(4/21/05 1:32 pm)
Disneyfication / Who killed the seven dwarves?|
Hello All, stumbled on your forum and thought you might be interested in my dissertation from a couple of years ago.
WHO KILLED THE SEVEN DWARFS?
Has Disneyfication destroyed the traditional folk tale and damaged children’s illustrated literature?
By Richard Neil Thomas
Art & Design BA Hons.
4. The Death of the Seven Dwarves
5. Folk Tales
6. Rant #1
7. Input ~ Laurence Anholt writes...
8. Beauty and the Beast
9. Cartoons, Capitalism, Commerce and Conjecture
13. Walter Elias Disney
21. I Relent
24. Rant #2
26. Tex Avery
27. Cutting Edge and Contemporary with Typographical Twists
33. Bibliography / Reference
Having decided to produce a children’s book as part of my Degree course, I initially considered writing a contemporary version of one of the old folk or fairy tales, possibly a story by Hans Christian Andersen or a tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. I narrowed my selections and decided tentatively on a reworking of the classic folk tale ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. I immediately tried to blank all thoughts of ‘Happy’, ‘Dopey’, ‘Sneezey’, ‘Bashful’, ‘Sleepy’, ‘Grumpy’ and ‘Doc’, but this proved harder than expected. How do you go about renaming, individualising and illustrating characters that are so firmly ensconced in the memories of children all over the world? Disney’s monopolising of the fairy/folk tale genre and mass marketing of the characters as toys appeared to limit my options of adapting the ‘Snow White’ story to...
a. Mocking the Disney version in the tale itself.
b. Radically departing from the original story and imagery.
...both of which seemed quite appealing.
I finally decided on a subtle combination of both options, but resolved to look further into Disney’s domination and desecration of folk tales, myths, fables and classic children’s literature.
The Death of the Seven Dwarfs
“On a high plain between Brugg and Waldshut, near the Black Forest, seven dwarfs lived together in a small house. Late one evening an attractive young peasant girl, who was lost and hungry, approached them and requested shelter for the night. The dwarfs had only seven beds, and they fell to arguing with one another, for each one wanted to give up his bed for the girl. Finally the oldest one took the girl into his bed. Before they could fall asleep a peasant woman appeared before their house, knocked on the door, and asked to be let inside. The girl got up immediately and told the woman that the dwarfs had only seven beds, and that there was no room there for anyone else. With this the woman became very angry and accused the girl of being a slut, thinking that she was cohabiting with all seven men. Threatening to make a quick end to such evil business, she went away in a rage. That same night she returned with two men, whom she had brought up from the bank of the Rhine. Together they broke into the house and killed the seven dwarfs. They buried the bodies outside in the garden and burned the house to the ground. No one knows what became of the girl.”
Documented by Ernst Ludwig Rochholz 1856
(Translation by D. L. Ashliman 1998)
Whilst researching traditional fairy tales, particularly those collected by the Brothers Grimm, it became apparent to me that Disneyfication has impeded the natural evolution of the folk tale and, to some extent, tainted children’s illustrated literature and animation as a whole. Clearly my introductory tale ‘The Death of the Seven Dwarfs’ would now be construed as being in ‘bad taste’: and rightly so, if considered purely in the context of 20th/21st century children’s books, and of course it’s an extreme example. But initially traditional folk-tales weren’t necessarily ‘children’s’ stories, they just became so during the natural evolution of the story due to the oral traditions of times past; each re-telling would elicit new twists and variations on a fable, some subtle and engaging, others decidedly grim. In the words of writer Joseph Campbell, these stories are “Told and retold, losing here a detail, gaining there a new hero, disintegrating gradually in outline, but re-created occasionally by some narrator.” In his book ‘The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology’ Campbell describes the folk-tale as “an art on which the whole community of mankind has worked”, and as if in warning to Disney himself asserts “Clearly, mythology is no toy for children”.
“Many children don’t like them and many adults do”
C. S. Lewis - on the subject of fairy tales.
In my opinion the preceding old Swiss version of the tale, though cutting and concise, is far more exciting, charming and evocative than anything in Walt Disney’s celluloid outing. (Did Snow White really require such a nauseatingly saccharine sweet voice? - Did they have to give the dwarfs memorably endearing/stupid names?) Of course, I wouldn’t want any young child of mine to encounter the language and brutality described in the previous text, but corny, clean-cut sentimentality, moralising, and censorship are just as, if not more offensive. My other reason for recounting ‘The Death of the Seven Dwarves’ is to illustrate how the Disney machine has desecrated classic storytelling, and deigned to stamp its own sterile mark, not only on early folk tales, but also enduring favourites such as Alice in Wonderland or Tarzan. To me, sanitising great literature is plummeting to the depths of bad taste (but that’s not to say it shouldn’t be mocked or satirized).
Perhaps, during my research I was in danger of becoming a little too biased against the Disney Corporation: I need, after all, to try and balance the company’s good and bad points (and it certainly does have its good points). Maybe political correctness, the ever-changing moral climate, and the fickle and erratic tastes of children and parents, have a part to play in this matter. To give balance to my deliberations I decided to get a second opinion on the matter. I wrote to Catherine and Laurence Anholt, Double Gold Award winners of the Nestlé Smarties Book prize and named as ‘Top 10 children’s authors in Britain’ by the Independent on Sunday; and I posed the following questions...
Has the Disneyfication of traditional folk tales and classic children's literature
- Halted the natural evolution of the folk/fairy tale?
- Damaged children's literature as a whole?
- Affected the way that you work?
... and in the same way has political correctness damaged/enhanced or in any way changed the folktale or children’s literature as a whole?
In response to my inquiry Laurence Anholt writes... “I’m not a huge fan of contemporary Disney, (although I loved some of the earlier animations as a child), but I guess traditional tales have always been moderated, contemporised or censored by each new generation, and you could argue that 'Disneyfication' is a natural part of that process. It's a bit like complaining that slang defiles the English language, whereas in fact language is an organic, constantly changing thing, in which slang has always played an important part”.
Essentially I accept Mr. Anholt’s point, but I would like to suggest that, in the case of folk tales (unlike children’s literary classics, where we have a concrete and definite reference point), the animation giant has permanently etched a number of distinctive characters (each with their own particular idiosyncrasies) and a clear-cut chain of events into our subconscious minds, effectively eradicating its organic and constantly changing nature. Take for example ‘Beauty and the Beast’; As a child, no matter how many illustrated interpretations of ‘The Beast’ I saw depicted in countless editions of the story, my imagination could still conjure up its own grotesque, misshapen behemoth. Sadly Disney’s gruff, yet cute and cuddly buffalo style creation has entrenched itself in our bookshelves, brains, and living rooms via ‘The Disney Store’ and I fear that the great illustrated revisions of this particular tale, by countless artists from the past, such as Paul Woodroffe, Margaret Tarrant, Jessie Willcox Smith, W. Heath Robinson, Charles Robinson, Arthur Rackham, Margaret Evans Price, Peter Newell, Warwick Goble, H. J. Ford, Edmund Dulac, Walter Crane, Eleanor Vere Boyle and John Batten, (not to mention more recent editions illustrated by Mercer Mayer in 1978 and Jan Brett in 1989) cannot compete with complete saturation of the marketplace.
“I hope I can follow the path these dark illustrators have walked, or at least use the sidewalk that runs alongside it.”
Lane Smith ~ Children’s book illustrator
“In essence, Disney’s machine was designed to shatter the two most valuable things about childhood ~ its secrets and its silences ~ thus forcing everyone to share the same formative dreams. It has placed a Mickey Mouse hat on every little developing personality in America. As capitalism, it is a work of genius; as culture, it is mostly a horror.”
Richard Schickel - ‘The Disney Version’
At this point I would like to point out that I’m certain ‘Disney’, in its infancy, didn’t set out to erase our traditions, flood the marketplace with mass produced posters and playthings or brainwash anyone, but somewhere in the company’s long history, either Walt, or at least one of his unscrupulous yet perceptive employees, decided to utilise their power, to exploit gullible consumers and to overlook minor little irritations like history and folklore.
Conversely, in Disney’s defence Anholt rightfully points out that “Angela Carter's superb retellings and the Opies' collections of the original versions, remind us that fairytales were cleaned up and sentimentalised long before Disney got hold of them. Traditional fairytales are full of violence and even rape and I think the Victorians changed them quite dramatically for their young readers. The stories we were told as children were also softened. It's important to consider that the original stories grew out of an oral tradition and they were told to adults as well as children and were steeped in the brutality and morality of their time.
Anholt also states that “although I personally loathe the sentimental, dollar-motivated, formulaic junk that spews out of Disneyland, I feel that classic stories are robust enough to stand a bit of a thrashing. I don't know if you have read my Seriously Silly Stories, illustrated by Arthur Robins, but they are certainly not reverential to tradition. In fact I would go as far as to say that some aspects of traditional fairystories need a good shaking”. And in reference to one of the aforementioned tomes “Beauty and the Beast for example, is a beautiful story but it could have been written by Goebbels himself! I mean it is decidedly non politically correct and needs to be completely re-told in a contemporary light. My problem with Disney is that they don't challenge enough. I could go at length, but in summary I don't think we need to worry too much about 'Disneyfication' - children have never had a greater wealth of stories and pictures; (some good, some lousy), and only the best will survive the test of time”.
On the subject of the adaptations of classic children’s literature, in particular the travesty that is ‘Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland’ I would like to refer to reviewer Dan Patanella, who pledges in his internet appraisal of the film that; “No amount of contextualism, revisionism, conversations with caterpillars, or sampling alternate slices of giant mushrooms will convince anyone that Disney's “Alice in Wonderland” is a classic film. It's a time-filler. Disney turned the Tea Party into an amusing ride at his various theme parks, and that's perhaps the kindest thing I can say. Ever the conservative film, the Disney version of ‘Alice’ follows the Hollywood tradition of mashing together Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ , using Carroll’s bizarre characters as excuses for “stunt casting” , and presenting the final result as a whimsical, neutered fairy tale.” Patanella informs us that prior to the presentation of the finished artwork, studio drawings suggested a blatant Tenniel influence, but that on completion of the project the clean lines and flat colours were reminiscent of a more recent animation style such as Hanna-Barbera. He goes on to assert that in this film “Much of Carroll’s wordplay is dumped, and what little retained is delivered in a fey, overly precious manner”. Mr Patanella also quizzically contemplates the question of whether ‘Alice in Wonderland’ could be described as Disney’s worst animated full-length feature film; but ultimately deems this accusation a little unfair, considering the company’s recent penchant for churning out ‘straight to video’ sequels such as ‘Aladdin’. I was personally quite flabbergasted, recently, to see a television advertisement for Disney‘s latest venture: a DVD/Video sequel to ‘101 Dalmatians’. What they appear to be feeding us here in ‘101 Dalmatians 2- Patch’s London Adventure’ is a feature film sequel, that is not only 40 years too late, but one which has been preceded by the live-action version of the original film, as well as its live-action sequel. In this instance I think that the Disney Corporation is being a little too greedy and far too lazy for its own good and I think that, unfortunately, children brought up on a diet of tedious, run of the mill entertainment and audiovisual mediocrity will greet it with open arms and lazy parents will accept it as another animated ‘quick-fix’ to silence their restless and understandably inquisitive offspring, whilst critics and those with a more selective appetite will justifiably shake their heads and simply yawn. In the same vein Dan Patanella states that “...‘Alice’ may very well be a suitable time-killer for undemanding children totally unfamiliar with the Lewis Carroll texts. All others will find the film annoying in proportion to their love of Carroll’s writing, and hope that Disney’s heirs don’t revive the hookah-smoking caterpillar and the Mad Hatter in a direct-to-video sequel.” Patanella also points out in his review that “Uncle Walt’s” input on the film was negligible, aside from obtaining the rights to use Tenniel’s original book illustrations as a basis for character outline and design, he also indicates the irony in that an early animated series by Walt Disney himself had the title ‘Alice in Cartoonland’ and questions why Disney didn’t shown more interest in the development of the project. In ‘The Disney Version - The Life, Times, Art and Commerce of Walt Disney’, Author Richard Schickel informs us that, apparently the movie mogul didn’t particularly care for the film personally and, in hindsight, bemoaned the fact that it was “filled with weird characters”... “The more he worked on it, the more he came to think of Alice herself as a prim and prissy little person, lacking in humour and too passive in her role in the story. Audiences, he felt, could not identify with her and he could not blame them much: neither could he.” To me, this begs the question; is it Disney the man or Disney the company that I should be taking issue with? To clarify this point I decided to read a little more on the man himself.
“Could go on a Disney slagging off session as I hate everything he stood for politically. That, however, is not the point here.”
James Merry Illustrator/Animator
Apparently, when Walter Elias Disney died of “acute circulatory collapse” on a December morning in 1966, his empire was at its zenith. The corporations balance sheets showed total profits at their highest since the company’s inception in the early twenties. As Schickel states in his controversial chronicle on the life of the entertainment tycoon, “The beautifully articulated machine he had constructed over some forty years, many of them frustrating and difficult ones, had, at long last, reached a state so close to perfection that even an inveterate tinkerer like Disney was hard-pressed to find ways to improve it.” It is obvious to anyone with any knowledge of the renowned animators life, that he was a hard working, extremely talented and creative man. He had, indeed, tenaciously worked his way up from the small-town streets of Marceline, Missouri to accomplish his dream despite times of poverty and despair. In his biography, ‘The Magic Kingdom - Walt Disney and the American Way of Life’, Author Steven Watts describes one venture in the early months of 1923 in which: “Dwindling resources and mounting expenses... converged to undermine the project” and we are told that the young entrepreneur, “reduced to living in his office and eating beans out of a can... completely exhausted his funds as his staff deserted him”, and yet in spite of the little or no success encountered in entrepreneurial ventures such as Iwerks-Disney and Laugh-O-Gram Films, Disney persevered and graduated to becoming not only a household name but, particularly as far as the United States is concerned, an idol of almost mythical standing: as the corporation’s own fawning promotional machine tells us “Walt Disney is a legend; a folk hero of the 20th century. His worldwide popularity was based upon the ideals which his name represents: imagination, optimism, creation, and self-made success in the American tradition. He brought us closer to the future, while telling us of the past, it is certain, that there will never be such as great a man, as Walt Disney.” But what I find admirable is that apart from the help of his older brother Roy, a few relatives and a couple of business acquaintances, he had accomplished it all by himself.
Another creditable quality attributed to Walt Disney, mentioned in both complementary and derogatory biographical texts, is his unquestionable dedication to the use of prominent visual artists and quality craftsmen. Steven Watts highlights a number of occasions in the 1930’s when leading fine-artists and designers were invited to the studios to meet, address and inspire the assembled throng of Disney staff and to encourage the artists and animators to keep up to date with the latest trends and inclinations in the unpredictable yet demanding world of art: “... Jean Charlot, the renowned French-Mexican muralist and colour lithographer gave a series of presentations on artistic design. Rico Lebrun, a draftsman and muralist with a special interest in anatomical structure stayed at the studio for several months as a special lecturer and teacher. Thomas Hart Benton, Salvador Dali and Frank Lloyd Wright came through for briefer stays, while a host of lesser lights made one-time appearances. Disney also hired a pair of European-trained artists, Albert Hurter and Gustav Tenggren, as full time, in-house employees to do inspirational sketches and work on styling various film projects.” Shouldn‘t we therefore assume, with Walt Disney’s name irrevocably tied to these commendable values, that the company’s founder is innocent of all charges of hype, media manipulation and the exploitation of young minds. Indeed, in the case of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, Disney himself would flatly reject all requests to brandish the diminutive septet in any spin-offs or sequels. In what is generally credited as Disney’s final written memoir he recalled that “Back in the 30’s ‘The Three Little Pigs’ was an enormous hit, and the cry went up ~ ‘Give us more pigs!’ I could not see how we could possibly top pigs with pigs. But we tried, and I doubt whether any one of you reading this can name the other cartoons in which the pigs appeared.” And I would concur with Richard Schickel when he says that “In an industry that has devoted enormous amounts of energy to scrambling on and off bandwagons it was an admirable and sensible policy.”
Accordingly, as I mentioned earlier in my text, regardless of my pontificating on ‘the desecration of history’ and ‘the wrongs of capitalism’ I do recognise Disney’s positive side and I can’t deny the high standard of much of the work that the company has produced. Occasionally they excel themselves with innovation, technique and most notably in terms of original storytelling: ‘The Lion King’ and “Monsters Inc.” being two particularly fine examples. And obviously a company needs to market itself, nobody can blame Walt Disney for merchandising a popular product, but might I suggest that when an appetising dish is served repeatedly cold it can become nauseating and indigestible. Schickel deduces that “What was even better about Disney’s machine, what made it superior to all its competitors was that it had the power to compel one’s attention to a product it particularly treasured. All its parts~ movies, television, books and song publishing, merchandising, Disneyland~ Interlock and are mutually reciprocating. And all of them are aimed at the most vulnerable portion of the adults psyche~ his feelings for his children. If you have a child, you cannot escape a Disney character or story even if you loathe it.”, and this is what I object to... unadulterated exploitation.
So, if I were to give Walt Disney the benefit of the doubt on the accusation of exploitation and manipulation of the masses, as well as forgiving his well documented right wing tendencies for just a moment, we are left with an exceptionally naive man, emotionally scarred and struggling to achieve ‘The American Dream’. In Steven Watts’ “The Magic Kingdom” we read of the studio in its early days: telling “fairy tales which embodied the survival script: A protagonist, often innocent and defenceless, falls prey to a severe challenge, perseveres, and finally emerges triumphant.” Schickel, points to a man “who could never bear to look upon animals in zoos or prisoners in jail or other “unpleasant things”......”and one who was “... truly incapable of seeing his material in anything but reductive terms.” Could his naivety, innocence and insecurity, be a by-product of his upbringing. Schickel again, examines the influence of Disney’s father: “Elias a man of stern temperament, had clashed with all of his sons in their younger days, and his relationship with his youngest boy had been especially difficult. Their confrontations were partly a matter of divergent personalities, but also partly a matter of historical and cultural change. The dour, demanding father simply talked a different language from his vivacious, creative son.”
Therefore, we appear to be discussing an undeniably talented man who respected yet feared his difficult and dominant father, cherished the company of children and animals and longed for a simple, fairy-tale way of life (Disneyland/Neverland???, the boy who never grew-up???). Would I be the first to imply similarities between Walt Disney and Michael Jackson and, were my investigations in real danger of going off on a wild tangent?
To keep firmly on track, and to get more opinions on the subject, I decided to start discussing the matter with other artists on a couple of internet illustration forums namely~ AOI (the Association of Illustrators) and a Yahoo Illustration Groups, from which I collated and edited a mass of interesting, highly relevant and challenging correspondence.
James Merry, an animator and illustrator from London told me that he didn’t think the Disneyfication of folk and fairy tales was a particularly new phenomenon, and that he believed these stories were somehow intended “to teach something about life”; indeed, many people that I consulted saw these traditional tales as a kind of tool of moral guidance. In bringing up a point that I previously discussed, he suggests that “...they have always been changed in accordance to the message that the storytellers want to tell, their audience and the prevailing culture of the time...” but adds succinctly that the lesson, more often than not, appeared to be “life is a bit @#%$ so you'd better get used to it.” In Disney‘s defence Merry feels that “his versions of fairy-tales are... just as valid a contribution to the history of fairy-tales as anyone else's...... My favourite one is Bluebeard's Egg by Margaret Atwood, which has a contemporary setting, thus disproving the notion that Disney has halted the natural evolution of the fairy tale.” I have to agree with the substance of this argument but would have to suggest that one example of a modern slant to an ancient tale is hardly enough to prove the point. But something that James did mention in his post to the forum reminded me of the work of an author unquestionably relevant to our discussion: “read some Angela Carter” he urges: “in fact, watch “The Company of Wolves”, a non-Disney fairy-tale film based on one of her stories”. Having read these comments, Paul Bommer (www.paulbommer.com) replied: “I agree with James that the Angela Carter spins on these tales restores a lot of the lost meaning behind them and would strongly recommend the Bloody Chamber collection.”; and certainly, having seen “The Company of Wolves” countless times, the films dark atmosphere, imaginative and inventive narrative style and unsettling sexual implications are certainly quite fitting, particularly in relation to some of the disturbing tales I have encountered during my research for this dissertation. So, Yes I would undoubtedly have to concede that in terms of adult-orientated film, animation and literature there are still some excellent examples of spellbinding, exciting and undeniably menacing fairy tale adaptations. For example, I remember in recent years a quite horrific version of the ‘Snow White’ story starring actress Sigourney Weaver and also The Bolex Brothers contemporary animated feature. “The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb” (1993), though hardly recognisable in comparison to the Grimm tale it manages to be both charming and highly disturbing, using 3D modelling techniques alongside pixilation: the animation of human actors frame by frame. As Paul Bommer again submits: “I think fairy stories have always, and to some extent should remain, laced with a light touch of brutality - that core of truth that life can be @#%$/difficult. It seems to me that 'disneyfication' means just the opposite and I for one think that’s a shame......” and I was amused to read that, after a short hiatus, during which he appears to have been further contemplating the issue, Paul returned to the forum and declared “I was just doing the washing up and thinking how I hated Disney's Pinocchio and how I much prefer other versions where he looks more wooden or unusual, like Lane Smith's recent version/sequel. But then it occurred to me that without Disney how many of us would have ever heard of Pinocchio - probably not I for one. So while it pisses me off that Disney's versions of folktales become the Canon (?) it obviously also inspires others to seek alternative ways of telling or retelling the same stories.”
But getting back to brutality of these tales, Celeste Goulding, an illustrator from Sydney, Australia relates a particularly alarming version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ from the mid 1600’s in which ~“The Beauty fell into a coma, the king found her and presumed her dead but he was so attracted to her that he had sex with her anyhow. Well, she became pregnant and gave birth to twins (while still comatose). Eventually she woke and raised her children, the king found her and started seeing her regularly. The Queen found out about the King's bit on the side and became jealous, so she sent her huntsman to murder the children one by one ... and serve them up to her as a stew which she ate with delight.” So, although we obviously don’t want to see these thinly veiled references to bestiality, necrophilia, and rape that littered many of the original folk-tales in today's children’s books, we must equally resist the trend for political correctness. Indeed after some initial denials of its existence in the genre, many illustrators agreed that political correctness HAS gone some way in damaging children’s book illustration. Paul Bommer again, having recently attended a children’s book seminar at the V&A, stated that “all of the illustrators talking expressed some degree of exasperation at the levels of censorship that they had experienced in the US children's market... Which leads to wolves that mustn't be scary, witches that mustn't be evil, trolls that must be vegetarian and anything that hints or smacks at nudity (let alone sexuality) or bodily function being strictly verboten... I'm not advocating smut for kids here or anything so terrifying that it gives them the nadgers for weeks, but I do think that the Disney retelling of these stories has lost a lot of the bite and wit of the originals. I remember being truly, deeply terrified by the witch in the Wizard of Oz when I was a kid and loving it because of that! You've the feeling that she'd be treated somehow differently today, watered down (scuse the pun) and somehow explained off as being Wicked as a consequence of her harsh and unloving upbringing on an Emerald City housing estate?!”
At this point I was starting to feel that maybe the evolution of the folk tale should include all things disneyfied, and that these stories ought to return naturally to the domain of the adult reader/viewer AND it seemed, my thirst for the blood of all things Disney appeared to be diminishing...
until ........................ the following e-mail arrived:
Hold on a second here.
You can't compare the motives behind the creation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to Tarzan, or any of the other more modern Disney movies. You have to remember the intentions of Walt himself. Walt Disney was an illustrator. He was a storyteller. He was a visionary. He just was. Listen, Walt wasn't following some band wagon or conforming to a formula in any way when Snow White hit the scene. You've done your research, right?? This film was "Disney's Folly". He spent every dime he and his brother and the 9 old men had in order to make it and they had to wash off the production cells to make the next movie cause they didn't have the cash to buy more. This was something he was passionate about and he wanted to share with the world. It was his version of the fairy tale, but as you said, these tales were changed and embellished with each telling. Is it his fault that HIS telling is the most famous? There's a reason for that. The man was a visionary because he had the unmistakable talent of knowing what the public wanted. Yes, its sweeter than the older versions, but you need to remember the time period America was in and the context in which it was produced. You should also keep in mind the man himself. The reason he wanted to start his theme parks was because he didn't like taking his daughters to carnivals. The carnies scared them, but they liked the rides and games. Hence, a sweet and child friendly environment. I think it's kind of ridiculous to mock a tale that was courageously told by a man and an extraordinary team of artists who pioneered an entire industry. And to mock the sanitization of the literature? If Disney hadn't participated in telling those tales many children and adults may never have heard them at all. Perhaps they even encouraged the older versions to be retold over the years (I never read The Little Mermaid until I saw the movie first and became interested in the story). What good is a book if it sits on the shelf? The beauty of a story is in the telling. You refer to the final version of the Beast that appeared in the film as some kind of branding iron that will burn all other versions of this character from the memory or imaginations of the public. Personally, I suggest you take a look at some of the concept art that was created in the planning stages for that film, they weren't all sweet and the illustrations are fantastic, but again - this is just one telling for the story by a team of artists. I doubt this or any other film, will eradicate any piece of inspiring artwork from a reader's memory. Where in any Disney Marketing material do you see anyone telling consumers to overlook minor little irritations like history and folklore? No one is holding that child in his/her chair and saying..."Don't you do it! Don't you open that book! For God's sake, don't READ it!!". Since Walt's death, the lull that the Disney Company had in the early 80's (anybody remember The Black Cauldron....anybody??) and the resurgence and perverse expansion into every type of business they could become involved in... I think many people have become bitter toward "the Mouse" and Mickey as more of corporate symbol than the character they loved as a child. Marketing, high prices at the Disney Store, and press coverage of Michael Eisner in court have diluted the Technicolor that once awed America on Sunday night television. But the heart and soul of the Disney Company has always been its feature-animated films, and every good film starts with a good story.
-Lisa Mazzuca (On Your Mark Design & Graphics) - www.oymdesigngraphics.com
Courageous storytelling??? ~ Although I have already accepted and conceded some of these points in my previous text, I have to say that I believe that it is this type of unadulterated hero worship and pitiful sycophancy and that has turned Walt Disney into both an American deity and, conversely, an object of disdain and ridicule. It seems to escape the minds of some people that Disney was, amongst other things, a businessman and predominantly interested in making money and not a saintly benefactor working for the good of mankind as Ms. Mazzuca would suggest. Surely it is no coincidence, as Gary Morris points out in his ‘Bright Lights Film Journal’ that: “these stories... predate the copyright laws and were thus free to adapt”. Making money has always played an important part in the make-up of the Disney corporation and I do not think that unwarranted fawning and flattering of the man can absolve him from any blame, he was after all an unabashed capitalist. I also cannot see how anyone could possibly submit Disney‘s “The Little Mermaid” as a positive example of an adapted folk tale, and extolling the virtues of “concept art” in the “planning stages” of Beauty and the Beast merely highlights the fact that these “fantastic” unsweetened drawings were not used in the final film.
I do accept a point that many have made which suggests some of the earlier animated feature films were intentionally over-sweetened to combat the general gloom resulting from the Great Depression, but I think it’s important to remember that Disney wasn’t the only animator at that time toying with folk and fairy tales, and some of these others didn‘t subscribe to Disney‘s sugary style. In one of Gary Morris’s journal articles he informs us that “Not everyone in Hollywood was so enamoured of order or happy endings or the sentimental school of mindless, grinning “funny little animals”.” Amongst these renegades of Warner Brothers’ “Termite Terrace” were Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and most notably Tex Avery. As Morris affirms “Avery's application of modernist elements to an ancient cultural form is the most complex and extreme of the lot.”
Between 1937 and 1949, whilst animating for Warner Bros. and M-G-M studios, Tex Avery made eight films based on or relating to fairy tales, namely: Little Red Walking Hood, Little Rural Riding Hood, Red Hot Riding Hood, Swing Shift Cinderella, Cinderella Meets Fella, The Bears Tale, A Gander at Mother Goose, and Blitz Wolf. Morris again explains that these animated shorts represent “an assault on the Bettelheim school that sees fairy tales as the source of moral instruction for youth, and, closer to home, on the Disney aesthetic.” Avery's rendering of these ancient tales were produced to gratify the young and naive, as well as the more mature worldly-wise audience and to reverse the sentimentalist trend by “bringing chaos out of order”.
“For young audiences, Avery preserves the trappings of the genre ~ talking animals, supernatural events ~ and adds the cinematic touch of physical law constantly challenged. For adults, he litters his work with sexual innuendo and distancing devices that replace the sense of reassuring archetypes with a modernist construct that merges the story with its audience, puts adult preoccupations (e.g., sex) in place of children's, and imagines characters not as clueless tabula rasas awaiting moral enlightenment but as sophisticated, willful creatures with a bottomless bag of tricks.” Gary Morris - ‘The Fairy Tales of Tex Avery’
For a time, Avery was able to successfully remove the tired old characters of the “big bad wolf” and “red riding hood” from their safe and sacred sanctuary of the well-worn fantasy narrative and relocate them into a sleazy, urban landscape full of pool halls and nightclubs awash with lusty ladies, sinful suggestions and sarcastic side swipes: “creating in the process a unique world of self-conscious “cartoon actors” who know they're in a cartoon and freely comment on their status as fictional creations, undercutting the story at every turn.”
So, are there any contemporary artists still willing to challenge the Disney aesthetic and produce children’s books and illustrated folk-tales with a harder edge?
A name that was mentioned earlier in this discussion is that of Lane Smith, an artist renowned for distorting folk tales and fables. After meeting with writer Jon Scieszka in 1986 the inventive pair produced “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs”. The book, described by internet children’s book site ‘Kidsreads.com’ as a “wise-guy fairytale” was initially rejected by most publishers for being “too weird” and “too sophisticated” but has “now sold over a million copies, been translated into ten languages, and has been called a “classic picture book for all ages”.” Their next venture (which, incidentally, I recently purchased) was a collection of anarchic interpretations of classic tales and fables called “The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales” and certainly breaks boundaries in the world of children’s illustrated literature. The book itself questions the principles and standard practices not only of folk-tales but even those of typography and publishing. For example: Take the opening tale, the classic “Chicken Licken”; One minute the story is running along smoothly in the traditional manner and then an odd little character, claiming to be “Jack the Narrator” appears shouting “Wait a minute! Wait a minute!”, only to inform us that he forgot to publish the contents page; The throng of familiar characters (Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky etc.) ignore this bizarre interlude and carry on their customary course until... the ‘Table of Contents’ falls from the sky and kills them all, leaving a twisted mass of typography and body parts. But of course it’s not purely Jon Scieszka’s bizarre plot and the imaginative use of typography that makes this book so different and so successful; Lane Smith’s beguiling use of all manner of media, from photomontage to printed textiles certainly strike the eye accordingly, in his weird and wonderful renderings of such tales as “Cinderumplestiltskin” and “The Really Ugly Duckling”. I was surprised to read that much of his sinister grainy work was not done using any spray-painting technique. As Smith himself explains: “A lot of reviewers have misidentified my technique as airbrush or dyes or even egg tempera. I think this is because it almost looks as if it was sprayed with paint with little dots of color and texture visible. Actually, my work is rendered in oil paints. I paint on board, building up several thin glazes of the oil, sealing them between coats with an acrylic spray varnish. This not only dries the oil instantly, but also causes a chemical reaction between the oil and the acrylic. Normally, it would be a mistake to combine two opposites like this and in fact it was a mistake the first time I did it, but I liked the results. I'm a big fan of artists who play with surfaces. I love texture and grunge. The trick is to know when to stop. Sometimes I keep adding more and more layers until I've ruined the piece. Usually I stop when the painting starts to look interesting. Then I go in with a fine brush and add details, lights and darks, etc. It's a laborious process, but it's unpredictable and it keeps me interested and surprised.” This book retains its appeal to children as a familiar storybook, whilst attracting the adult graphic-novel readers, sells successfully worldwide, has won many awards and still manages to offend a few purists along the way.
Another artist who works with a variety of media, styles and techniques is Lauren Child. I was interested in her innovative mix of naive-art, montage and creative typography, but particularly the combination of these techniques with digital media (A recipe I have recently been experimenting with myself).
In “Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book”, the hero ‘Herb’ falls into a book of fairytales, where he instigates a chaotic series of events, meets a tenacious and headstrong Goldilocks, is pursued by numerous recognizable individuals and ultimately gets rescued by his Fairy Godmother. ‘Herb’ is also the star of “Beware of the Storybook Wolves” another Lauren Child book to mess about with the conventions of this genre. This time, the wolves from his bedtime story come alive to devour the boy, but the child tricks the wolves and again begins a madcap jaunt through a number of well-known fables, along with more of those notorious fairy tale characters and mocked clichés. Ilene Cooper, in her internet review of the book, states that “The artwork is frantic—strips of color serve as background for exuberant pen-and-watercolor pictures reminiscent of Quentin Blake’s art, only kicked up one dizzy notch.” Of course, having mentioned Quentin Blake, we are reminded of hi work with the late Roald Dahl and in particular their book of “Revolting Rhymes” which memorably satirised a number of tales, again including ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. In Dahl’s last picture book he teamed up with illustrator Patrick Benson to produce a book that almost straddles genres; a contemporary tale that, whilst featuring deep dark forests, a throng of ‘little people’, a largely unseen ‘beast’ and a general feeling of foreboding, still manages to retain a modern, upbeat, quality largely due to Bensons twisting on the old cross-hatching style.
My final example is the work of author James Finn Garner and illustrator Lisa Amoroso entitled “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life & Times” a sample of which is neatly condensed by book reviewer Russell A. Peck: “Cinderella is a kind of misfit with sisters-of-step heavily augmented with cosmetics, a man appears, her "individual deity proxy," who helps her prepare for the ball with tight-fitting clothes that cut off her circulation and high heeled shoes that ruin people's bone structure.”
To start summing up, I would like to point out that when I first started this dissertation I honestly believed that my original question ‘Has Disneyfication destroyed the traditional folk tale and damaged children’s illustrated literature?’ had an obvious answer and that my research would reveal an open and shut case. But during my research I have discovered the matter to be far more complex than I had initially anticipated. Even though I still believe that the Disney corporation has permanently altered the course of the folk tale, I now don’t necessarily believe this to be such a heinous crime. For the foreseeable future I will still look upon Disney ~ the man, the machine and the mouse ~ with a certain amount of scepticism, contempt and culpability but possibly with a little less angst. It has recently occurred to me that we can equate Disney’s apparently inadvertent interference in the evolution of the folk tale with that of the new breed of ‘Illusionists’ who supposedly “spoil” the traditional, tried and tested, formulaic ‘magic’ by showing you exactly how the trick is done: when in reality they are challenging the conventions of a dying art and merely invite revitalisation, invention and the promotion of healthy competition.
Back in the area of children’s literature and film, I am also encouraged by the resurgence of witches, wizards, ogres and the like, in blockbusters such as Shrek and the Harry Potter series, whilst obviously not forgetting The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But funnily enough, the final factor in turning my argument around was simply the fleeting appearance of a number of well known storybook characters in a recent, extremely popular, award winning children’s book. “Pumpkin Soup” by Helen Cooper, a beautifully illustrated and fairly cheerful tale about a cat, a squirrel and a duck, contains a segment where two of these protagonists wander through a grim, shadowy forest, imagining all manner of beast and villain, most notably the green-faced witch in the pointy hat, the big bad wolf, a hungry fox and a brutal bear, whilst a lost and oblivious innocent skips playfully on his way. And here again we have an artist imaginatively playing with typography and challenging conventions. All of this simply proves that somehow, however stale or sterile the genre can get, there are always cutting edge artists around to tinker with ideas and subvert from the norm, not to mention annual pantomimes and Halloween celebrations to keep these shady characters tightly lodged in our subconscious minds.
And having researched far more on the subject of Disney than I could possibly convey in this thesis, I will have to leave you with a thought from Paul Bommer - Artist and Illustrator, who surmises: “I guess the old frozen nazi wasn't all bad!”
Reference / Bibliography
The Death of the Seven Dwarfs - documented by Ernst Ludwig Rochholz 1856
(Translation by D. L. Ashliman 1998) http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/dwarfs.html
The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology - by Joseph Campbell - Viking 1959
Of Other Worlds - C. S. Lewis - Harcourt, Brace and World 1966
Catherine and Laurence Anholt - email@example.com
Beauty and the Beast - http://www.surlalunefairytales.com
The Disney Version - Richard Schickel - Ivan R. Dee, Inc.1968 & 1997
Review of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland by Dan Patanella
The Magic Kingdom - Walt Disney and the American Way of Life - Steven Watts
University of Missouri Press 1997
JustDisney.Com - http://www.justdisney.com/walt_disney/biograp
AOI Discussion - http://www.theaoi.com
James Merry - animator/illustrator - firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Bommer - email@example.comIllustrator
Celeste Goulding - firstname.lastname@example.org"
http://groups.yahoo.com - Yahoo! Groups (Illustration)
Lisa Mazzuca - www.oymdesigngraphics.com
Amazon - www.amazon.co.uk
The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (Animation)
The Bolex Brothers - Manga Entertainment Ltd (1993)
The Company of Wolves - 4 Front Video
Director - Neil Jordan / Writer - Angela Carter
The Fairy Tales of Tex Avery - by Gary Morris (Bright Lights Film Journal)
Lane Smith / Jon Scieszka
The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales
by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith - Puffin Books 1993
Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book - Lauren Child
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Childrens
Beware of the Storybook Wolves - Lauren Child
Hodder Children’s Books
‘Beware of the Storybook Wolves’ reviewed by Ilene Cooper
Booklist ~ Youth February 1, 2001 http://www.ala.org/booklist/v97/youth/fe1/63child.html
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
The Minpins by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Patrick Benson - Puffin Books 1991
Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life & Times
by James Finn Garner, Illustrated by Lisa Amoroso
New York: Macmillan, 1994.
Politically Correct Bedtime Stories - reviewed by Russell A. Peck
Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper
Picture Corgi Books 1999
Cheers ... Rich
Edited by: tomsoya at: 4/21/05 1:38 pm
(4/25/05 8:02 am)
Disneyfication / Who killed the seven dwarves?|
If anyone's bothered to read the whole thing, please feel free to respond.
(4/25/05 10:27 am)
Re: Disneyfication / Who killed the seven dwarves?|
I did make it through the whole thing, but I don't feel qualified to comment on sources or conclusions or such.
However, I have run up against the 'Disney machine' while trying
to direct our company of children's performers. It's difficult to
create costumes for our princesses without them looking "too Disney"
while still being recognizable. I may even go so far to say, we
weren't successsful last season. But because we referred to each
other by character name so often, the kids grasped what was going
on very quickly and we overcame the costume barrier. Here's
what I mean. (My apologies if the link is disallowed in this
forum. I'll remove it post haste if required.)
So from the stage side, I know there is a large hurdle that Disney created, but it *can* be overcome. It seems to me that Disney may have placed a time stamp on the tales (i.e. this is how we read the tales at this stage of society) but it certainly hasn't stopped the clock on their evolution.
(4/25/05 1:09 pm)
Re: Disneyfication / Who killed the seven dwarves?|
I think that there are two seperate phenomena going on here.
The general "Disneyfication" of folk tales, in the sense that filming a story creates a false "canonical" version, making other versions less valid in the eyes of children, has been happening since the introduction of the feature film. It's sad, but, in my opinion, what's been going on for the last ten years or so is worse.
This aspect of Disneyfication, the intense branding and marketing of their version of the characters, is a much more recent phenomenon than the simple presentation of their versions of the characters and stories.
When I was a child (mid 1980's), most children who liked fairy tale themes were familiar with the Disney versions of the stories, and with several traditional versions.
If you bought a "Cinderella" book from the mass-market rack at the supermarket, it was NOT necessarily the Disney version, or a Disney knock-off (I have fond memories from when I was about five of a Cinderella book, illustrated in a very warm pallette with historically appropriate scenes from the Renaissance. It was a $2 drugstore Golden Book).
Mainstream stores also carried dolls of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Wicked Witch and Snow White which bore no resemblance to the Disney versions. In fact, if there were dolls based directly on the Disney versions produced at this time, they were not available in Canada.
Now, Disney Princess is its own brand name, like Swiffer Sweeper
or Old Navy. Take a look at the website (disney.go.com/princess/ht...***.html),
if you can stomach it.
I find that I have to fight very hard, in terms of both constantly reading and telling a huge variety of stories and fighting the deluge of Disney Princess Clothing, Disney Princess Magazines and Disney Princess toys every holiday to convince my daughter that Disney's characters are not "the real" ones.
Even then, I sometimes lose. She flatly refused to accept that "Cinderumplestilitkin" was a legit parody of Cinderella, because "there couldn't be an ugly Cinderella". This child is familiar with Tatterhood, Little Barkskin and The Loathly Lady, among others, as well as several versions of Cinderella. Frustratingly, in this instance the name "Cinderella" evoked the Disney version, and that version only, in her mind. Grr.
Disney tried to do something similar to the "Disney Princess" brand with their male characters. This brand was called, at different times, "Disney Heroes" and "Disney Adventurers", and it flopped big time. It seems that cardboard characterizations (which I'll grant is more of a problem with Disney's male characters than its female ones), and a generic, stereotypical identity rolled into a brand name were not good enough for general acceptance by boys. What does it say about society that a significant number of girls are apparently eating it up?
(4/25/05 5:22 pm)
I found it interesting. To put it bluntly, however, I had a hard time understanding what position you finally took, as I think you did yourself. I think your paper may have had a stronger impact with me if you had organized it a little differently. Your vascillating back and forth between pro and con Disney arguments left me a little unclear as to your final position. I hope this comment isn't too critical.
(4/26/05 1:27 am)
Disneyfication / Who killed the seven dwarves? |
I think you've hit the nail on the head...
I wrote it a couple of years ago and I had a deadline I was more concerned with getting a good grade than reflecting on which side of the fence to sit on. However, I did get a 2:1 for the course, and a 'First' for the dissertation itself... Since then I have reflected a great deal on my thoughts towards Disney and Disneyfication and to be honest it really does leave a bad taste in my mouth... particularly the other week, when I was reading a short version of 'Beauty and the Beast' with illustrations by Margaret Tarrant... and my 6 year old daughter said...
"The beast doesn't look like that!"
(4/26/05 10:08 pm)
Doesn't that just get your goat?|
I know what you mean, Rich. That's why I gave my son at 8 the Grimm's
(Zipes), French Fairy Tales (Zipes), and Calvino Italian Tales (without
pictures) to read. He still reads them often. Now my second son
who is at this time 10 picked up the Zipes Grimm's. There is hope!
Glad you took my comment the right way.
(4/29/05 5:05 pm)
after reading the whole article and all of your other opinions, I hope that you all will read mine.
I can see where your opinions come from, not liking all of Disneys ways of rewriting the story, and I agree. That is why I'm going to get rid off all of my Disney moves when my kids get old enough to read. those stories are far from the truth and dont have the evilness, the hatedred, the cruelty, the sin, the sexual activity that most of us didnt realy know about until we were in middle school!
I like those stories as much as you all do, but I dont want my kids to loose their innocence at the age of five.
Reason being? remember when you were a little kid and you believed in all that stuff? I do. I also remember some stories of killing in them, but not much. I just loved the adventures in the books. Now, remember when you were a kid and you look back now and you notice that all the bliss that you remember, all of the carefree thoughts you enjoyed so much, like about meeting your valiant prince to take you away, but not knowing about all the things that we know now, and you would live happily ever after? O r maybe you just wanted to be the princess that was in danger, and you knew in your heart that the prince would come in the end, that you wouldn't be killed, or married to the vicious ogre, but that the prince would chop off the ogres head?
now, you wouldn't want to think about what would happen if you weren't saved, now would you?
Or, for you boys. You wanted to escape responsibilities maybe, and wanted to be that smart, wise wizard, or the courageous, strong knight. You wanted to be the one in that war that would save the day, and would be remembered for eternity for it. maybe that was your fantasy. maybe it was your reality. either way, one way, or another, you didn't want the hero, or even the heros brother to die. there was always that chance, but in your mind never that possibility.
the point that im trying to make is that you want to keep those older versions at heart, but also dont mind the revised, hero-saves-the-day ones too much, alright?
i mean, would you want your five year old ask you, "did this mean that the stork vsited their house?"....do you?
thanks for listening.