Beauty and the Beast (2017) The Beast (Dan Stevens) and Belle (Emma Watson) in the castle library

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST *Movie Review*


Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a “tale as old as time” though it’s anything but stale.  This live-action reimagining of the 1991 animated movie retains the original plot while introducing new interpretations of the characters and their backstories.  Additional scenes provide parallels between Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast (Dan Stevens).  The Beast’s worthiness is now a forgone conclusion.  Life would have been different growing up with a kind father like Maurice (Kevin Kline).  The Beast is now worthy of Belle in a way that he wasn’t previously–or is he?

The new plot points don’t gel as well as intended.  Scenes showing Belle’s past don’t illuminate anything new.  Her key qualities of bravery, intelligence and kindness remain unquestioned.  For the Beast, a cruel father seems to be explanation enough regarding his worthiness for redemption.  An audience already willing to accept the premise of Belle and the Beast’s relationship doesn’t need these additional scenes.  Likewise, an audience questioning the Beast’s growth will not be satisfied with hints of a cruel father.

Despite some moments that aren’t quite as smooth as they could be, the movie does many things well.  Sarah Greenwood, an Oscar-nominated production designer, will surely receive her fifth nomination for her work on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  The sets are magnificent.  Design choices for everything from the castle’s chandeliers to the wall moulding show a marked attention to detail.  These sets provide the most compelling reason of all for remaking the animated movie.

Along with reinterpreting scenes and sets in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Disney as a whole seems to be updating their stance on princesses.  As waves of feminists have long criticized the depiction of princesses in need of saviors, recent movies like MOANA have made an effort to show the heroics of their female leads.  Belle, like Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), declares quite emphatically that she is not a princess.

While it’s great to see the strength these women possess and studio’s attempts to modernize, it seems somewhere along the way, ‘princess’ became a four letter word.  The definition of princess is not “woman who needs to be saved”.  It’s wonderful seeing Moana risk her life for her people.  It’s fabulous that Belle loves reading and recognizes beauty comes from within.  No matter how often Gaston (a fabulous Luke Evans) shows off his muscles he will never be the man for her.  Belle’s confidence never wavers.

Just as Moana declares “I am not a princess”, so does Belle when she’s asked to put on a beautiful dress.  It’s an unprovoked comment so emphatically declared that she looks right at the camera.  When did princesses become so maligned?  The real issue isn’t with royalty, but this Disney depiction which has remained unchecked for decades.  The pendulum is swinging wildly without recognizing the core of the issue.  Women–princesses–don’t need to wait around helplessly for the right man to come along (I’m looking at you SLEEPING BEAUTY).  The very act of being a princess isn’t what put the women in that position in the first place.

The gorgeous dress Belle refuses to wear isn’t going to magically turn her into a helpless woman the moment she slips it over her head.  If Disney wants to work on its depiction of strong women, why not address the question that the only person in town who likes Belle is literally a beast?  Belle doesn’t defend the castle from intruders, she doesn’t take part in the final fight.  Her only glory is in returning to the Beast.

It isn’t that the movie is bad or particularly different from the animated classic in that regard.  Appreciate the movie for what it is, but don’t declare Belle has a new type of strength just because she is not a princess.

For more about princesses and the reinterpretation of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, take a look below:

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MOANA *Movie Review*


In the latest Disney animated film MOANA, the title character voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, is features a young woman who goes on a quest to save her village and finds herself in the process.  In her journey she must seek out the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, and return the stolen heart of Te Fiti, a mother earth goddess who created all of the islands from her heart.

This is the time of year to start handing out awards and I am ready to give MOANA the best animated feature Oscar.  Disney managed to recapture their magic to create a beautiful story with fantastic characters and gorgeous music.  Of course, the fact that MOANA is a fabulous female role model doesn’t hurt, either.

This is a girl who is strong, brave and smart.  She follows her heart and stands up to her father and everyone else who tells her that the greater world beyond the shoreline is dangerous.  Moana trusts that the ocean has chosen her to save her people and readily takes up the quest.  Pay attention to just how often Moana’s discouraged in her journey.  Her father and Maui in particular, both in song and speech, tell her that the world is scary, that she is only a young girl, and that she needs to stop dreaming.

Pay attention, too, to all of the conch shell symbolism throughout the film.

For more about conch shells and what they mean and other MOANA information, take a look below:

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QUEEN OF KATWE *Movie Review*


QUEEN OF KATWE is based on the true story of a girl named Phiona from the slums of Uganda.  She learns to play chess and uses it as a means out of poverty. It stars Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o as her mother, David Oyelowo as her coach and introduces Madina Nalwanga as Phiona. It’s directed by Mira Nair.

The theme of this hero’s journey is one that spans cultures. While it’s an inspiring and interesting story about Phiona herself, the message translates to anyone. You don’t have to be a certain color or gender to connect with this story and the deeper messages that even the small can become big. Many of the words of wisdom come from Phiona’s chess coach who says things like: if you use your mind and follow your plans then you can find safe squares; losing does not mean you’re a failure it takes time and stamina is the key; and sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong, which is one of director Mira Nair’s recurring themes.

Mira Nair is a fantastic director and a lot of her work is about feeling out of place, which is the situation each of the three main characters are in. There’s Phiona, a young girl who learns about a life that she never ever knew existed. She struggles as she’s torn between world that she wants to be part of with the one that exists. Like the real Phiona, the film version’s Madina  Nalwanga also grew up in the slums of Uganda. This is her first film and she conveys such a subtle depth of emotion with her eyes that I was ready to hand her an Oscar. Her performance was utterly moving.

Lupita Nyong’o, plays her mother, and David Oyelowo, as her chess coach, were also amazing. One of the things I loved was that while this is the story of Phiona at first glance, the characters of her mother and Robert were treated equally. They each went through their own evolution and weren’t strictly relegated to cardboard supports. Too often there are supporting stories that can compliment the main one but which are never fully realized and these were. Having these three circle the same theme of self discovery made the film that much more successful.

The style, the locations and the saturation of color and sound make it feel like you can walk directly through the screen and into this world!

For more about QUEEN OF KATWE, take a look below:

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Newt Gingrich cites Disney imagery in echoing Trump’s Star of David defense


Newt Gingrich defended Donald Trump’s use of an image resembling the Star of David in a tweet criticizing Hillary Clinton as corrupt.

The former House speaker, who is one of the top candidates to be Trump’s vice presidential nominee on the Republican ticket, said in a phone interview with CNN Thursday that he was “very angry” about what he considered to be “the media’s deliberate distortion.”

The controversy over Trumps’s tweet began Saturday when Trump tweeted a graphic that labeled Clinton the “most corrupt candidate ever.” The image featured a six-pointed star and a pile of cash — which many critics said had clear anti-Semitic connotations, and which originally appeared on far-right web sites. The Trump campaign removed the tweet and replaced it with one in the star was swapped out for a circle. Trump denied that the star was in any way a reference to Jews.

“I think it is so profoundly dishonest that it sickens me and makes me very angry,” Gingrich told CNN. “The media’s deliberate distortion. It’s absurdity. He has got a son-in-law who’s an Orthodox Jew, his daughter has converted to Judaism, grandchildren who are Jewish. And he gave a speech at AIPAC that was pretty definitive. And in the middle of this, you get this kind of smear?”

Gingrich, an outspoken supporter of Israel, echoed Trump’s most recent defense of the tweet: that a six-pointed star is featured on a children’s book tied into the popular Disney movie “Frozen.”

“Just think about it for a second — you’re doing a tweet about how somebody who is a crook so you put in cash. That doesn’t imply that she is Jewish. It implies she’s a crook,” he said during the CNN interview. “We found exactly the same star was being used in a book about ‘Frozen’ by Disney. Does anybody want to argue that ‘Frozen’ is anti-Semitic?”

But the current House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who is also Republican, criticized the tweet earlier this week and warned that anti-Semitic images “have no place in a presidential campaign.”

“I really believe he has to clean up the way his (social) media works,” Ryan said on the Charlie Sykes radio program. “They’ve got to clean this thing up.”

Under fire for the tweet, Trump has doubled down. At a rally in Cincinnati, Trump said his campaing “shouldn’t have” removed the original tweet and accused the media of having “racist tendencies.”

“Actually they’re racially profiling. They’re racially profiling. Not us. Why do they bring this up?” Trump said. “These people are sick.”

Israel’s Playbuzz raises $15 million from Disney, Saban


Two Hollywood giants, Robert Iger’s Disney and Haim Saban’s Saban Ventures, are together putting $15 million into Playbuzz, the online content engagement and social distribution co-founded by former MTV executive Shaul Olmert. 

The slideshows, flip cards, galleries, quizzes, lists and video snaps most often shared by Facebook users are often generated on a backend software suite developed at Playbuzz’s Tel Aviv headquarters. 

Bloomberg Business Week described Playbuzz as the “Israeli Quiz Factory That’s Outbuzzing BuzzFeed on Facebook.”

Playbuzz also has offices in New York, London, Hamburg, Germany and Nashville, Tenn., and its workforce of about 100 people specializes in using the company’s content-engagement platform alongside companies and publishers looking to expand the reach of their creative output and, most importantly, their advertising. 

Saban Ventures, already an investor in Playbuzz, led the current investment round, which included participation from Walt Disney Co. 

Existing investors 83North, Carmel Ventures and First Time Ventures also participated in the investment round.

The company raised $16 million in Series B financing last year, which helped it expand its “sponsored content” toolset and position itself as a business-to-business version of BuzzFeed with independent content creators, mainstream media outlets, and companies making and sharing their own sharable lists, quizzes and slideshows.

Olmert says the focus to the quizzes and listicles generated by publishers on the Playbuzz platform initially made it difficult to sell potential investors on the notion that the company was an “eyeball engine” for advertisers.

But while Facebook adjusted its algorithms to reduce Playbuzz content, often called “click-bait” in the online publishing industry, the startup has managed to increase social interaction, motivating Saban and Disney to grow their ownership stake.

The company says content created on the Playbuzz platform generates completion rates of entire listicles of up to 94 percent and social share rates as high as 15 percent.

“Most of our employees are engineers, not content people, and we aren’t telling you how to tell your story. But we are giving you tools to create content that catches the habits of today’s consumer that fits today’s consumption habits,” Olmert told the Jewish Journal. 

Olmert said people are reading more than ever, but traditional media companies are struggling to get audience attention, especially when most reading is now done on mobile phones and tablet devices.

“Even if you do a really good job writing this article, the chances are that I won’t read it myself, because life is too short, so maybe you might consider making a listicle on the 10 Things You Don’t Know about Playbuzz,” Olmert joked. 

The quiz and listicle content served up by Playbuzz keeps users on a publisher’s site longer, and the longer they stay, the more likely they are to share, said the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. 

The company’s revenue model is based on charging brands such as Ford, Pizza Hut and American Express to create the content, and then charging them per engagement to distribute it.

“Every item that is generated by Playbuzz generates an average of between two and five minutes of engagement time,” said Olmert, who says the best “serious” publishers are now realizing the importance of delivering their content in a “playful” format.

Han Solo a Jew? Three Jewish actors reportedly short listed for the role


“Star Wars” character Han Solo could soon join the tribe.

After seeing thousands of auditions, Disney and Lucasfilm have narrowed down their list of actors to star in an upcoming “Han Solo” spinoff film to “about a dozen,” Variety reported.

Three Jews — Logan Lerman, Dave Franco and Emory Cohen — are on the short list, along with other big names, like Miles Teller and Scott Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s son, according to Variety’s sources.

Cohen, 25, appeared in several independent films before his breakout starring role in “Brooklyn” last year.

The still-untitled Han Solo film will feature a younger version of the character first immortalized by the one and only (half-Jewish) Harrison Ford, Variety reported. The film won’t go into production until next year, according to Variety, but whoever wins the starring role may also make a cameo in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which is already filming.

Variety reported that executives will likely decide between the would-be Han Solos in the next few weeks.

May the force be with them all.

Leonard Nimoy’s good mother


“Oh, by the way, Leonard,” I say into the phone, as breezily as I can feign, “what did you think about Diane’s belt?”

Leonard Nimoy is on location in Cambridge, Mass., preparing to direct “The Good Mother” for Disney, starring Diane Keaton. I’m the executive on the movie, on the lot, where a studio chieftain and I have just watched the makeup, hair and wardrobe test Leonard had shot. (I won’t identify the mogul, but it’s unlikely you’d know his name.)

“What about Diane’s belt?” Leonard replies, not remotely breezy, more like, Do not go there.  

“Didn’t you think it was kind of wide?  So wide it pulls your eyes from her face?” I am trying my best to translate the order the studio honcho had barked in the screening room – “Tell him to lose that goddam belt” – into a casual afterthought. 

Silence.  Then:  “Where did you say you went to college?”

He knows where, it’s located in the city where he’s shooting, but I answer.

“And after that?  Your next degree – where did you get that?”

I tell him.  This call is not going to a good place.  

“And then a Ph.D, if I’m not mistaken.  Where’s that from?”

I have now named three of the world’s most storied universities.

After another excruciating silence: “Tell me.  Is this what you thought you’d be doing with that education?” 

“Excuse me?”

“Yes,” he muses, “I can see how having to tell me what some imbecile suit doesn’t have the balls to tell me himself – that must be fairly difficult for someone as bright as yourself.”  The words are brutal, but the tone is Vulcan.

“I’ll give him your regards,” I lie.

It’s a miracle that a near 30-year friendship could rise from ashes like that, but it did.  I loved hanging out with him.  At birthdays and seders, in the classroom and on the radio, talking politics or parenting, Leonard and his wife Susan generously opened their hearts and home to me. And after all those years, having been reamed by Leonard Nimoy remains pretty much the coolest thing about me.

“The Good Mother” was the second picture that Leonard directed for Disney, after the hit comedy “Three Men and a Baby.”  But “The Good Mother” was no comedy. Disney chairman Michael Eisner was slipped the unpublished manuscript of what the New York Times would call “Sue Miller’s phenomenally assured, morally troubling and meticulously precise first novel,” and it struck him as a descendant of classics like “The Scarlet Letter” and “Ethan Frome.”  When it was assigned as an overnight read for the production executives, including me, we already knew he wanted to option it, so it surprised me how much I hated the story.  

It tells of a divorced mother who finds herself in a custody battle for her young daughter, whom she loses after her new boyfriend, an artist, helps her discover her long-repressed sexuality, an erotic awakening depicted (in my reading, anyway) as the gateway to parental negligence. At the meeting to discuss how much to pay for the book, who should write the screenplay and what actresses could get an Academy nomination for playing the lead, I – a lone voice at the table – said I thought the book’s message was reactionary: The cost of feminism is sin, and its price is tragedy. For half an hour, Eisner and I sparred over what “The Good Mother” was about and who would want to see it.  Afterward, I wondered how much I actually believed what I’d been saying, and whether my big mouth had just lost me my job.  Instead, I learned the next day that Eisner had decided I should be the executive on the film’s development, under the tutelage of the aforementioned suit.

A beautiful screenplay by Michael Bortman landed Leonard as director, who cast Keaton as the mother, and as the boyfriend he persuaded the studio to let him hire an Irish actor whom no one at Disney except the casting director had heard of: Liam Neeson.  Keaton kept her belt; I kept further imbecilities from the director, and my objections to the allegory to myself; and within a year, Leonard delivered a cut of the movie.  

Like most studios, Disney’s custom was to test directors’ cuts of movies in front of audiences, so it would be possible to make changes, and develop a marketing campaign, based on their reactions.  A test screening of “The Good Mother” was held at a multiplex deep in the San Fernando Valley.  Afterward, we sat glumly at the back of the theater, empty except for the focus group, as we heard them say the movie was a downer. In their words and in the comment cards, there was no whiff of my problem with the story. No one thought it was anti-feminist, anti-sexual, anti-anything; they just wanted to be entertained.

Leonard was unconvinced.  He pointed out that this audience, recruited in a suburban mall, was a complete mismatch for the picture, whose sweet spot was cosmopolitan adults who would find its moral complexity rich and uplifting.  The studio agreed to test it again, in San Francisco.  The response was better, but not much.

Back in Burbank, we met with Leonard.  This meeting was run by someone higher up the food chain than me – not the suit, but someone Leonard seemed to trust when he made his last picture.  The first words out of the executive’s mouth:  “This movie has cancer.”

Now “Three Men and a Baby” had been a huge cash cow for Disney.  Any other director, especially someone the studio wanted to stay in business with, would have been enraged by this provocation.  But Leonard instantly found his Spock.  

“I see,” he said, without a flicker of emotion. “And what course do you propose?” I was surprised he didn’t add “Captain” to the end of his question. 

“We would never take final cut from you, Leonard.  But if you want to shoot a different ending, we’ll step up to the cost, and you can compare the scores and decide which way to go.  It’ll be your decision.”

Silence – the kind I knew well.  Then: “What do you mean, ‘a different ending’?”

“A happy ending. Joint custody. She keeps the kid.”

I haven’t seen any mention of “The Good Mother” in Leonard’s obituaries, perhaps because so few people saw or heard of it.  Would it have done better box office if Leonard had caved?  Even “King Lear” was a bomb until Nahum Tate’s happy-ending version of 1681, in which Lear lives and Cordelia marries Edgar.  “The Good Mother” wasn’t Shakespeare, but Leonard stuck to his guns.  He also razzed me about that belt for the next 30 years.


Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Arabic voice of Donald Duck fired over anti-Israel tweet


An Egyptian radio host who calls himself the official voice of Donald Duck on Disney Middle East was fired after sending anti-Israel tweets.

Wael Mansour tweeted the news of his firing on February 6, six months after his tweet against Israel.

“Disney decided I am no longer the official voice of DonaldDuck in it’s middle-east dubbed cartoons because of an anti Zionism tweet. Proud!” he tweeted on February 6.

He then retweeted the tweet that got him into trouble in the first place:

“I truly wish #Israel is demolished, I hate Zionism, I have so much hate inside me with every single child they murder or land they seize!” Mansour tweeted on August 4. As of Wednesday it had been retweeted more than 1,700 times.

Mansour responded to some critics at the time by tweeting: “I don’t know why insulting #Israel & #Zionism is “Anti-Semitic”?! They are just a bunch of Polish/ Ethiopian immigrants roughly 70 years old”

Mansour reportedly was not employed directly by Disney, but came to the work through a dubbing company.

Mary Poppins does not come back


I knew better than to expect P.L. Travers to write something sweet in my copy of Mary Poppins, but I didn’t think it would be quite so medicinal. 

It was 1988, and I’d been a vice president at Disney for two years.  From the time I got there, studio president Jeffrey Katzenberg had wanted to make a sequel to Mary Poppins, and I was assigned to develop a script. The story we wanted:  Jane and Michael Banks, the children in the first film, now have children of their own. A problem comes up, and the one person who can solve it is Mary Poppins, played again by Julie Andrews, who arrives, sets things right, and departs as mysteriously as she came.  We called it the title of the second book in the series: “Mary Poppins Comes Back.”

But as the new movie, “Saving Mr. Banks,” does not depict, Mrs. Travers intensely disliked Walt Disney’s 1964 version.  And since she still controlled the rights to her Poppins books, my efforts at getting a sequel off the ground were entirely theoretical.  But in 1987, when Mrs. Travers was 87, Walt’s nephew Roy had been approached by writer Brian Sibley, an acquaintance of his and a longtime friend of hers. Sibley told Disney she was open to doing a second movie at the studio, and within a few months their agent closed a deal, but she extracted a steep creative price:  Unlike every other features deal at the studio, this one gave away control of the story, settings, and characters to the author of the underlying material.  To her.

And so, because the studio needed her approval of our Banks-children’s-children approach, Katzenberg and I went to London bearing porcelain Disney figurines, plus a bottle of Jack Daniels, which Sibley told me she liked, and paid a call on Mrs. Travers at her Chelsea row house. Her sitting room looked like it hadn’t changed for 30 years.

We pitched our next-gen sequel. She coolly blew us off. 

Then she and Sibley told us what the story would actually be. It would take place a year after the first film, not a generation.  Things are going badly for Mr. Banks at work because some documents have gone missing, leading to financial disaster for the family and requiring them to put Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane up for sale.  The only point of agreement with our scenario was that she wished Julie Andrews to play Mary Poppins.

She also unloaded her grievances about what Walt Disney did in his version, and her edicts about this one.  Mary Poppins must never wear red.  We must never see her undergarments; even if she’s upside down, her skirt must cling to her ankles.  There must be absolutely no intimation that she and Bert have a romantic relationship, as they seem to do in the 1964 film’s “Jolly Holiday” sequence (whose mix of live action and animation, by the way, was a terrible decision), nor may Bert, a minor character in the books who became a major character in the movie, have as prominent a part in the sequel, nor may he do any magic on his own, nor may Dick Van Dyke play the role again.  In fact, no American may play any role in the movie.  

It went on like that. We tried in vain to persuade her to reconsider her veto of our pitch, so hers was the direction we took.  Five months later, Sibley's treatment of the movie came in. I returned to her sitting room, again bearing whiskey, for the second of what would be five visits, for me to hear her notes on Sibley’s approach, and for them to hear the studio's notes. I was sure she would dislike our notes — they were all requests for changes — and indeed she did.  

But I felt the mood shift when some combat over a scene drew her into talking about the deeper mysticism of the Mary Poppins story.  We are all One, she said, that's the core of it.  I learned that she had been a follower of the spiritual teacher, or charlatan, George Gurdjieff, and an intimate of the poet William Butler Yeats.  As it happened, I was pretty familiar with Yeats's mystical work, A Vision, and I got really into it with her.  I was sure she was charmed by this conversation about an esoteric volume with a studio executive.  I was fairly sure she'd come round on most of the changes we wanted. I thought she might even have come to like me.  

At the end of the afternoon, I asked if she’d be willing to inscribe my copy of “Mary Poppins.”  As she wrote, I wasn't expecting a spoonful of sugar, just something to proudly show my future children. I waited until I was outside to read it. “To Marty Kaplan, hoping that your association with Mary Poppins will have a happy outcome. P.L. Travers”

Talk about vinegar. I took her words as a warning.  A note to the studio, not to my hypothetical kids. Don’t get on my wrong side, or else.

Seven years, and many treatments, scripts, notes, and a couple of writers after my association with Mary Poppins had begun, the studio abandoned the project — it was just too hard to work within her constraints — and she sold the rights to a stage version instead.  But that wasn't my only unhappy outcome. 

To prepare Katzenberg for our visit to Chelsea, I had briefed him on everything I could find out about her.  Stupidly – especially stupidly, since I’d worked in the White House and had reason to know better – I put this information in a memo.  “She has fixed views, which were formed during the Edwardian era,” I wrote.  “She loathes women; she’s a sucker for male flattery.”  Describing Walt’s 16 years of courting her, I wrote that “what couldn’t have attracted him [to the books] was the story – because there wasn’t one … Once Walt got Mrs. Travers to agree to the film, he set himself two tasks.  One was creating a Mary Poppins movie character substantially more charming and affectionate than the one in the books, where she’s somewhat too fastidious and vain (a bit like her creator).  The other challenge was to invent a story.”  

A couple of years later, someone at Disney who wanted to burn me leaked that memo to a magazine. When the reporter who obtained it called to ask how I thought Mrs. Travers would react to it, I said that none of that mattered because my relationship with Mrs. Travers had evolved since then.  “We’ve become very fond of each other,” I said, defrosting her inscription and denying the rest of my unsentimental education. “The experience has been the most extraordinary aspect of my life at Disney.  She is a legend.” 

A friend of hers sent her the article a few months later.  She was unmoved by my tribute.  Eventually I managed to patch things up enough so that the project lasted three more years, but never enough to get anywhere near what I hopelessly wanted from the creator of Mary Poppins: “Fondly, P.L. Travers.”


Marty Kaplan, the “>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, this year won 1st place as columnist and 1st place for entertainment columns from the LA Press Club.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

‘Princess Bride’ coming to the stage


In what will hopefully be a blissful mawage, Disney has announced plans to work with William Goldman on a theatrical production based on both his book “The Princess Bride” and on his screenplay for Rob Reiner’s 1987 classic film.

This is not the first time someone has tried to bring the story to the stage. Goldman teamed up with other theater people several years ago, but per The Hollywood Reporter, although “much of the score was completed, development was halted in 2007 over a financial dispute.”

Somehow we have faith that Disney can make this thing finally happen. If not, we know a certain six-fingered man who might be able to give them a push.

Letters to the Editor: Disney Legend, Prager, Sukkah


There’s More to Marty Sklar

I have known and been friends with Marty Sklar and his family for about 50 years. I enjoyed the article about Marty’s book and his accomplishments at Disney (“Disney Legend, Mensch,” Aug. 16). However, Marty Sklar is a multidimensional man whose accomplishments beyond Disney were truly exceptional.

I first met Marty when I was on the board of directors of Temple Beth Sholom of Santa Ana. When I became temple president, Marty served on my board, and his counsel was outstanding. He helped me tremendously in doing my job in developing policy for the growth of the temple.

As an educator, Marty was twice elected to the Board of Education of the Anaheim City School District and served two terms as board president. He was also elected to two terms of the Orange County School Board Association and was an Anaheim City Commissioner. Marty and his wife Leah are among the founders of the Ryman Program for Young Artists, a project of the Ryman-Carroll Foundation, for which Sklar serves as president. 

To sum up, Marty Sklar is a Disney creator, a committed Jew, an educator and a great friend. He truly is a mensch.

Norman D. Redlich

Woodland Hills

Sukkah Strategies

A great idea is reborn (“HomelessSukkah.com,” Aug. 16)! During the Manhattan real estate boom-and-bust of the latter half of the 1980s, an interfaith coalition built a sukkah in Strauss Park at 106th Street and Broadway. We covered the sukkah with a mixture of beautiful decorations and posters pleading with real estate developers, city housing officials and others. We provided food and drink and clothing to street people, directed them to shelters in synagogues and churches and demanded that the real estate industry address the growing presence of the homeless. We suggested that the city give the homeless an opportunity to obtain homes through sweat equity — taking decaying brownstones from demolition-status to livability via the hard work of eager volunteers who thought this a better alternative to living on heating grates in front of Broadway businesses. 

I wish you every success in your efforts to raise consciousness. 

Shanah Tovah.

Rabbi Larry Pinsker

via e-mail

Editorial note: For more information on the Homeless Sukkah Project, click here.

Critically Speaking

I wholeheartedly agree with Dennis Prager’s poignant plea to the Orthodox community to “kosher up” on ethics (“Orthodoxy and Ethics,” Aug. 16). Personal experience confirms that some of the most notorious crooks don religious articles and maintain a façade of holiness when their behaviors prove just the opposite.

I take exception to Prager’s assertion that “the Orthodox have important voices … who criticize fellow Jews on ethical grounds” but liberal Jews — Reform, Conservative and secular — do not criticize their own. This is simply not true.

In Los Angeles, Steven Leder, senior rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple (Reform), addressed the Jewish community’s often excessive and inappropriate b’nai mitzvah celebrations to refute the assertion that rabbis avoid discussing over-the-top parties for children that teem with overt materialism, sexuality and alcohol abuse. David Wolpe, senior rabbi at Sinai Temple (Conservative), took the bold step of officiating at same-sex marriages even though he was chastised by members of his own congregation. Secular Jews throughout our city lead by example to strengthen a healthy environment that fosters respect and dignity for those less fortunate. 

Judaism, like structural engineering, demands measured acts of truth and justice to secure a solid foundation for all the inhabitants.

Elisa Wayne

Los Angeles

 

Dennis Prager responds: Elisa Wayne writes that it is simply untrue [that] “liberal Jews — Reform, Conservative and secular do not criticize their own.”

She gives three examples: Rabbi Steven Leder criticizing over-the-top bar mitzvahs, Rabbi David Wolpe taking “the bold step of ‘endorsing same-sex marriage’ and ‘secular Jews’ helping “those less fortunate.”

I think that the first example is a valid one. The third is not an issue of self-criticism. The second is not an example of “bold” self-criticism of Conservative/Reform/secular Jews. On same-sex marriage or any other subject, within Conservative and Reform Judaism today, no position on the left is either bold or self-critical. Rabbi Wolpe was bold and self-critical when he repeatedly admonished Jews who support same-sex marriage to recognize that Jews who continue to believe in the male-female definition of marriage are no less decent or Jewish than Jews who support same-sex marriage. Bold in Conservative and Reform today is publicly taking any conservative position.

I continue to argue that the Orthodox are better at self-criticism. The Orthodox Union invited me to speak on the subject “Why I Am Not Orthodox.” Not one Conservative or Reform congregation, let alone their movement’s convention, has ever invited me to speak on “Why I Am Not a Liberal.”  

Why Kim Jong-un loves Disney


Until I saw ” target=”_hplink”>four ripped acrobats strip off their shirts and put on a show worthy of Channing Tatum and the “Magic Mike” boys.

It’s unlikely that the Vatican video caused the CIA and the State Department to scramble teams of analysts to decode shifts in the Holy See’s hierarchy, but that’s doubtless the kind of scrutiny now being given to the tape of a 100-minute extravaganza in Pyongyang staged earlier this month.  A hall packed with military brass and government officials, with North Korea’s 20-something leader and his mysterious lady companion in the front row, applauded and cheered a girl band in sexy dresses and stiletto heels for performing covers of “My Way,” the “Rocky” theme and a Disney medley including “Heigh-Ho,” the Mickey Mouse Club anthem and the title song from “Beauty and the Beast.”  What’s up with that?

The show wasn’t entirely Hollywood.  The American pop segments were interleaved with local songs sung in traditional costume with a typical backdrop of communist iconography.  So was Kim signaling an opening to the West by coupling nationalistic propaganda to “It’s a Small World”?  Were the Stallone and Sinatra tributes a warning to Kim’s rivals?  Was “Some Day My Prince Will Come” a message to the North Korean people about their new leader?  This has got to be way more fun for our intelligence pros than sussing out which apparachiks were cropped from Pravda’s May Day photos of the Red Square reviewing stand. 

Disney, needless to say, was not flattered by the unlicensed appropriation of its intellectual property – not just its songs, but also sequences from Disney movies like “Dumbo” and “Fantasia” projected behind the band, as well as onstage appearances by Mickey, Minnie, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and one of the Snow White dwarfs (Doc, I think).  If I were Disney, I’d be especially ticked off by a sixth costumed character who danced around with them, a cheesy dinosaur who looked vaguely like Yoshi from Super Mario Brothers.  All I can figure is that the dino dude stars in some Barney ripoff on North Korean daytime TV, and they were just piggybacking on the Disney brand to do some old-fashioned cross-promotion.

The challenge facing our analysts in Langley and Foggy Bottom is that the Disney brand means more than one thing.  To little kids, Disney is happiness.  To older kids, Disney is dorky.  To hipsters, Disney is ironic, retro, kitsch.  To some people around the world, Disney epitomizes the American dream.  To others, it symbolizes American cultural imperialism: Coca-Colonization, McWorld, capitalism with a cartoon face.  When I went to work at Disney – I was there for 12 years, as a studio executive and a screenwriter – a literature professor I’d revered in graduate school despaired at my going over to the dark side; “consummate vulgarity” is the phrase I recall.  On the other hand, most of my Washington friends whom I told I was headed to Burbank wanted to know if I could get them discounts on Disney merchandise.

So what message was Kim sending when he made the video available on YouTube?  The easiest interpretation is belligerence, a thumb in the eye of corporate copyrights and international trade agreements.  Also plausible is that he’s doing some brand marketing of his own – promoting a funner image for North Korea than mass starvation, labor camps and nuclear-armed crazy men.  But I’d be surprised if this is Kim’s way of declaring that a Chinese-style economy is the direction he’s taking his country; to me it’s more likely that it’s his way of sticking it to his late father, Kim Jong-il, and writing a fairytale ending to his affair with the woman sitting next to him.

Who is she?  Britain’s ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Israeli reporter suspended after false story on Disney abduction


An Israeli reporter was suspended after reporting on an unfounded story that an Israeli girl was briefly abducted at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Sivan Cohen of Israel’s Channel 10 had reported during Sunday’s news broadcast that a 9-year-old Israeli girl was taken from her parents and later found using security camera tapes in a bathroom stall drugged and with her head shaved. Cohen said the incident, which occurred over Passover, “sounds like an urban legend.”

On Monday night the station confirmed on the evening news that the story was false and that Cohen had been “misled” by a source—one of the allegedly abducted girl’s parents. Disney officials did not confirm the story.

The hoax reportedly is well known in the United States. 

“Cohen has been suspended until the examination into the circumstances that led to the story airing is concluded,” Channel 10 said in a statement.

Mickey Mouse and Co. heading to Haifa


Haifa is poised to be the next home to a Disney amusement park.

A 20-acre, $168 million entertainment complex including a 25-screen multiplex and a Disney amusement park is set to be built near the Carmel Tunnel.

The Walt Disney Company’s investment arm Shamrock Holdings and the Israeli New Lineo cinema chain announced the plans Tuesday.

The new complex is estimated to open in 2013.

The greatest gift of all — and Bunnies!


The Greatest Gift

On June 8, we will celebrate the festival of Shavuot. What is Shavuot?

Choose the words below that make the sentences correct, and then dazzle your friends with all you’ve learned.

  1. Shavuot marks the day we received the (phone book/Torah) at (Mount Sinai/the library). It is one of three (harvest/birthday) festivals.
  2. We count the (omer/animals) for (13/49) days starting on the second day of (Chanukah/Passover).
  3. Shavuot was also the first day on which people could bring the Bikkurim, or the first (fruits/chocolates) to the Temple in Jerusalem.
  4. It is popular to serve (salty/dairy) foods such as cheesecake and blintzes.
  5. We also read the story of (Ruth/Esther), because it talks of the barley and wheat harvest seasons, as well as her conversion to Judaism and acceptance of the (phone book/Torah).

Answers below

The Town That Bunnies Built

“Bunnytown,” the one of the newer

Producer Josephson’s vision for a new fairy-tale princess stars in Disney’s ‘Enchanted’


One of Barry Josephson’s first forays into the world of fairy tales was in an elementary school production of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Although the “Men in Black” producer doesn’t remember which dwarf he played, that glimmer of the land between “once upon a time” and “happily ever after,” started him on the path to creating Disney’s latest film, “Enchanted,” opening in theaters Nov. 21.

In the grand tradition of classic Disney fairy tales, this part-animated and part-live-action musical begins in the fictional land of Andalasia, where a young maiden named Giselle (“Junebug’s” Amy Adams), sings to her woodland friends, meets a prince (“Hairspray’s” James Marsden), encounters an evil queen (Academy Award-winner Susan Sarandon) and gets pushed into a well that transports her to modern-day Times Square, where she runs into a nearly engaged/cynical divorce lawyer/single father (“Grey’s Anatomy’s” Patrick Dempsey). Well, maybe that last part is new to the genre.

“Enchanted,” asks the question ‘what if,’ which is so intriguing,” Josephson said of the script that first came to his attention in the late 1990s.

But bringing a new fairy tale to life turned out to be about as daunting as slaying a dragon. There hasn’t been a new Disney princess since Jasmine in 1992’s “Aladdin.” Josephson said he read the Grimm brothers’ stories and Disney classics in order to give a backstory to Giselle, who believes that your soul mate is the person who can finish the line in your duet.

“What was thin in the original script was: What is Giselle’s story?” he said. “She thinks she understands the world, so [director] Kevin [Lima] wanted to start her dilemma in the animated world. Then she comes to our world, where there is even more put upon her.”

“Our world” was Josephson’s dream come true.

“This movie was a fantasy come true,” said the New Yorker. “I grew up on 90th [street, between] Park and Lexington. It was the greatest thrill on the planet to film there — I really wanted to see the city sparkle.”

And sparkle it does, thanks to composers and lyricists Alan Menken (“Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast”) and Stephen Schwartz (“Pocahontas,” “Wicked”), who third collaboration created a half-dozen new songs for the film: from the sweet opening, “True Love’s Kiss” to the Central Park grand production number, “That’s How You’ll Know” to the incredibly romantic ballad, “So Close” and the new Carrie Underwood song, “Ever, Ever After,” which is already being played on Radio Disney.

However, Josephson said his favorite tune is a nod back to his “dwarf” days.

“I really love ‘The Happy Working Song,'” he said of a number that takes place in live-action as Giselle tries to clean up Dempsey’s dirty apartment (think Snow White). We won’t spoil the surprise by mentioning which creatures show up to help.

And even though Josephson said he doesn’t plan to break into song while getting ready for Chanukah, he isn’t opposed to infusing his life with a little fairy dust: “If you make a movie like this, it makes you sort of joyous,” he said.

Swingin’ Chanukah with Kenny Ellis; The Klezmatics at the Disney; Three More Tenors


Saturday the 16th

To our knowledge, only one man can claim all of the following titles: writer, director, actor, comedian and Dixieland jazz clarinetist. Artist of all trades Woody Allen focuses tonight on that latter occupation. He and his crew, a.k.a. Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band, perform in a rare large venue appearance at UCLA’s Royce Hall as part of their first North American tour.

8 p.m. $25-$125. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. www.uclalive.org.

Sunday the 17th

” target = “_blank”>www.kennyellis.com

Thursday the 21st

Spectator – The Theme Park Without a Prayer


Bible Storyland must have a guardian angel. Dissolution by the clergy, dormancy for 45 years and a fatal fire were not powerful enough to erase the plans for this Bible-based theme park from history.

And now, art collector Harvey Jordan is working to inform Californians about this piece of their past in a new exhibition at the University of Judaism titled, “Dream Parks: Artwork From the Bible Storyland Theme Park.”

Nearly five decades have elapsed since Nat Winecoff, former Disney promoter and theme park developer, conceived of a $15 million Bible story-based Disneyland-esque place, which he planned to build on 220 acres of land in Cucamonga (now Rancho Cucamonga). Investors included actor Jack Haley and Donald Duncan of Yo-Yo and modern-day parking meter fame. However, the clergy allegedly quashed the idea and Bible Storyland was never erected.

More than 200 drawings and watercolor paintings of Winecoff’s brainchild, created by former Disney artist Bruce Bushman and a handful of other artists, remained after the deal went sour. Another art collector purchased the artwork from Winecoff’s estate and kept it holed up in his apartment until he and his possessions perished in a fire. Miraculously, 50 paintings of Bible Storyland survived the blaze.

Bible Storyland was a unique concept that mingled Disneyland-type family-oriented rides and attractions with biblical stories. A press release issued in 1960 described the plans at length.

To be constructed in the shape of a heart, Bible Storyland would have included different “lands,” each with its own theme, tied to either pre-Christian times, the Bible or the New Testament. Parkgoers would arrive at a Star of David garden and could then saunter through the Garden of Eden and visit Adam and Eve. Visitors could also venture to Israel and ride animals through Noah’s Ark Carousel, explore the inside of the whale with Jonah and watch Moses on Mount Sinai. Other locales would have included ancient Egypt, Babylon and Rome, as well as Ur, where Abraham began his journey to the Promised Land.

Jordan has assumed the role of promoter and savior of the history of Bible Storyland.

“I am now the holder of Bible Storyland,” he said. “From what I understand, I have the rest of the drawings and nobody else has kept them alive or written about it.”

The art can be seen at the Borstein Gallery at the University of Judaism through Aug. 20. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. For more information, call (310) 440-1201 or visit

Shoah Slave Driver to Disney Designer


In Nancy Keystone’s “Apollo — Part 1: Lebensraum,” Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, now the darling of the United States space program, gushes about how Americans will reach the moon. Punctuating his remarks are the memories of a ghost, a Hungarian Jew, who describes the underground factory in which he and 20,000 others died while building von Braun’s Nazi missiles.

“Gray skeletons push and drag insane loads,” he says of the slave labor. “The SS guards whip and club the terrified prisoners.”

When von Braun proudly displays his model space ship, the ghost pours ashes out of the interior.

It’s a pivotal scene in “Apollo,” a multidisciplinary piece about how the U.S. military secretly brought 118 German scientists here to build Cold War-era missiles and our space program. The work joins a subgenre of plays that explore the Holocaust from the margins, such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning “I Am My Own Wife,” which spotlights a German transvestite and opens June 14 at the Wadsworth Theatre.

The acclaimed, 42-year-old Keystone, who is Jewish, described her play in a conversation that ranged from matter-of-fact historical discussion to ironic laughter. The writer-director said she was drawn to the subject upon reading a 1990 article on the military operation that erased war crimes from the dossiers of scientists such as von Braun and Arthur Rudolph. While von Braun died a hero in 1977, the Office of Special Investigations called on Rudolph in 1984 and eventually deported him.

“What interested me about the story was not the Holocaust,” Keystone said. “It was in what we did by bringing these people into the country and later by kicking them out. We whitewashed Rudolph’s record when we decided he was important for national security. But when the game is over, can you really change the rules and is that justice?”

To begin creating the daunting project in 2001, the writer-director and her cast read FBI reports, Rudolph’s interrogation transcripts and books on the slave laborers and their concentration camp, Mittelbau-Dora. Keystone also visited two of the surviving German scientists; although she had been warned they would not discuss Dora, they enhanced her “sense of how these people deluded themselves and how they cared only about rocketry.”

As Keystone developed the play in seven six-week workshops, one challenge was describing the camp without tapping into viewers’ “Holocaust fatigue.”

“Depicting the [Shoah] is aesthetically very difficult,” she said. “All our impulses go to the banal, the hackneyed. So we kept using different poetry and images and guards and beatings and it was completely ineffective.”

A breakthrough occurred when the von Braun character stood on a rolling chalkboard and scribbled as the prisoner pushed him around the rehearsal room. In the play, the image “reminds us of the human cost of making these rockets, and raises questions about the price of progress,” Keystone said. “When the people of the United States celebrated the fiery liftoff of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969, few knew that … came on the backs of thousands of innocent Holocaust victims.”

Another reminder is the ghost himself (Richard Anthony Gallegos), who lurks onstage throughout much of the play. While the Latino Gallegos initially wanted to make his character highly emotive, Keystone said she wanted the prisoner to seem detached from his words; to retell the story, not relive it, as if he had achieved inner wisdom and peace.

“So the hardest part for me, as a human being, is relating his memories while feeling disconnected from them,” Gallegos said.

Keystone, whose husband lost relatives in the Holocaust, isn’t completely disconnected from those feelings, either. While her play empathizes with Rudolph as a pawn of our government — which she acknowledges will be controversial — it also forcefully condemns his actions in Germany.

Her anger at von Braun emerges in a blackly comic scene with Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney, who put von Braun on TV and hired him to help design Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. In the satirical sequence, the oblivious Mickey declares of the slave factory, “A mine! Gee! Little men working underground. Heigh ho!”

“I have a lot of rage about how people like von Braun could be so self-serving and amoral,” Keystone said of the scene. “And von Braun got away with it, unlike Rudolph.” In the Disney scene, his loving concern for the astronauts contrasts with his utter disregard for the Dora prisoners, “Which is what makes me so crazy,” she said.

Yet the director doesn’t simply want to label the scientists “evil Nazis.”

“If we do, we are letting ourselves and our government…off the hook, and we perpetuate the profound denial surrounding our own actions and our culpability in this affair,” she said.

Keystone believes that culpability continues today: “We created Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, then turned the tables because of our self interest,” she said. “My hope is that ‘Apollo’ provokes questions about how we can act responsibly, as individuals and as a society.”

The play runs June 12 to July 3 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. For tickets and information, call (213) 628-2772.

 

Eight Crazy Delights


1. No Nostalgia for Waxing

This Chanukah, there is no more scraping, boiling water, melting with a hair dryer or freezing to remove wax drippings from your menorah because Wax-Off prevents wax from sticking to any candle-holder surface. Visit www.wax-off.net or call (800) 334-9964 for more information.

2. Fiddler-mania!

Question: What would your Chanukah be without your hand-painted “Fiddler on the Roof” Figurine Music Box ($45), “Fiddler” Chess Set ($300), “Fiddler” Chip n’ Dip Set ($50), “Fiddler” Teapot ($36) and set of “Fiddler” Shmear Spreaders ($45)? And the answer: Much less expensive. (www.jewishsource.com ).

3. A Big Blow to the Jewish People

Hebrew Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum Box of 100 ($10.95). If you can’t read Hebrew, don’t sweat it — the comic strips are probably funnier when you don’t understand the gags (www.jewishsource.com).

4. Rabbi Said Knock You Out!

Boxing Rabbi Puppet ($9.50). Finally, a way to one-up your neighbor’s Fighting Nun Puppet (www.mcphee.com ).

5. Ark for Ark’s Sake

The Ark of the Covenant ($11.95). Indiana Jones nearly lost his life searching for his. So why not pick one up for yourself and see what all the hubbub is about? (www.mcphee.com ).

6. Giving You Plaque

Gefilte Fish Plaque ($5.95). A Jesus plate parody for your car. In all honesty, this plaque probably tastes better than the fish that inspired it. Unclear whether it comes packed in jelly. (www.mcphee.com ).

7. When the Golem

Gets Tough…

Share with your children the legend of the Prague protector with a copy of “Golem,” an award-winning children’s book by David Wisniewski. (Clarion Books, $17) (www.amazon.com ).

9. Winnie the Jew

Winnie the Pooh in a yarmulke with dreidel in hand. Nobody saw this one coming, but then again, the lovable bear perhaps makes a more convincing Jew than a boy named Christopher Robin. ($8.50). (The Disney Store. For locations visit disney.store.go.com ).



Bonus Shamash Gift: The Jewish Version of The Spinners?

The Draydelettes, a chorus line of Chanukah tops created by designer Susan Fischer Weis, grace a light set ($19.95) and mug ($7.95) (www.jewishsource.com ).

Jerusalem Battle Moves to the Magic Kingdom


The latest round in the battle for Jerusalem is being waged not in the Middle East but in the Magic Kingdom.

The Arab League and Arab-American groups are planning to meet with representatives of Walt Disney World to discuss their concerns that a special exhibit at Disney’s EPCOT Center in Orlando, Fla., will depict Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which contributed $1.8 million to the reported $8 million project, says the criticism has no basis in the actual plans for the Israel pavilion at EPCOT’s Millennium Village.

The exhibit, the exact content of which is being closely guarded by Walt Disney World, is slated to open to the public on Oct. 1.

Even Arab groups who have raised questions about the exhibit say they have learned about it only through news reports.

Plans revealed by Disney executives last month in Jerusalem indicated that Israel’s exhibit will trace the religious history of Israel and showcase Israeli technological advances. “Journey to Jerusalem,” a simulated tour of the holy city through different historical periods, will be the exhibit’s main attraction.

Israel maintains that the exhibit presents Jerusalem as “a center and a sacred site” for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. But, said a senior Israeli diplomatic official with knowledge of the exhibit’s content, “Jerusalem is, of course, the center of Jewish dreams and Israel’s existence. This centrality is emphasized in the EPCOT pavilion.”

He said that at no time in the exhibit’s planning was there an attempt “to make political statements.”

In addition to contributing financially, Israel was responsible for the content of the 24,000-square-foot exhibit, with Disney’s “creative input,” officials said with Disney and with Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

EPCOT’s Millennium Village will feature exhibits from 24 countries, including Morocco, Saudi Arabia, China and Japan.

A spokesman for Disney said in a telephone interview that he would not reveal details of the exhibit’s contents, citing a confidential agreement with Israel.

What has remained constant “from the beginning,” said Bill Warren, the head of public affairs for Walt Disney World, is Disney’s intent for the exhibit “to be interesting, entertaining, a tribute to Israel and its people, and apolitical.”

But Middle East politics have found their way into Disney’s small world after all. With the final-status talks having just begun, the question of Jerusalem still remains unresolved. Israel claims the undivided city as its eternal capital. The Palestinians want eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Arab groups in the United States and overseas who read news reports about the Millennium Village exhibit were concerned that “Disney World is making a political statement about an issue that has not been settled yet,” said Khalid Turaani, the executive director of American Muslims for Jerusalem, a Washington-based group among those leading a campaign to review the exhibit before it opens.

These groups have been pressing Disney for a preview of the exhibit.

“With Disney so tight-lipped about it,” said Turaani, the director of American Muslims for Jerusalem, “there was something fishy right there.”

News reports said Disney assured one of the large shareholders in the Paris-based Euro Disney, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, that the EPCOT exhibit would not depict Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

On Monday, the Arab League closed its two-day meeting in Cairo by voting to form a committee to investigate the exhibit.

Disney’s chairman and chief executive, Michael Eisner, and the president of Walt Disney World, Al Weiss, wrote letters to the Arab League and explained that the exhibit was not meant to give offense. They offered to meet with an Arab League delegation to discuss the situation, Warren said, but added that the terms of the meeting have not yet been determined.

Although the Arab League resolved to see the exhibit in advance of the public opening date, there are no firm plans for such a visit, the Arab League’s chief representative in Washington said.

Khalid Abdalla said the Arab League’s main objective is “to be sure that Walt Disney is not bringing politics into its commercial activity in a way that will hurt the Arab and Islamic rights in Jerusalem.”

Abdalla is the Arab League’s representative on the Disney committee, which also includes representatives from the Palestinian Authority and from Muslim American organizations.

If the committee is not satisfied by Disney’s response or its handling of Jerusalem, however, the entertainment company can expect a “real reaction,” Abdalla said. He said he could not confirm whether a boycott would ensue.

To New Beginnings


According to my son, Disney’s “The Lion King” isthe greatest film ever made. He saw it three times in the theater,and insisted on playing the soundtrack every morning on our way toschool. All the way to kindergarten, we sang the film’s stirringtheme song, “The Circle of Life,” until, one morning, I listened tothe words.

The Circle of Life may be humanity’s most popularidea. Nature is all circles: day and night; the turning of theseasons; the revolutions of planets; birth, growth, maturity, decay,death and rebirth. The Circle of Life roots human experience innature and finds the same cyclical pattern in life.

If life is a circle, then death is not an end.Death is not a tragedy. Death is only an invitation to rebirth andrenewal. This is the “myth of eternal return” — the phoenix risingfrom its ashes. No wonder so much of humanity, including Disney,finds comfort in this idea.

The circle, according to Joseph Campbell, is themost ubiquitous symbol in world religion: Buddhists have prayerwheels, Moslems circle the Kaaba, and Native Americans build villagesin circles. Christianity, with its faith in death and resurrection,is all circles.

In Judaism, however, you find no circles. Jewishtradition rebelled against circles because it perceived the deadlyimplications of this belief. Life as a circle is closed, its patternfixed, and nothing new can enter.

“Utter futility!

“Only that shall happen, which hashappened;

“Only that occur, which has occurred;

“There is nothing new under the sun!”(Ecclesiastes 1).

Can there be a more hopeless idea than history,like nature, bound to repeat itself in endless cycles of war,holocaust, plague and destruction? Can we never learn? Can we neverchange?

In the Circle of Life, the individual isextinguished. When there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s nothingnew that I, as an individual, can bring to the world. Anything Idream has already been done. Anything I do will only be washed awayby time until some fool in the next generation arrives at the sameplan and tries again. Ultimately, the Circle of Life is a philosophyof defeat and passivity. If all is fated to repeat, why dream? Whytry? Why bother? Don’t worry. Be happy.

Judaism passionately rejected the Circle of Life.It offered a radical new idea: “Breshit” (“The Beginning”). We are apeople obsessed with beginnings. Our High Holidays commence with RoshHashanah, the new year. According to the Mishna, there are actuallyfour New Years in the Jewish calendar. Twelve times a year, RoshHodesh, the arrival of a new month, is celebrated. The Torah openswith Breshit, “In the Beginning.”

We believe in beginnings because we believe thatthe world can change. We believe that people can change. Destiny isnot fixed. And personality is not fixed. We have the freedom tochoose to be the people we would be. We have the power to create theworld as we would want it. No force of human nature, of destiny, ofheaven, of karma, can rob us of that freedom, and none can relieve usof its responsibility.

We believe in beginnings because we believe thatthe human individual is precious — brought into this world to addsomething totally new and unprecedented. We have expectations foreach human individual. Each of us carries one word of God’s message.Only with your word, your contribution, will the message ever beintelligible, will the world be complete.

As organisms, we live in natural cycles. But asmoral beings, our history is a line, with a beginning and an end,with progress and regress.

The Torah’s central metaphor is a journey. Historyis the trek from Egypt to Canaan, from the House of Bondage to thePromised Land. Whether we, by our efforts and pursuits, have movedthe world forward toward the promise, or backward toward slavery, isthe ultimate measure and significance of our lives.

On Rosh Hashanah, we blow the shofar and sing”Hayom Harat Olom” (“Today is the world’s birthday”). Today, webegin. Today, we celebrate a world of openness and possibilities.Today, we accept the responsibility to move and heal the world.Today, we renew our expectations and our ideals. Today, a new daynever before seen, and never to be repeated.


Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom inEncino.

All rights reserved by author.

Disney, Boycotts and the Hollywood Elite


It’s hard to feel sorry for the Walt Disney Company, a multibillion-dollar mouse-forged empire that seems to own a part of most children’s hearts, including that of my own 2 1/2-year-old. Yet, in recent weeks, the venerable Burbank entertainment giant has been subjected to two major boycotts, one from the right-leaning Southern Baptists and the other from Latino media activists.

Why target Disney? To a large extent, notes the Anti-Defamation League’s David Lehrer, it’s simply a reflection of that company’s success. “Disney is a big target because it’s big and successful,” he says. “It’s an easy place to get attention if you go after it.”

Yet there may be something more serious lurking behind these boycotts, Lehrer and others suspect — a revival of the traditional concerns among various groups about “Jewish control” of the means of mass communications. Disney might be less exploitative and venal in its product line than the rest of Hollywood, but its leadership comprises some of the most visible and powerful Jewish figures in the industry (not the least of whom is Chairman Michael Eisner).

Although this linkage between Hollywood and Jews is rarely spoken of in press releases here, Lehrer says that it is once again a regular staple in the somewhat snide British press. More ominously, however, the Southern Baptist boycott comes from the very organization that last year openly advocated the mass conversion of Jews from their faith.

“Southern Baptists don’t talk about Jews; they talk about the Walt Disney Company,” says Rabbi James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee. “But in the back of their mind, they are thinking about Jews in the entertainment companies.”

Rudin is no stranger to the religious right, having worked assiduously to improve relations between conservative Christians and mainstream Jewish organizations. He points out that the Southern Baptists have become increasingly hard-line in recent years on issues from homosexuality and abortion to the conversion of non-Christians. In the process, he adds, they have lost thousands of members and much of their grass-roots support. Many Southern Baptists, including those around Orlando, Disney’s Florida hub, have distanced themselves from the boycott.

But Rudin suggests that the boycott does also reflect a legitimate complaint — that Hollywood, and its largely Jewish leadership, is guilty of a kind of “elitism,” particularly when it comes to the views felt in the “flyover zone” between the coasts. “It’s a bigger issue about control of the culture by elites, and the Jews are part of it,” Rudin says.

If this is true of Southern Baptists, much of the same can be said of the other boycotting group, the National Latino Media Coalition. Like other non-Jews in the entertainment media, many Latinos have felt excluded in their access to jobs, particularly in upper management at the studios. Many of them complain that the Hollywood elite sees only stereotypical roles for Latinos in the media, even though they live adjacent to the largest Hispanic community north of Mexico City.

“All we see are the stereotypes,” says Alex Nogales, chairman of the coalition, which has won the support of such prominent figures as Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina. “We have been people selling oranges under the freeway, the nanny, the gardener, the gangbanger. That’s what we seem to fit into.”

Nogales and other Latinos in the media believe that many Jewish executives, including Eisner, have become socially isolated from the diverse and complex multiracial Los Angeles that exists around them. Certainly, this is not only a Disney problem; Steven Spielberg’s wife, Kate Capshaw, once said that she wanted to move to New York to be in a “more diverse” city. One wonders whether she, and many other Hollywood types, ever sojourn east of La Cienega Boulevard.

This reflects a troubling tendency among Hollywood executives. Many of them may live in Los Angeles, the world’s most diverse major city, but are not of it. Instead, they cling to ethnic mentalities nurtured in the predominantly black-and-white environments of 1960s Chicago, New York or Boston of their youths. If they seek to open themselves to other influences, it tends to be more oriented to African-Americans, who have made huge strides into at least creative parts of the business.

“A lot of Jews have forgotten what it’s like to be a newcomer and have obstacles put in front of them,” Nogales says. “They have become so isolated — the Eisners and that type — they are now excluding others, just as the Jewish immigrant was once excluded.”

Although somewhat hyperbolic, Nogales’ assertions cannot be dismissed as anti-Semitic. For one thing, Nogales is married to a Jew and sends his kids to a Jewish summer camp. His concerns should also be those of our community: After being perhaps too solicitous of non-Jews in the days of the Mayers and the Warners, the Jewish Hollywood elite and others must face the fact that there is a growing chasm between the entertainment industry and large parts of its audience, as can be seen in repeated congressional hearings and in the growing movement to control and label Hollywood content.

This chasm represents an important issue that Jews, both inside and outside of the entertainment industry, will need to address among themselves in years ahead.

Not that the boycotts of Disney will do much to advance that discussion within our community or with outsiders. Although they work as publicity stunts, the two boycotts will likely fail to keep Baptist or Latino parents from their appointed rounds, taking their children to Disneyland, Disneyworld or to see “Hercules” at Hollywood’s El Capitan. What is needed instead is a more comprehensive dialogue between the entertainment moguls and their audience — both in the “flyover zone” and here in the heart of increasingly Latino Los Angeles — that addresses these complex issues in a less confrontational and more thoughtful way.


Joel Kotkin is the John M. Olin Fellow at the Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy and author of “Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy.”