Some thoughts about Disney

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hanem talking about disney

NOTES:

Animation started, in a way, with the invention of Faraday’s Wheel in the 19th Century: from this came the zoetrope (1834) – the spinning wheel with slots, through which one looks to see a galloping horse or a man on a trapeze. Whilst still, the wheel shows only single images, yet when in motion the pictures pasted inside the wheel flow into one moving scene. This concept was taken (to great effect) to the camera upon its invention – Muybridge was the first, setting up a line of cameras each with their individual tripwires. Upon walking across his tripwires, each camera would photograph that split-second of his walk – when these pictures are all placed in series, a walking scene has been created or a person’s walk minutely examined. This concept was played with in true artistic fashion by George Méliès, the creator of various silent films featured in  Hugo in 1890 – by fiddling with the sequence, Méliès could make a character disappear and re-appear ten steps away, creating the illusion of magic and demonstrating a primitive form of animation. As such, animation is as focused on timing as it is on drawing.

However, it was McCay, from across the pond, who introduced the portrayal of emotion through animation: the task of the animator is to portray characteristics in a purely visual sense, and McCay’s Gertie the Trained Dinosaur was one of the first to achieve this characterisation showing a drawing that seemed to be thinking as well as moving. The animator, drawing in 2D, must think in 3D – it is here Wilson introduces the concept of the hyper-cube. When we think of 2D, we think of the square; 3D the cube, and 4D is the melding of two cubes into one amalgamation and another dimension. In a way, the animator must switch between different dimensions, and the example given was one of punching: though the animator draws the effect in 2D, the punch is thought of in circles or arcs due to the punch’s path of motion.

It is with these foundations laid down that we come to Walt Disney who introduced believability and genuine emotion into animation with feature films. Budget was a big deal for Disney, as shown by their first production of Alice, which was a mix of live-action (cheaper) and animation (more expensive). In today’s film, there are 24 frames per second, and to reduce the cost and time of animation Disney decided to reduce the drawings to 12 per second. The iconic character of Mickey Mouse was introduced first in Plane Crazy, a silent movie. It is here Wilson claims that the design of Mickey was taken from Ub Iwerks not Disney. Continuing on to the famous Steamboat Willie, Disney tied a musical soundtrack directly the animation – the same formula for Fantasia. With the intersection of music and motion one can look at tap dancing. Fred Astaire was notorious for dancing off-beat, only to occasionally switch onto the beat to great effect. Disney tended to do the visual image on the beat (less exciting, and called “mickey mousing”), using music as both characterisation and aesthetic. There is also the fact that every action in Disney has a corresponding sound: the pulling of Clarabelle the Cow’s tail resulted in a musical ‘moo’. Today, lip-syncing in Disney is often relaxed, as the animators keep the lines of the lips and face vague – both the economise and allow easier dubbing into other languages.

There is, of course, the question of Mickey’s gloves – they held a practical reason (during black and white films, if an object was black Mickey’s hand would disappear upon holding it) but they also link to Mickey’s function as a public figure. It is with this that one could claim Mickey a problematic figure – his gloves and mannerisms mimic the characteristics of the minstrels, last seen in the 70s BBC; minstrels would wear white gloves and often tap dance and sing for entertainment. It was a staple of American Vaudeville entertainment. This characteristic is the only one that Disney cannot sanitise today, as the white gloves are iconic to the character. In other areas, however, there is (and always has been) ongoing sanitisation – potentially offensive sections of Fantasia, for instance,  have been quietly redrawn to remove the offending sections, though not the crows in Dumbo. Films like Song of the south have all but disappeared from the Disney canon. As a business, family entertainment is the goal of Disney- and this explains both the sanitisation and the fact that the character of Mickey has changed from the troublemaker in Steamboat Willie to the wholesome soul in modern day films. This was the goal as it (along with another factor) would guarantee Disney success and money. The first way was shown by Snow White: it was the first film to release a soundtrack and related merchandise. The second method is one of morality: most animation that Disney creates holds a didactic function – the films tell stories that reward good behaviour and punish the bad, though Disney claimed he was not in the business of “preaching a message”. There are 5 Disney virtues: the first is kindness (such as Cinderella’s kindness to the animals), the second is perseverance (the prince in Cinderella, for example). The third is faith, with its obvious connotations of religion – the only overtly religious piece of Disney, (overlooking Christian imagery at the end of Fantasia) is Hunchback of Notre Dame but this pushes kindness combined with faith, and if Disney is interested in Belief, it is belief itself- and not a belief in a specific person or thing. Belief in self is allied to belief in a higher power. The final one is family: Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians, for instance, display the ethos that the meaning of family can still be extended, and is not just about blood relatives. There is, moreover, a heavy Protestant work ethic that is present in Disney films, and the most recent Frozen emphasises the dimension of not trusting appearances, first glimpsed in Gaston in Beauty and the Beast but maybe hinted at in the magical witches of both Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks who promote family values and patch together relationships that have gone wrong.

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The gospel according to walt.

So just to kick off, is there a reference to adam and eve in the fact that snow white eats a poisoned apple?

Is there a reference to Christ in the initials of Jiminy Cricket?

Jonah and the whale. (Pinocchio)

The Disney gospel is part of most chidren’s earliest teachings.

Young impressionable minds

The amount of time children spend in church or synagogues of temples is dwarfed by the amount of time children spend in front of Disney films.

“One of the most significant shaping forces in the 20th Century.”

“A sacred destination of the first trip to the movies.”

Calvinist paradigm of hard work- rewarded with upward solical mobility/ walt’s rise to prosperity

Disney boycotted by the Washington DC Traditional values Coalition in 1990s (“they’re not fair to the Christian message of life death and eternal life” Revd Clark Whitten of the Calvary Assembly church in Orlando. “they have a gospel- it’s to make money”)

Humanism: when Disneyland opened in Anaheim in 1954 Time magazine called Disney “the poet of the new American Humanism” and says the common symbol of humanity in the struggle against the forces of evil is Mickey Mouse”

It’s not what you believe that is important, but the fact of believing itself is important.

Disney is the perfect example of the protestant work ethic divorced from religious moorings.

Disney choice of magic over religion

VALUES: Good triumphs over evil a consistent set of moral values throughout the movies. Disney personal values and commercial goals

Optimism as a creed (pinoccho)

Miracles (Pinocchio as Jesus: the puppet comes to life and resurrected as boy,)

WALT: didn’t want to single out any single religion . But always designed as a “message” He tells reporter: “we like to have a point of view in our stories not an obvious moral but a worthwhile theme” in 1962: Children are people and they should have to reach to learn about things, to understand things just as adults have to reach if they are to grow in mental statue. Life is composed of lights and shadows and we have to be untruthful, insincere aand saccharine if we are to pretenbd there were no shadows. Most things are good and they are the strongest things; but there are evil things too and you are not doing a child a favour by trying to shield him from reality. The important thing is to teach a child that good can always triumph over evil and that is what our pictures attempt to do.”

Sam Goldwyn: Pictures are for entertainment- messages should be sent by western union.

FAITH: Faith in something greater than self? Combined with faith in self

Wish fulfillment

Magic allows you to see a better life and apply the vision to real life.

An agent of transformation. The ordinary becomes extraordinary

The little mermaid: challenge of intermarriage

The lion king:the hindu circle of life

MECCA: Disneyland: a place of pilgrimage (parents reconnecting with their childhood) a cartoon fantasy mecca?

RACISM: Racist representation esp in DUMBO and fantasia (censored in Fantasia but not in Dumbo) song of the south and the three caballeros

DEUS EX MACHINA: No obvious judeo-christian iconography but Greek magic: universal device from ancient greece

Censorship: note the general anxiety about racism: song of the south, dumbo fantasia- cleaning up of Aladdin’s anti-muslim jokes and the toning down of homophobia  (see the beginning of Der Fuhrer’s face) to the extent that the remake of Beauty and the beast contains a genuine gay subplot.

SNOW WHITE:

The akedah: snow white dispatched to be killed in the forest. Sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham

The huntsman returns with the heart of a boar. (Abraham sacrifices a ram)

Whistle while you work: the work ethic during the great depression

The dwarfs are also hard workees, singing while the work.\snow white- just like an angel. See Rhapsody in Blue in Fantasia 2000

Cleanliness- next to godliness?

There was a sequence where Snow white teaches the dwarves how to pray- abandoned. But snow white prays- she asks for blessings on the seven little men who have been so kind to me and please make grumpy like me” next day when grumpy gets a kiss, she says” why grumpy you DO care”

Escapist and androcentric.

 PINOCCHIO- fate not god steps in when things get bad: the blue fairy

As reward to Gepetto for bringing happiness to others

But the outcome will be entirely up to you. (Good works)

Jiminy cricket became an alternative exclamation to Jesus Christ in the US.

He is the still small voice.

The blue fairy as the Virgin mary?

Her appearance in the film is like the appearance of Mary at Fatima and La Salette BLUE and WHITE!

It’ll take a mira le to get out of here (says Jiminy in Stromboli’s caravan, then the blue fairy arrives. (A lie keeps growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face

Jiminy Cricket defines temptation as The wrong things that seem right at the time.

They like him he’s a success. Gosh. Maybe I was wrong. I guess he won’t need me anymore. What does an actor need with a conscience?”

“Give a bad boy enough rope and hell soon make a jackass of himself.”

The essence of the Disney religion is not theology but morality: prove yourself brave truthful and unselfish and someday you will be a real boy. Resurrection. Awake Pinocchio awake!

NB: difference between snow white and Pinocchio is that Pinocchio is active in his salvation and snow white is entirely passive.

FANTASIA: Dancing toadstools- racist presentation of chinese figures probably intended to be amiable not malevolent. It is still a brilliant piece of animation

The sorcerer’s apprentice: work-shy mickey gets his comeuppance. (work ethic)

The image has been taken by Disney and turned mickey into a high priest of magic in the Disney kingdom. (Disney’s mecca)

Ave maria; the most explicit reference to religion until hunchback of notre dame

The text is an odd interperattion of the latin: the prince of peace your arms embrace while hosts ofdarkness fade and cover, Oh save us mother full of grace in life, and in our dying hour ave maria.

DUMBO: Mother love

Note the workers putting up te circus sing while they work: they “slave until we’re almost dead”

In the parade, dumbo slips and a boy laughs at him. The boy ALSO has improbably big ears.

BAMBI: man in the forest song at the beginning: “love is a song that never ends”

Carefree childhood and dependence on mother is finished with the greatest tear-jerker in the history of cinema:

Your mother cannot be with you anymore. Earlier they had been told of “Man in the forest”now it seems there is a man shooting out of season. Two shots and the second one is fatal.

It is man.. he is here again. There man be many this time. We must go deep into the forest. Hurry. Follow me”

An unspoilt eden is destroyed by man.

Cinderella: if you keep on believing, the dream you wish for will come true.

Cinderella has friends- birds mice etc.. her kindness in helping small rodents explains why the animals are so keen to help her wit housework

Elsa in FROZEN, BEDKNOBS and POPPINS- all autonomous witches, (perhaps it’s a witch. Don’t be sily witches have brooms) and spinsters. establishing world order rather than destroying it. Actually both Poppins and Eglantine are outsiders reestablish family values. And the sisters in Frozen are estranged …

A magical nanny and a reluctant nanny

(above: Milt Kahl images from Mary Poppins)

Religious iconography in Mary poppins;

 1)   mary poppins is Mary the mother of jesus, practically perfect. The immaculate conception. Above all other women etc.

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2)   2) a spoonful of sugar: the Franciscan nod: Mary talks to the birds (feed the birds song with encircling chorus of doves)

3)   3) George banks gives tuppence to the bank chairman- render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s- capitalist banker to family man/ charity… the widow’s mite

4)   Alternative view:  a scurrilous interpretation

nanny shows up and changes a married man’s life but has to leave because she is pregnant. And no, she doesn’t change “the family” since the wife and kids are still the mindless dimwits at the end of the movie that they were in the beginning. And how do we know that Mary is pregnant? Because of the way she hold hers hands folded over her stomach [at the top of the staircase] when Mr. Banks finally emerges from the basement with the mended kite. So, while most of us think that Mary is misty eyed over Jane & Michael as she stands on the doorstep, the truth is: she is affected by having to say goodbye to Mr. Banks.

julie-andrews

Other religious imagery in Disney:

Fantasia ending (ave maria triumphs over Chernabog. But it is nature that is triumphant as also in the end of Fantasia 2000)

Bambi and the Lion King– the role of the father figure, in the Lion king is actually a voice from the dead.

Hunchback

Self sacrifice as a form of redemption: – Baloo, the great dane in lady and the tramp, King Triton in The little mermaid, the beast in Beauty and the beast, and Pinocchio

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Jerry Bock and Ian Bannen

A year ago I met Ian Bannen’s widow – what a chaming lady. I well remember her husband who spoke at my school once and gave me a prize. He was also a spectacularly good film actor- his last film “Hope and Glory” is a slightly overlooked masterpiece- here is the poster. Tomorrow is the anniversary of his death.

hope and glory poster

Oddly, tomorrow is also the anniversary of another slightly unsung hero- Jerry Bock who gave us “Fiddler on the Roof” and “She loves me”- Again, I think back to the 1970s and a brilliant adaptation with Gemma Craven broadcast on tv late one night. “Ice cream”, one of the great numbers from the show! There is also “the apple tree”, a broadway show  from 1966 with animated sequences by Richard Williams!

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Authority and Luther

Who has the right to make decisions. This is really what lies behind Luther’s reformation. It is 500 years today since Luther nailed his theses to the door. Disestablishmentism, the possibility of the separation  of church and state, secularism, the rise of nationalism and so on, pushed forward by advances in printing which unified german language, arguably paved the way for Shakespeare, established ideas of individualism and led to general agreements on spelling and grammar. New technology, democracy and so on.

That said, Luther’s sense of humour, general manner and anti-semitism do not commend him much. It is entertaining to reflect that in writing against Luther (or getting Thomas More to write against Luther), Henry VIII earnt the crown the title “Defensor fidei” from Leo X in 1521, something retained today by the present queen (by an act of parliament to Edward, his son) and printed on all our coins. Ironic that having earnt this title by writing of the value of the 7 sacraments, most of them would be ditched in the established Anglican church. When Luther responded to henry’s initial book, Thomas More certainly wrote the reply, “Responsio ad Lutherum”.

martin luther theses by TIM

 

Mrs Merkel Martin Luther by TIM

 

The Balfour declaration

On 2nd November, it will be 100 years since the Balfour Declaration:

balfour declaration by TIM

 

 

The Balfour declaration followed shortly after the Battle of Beersheba, one of the last great cavalry charges in history, that led the way to General Allenby’s entry to Jerusalem. Like the Gallipoli campaign, this was an Australian/ New Zealand effort though there is a significant role played by the 60th (London) and 75th divisions of the XX corps and the Egyptian Expeditionary force (commanded by Allenby). But it was the Australian cavalry charge weilding bayonets that carried the day. On the Ottoman side was Enver Pasha

enver pasha

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Abingdon redrawn

Just working on a new version of the Abingdon picture- here is a progress drawing-

Here is the original picture which is now being updated and expanded taking in the whole vista looking towards the church. Essentially, it requires redrawing almost from scratch!

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re-doing the shops on the right-

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old man on a bike-

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cobbles

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more cobbles

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and a little more-

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Onward Christian Soldiers!

A fuss being made today about Oadby which is refusing to use the Sullivan hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” during its remembrance service. I rather like the hymn and when I last spoke in Uppingham chapel, suggested that it should be used in the service. I was told that the then headmaster had specifically banned its use in the school. I am not sure why. But there we are- just down the road in Oadby, another ban.

Here is Arthur Sullivan, looking very pleased with himself! And posing like Christine Keeler. What a Scandal!

It was said at the time that he wanted to “de-Germanise” music, and wrote “as if Wagner and Tchaikovsky had never existed”. But this is not quite true-  he drew on whatever influences he needed to bring words to life, Berlioz of course, Mozart and in “Iolanthe”, certainly the Germans too. He was astonishingly good at setting words to music not only in Gilbert’s comic operas, and “the Rose of Persia” which was revived in the 1960s, but also in oratorio and in for example, “Onward Christian Soldiers”. In 2010, there was a proper professional recording of “Ivanhoe” (Welsh National orchestra), a work I rather liked ever since I was shown a manuscript copy by David Levine, a fellow G&Ser and like me, also a Wagnerite, when we were both at university. It is not quite Offenbach’s “Hoffmann”, but it does not demand to be dismissed, and we should put it back in the national repetoire.

So, regarding the hymn- if the words offend, get a great lyricist to change them. The music is something we should be treasuring. Few popular hymns were written by a musical genius.

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In 1896, the future King Edward got wet in the rain and had his trousers pressed by a nearby tailor who put in the front crease. It is possible the picture of Sullivan predates this.