Date: Tue, 13 Jun 1995 14:15:37 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Re: PC, History, and Film
From:"email@example.com" "Jon and Tess Cooley"
I do not want to switch the topic before the first one is fully developed, but Steve's initial post led me to remember a thought I had when viewing Disney's last production, _The Lion King_, on video with its five minute "preview" of _Pocahontas_ in the beginning.
It occurred to me that most, perhaps all, Disney animated endeavors in the past have been centered around figures pulled from either fable-like stories or actual myths. _Peter Pan_, _Bambi_, and the _Aladdin_ films would be representative of the first sort, while _Snow White_ and _Beauty and the Beast_ would be of the second. Though the differences between the two "categories" are large, each seems to follow the fabled concern with making the story seem more "real" than reality is experienced daily, often through an explicit moralizing tone. "Lost" boys (and one girl) can "never grow up" if they want, animals can talk, a "diamond in the rough" can make good, true beauty cannot be slain, even a beast can learn to love selflessly. Concomitant with these narrative devices are the expected blurrings of various elements of realistic narrative: geography (is the Beast's castle in Germany or France?), time (did the adventures in Neverland really happen in only one night?), language and culture (would Jasmine really have disobeyed her father in that way? Does the whole world -- including animals -- speak English?), etc. Also, these blurrings may be in direct conflict with the stories from which they were derived, enhancing their mythic quality. This may include fugue-like episodes where every aspect of reality is altered (e.g., the fight scene in _Bambi_ -- which always reminds of a similar scene from _An American in Paris_) Further, these hyper-narratives may use such "current" concern issues as (among others) gender and class in the explication of their moralizing elements. In this, they differ little, in my opinion, from most musicals.
With _The Lion King_, however, there may have been a change in the formulaic nature of the story -- just how significant is the heart of the matter. While obviously still mythic in nature, Simba's story, because it takes place in an Africa that could be confused (at least at points) with the actual events of the present, appears to make (perhaps inchoately) a case for some form of historical veracity. Along with the expected villainy of deception, betrayal, and genuine nastiness -- staples of the fable genre -- go mass organization and ecological destruction -- Fascist hyenas under the leadership of a megalomaniacal tyrant committed to instrumental reason nearly bring about the destruction of the land, having first attempted the annihilation of the "one true king." Here are explicitly contemporary concerns, at least of a certain sort, found in what should, by all accounts, be yet another fable. Also, it seems to be significant that, unlike the earlier films, this one takes place outside a Western European setting (though it is difficult to see exactly how this plays out: Mumfasa still sounds like a French despot, Rufiki a curious melange of voodoo priest and Buddhist sage -- with the prerequisite mastery of Kung-Fu). Is this Africa merely a hyper-real setting, or is it supposed to be a more "real" look at what is actually there now? Are we simply to take a moral dimension away, or is there some kind of actual historical lesson (quasi or no, accurate or no) as well? How are we to know the difference?
With _Pocahontas_, which I will not see until its release on video, the historical content reaches another level. Now a real person is portrayed, however fallaciously/mythically. I leave it to those who have seen/will see the film to comment on its "current concern" strategies, as well as their success or failure. But, given our recent interest with historiographical claims made in films, I wonder if anyone has insights into this aspect of Disney's works?
Jon K. Cooley | "Das Schicksal einer Kulturepoche, die vom Yale Divinity School | Baum der Erkenntnis gegessen hat, ist es,
firstname.lastname@example.org | wissen zu muessen,..." --Max Weber
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