Editor-At-Large: The not-so-wonderful world of Disney

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I don't know about you, but I apply my "life's too short" philosophy to more and more these days. Take any fizzy drink manufactured by the Coca-Cola empire. None has ever passed my lips and I don't intend to start now. My life is richer in so many ways for not succumbing to a brown sugary liquid which has almost no nutritional value and will rot my teeth. I feel happier that I am not contributing one penny to a multinational that has polluted Indian villages' drinking water by releasing the chemicals it uses to wash bottles back into the land. I feel the same about Pepsi and their patronage of Michael Jackson in order to spread their dubious feel-good philosophy. Personally, I'll feel a lot better when everyone the world over has enough free, clean water to drink and a regular unpolluted free supply to grow fruit and vegetables.

The Disney empire in all its forms is another giant global enterprise that I feel my life has been enriched by not succumbing to. I haven't been to Disneyland, and don't ever intend to. I'll be happy to reach pensionable age without ever shaking the hand of a man dressed up in black furry ears in a mouse suit. And so the news that a hostile takeover bid has been mounted for the company, currently struggling under its autocratic chief executive Michael Eisner had me quietly celebrating.

I loathe what the Disney empire has come to represent, and nothing sums up the changes more than a precious tiny silver figure I still keep in a box with my jewellery. This is a valuable Mickey Mouse from the 1930s, with a smiling face, skinny arms and legs, an almost vulnerable and gorgeously cheeky little thing. The original Mickey was a fabulous creation, no doubt about that. A mischievous creature that old and young adored the world over.

But look at what's happened to Mickey's parent company. It has exploded from animation into an operator of theme parks, an owner of TV networks and film companies, a property speculator, producer of theatrical spectaculars, and ferocious pedlars of merchandise and spin-offs galore. World domination via their brand, just like Coke and Pepsi, was Michael Eisner's goal, and anyone who did not conform to his ruthless philosophy has been brushed aside. Classic Disney films such as Snow White and Bambi have given way to feeble dross like Treasure Planet. A partnership with the most brilliant and inventive animators in the world, Pixar, who gave us Finding Nemo and Toy Story, ended in acrimony recently. Walt's nephew Roy, the only surviving family member on the board, resigned last month, claiming that under Eisner the company has lost its creative energy and its heritage.

Nowadays Disney seems like another religion, along with Scientology and the Evangelical church. Its films promote a dubious set of "family" values with an underlying message as cloying and insincere as that of Coca-Cola or Pepsi. They imply that your life won't be complete unless you and your family pay large sums of money to visit Disneyland, and then spend another fortune on all those hats, mugs, DVDs, sweatshirts and badges. Their aim is to brainwash your kids into browbeating you to invest as much cash as possible in their wares. And to promote their clean-living philosophy even further the company has built a residential community in Florida called Celebration. Mickey must be turning in his grave. His funny and charming antics have disappeared in a tidal wave of second-rate slush that seeks to reinforce a white, middle-class and parochial view of the 21st century, strangely old-fashioned and corny once you've tuned into the gorgeously dysfunctional Simpsons.

In Britain we have been lucky enough to have strong, quirky children's characters - from Thunderbirds to The Clangers and, of course, The Magic Roundabout. Even recent creations such as Teletubbies seem strangely subversive and ironic compared to the anodyne twaddle emanating from Disney. And if the company is swallowed up into a huge cable empire, so what? Sadly, the life went out of Mickey decades ago.

Let Maxine go

The pathetic decision to continue to incarcerate Maxine Carr, in spite of a recommendation from the governor of Holloway Prison that she should be returned to the community, smacks of pandering to the worst elements of public opinion. David Blunkett simply changed the rules of the Home Curfew Scheme in order to punish a stupid, harmless girl even more. Norman Brennan, chairman of the Victims of Crime Trust, has claimed that this is a sensible decision because "it's the victims' families who serve the life sentence".

Let's be perfectly clear. Maxine Carr has not killed anyone. Mr Brennan's anger should be directed at Ian Huntley. The two murders for which he was convicted had nothing whatsoever to do with her. She was miles away at the time. She has been convicted of lying to the police in order to protect a man she was infatuated with. She has served almost half of her sentence and has been eligible for release since January. But some elements of our society, and some of our newspaper editors, feel the need to demonise Maxine Carr and create another Myra Hindley figure. They want to bend the way justice is dispensed, when it suits them. It is a vindictive campaign which ignores the fact that Carr, having served her sentence, has every right to be helped to make a fresh start. What exactly do Carr's enemies want to happen to her?

A momentous night at the opera last week when The Tempest, a new work by Thomas Adès, received its world premiere at Covent Garden. After a bit of a slow start, this thrilling production - very loosely based on the play by Shakespeare - gradually started to soar. Ian Bostridge as Caliban, a beanpole new romantic complete with white make-up and a blonde fright wig, turned his big moment in Act II into a piece of pure pop. A wonderful song about the power of magic and music - worthy of Celine Dion and Las Vegas - almost stopped the show.

And Ariel, sung by Cynthia Sieden as a series of controlled shrieks, was a revelation. All too often modern music is an arid intellectual exercise, worthy and tuneless. For once, I left the theatre humming, cheers ringing in my ears. Adès is still only 32, but he has shown that it is possible to create operatic work that is both accessible and avant-garde. Hoorah!

My only complaint is that there are only three more performances, and six in all. How insane to go to all the effort of commissioning new work, and then not have the confidence to give it a proper run. It will be live on Radio 3 next Wednesday evening, but nothing will compare to the full theatrical experience. Now that the work has had excellent reviews, I hope an extended run will be announced shortly so that a wider audience can enjoy it.

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