“The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” a questionably well-intentioned documentary about income inequality by Abigail E. Disney and Kathleen Hughes, lays bare the rotten core of the American dream and its promise of upward mobility. In other words, it’s dedicated entirely to stating the obvious. Unless, perhaps, you live under a rock — or in a $100 million penthouse.
The documentary begins with a takedown of the Walt Disney Company and its labor practices, underscoring the irony of a business like Disneyland claiming to be the “Happiest Place on Earth” while exploiting its low-wage workers. In one scene, Abigail Disney rounds up several of these disgruntled employees, many of whom reveal they’ve relied on food stamps or experienced homelessness. This revelation triggers a broader — and very basic — analysis of the modern history of American capitalism, weaving archival footage of Disneyland’s humbler beginnings with onscreen interviews that Abigail Disney conducted with economists and historians.
Disney, the granddaughter of the Walt Disney Company co-founder Roy O. Disney, positions herself as something of a rogue member of the family. A philanthropist and longtime film producer, she has no role in the company, and in “The American Dream,” she argues that her grandfather would not have condoned such gross mistreatment of his employees. This, and the cutthroat means by which the company has expanded, she blames on the evolution of the country’s business standards and the ascendance of free market ideology.
Fair enough, but billion-dollar businesses that unfairly compensate their low-skilled workers are, unfortunately, rules not exceptions. What, then, is the point of “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales”? The centering of Abigail Disney’s voice — we also see her tweets calling out the outrageous salaries of Disney executives — makes the documentary a kind of personal reckoning and an attempt to get through to other wealthy individuals, though one wonders how a film that doubles as a “Capitalism for Dummies” video would make an impact. Instead, the documentary wants, above all, to make sure we know how one particular Disney feels.
The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. In theaters.