Parental Discretion Advised

Disney now allows TV-MA content from Marvel. But it’s still censoring itself.

Disney recently moved Marvel’s slate of Defenders shows—Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, The Punisher and The Defenders — as well as ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from Netflix to Disney+ on March 16.

Those shows are all rated TV-MA, above the maximum TV-14 rating that Disney+ allows on its streaming service. Parents are now able to adjust the parental controls on the site to allow their kids to watch the more adult-oriented Marvel content, or not.

The Parents Television and Media Council seems to think that this move will start Disney down a slippery slope toward “live striptease performances in Fantasyland at Disney World,” but fear not. Disney’s streaming department is all over it.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

“We have experienced great success with an expanded content offering on Disney+ across our global markets and are excited to continue that here in the U.S. as well by offering our consumers not only great content with the new Marvel additions, but also a set of features that help ensure a viewing experience most suitable for them and their family,” President of Disney Streaming Michael Paull said.

This is a new look for Disney, which infamously censored some scenes from its older movies on Disney+’s launch in 2019. Most notably, the Disney+ version of Splash places a weird amount of hair where Daryl Hannah’s butt should be and also bleeps Elisabeth Shue’s “don’t fuck with the babysitter” line in Adventures in Babysitting. Oh, and Lilo hides in a laundry hamper instead of a dryer in the streaming version of Lilo and Stitch.

 

Why the change? As is often the case: money, presumably. Spider-Man: No Way Home has made nearly $2 billion worldwide so far and is far and away the biggest box office success story of 2021. It also establishes that Matt Murdock, AKA Daredevil, exists in the MCU. It was only a matter of time before Disney combined the two Marvel properties to have them all under one roof. 

But if Disney can trust its users to decide whether or not Daredevil’s hallway fight, or, God forbid, a little profanity, is suitable for their children, shouldn’t Disney do the same with its own movies on the service?

Sure, there’s a time and a place for some content warnings, like before violent MCU shows or before older movies and TV shows that display outdated terms or ideas (which Disney+ already does). But if parents can control what their kids watch with the click of a button, nothing’s stopping Disney from showing Darryl Hannah’s butt in Splash or letting Elisabeth Shue say “fuck.”

Weirdly enough, it seems that Disney recently censored parts of another Marvel property, just not one of the Defenders shows. A Redditor recently noticed that parts of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—which debuted on Disney+ last year—have been edited to remove blood and other violence, even as it adds these new TV-MA shows.

This is all part of a bigger issue. Disney flat-out refuses to acknowledge that the kids it caters to have parents that might not want to watch Encanto for the 10th time.

Disney understood this in the 80s and 90s, when Touchstone Pictures was in its heyday. Movies like Splash, Adventures in Babysitting, The Color of Money, Three Men and a Baby, Face/Off, Con Air, Kundun, The Insider, Bicentennial Man, Unbreakable, Rushmore, Ransom and White Men Can’t Jump were all produced by Touchstone and distributed in whole or in part by Disney to cater to a more adult market. 

Disney doesn’t make content for adults anymore. It had an amazing opportunity to do so with its acquisitions of 20th Century Fox and Hulu, but the House of Mouse has increasingly been more about repackaging nostalgia for childhood than selling something new. Disney seemed to clearly favor marketing Spider-Man over 20th Century’s The Last Duel, Nightmare Alley and West Side Story last year.

However, now that Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (a fairly violent film, by Disney standards) picked up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ariana DeBose, Disney is all about promoting it on Disney+. Same with Free Guy (Oscar-nominated) and Summer of Soul (Oscar-winning), now streaming on both Disney+ and Hulu. Free Guy was one of the biggest theatrical pandemic hits and already has a sequel lined up (and also references a lot of Disney properties).

The biggest anomaly here is Get Back, a 6-hour documentary about The Beatles that features the lads from Liverpool openly smoking and swearing. Director Peter Jackson refused to allow Disney to censor the film. How do you argue with The Beatles and the guy who brought Tolkien to the big screen?

But if Disney truly wanted to mine its own nostalgia, it should start pining for the ‘90s, when every film it made wasn’t about a web-slinger or a Jedi. Start making movies for the parents again, or at least put more of the Touchstone catalog on Disney+. Half of those movies aren’t streaming anywhere, let alone under the Disney banner. Adding those unedited movies, and rescinding the edits on current movies and shows, might even reach a new audience.

Good for Disney for not watering down the full content of the Defenders series. Now the company should go and do the same with its other content. The audience can handle it.

 

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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