Disney bites on the Big Apple

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The Independent Online
Manhattan is used to parades and the disruptions they create. not least to traffic flows. If it is not President Clinton swanning through it is a march for one of this city's ethnic communities - the Irish, say, or the Puerto Ricans. Tonight though,the gridlock will be courtesy of a certain Mickey.

No fewer than 30 city blocks around midtown will be sealed off for most of today in preparation for a street extravaganza that will this time be for the benefit of a corporation. We are speaking of Disney. To some, it is an event that will mark Mickey's final triumph over Gotham's very soul.

The occasion is the opening tonight of Disney's latest animation feature film, Hercules. Starting at 9.15pm, Disney's cavalcade will wend its brightly lit way from 42nd Street and north up Fifth Avenue.

For maximum effect, Disney is requiring that the route be plunged into darkness. Its representatives have visited 5,000 businesses along the way and begged them to turn off all their office lights for the evening. The city has obliged, too; as the floats pass each block, the street lights will be extinguished.

To allay any security fears, the city is also deploying 2,000 police officers to join the spectators in lining the route.

This does not come free; Disney is contributing $500,000 to New York City to allay the cost of all these contingencies. Manhattan will not only be the most blinding place on the planet tonight it is also likely to be the safest. The company is even providing some additional barricades.

Mickey's conquest of the Apple has been swift and overwhelming. Disney has been the lynchpin of the makeover of Times Square from a nexus of sleaze to a symbol of family values. It has refurbished the historic Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street and opened a giant Disney store alongside it. And in 1995 it commandeered the Great Lawn in Central Park for the premiere of Pocahontas.

For those who despair of the Disney incursion, tonight's show is the last straw. "It symbolises the triumph of a certain kind of bland suburban culture," said William Dobbs, a lawyer who has been trying to combat the wholesale ejection of the sex industry from Times Square. "This is yet another example of the government deciding what kind of culture New Yorkers should see."