It was 1942 when prolific American artist Norman Rockwell created an iconic series of four paintings called "The Four Freedoms." A reference to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union speech, Rockwell created a painting for each of the "Four Freedoms" Roosevelt felt that everyone on Earth ought to enjoy: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Rockwell's interpretation of "Freedom From Want" is a painting that's transcended its origin and the series it's a part of. Often called "The Thanksgiving Picture," the oil painting shows an aproned matriarch bringing a roasted turkey to a table to share with a family of many generations. Deeply tied to the holiday season (and pretty firmly in the sentimental, white picket fence sub-genre of American art), this painting has been adapted and skewered countless times, including several by Disney.

At various times, Disney has spoofed or recreated "Freedom From Want" with the Muppets, the cast of Lilo & Stitch, and more. But the most famous adaptation is one most Disney fans have seen...

Image: Norman Rockwell (L), Disney (R)

Created by Disney Legend Charles Boyer, "Mickey Mouse and Friends – Family Dinner" is brought out each holiday season on Disney's social media and promotions. And why not? It's a great image that feels like a love letter to family tradition and to Disney's longstanding place in Americana.

Boyer's version was created in 1993 (hence including Roger Rabbit, who was pretty much elevated to be a member of the "Fab Five" int the years after Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and B'rer Bear from Splash Mountain – the then-new E-Ticket at Walt Disney World). But even though the image is younger than Ariel, Aladdin, or Belle, it feels really timeless; like a genuine creation of Walt's time. 

But times have changed... On Thanksgiving 2023, Disney introduced us to its updated view of "Freedom from Want." And it's a doozy.

Image: Disney

Sure, Roger Rabbit, B'rer Bear, Peter Pan, Snow White, and Dopey have been swapped out for more "timeless" members of Disney canon, refocusing the image on the "Fab Five" at adjacent characters who exist alongside them. On the surface, that could make this updated version a more evergreen one. But look closer...

This isn't a charming, hand-drawn illustration of a lovely, mid-century animated Mickey & Minnie anymore. Instead, it appears that we're meant to see this less like a painting and more like a photograph. These are the walk-around meet-and-greet versions of the characters you'd find at Disney Parks. Zoom in on Minnie's eyes, or fabric-wrinkled arms. I guess the insinuation is that these are humans dressed in costumes and big, plastic heads? It's... odd

As Mickey stares, dead-eyed, into the "camera" and apparently reaches for a carving knife (despite the classic turkey being replaced with what appears to be an AI-dropped-in pie), one can't help but get a sense that Disney is offering some sly Five Nights at Freddy's promotion. From Daisy's head (which fans say looks disembodied, like it's sitting on the table) to Max's off-model look and wild eyes, there's a whole lot to consider here...

Image: Disney

Including the fact that fans feel pretty certain that instead of being drawn by a Disney Legend or an animator embodying a century of love and care for these characters, it appears that Disney's 2023 version of "Freedom from Want" was created by AI. Look at the foods on the table and how the celery sprigs appear to be in front of the glass that they're clearly meant to be behind. And because AI would read the light from the window as casting the whole image in shadow, this weirdly photorealistic version of the painting is also... dark... eerie... shadowy... 

Yep, it sure appears that – in "celebration" of the 100 Years of Wonder campaign and its loving focus on animation through the recently-released "Once Upon a Studio" short – Disney has decided to take the easy road here, using AI to generate a downright eerie ode to the holidays. Just the implication that a company that sees itself as the forefront of creativity and imagination would use AI to adapt a piece of real art instead of just commissioning one of its own animators... it's a major disappointment for fans.

What do you think? Is Disney's newest take on "Freedom from Want" a new favorite? Or a creepy, AI-generated mess that accidentally seems to represent a real fall-off of creativity and artistry at Disney? Let us know in the comments below...


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