The Disney touch

It's a sad commentary on the values of many youthful Americans, this decision by Walt Disney Productions to shun the famous old Disney name. For decades the venerable studio proudly wore an image of wholesomeness; now that image is a box-office albatross.

The bulk of American moviegoers are from junior high school to college age, as anyone who's been to a suburban theater lately knows. Movie studios compete for their patronage - and their money.

In recent years these young Americans have been taken in by a sense of psuedo-sophistication, largely due to the influence of what they see in the adult world around them. They automatically feel any movie labeled ''Disney'' is only for younger siblings and not of interest to them - irrespective of the subject matter. Therefore, many of Disney's major films aimed at this age group have been box office failures despite critical acclaim.

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Disney Productions now has decided to market its more adult films under a different label: Touchstone. It hopes that subtracting the Disney name from them will add theatergoers.

Recent movie trends produce a cyclical effect. Families and others interested in wholesome movies find fewer of them. As their theatergoing decreases, studios make still fewer wholesome films and more of questionable content.

Ultimately public taste will swing back: Moviegoers will tire of violence, an undue emphasis on sex, and other elements of poor taste. The image of wholesomeness once again will be an asset.

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