- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

If Quentin Tarantino got hold of Bambi, I shudder to think what would happen to the spindly-legged little deer. And if Rush Limbaugh trained his rhetorical guns on everybody’s favorite ruminant, the radio talker might sneer that the media paid attention to Bambi only because we feel sorry the poor thing lost his mommy.

But it’s all in the family for the Walt Disney Co. — or it was until the embattled Mr. Limbaugh resigned from his gig as a (pun unavoidable) color commentator on the Disney-owned ESPN network’s NFL pregame show.

Disney, however, still owns Miramax, the art-house studio behind Mr. Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” an ultraviolent samurai tribute flick that makes “A Clockwork Orange” look like, well, “Bambi.”

Limbs and heads are hacked off at dizzying rates of speed, and arteries spurt blood like geyser steam. Hard as it is to believe, Mr. Tarantino says, according to Entertainment Weekly magazine, he actually toned down the violence for “Kill Bill” to ensure it would earn an R rating.

Coincidentally, this is the same week that Disney moved a “special platinum edition” of “The Lion King” DVD. How’s that for a diverse portfolio?

If Web muckraker Matt Drudge’s sources are to be trusted, Disney’s honchos are starting to view Miramax as something like the loose cannon Mr. Limbaugh turned out to be; its relationship with the studio, too, has come under strain.

Top Disney executives “are growing increasingly uncomfortable with the shock nature of films coming from Disney’s substudio Miramax … just as director Quentin Tarantino recommends his new blood-gushing movie to both boys and girls,” according to a recent item on the Drudge Report.

One imagines those same executives weren’t sorry to see the loose-lipped Mr. Limbaugh tender his resignation.

Disney’s jitters reach all the way to the top — to chairman Michael Eisner, according to Mr. Drudge. “Look, the movie is ultimately a Walt Disney concern; we’ve moved so far away from ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Bambi,’” a “top Disney source” in the company’s Burbank, Calif., headquarters is quoted as saying on Mr. Drudge’s Web site.

“[‘Kill Bill] has led to a deep reassessment of the situation and relationship [with Miramax],” the source said.

Although the Limbaugh controversy has dropped to a low simmer, and, at this point, the “Kill Bill” fuss is limited to internal memos and press leaks, I’m always tickled when cuddly companies such as Disney have to mix it up in the mud.

The last time the preternaturally cautious entertainment empire raised popular ire, you’ll recall, was when it began providing health insurance to homosexual employees’ partners, prompting a boycott from members of the Southern Baptist Convention.

A small price to pay for being PC.

There was also the brief furor over Disney-owned ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” and host Bill Maher’s post-September 11 comments about the hijackers’ bravery.

The network soon axed the show, arousing a few knee-jerk cries of censorship, but everyone knew, basically, that the ratings-starved show was long overdue for cancellation.

A brief heartburn, but all was soon well again in Burbank.

The stomach acids must be burbling again now, though, as liberal commentators take aim at the company.

“The surprise all along was that ESPN, which is owned by Disney, was so willing to throw a race card into a realm of American culture that has achieved a peculiar universal popularity,” Derrick Z. Jackson chided in a Boston Globe op-ed about the Limbaugh contretemps.

According to Mr. Drudge, Harvey Weinstein retained the Hollywood lawyer Bert Fields — the bete noir of Mr. Eisner who represented studio boss Jeffrey Katzenberg in a 1999 case that cost Disney millions — in a “symbolic gesture foreshadowing a possible split” with Miramax.

If that’s what it takes to spare Bambi from a samurai slicing, then let slip the dogs of litigation.

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