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Best Quote from Audience Member:
"Nooo! That's a dead bird! ... That's ANOTHER dead bird! Stop shooting things! Noooo! There's an indiscriminate hunter just shooting everything! What the eff!!! ... Are you effing kidding me? They set the dogs on her?! Watch where you're going!!!!! KICK IT! God, this is awful! ... Stop it! ... I was telling YOU to stop it. ... Oh my God, BAMBI's gonna die! ... WHAT THE HELL! DID BAMBI JUST GET SHOT?! ... Yes. ... And now there's a fire."
This week's Movie Madness will be a little different. I could have reviewed any of the forgettable movies I've seen in the last two weeks in theaters. This included Ninja Turtles and Let's Be Cops. But honestly, these movies are pretty much what they say they are, and there's nothing much more to say about them than what's been said.
So I wanted to go back in time to the beginnings of an empire.
Both adults in our household are now employed, which is no small feat considering we are both under thirty with minimum experience during a recession. But this means one very important thing (other than the ability to pay rent): We are able to afford a trip to Disney World.
Seeing as we are about 100 days out from our plane departure, we decided to watch all of the Disney movies ever created between now and December. This past weekend, we put our Labor Day celebrations to good use as we chugged through Snow White and ended with Alice in Wonderland. This weekend, we'll take up the helm with Robin Hood and His Merrie Men.
If you're anything like me, you grew up on Disney. Ariel was born around the same year I was, and so I grew up through the Golden Age of Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Hercules, and Mulan. I was old enough to appreciate the revival that came with Tiana and Rapunzel and Elsa. But once upon a time, there was no Disney World. There was no major cartoon corporation that made moralistic movies for little girls to fantasize about their perfect prince.
No, there was just a man and a mouse.
Actually, there were three men and a rabbit with messed up copyrights, but that's a less rosy version of the fairy tale. And if there's one thing Disney excels at, it's cleaning up those stories until they're squeaky clean.
I had never seen a lot of these early movies. Of course we've all seen Snow White and Dumbo, but what about Saludos Amigos or The Reluctant Dragon? I would recognize a scene here and there from the Sing-Along VHS's I watched religiously in the 90's, but other than that, I met new characters and plots this weekend.
These films show an awkward time in the Disney franchise; a new series getting its feet wet and the kinks worked out in a flimsy first season. Steve Carell's Michael Scott is a little younger and little meaner, A Wayans brother is the third roommate on New Girl, Captain Kirk's XO is a woman, and Walt Disney does vignettes to mostly music instead of the big-deal princess pictures we've all grown up with.
The animation in these films is brilliant. These men (and yes, men, because Disney would only hire male animators) had a passion to be there working with Walt, and each gesture, background piece, special effect, and sound effect comes from a labor of love. There are no Elsa braids cutting through anyone's shoulders, or lopsided townsfolk with one eye hiding in the background. No, these are clear, crisp cartoons that transcend what 2D Animation's limits should be.
There is a whimsical factor that I can only imagine was magical in a time where our country bounced from a Depression right into a World War. I can only imagine the newsreels were full of the Holocaust, the wartorn buildings of London, and bloody Normandy. And back home, dads were struggling to pay the mortgage and moms were finding their way through old fashioned beliefs battling with the need to find a job at the factory and in turn, find new freedoms. So imagine living in that world that makes our current situation look puny, and then going into the theater and watching Pinocchio come to life or Bambi learn how to skate.
That said, there is a dark undertone to these old films that are consciously left out of the movies I grew up with. In The Reluctant Dragon, a zebra centauress arrives with big lips in tow. The female colorists are not allowed to be male animators. And in Fantasia, they can't erase the racism from YouTube's "banned scenes" clips.
While Song of the South holds adorable children and amazing animation, it also holds Uncle Remus and a white lady telling her white son they'll have "the laughinest time of all." It makes me worry that people really honestly thought slavery looked like an old Hagrid-esque black man strolling down a cartoon path with a little blue bird singing along to his tune. The sexism, racism, and elitism rampant in these early movies spearheaded by Disney are unapologetic and never reflected upon. It makes it hard to enjoy the Seven Dwarfs when one does an impersonation of a Chinese man.
The argument against this is that it was a different time. However, this still says something about the man himself. Walt Disney, although an imaginative genius, did not have the foresight to understand women's equality, multicultural futures, or collaboration of different minds.
Walt Disney got his inspiration from the four years he spent in Marceline, Missouri, as a child. Three hours east of Marceline is another preserved town for tourists where another groundbreaking storyteller was born and inspired. Mark Twain, who was bowing out as Disney was learning how to draw mice in cornfields, did have this foresight. I see the kindness in Twain's stories, the understanding that although everyone around him was saying racism was totally acceptable, it wasn't acceptable. Reading his writings, I see an empathy for the human race that does not ring out in these earlier films of Walt's.
So the question becomes: how much greater could Walt have been?
Perhaps we see the answer in his legacy. I hope, as we continue this sojourn through the discography of this company, we find that empathy grow. We see stronger girls and the white male protagonist take a back seat for others. I know it will happen eventually, because I was there to see it.
The beginning of every tale is always full of mistakes. Let's hope the future continues to correct them.
I like movies.
I see a lot of them.