NatGeo's documentary Free Solo documentary has been censored by Disney+, presumably for brand management purposes. Released in 2018, the NatGeo film chronicles Alex Honnold’s attempts to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any ropes or protective gear. Free Solo won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Free Solo mostly focuses on rock climbing, but the subtext underlines Honnold’s personality traits. Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi explore the psychology behind their subject’s pursuit, and what motivates him to risk his life with each free solo endeavor. The NatGeo documentary also examines Honnold’s relationship with girlfriend Sanni McCandless, and how the couple try to find common ground when the male climber seems to be mostly invested in conquering El Capitan. Honnold's raw manner of speech informs viewers about his life approach, and he provides numerous memorable quotes in Free Solo, such as “You face your fear because your goal demands it.” The streaming service is family friendly, so how Disney+ handles potentially offensive content has been a topic of discussion, and for Free Solo they changed two key moments.
Early on in Free Solo, Honnold discusses his relationship with McCandless and states that “I will always choose climbing over a lady, or at least so far.” He then reflects about climbing each year since 2009, and how a free solo climb of El Capitan often feels scary. In the original version, Honnold comedically recalls the moments when he realizes that “this isn’t the year” and that “this is f**ked.” For the Disney+ release, the entire audio has clearly been re-recorded, as it noticeably doesn’t match the visuals. Disney also replaced “f**ked” with “messed up."
Approximately one hour later in Free Solo, Honnold and his girlfriend move into a Las Vegas home. McCandless speaks about her boyfriend’s personality, and how it can be difficult for him to express certain emotions. She states “I’m patient, but I also have self respect.” Honnold then discusses his profression and delivers the aforementioned line “You face your fear because your goal demands it.” But there’s an additional line of dialogue in the sequence that Disney censored. In the original version, Honnold states “That is the goddam warrior spirit,” but Disney trimmed it down to “That is the warrior spirit.”
Disney’s censoring of Free Solo doesn’t necessarily provide an inauthentic version of Honnold, but the edits do alter raw moments that capture his frame of mind while pursuing a life-long goal. During the entire documentary, Honnold steadily reinforces the concept that life should be challenging, and his friend and fellow iconic climber Tommy Caldwell even implies that Honnold should indeed choose El Capitan over romance, or vice versa - “You can’t have both at the same time.” In this case, Disney+ decided to compromise in order to maintain its relationship with specific demographics. The platform's problems go beyond just swearing, however: Disney+ includes the crows from Dumbo, but there's a message beforehand about its racial insensitivity, while a controversial Simpsons episode is missing completely. With so much content and not all of it suitable for everyone, it's no surprise Disney are making ways to ensure everything on Disney+ is for all audiences.