Disney has been at the heart of the American Dream since the 1930s but the multimedia giant needs a new purpose if it is to continue to mean 'something beyond merchandising'.
That's the view of US cultural historian Dr John Wills, of the University of Kent. His new book, Disney Culture, takes a critical overview of the role Disney has played in US society since it started making films in the 1920s.
Disney's first full length feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, smashed all box office records after its release in 1937.
Since then, Disney's story has been one of relentless corporate advancement and cultural hegemony as characters such as Mickey Mouse made the brand synonymous with the American Dream. So much so that in 1968 the artist Ernest Trova, gathering materials for a time capsule, proclaimed the swastika, Coca Cola bottle and Mickey Mouse as the three most important graphical images of the century.
But, as Disney approaches its 100th birthday, Dr Wills suggests it needs to re-evaluate itself to remain culturally relevant.
Although the 2013 film Frozen proved a great commercial and artistic success, Disney has become part of a 'broader battle over American culture', Dr Wills, of the University's School of History, suggests. Faced at times with criticism from both conservatives and liberals, the corporation has struggled to maintain a clear cultural identity.
'Discarding Disney is tantamount to shredding the American Dream and becoming decidedly un-American,' Dr Wills concludes. 'But Disney needs to become more than a financial giant and a holding company. It needs purpose beyond corporate growth or story recycling.' Disney Culture is published by Rutgers University Press. See: https://www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/disney-culture/9780813583327.
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Notes to editors
Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.
It has been ranked: 22nd in the Guardian University Guide 2018; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2017; and 25th in the Complete University Guide 2018.
In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.
Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities.
Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium.
The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.
In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.