard Stark cuts a much more Disneyesque figure. Introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a series of films-within-the-film, Howard presents his world-changing Stark Expo in a style modeled after the string of anthology series hosted by Walt Disney in the ’50s and ’60s. Howard’s onscreen presence is colder and more paternal than that of good ol’ Uncle Walt (as can be expected from the actor best known as Mad Men’s Roger Sterling), but that can be chalked up to different areas of expertise. While both men dream of a better tomorrow, Howard is a man of science, and his better tomorrow is the formula for a synthesized, power-generating element hidden in the layout of the Stark Expo. You certainly can’t say the same of Disney’s plans for EPCOT.

7. Uncle Dave, Beverly Hills Cop III
It’s an intriguing statement on Disney’s legacy that so many of his fictional surrogates are revered more for their theme parks than their art. The last and least entry in the Beverly Hills Cop film trilogy takes place in and around the happiest place on Earth for a counterfeiting conspiracy: Wonder World, a California playland overseen by cherubic “Uncle” Dave Thornton (played by Mr. Ed veteran and Disney voice actor Alan Young). In the world of the film, Uncle Dave is a character of unimpeachable wholesomeness, with the mere mention of his name causing reverent whispers: When Axel Foley is framed for shooting the keeper of Wonder World, it’s all any of the Beverly Hills background players can talk about. Even the WASP-y bourgeoisie has a place in its heart for the Walt Disneys of the world—probably because of their ability to generate gobs of cash.

8. Raymond Dieterling, L.A. Confidential
It shouldn’t be too surprising that the rendition of Walt Disney who appears in James Ellroy’s “L.A. Quartet” should be the one with the most to hide. Though excised from the 1997 film version of L.A. Confidential, the shadow of Dieterling and his Dreama-Dreamland hang heavy over Ellroy’s novel. “The father of modern animation” is spurred by his son’s mysterious death to build an enchanted kingdom for Moochie Mouse, Scooter Squirrel, and Danny Duck—meanwhile, his other son was driven to unspeakable deeds by the works of a pre-fame Dieterling. His friendship with construction magnate Preston Exley ties Dieterling to the freeways that replaced traditional modes of mass transportation in the ’50s, a reminder that Disneyland altered the Southern California terrain just as much as Interstates 10 and 405. Just goes to prove the old saying: Be careful what you wish upon a star for.