Anyone out there remember when the Disney label meant family entertainment? Any movie stamped with the Disney logo — which is patterned after Walt Disney’s own cursive signature — meant that parents needn’t worry about content, there would be nothing of a questionable nature in the film.
Disney movies, both animated and live-action, beginning with the studio’s first feature in 1937, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” were strictly G-rated efforts. In fact, swimming against the tide, Disney continued to churn out only G-rated pictures well into the era of R-rated films
But in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Disney dipped its big toe into moviemaking of a more adult nature, at first rather timidly with the studio’s initial PG-rated film, “The Black Hole,” followed by “The Devil and Max Devlin,” “Dragonslayer,” “Tron,” etc.
Then, by forming a pair of production/releasing companies, Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures, the studio stealthily hid the Disney name for its PG-13- and R-rated fare, such as “Splash,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Arachnophobia,” “Dick Tracy,” etc. Only the cleanest, family-friendly material could carry the actual “Disney” name.
But that began to change in 1992, when “The Rocketeer” was released with the Disney label, opening the door to more violent films, sometimes with sexual innuendo, that garnered PG ratings. And later, PG-13s began to creep into the official “Disney” oeuvre, most prominently the “Pirates of the Caribbean” quadrilogy, carrying the Disney banner alongside such innocent movies as “Miracle,” “Enchanted,” “Secretariat,” “The Muppets” and “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”
But now, with the ultra-violent reboot of “The Lone Ranger,” the Disney label has hit a new low, and it would seem that all bets are off. With its sleazy, kinky villains, turning the title character into a dorky tagalong instead of a hero, and with a surprising amount of grotesque violence on display, some of it played for laughs, “The Lone Ranger” is hardly appropriate for young teens of 13, 14, 15 … despite the PG-13 rating.
In one scene, the primary villain cuts out and eats the heart of a Texas Ranger, the hero’s brother. Fortunately, it’s mostly off-screen, though his bloody mouth is shown in close-up afterward.
I’m not sure any parents really trust the “Disney” name anymore, but the assault of “The Lone Ranger” would seem to be a nail-in-the-coffin signal that innocence at the movies is lost and going forward it will be even harder to find.