“The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales” is a documentary by Abigail Disney, co-directed with “Armor of Light” co-director Kathleen Hughes. Like many documentaries made over the past three decades, it feels a bit like Michael Moore, with the filmmaker playing the role of hero on a quest, defending the little guy and battling the suits. Disney, of course, has benefited mightily from the economic success of the company his grandfather and great-uncle co-founded together, but has spent the last few decades growing increasingly alarmed at the widening gap between haves and have-nots. As she points out here, presidents of big corporations once earned between 100 and 500 times more than their lowest-paid employees. Now we see executives earning hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars through salaries, stock trading and other arrangements, while some of their employees are just getting by.
In its quest to illuminate the income gap, Disney visits a group of Disney World employees who sit in a circle (it looks like a recovery group meeting in a church basement) and tell their stories. She asks them to raise their hands if they or any other Disney employees they know have ever gone without necessary medical care because they couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket expenses. Hands go up. Then she asks them to raise their hands if they or someone they know has ever lived out of their car. More hands. No matter what ominous scenario she envisions, hands always go up. Some Disney theme park employees have to work two jobs just to pay the rent: one woman works a shift at Disneyland and another at Knotts Berry Farm, and the family still can’t make ends meet.
As a host and camera subject, the filmmaker is affable enough and makes her case well but isn’t dynamic enough to carry the film; maybe it would have been better to focus on his interview subjects and illustrate the issues that worry him, because there are points where the film is a little too close to feeling like one long episode of a broadcast network news magazine. Still, it’s a compelling story about the ongoing issues affecting the majority of Americans, even if you don’t hear about them very often in the mainstream media. The blunt title says it all.
Now available on VOD.