- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

The upcoming Disney film, "Bubble Boy," is being panned by advocates for people with immune deficiency diseases, who say the movie is tasteless and insulting.
"They're ridiculing the whole concept of a child growing up in a bubble," said Barb Ballard, a member of the Immune Deficiency Foundation (IDF) and mother of a 7-year-old boy with the disease.
"The point is," she said, "only one child ever has grown up in a bubble and that was David Vetter," who died in 1984 at age 12 of his disease.
"They've basically taken the David Vetter story and warped it," said Mrs. Ballard.
What's next, asked her husband, Don Ballard. "Are we going to see a new hit comedy, 'The Retard,' or maybe even 'The MD Kid?'"
The Ballards of Clifton and hundreds of other IDF members are now contacting Disney "to raise public awareness that these are real diseases and this movie is, frankly, insulting to patients with the diseases," IDF founder Marcia Boyle said in an interview this week, adding that around 50,000 people in the United States, including her son, suffer from immune deficiency diseases.
Carol Ann Demaret, mother of David Vetter, is one of those who has written to Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive officer of Walt Disney Co. in Burbank Calif., asking him to pull the film.
"This is the child who was — and will always be — my son," wrote Mrs. Demaret. "If you care, truly care — about people, our society, the minds and feelings of our young ones, honor, sacrifice, life itself, the subtle ways in which our culture is shaped, truth — then you must make the decision to withdraw this movie from any release and apologize to the nation."
A spokesman for Walt Disney Co., the parent company of Touchstone Pictures, which is releasing the movie Aug. 24, said this week that Disney had no official comment on the matter.
However, "Bubble Boy" was never created, developed or marketed with malicious intent and does not make fun of the disease, a Disney executive said on the condition of anonymity.
"Once the film comes out, I think that many of the fears will be assuaged," the executive said, adding that a disclaimer in the movie says that it is not meant to portray any real-life person.
In recent years, the gigantic Disney entertainment empire — which includes the ABC television network and Miramax film distributor — has been criticized for abandoning the family-friendly values of founder Walt Disney.
Christian conservatives say the company has adopted a pro-homosexual agenda, offering benefits to the same-sex partners of employees, welcoming "Gay Days" events at Disney theme parks, and promoting the 1997 prime-time "coming out" of lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres on ABC.
Such groups as Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Family Association and the Catholic League announced a national boycott of Disney in 1997. Catholics were offended by what they called "Catholic bashing" in a Miramax film, "Priest," and a short-lived ABC comedy, "Nothing Sacred."
"Bubble Boy," which is rated PG-13 for coarse language and crude sexual humor, is about a teen-age boy who lives in a plastic bubble in the California home he shares with his overprotective mother.
The boy falls in love with a local girl. When he hears she is going to be married at Niagara Falls, he builds a mobile bubble and sets off across the country to stop her wedding.
The bubble is "the set up" for a road trip and romance movie aimed at teens, the Disney executive said.
According to the trailer on the movie's official Web site, the movie makes a running visual gag out of the boy being trapped inside a bubble. In various shots, the bubble is thrown into a billboard, run over by a car and by a bus, and crammed into a narrow bus door. Another scene has the boy inside the bubble on stage and bouncing around during a rock concert.
The movie clearly is a comedy and should not be confused with the 1976 "weepie" that starred John Travolta as "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," or a Seinfield episode about the bubble boy, Nevada's Gaming Magazine said this week. Several "Bubble Boy" scenes were shot in Nevada.
Both the Disney executive and Mrs. Boyle of the Towson, Md.-based IDF, said an attempt was made to ease the concerns of IDF members.
IDF members asked, for instance, that Disney add information about David Vetter and "the real diseases" to publicity materials. According to the Disney executive, the company rejected the idea because, "In light of who the audience is for this movie, the options we discussed didn't make any sense."
The official added that IDF members "didn't come back with any other ideas."
"We were told the movie is a gross-out film for 12- to 14-year-old boys, and they would be the wrong market" for such information, said Mrs. Boyle.
Mrs. Ballard said some IDF members are contacting movie theaters to block the movie while others are still trying to sway Mr. Eisner.
"Would Mr. Disney have been involved with a film that mocks ill and suffering children just for the almighty buck?" the parents of a 5-year-old son with immune deficiency said in their letter to the Disney chairman.
"The public has no understanding whatsoever of this disease. The only thing they know or understand when I tried to explain what was wrong with my son was to mention the bubble boy," wrote a mother who lost two children to the disease. "Now your company is going to perpetuate the ignorance of this disease and make it worse by making a joke out of it."
"I am a fourteen-year-old girl with primary immune deficiency," said one letter writer, who outlined her weekly hospital visits and other life-threatening travails.
"Why would you want to make fun of someone like this? Please let me know. I would really like an answer," the teen wrote to Mr. Eisner, adding that she was chosen as a Disney Millennium Dreamer only last year. "I listened to your speeches and really admired what you had to say and what you were doing to better the world in this century.

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