Tag Archives: Disney

Link Dump: #69

This is our 69th Link Dump, so we have an appropriately suggestive kitty picture to go with it. Like seriously, that’s pretty much pornographic. Ohhh, Anthony Perkins… anyway, here are some links:

And to match that oh-so-sexual kitty picture, here are some bizarre search terms, presented without comment: “woman fuc woman pussy bool”; “she wanted to protect her pussy”; “nude glamor sedai **”; and the Hemingwayesque short-story-in-a-sentence-fragment “fucked on halloween with my slut costume still on.” Bravo, searchers.

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That Old Black Magic

When I wrote about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) last September, I described its lush landscapes as “iconography right out of a stained glass window.” This is one hell of a beautiful movie. Its images have a mythic thrust to them, yet they’re still crisp and vital. In their first feature-length venture, Disney and his animators composed a still-unmatched argument for the necessity and power of animation. Lucky for me, that fairest film of them all is the subject of this week’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” over at The Film Experience.

For a first taste of Snow White’s immaculate beauty, just gaze at the layered forest, penetrated by sunbeams and dotted with animal eyes, in my second-favorite shot. It’s a rich illustration of the film’s tonal turning point, when Snow White’s huntsman-inspired terror gives way to renewed joy with her woodland friends. The shadows and gnarled trees that flank the frame are counterbalanced by the friendly yellows and greens cushioning poor Snow White. Even in this snapshot, you can see the mood begin to lift. It contains both the traces of terror and the glimmers of hope. My favorite shot is similarly dense, but expresses a very different range of emotions.

As much as I love the film’s storybook vistas, I just can’t get into Snow White herself. She’s peppy, yeah, but also boring—a blank slate of a princess who’ll give herself over to the first prince or apple-selling hag who comes along. The Evil Queen, however, is fascinating: obsessed with the girl she hates, steeped in arcane knowledge, willing to hex away her own precious beauty just for the chance to poison her rival. She ruins her looks in a painful transformation sequence, just to validate her vanity! Her eyes are radiant with homicidal envy. You do not fuck with this woman.

This shot transpires right before the Queen swigs her potion. Here, the chalice functions as another “magic mirror,” another medium to reflect her authority and control. She has sacrificed everything for total power; now, in that reflection, she and her magic are one. The gray clouds, green bubbles, and sharp red nails add to the sense of mounting danger. This is horror movie territory, as dark and macabre as anything out of Universal. And through that darkness, it’s my most beloved shot in Snow White.

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Disney Revisited: Bambi

Some thoughts after rewatching Bambi (1942)…

  •  It opens with a nativity scene. Like Pinocchio and Dumbo, Bambi begins with its title character’s birth and introduction to the world. Here, however, it’s an epoch-defining event, signified by much fanfare and an elaborate woodland tableau around the messianic “young prince.” Bambi is the center of the film’s universe, and the film revolves around his subjectivity and growth.
  • The depiction of nature is a continuation of Fantasia. Like the earlier film, Bambi not only relies heavily on Mickey Mousing, but also envisions its ecosystem as a dance—whether lyrical (as in the “Little April Shower” sequence) or primal, as when Bambi locks antlers with a rival to win Faline. In both films, animals’ interactions with the landscape and each other play out in sync with the music. The motion itself is just as important as who’s doing the moving.
  • Thumper provides unobtrusive comic relief. At least to the extent that he’s more demonstrative than Bambi and engages in mildly funny verbal tics, visual gags, etc. However, these jokes and the “sidekick” role do not define Thumper; instead, they’re subsumed into his identity as the newborn Bambi’s guide and, later, a rabbit patriarch-to-be.
  • The film is bisected by the death of Bambi’s mother. This wintry tragedy demarcates the end of Bambi’s childhood as well as his entrée into adolescence and adulthood. Furthermore, it ushers the film from loose, episodic fun to the life-or-death priorities that accompany Bambi’s maturation. It’s a sharp divide that structures Bambi’s bildungsroman narrative.
  • The Great Prince presides over the film. He’s the father figure as deity, always appearing majestically and only speaking a handful of authoritative lines. He passes his crown to Bambi, but has no real personality beyond being a signifier of masculinity and fatherhood. “He’s very brave and very wise,” as Bambi’s mother says, but his importance is less intrinsic and more as a gendered role model for the young prince.
  • “Twitterpated” is a euphemism for burgeoning, hormonal sexuality. As Flower, Thumper, and Bambi succumb to twitterpation, they seem to be merely following their biological clocks, their free will replaced by hyperactive sex drives. Especially with Thumper, the film is surprisingly overt in its visual representation of horny teenagers.
  • The climax is fixated on death and rebirth. Toward the end, Bambi turns grisly as the forest is consumed by gunshots and wildfire. But instead of ending the movie, the conflagration segues into yet another springtime nativity scene, with Bambi gazing down on Faline and her fawns just as the Great Prince had gazed down on his mother. The parallelism asserts that forest life is cyclical—it will always recover. But this cycle has dark implications: Bambi will live apart from Faline, Man will always Return, and Faline will die.
  • Man only exists through destruction. Writing about Pinocchio, I claimed that “Monstro is Cthulhu”; similarly, Man is the forest’s eldritch terror, unseen but experienced indirectly or instantiated through the hunting dogs. Ironically, everything in Bambi is anthropomorphized except for Man.

(This is part of “Disney Revisited,” my chronological film-by-film exploration of the Disney animated canon.)

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Disney Revisited: Dumbo

Some thoughts after rewatching Dumbo (1941)…

  • It resembles Pinocchio much more than Snow White or Fantasia. This is not an overwhelming, ornate work of art; it’s a series of cute vignettes that feels like an hour-long short subject. The modest animation style and slight narrative compound this impression. It’s the same story as Pinocchio, but on a much smaller scale.
  • Nuanced character animation is reserved for the animals. Dumbo, Timothy Q. Mouse, and especially Mrs. Jumbo are all drawn with faces and bodies that convey a full range of emotions. Human beings, meanwhile, are rendered through blur, shadow, or extreme simplication. This disparity results from Dumbo’s low budget, but it also clarifies where the film’s sympathies lie, as human beings become the distant, indistinct Other.
  • Episodes move visually from chaos to order. In one scene after another, frenzied motion plays out onscreen, culminating in an image of relative stillness and composition. Mrs. Jumbo’s outburst, for example, ends with the ringmaster in the center of the frame, standing in a bucket of water, and when Dumbo accidentally triggers the destruction of the circus, the scene ends with him peeking out from under the collapsed tent, still waving his little flag. These are self-contained cycles of tension and resolution.
  • The “Pink Elephants on Parade” musical number transmutes intoxication into nightmare. In keeping with Dumbo’s episodic format, it has only a loose connection to the broader narrative (in that the post-“Elephants” hangover teaches Dumbo that he can fly) and is primarily a chance for the animators to cut loose with champagne-induced hallucinations. Elephants metamorphose, explode, and coalesce in increasingly threatening configurations. It’s the movie’s clear visual high point.
  • The crows are overt racial caricatures. Granted, their depiction isn’t hateful or negative, but they’re still totally rooted in stereotype. In their mannerisms, dress, and dialect, they cater to white audience assumptions about African-American behavior, especially in the South. They’re cartoonish and reductive, traits that are certainly in keeping with the rest of Dumbo’s cast (cf. the human audience or female elephants), but only here applied to a real-life racial category.
  • Dumbo is an inert protagonist, defined by his suffering. Whereas Pinocchio was about its hero’s moral choices, Dumbo—another innocent whose story starts the day he’s born—never makes any choices. His entire life is mapped out by his mother, the other elephants, the ringmaster, and especially Timothy. He never acts of his own volition, but has success or failure visited upon him by fate. The closest he comes to acting on his own is during his (Timothy-guided) climactic flight: with no audible outside input, he spits peanuts onto the elephants who’ve persecuted him. It’s a Carrie-like burst of revenge and his only independent decision.
  • Consequently, Edward Brophy’s uncredited performance as Timothy drives the movie. Dumbo may be the star attraction, but Brophy is the lead voice actor. He propels the story with his Brooklyn-bred cadences, lending it narration and color commentary through his one-sided conversations. His streetwise, bubbly voice sets the film’s tone and attitude. It’s just as fundamental to Dumbo as the animation.

(This is part of “Disney Revisited,” my chronological film-by-film exploration of the Disney animated canon.)

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Disney Revisited: Fantasia

Some thoughts after rewatching Fantasia (1940)…

  • Just as with Snow White, it’s first and foremost a work of art. Each element of Fantasia—its length and scope; its clouds of abstraction, exploding with light and color; even its 15-minute intermission—is calculated to impress its ambition and absolute beauty on the viewer. The language of Deems Taylor’s interstitial narration further frames Fantasia as “a new form of entertainment.” It flaunts its innovation and cultural significance.
  • It’s middlebrow to the core. Fantasia is a utopian, anti-elitist vision of art in the 20th century. It sets out to give everyone (children and adults, rich and poor, college-educated and illiterate) equal access to the wonders of classical music. It’s a book-of-the-month club approach that tries to enlighten and flatter its mass audience simultaneously. However, in the process of rendering its subject matter more accessible, it also erases a lot of context and nuance. (This goes not only for classical music but for earth’s evolutionary history, of which the Rites of Spring sequence claims to be a “coldly accurate reproduction,” and for Greek myth, as witnessed with the Pastoral Symphony.)
  • The whole film is premised on Mickey Mousing—i.e., synchronizing onscreen motion with the rhythms of the music. Superficially, this technique works: it makes the music and image feel made for each other, as if both were telling the same story. But it also strikes me as inherently limiting and literal-minded, suggesting an artificial one-to-one relationship. It allows even Fantasia’s abstractions to degenerate into cutesy anthropomorphism, hopping along to the beat of the music. The film works best when it plays with this schema, using it to draw out invisible parallels rather than for straightforward cross-media mimicry.
  • The Rites of Spring sequence is startlingly naturalistic and brutal. Even within the constraints of Mickey Mousing, its prehistoric world finds room to breathe. Before unifying its dinosaurs against the threat of the tyrannosaurus, the segment glides from one milieu to another, observing vicious, survival-driven animals at work. (One vignette, in which a pteranodon flies into the jaws of a mosasaurus, is especially haunting.) Once the tyrannosaurus has devoured its prey, it refuses to wrap up neatly, but drags on through a drought and ice age. It’s a bleak, unsentimental representation of extinction-inducing cataclysms.
  • Chernebog from Night on Bald Mountain is a masterstroke of character design. Like the Queen from Snow White, he’s a figure of charismatic, confident evil—a mass of dense, fleshy darkness punctuated by a pair of yellow eyes. He’s majestic, even graceful, as he leads the Walpurgisnacht rites. Sweeping across the countryside, raising hell with mere gestures, Chernebog resembles the sorcerer from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. And both, in their godlike fashions, call to mind Fantasia’s conductor, Leopold Stokowski. Or another figure who could create worlds with gestures: Walt Disney.
  • The whole film has a quasi-religious aura to it. It’s all too appropriate that Fantasia ends with dawn breaking to the tune of Schubert’s Ave Maria. The segment, and by extension the rest of Fantasia, feels designed to engender reverential awe in the viewer. Going back to my first point about its self-conscious artistry, Fantasia is meant to be vast, overwhelming, more than just a movie. It’s billed as a synthesis of aural and visual art (“Hear the pictures! See the music!” crowed its tagline) and, by implication, as the culmination of both. This, Fantasia seems to say, is all that can be done. It’s as far as you can go. For me, it’s emblematic of Disney’s status as the monolithic representative of all animation. It’s an open invitation to give up, come inside, and worship at the temple of Walt.

(This is part of “Disney Revisited,” my chronological film-by-film exploration of the Disney animated canon.)

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Disney Revisited: Pinocchio

By Andreas

Some thoughts after rewatching Pinocchio (1940)…

  • The contrasts with Snow White are obvious: whereas Disney’s first feature film was streamlined, mythical, and monumental, Pinocchio is much more episodic, incidental, and detail-oriented. Snow White dealt in broad fairy tale archetypes; Pinocchio actually has quirky characters like Jiminy Cricket and Honest John who are more than just individual traits or moral signifiers.
  • It’s structured as a simple morality tale. Pinocchio takes place in a world of extreme moral clarity, where transgressions have immediate physical consequences (a growing nose, turning into a donkey). Pinocchio himself is only a day old, and new to the concepts of “right” and “wrong.” He succumbs to temptation twice in a row, then has a realization of sorts (spurred by Lampwick’s grotesque, painful transformation) and runs off to save Geppetto. These concessions and consequences guide Pinocchio’s narrative, again in contrast to the less moralistic Snow White.
  • Different styles of animation coexist onscreen. Within individual frames of Pinocchio, three art styles are strikingly juxtaposed: humanoid figures (Geppetto, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket) are drawn cartoonishly, with walled-off areas of solid color; animals (Figaro and Cleo) have softer edges and color gradation; and backgrounds, as in Snow White, are rendered with meticulous realism. Curiously, Honest John and Gideon are visual hybrids, with animal faces and humanoid bodies.
  • The film trades in racialized cultural anxieties. Promised the glamorous “actor’s life,” Pinocchio is instead enslaved by the swarthy, boisterous Stromboli, who speaks in an exaggerated Italian accent and is the film’s most “ethnic” character. This scenario unmistakably resembles turn-of-the-century white slavery myths, which vilified racial Others while discouraging white women from being promiscuous or leaving the home. (The latter moral will be loudly reiterated at the end of Pinocchio.)
  • Pleasure Island’s urban depravity prefigures film noir. The island’s excesses have a 1940s flavor to them: overeating, smoking, brawling, gambling, and playing pool. In its stylized representation of a hellish, decaying city center, Pinocchio taps into many of the same cultural currents as then-nascent film noir. (A similarly moralistic city of temptations would pop up in The Night of the Hunter.)
  • Monstro is Cthulhu. In fact, the climax is right out of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”: characters’ lives are endangered by a giant, non-anthropomorphized monster who’s indifferent to their existences, but gets aggravated when they cause it some minor harm. Like Cthulhu, Monstro is unsentimental, implacable, and terrifying.
  • Pinocchio’s near-death is emotionally identical to the end of Sunrise. Just as with Snow White, I’m noticing uncanny parallels to Murnau’s masterpiece. In Sunrise, the Wife (Janet Gaynor) is thought dead after a storm capsizes the couple’s boat; when she’s discovered alive, it leads to a tear-jerking bedside reunion. Pinocchio follows the same pattern, false watery death and all, for its satisfying resolution.
  • There’s no place like home. Pinocchio’s ending is decidedly conservative, reaffirming the status quo (family, home, tradition) at the expense of adventure or nonconformity. Jiminy Cricket even gets a line to underscore this point: “Well,” he laughs in the film’s final minutes, “this is practically where I came in!”

(This is part of “Disney Revisited,” my chronological film-by-film exploration of the Disney animated canon.)

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Disney Revisited: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

By Andreas

Some thoughts after rewatching Snow White

  • It’s self-consciously a “work of art.” From the opening credits to the literary prologue to the beautifully rendered plants and animals, every piece of Snow White emphasizes its prestige, its uniqueness, and its artistry. Consequently, the film has a very relaxed pace: as it tells its simple, well-known story, it always has time to pause for a gorgeous tableau or two featuring iconography right out of a stained glass window.
  • It’s also a triumph of animation over writing. Every character is static, and few get anything more than a loosely sketched-out personality. For example, Snow White’s only trait is “effervescence,” and only 3/7 of the dwarfs (Dopey, Doc, and Grumpy) get any distinguishing characteristics beyond their names. The story has no subtlety or surprise to it, the act breaks are explicitly delineated, and the film is clearly feature-length in order to showcase more animation, not to build up narrative momentum.
  • It’s full of expressionistic landscapes. When Snow White flees from the huntsman’s abortive murder attempt, the lighting instantly changes from midday to deep night, and she descends into a violent, nightmarish forest complete with an Evil Dead tree. In other words, emotions dictate the weather and scenery. (Similarly, a thunderstorm breaks out immediately after Snow White bites the poisoned apple.) The power of this judiciously applied expressionism is amplified by its contrast with the breathtaking realism that usually defines Snow White’s surroundings.
  • The staging of the huntsman’s attempted murder is taken from Sunrise (1927). Beat for beat, it’s identical to the scene in F.W. Murnau’s silent classic where the Man (George O’Brien) attempts to strangle his wife. Both men share the hulking gait, the downcast faces, and the incapacitating self-disgust as soon as they realize that they can’t do it. (Both men are also urged to homicide by sultry femmes fatales.)
  • The Queen is scary! She’s also the engine that drives the film’s plot. She’s the film’s only mature, intelligent, or independent character, with a goal (to be “the fairest of them all”) that she pursues to terrifying lengths. As animated here, she gives Snow White’s best “performance,” commanding her huntsman with rigid, cold-eyed intensity. And whereas Snow White’s constant rhyming is gratingly cutesy, the Queen’s rhymes connect her with black magic traditions dating back to Macbeth.
  • The slapstick is suited to the film’s style. By which I mean that Snow White’s slapstick (involving mostly Dopey and the other dwarfs) is radically different in nature from, say, the slapstick in an early-to-mid-’30s Fleischer Bros. cartoon. The dwarfs’ slapstick is repetitive without being rhythmic; it’s fixated on the action in itself rather than any sense of cause-and-effect. Fleischer Bros. slapstick, meanwhile, is frenetic, progressive, and transformational. In Snow White, it’s oriented to the quality and content of the image onscreen; in Betty Boop cartoons, it’s about what the image does. This difference is tied into Snow White’s greater length, more relaxed pace, and focus on sheer, overwhelming beauty. (The film is always more invested in causing Stendhal syndrome than in making the audience laugh or cry.)
  • The climax is straight out of D.W. Griffith. Once the dwarfs are summoned by Snow White’s animal friends, their ride back to the cabin is intercut in a blatantly melodramatic fashion with Snow White’s gradual decision to bite the apple. The editing rhythm makes it a dead ringer for the “Klan to the rescue!” climax of Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, or the tragic “Too late!” that ends Broken Blossoms.

(This is part of “Disney Revisited,” my chronological film-by-film exploration of the Disney animated canon.)

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