Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Walt Disney

Anthony Lane's article about Walt Disney in the Dec. 11, 2006, issue of The New Yorker is worth checking out. Lane makes a wonderful comparison between Disney and Dickens, by way of G. K. Chesterton:

'As G. K. Chesterton wrote, irrefutably, "Dickens did not write what the people wanted. Dickens wanted what the people wanted."'

But Lane (a writer I have been enjoying for years now) does not need Chesterton to heighten the insight of his own writing: "[Disney] became an industry, but the one thing that links the industrialist, whatever the product, with the auteur, whatever the form, is obsessive pedantry—the will to get things right, whatever the cost may be."

One especially interesting factoid in the article has to do with Disney's decline after the end of his peak period in 1942. His last five films at the time had been "Snow White," "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," "Dumbo," and "Bambi" (not a bad run!). But the decline was not purely creative: Disney's animators went on strike in 1941. The resulting changes in his relationship to his animators meant that the intensive labor that made those five movies so deep and brilliant became too expensive.


mrjumbo said...

Interesting to see that the timing also coincided with the start of WWII.

A friend and I stood in front of a movie theater once looking at a poster for "Nosferatu." This was what the Germans came up with, he pointed out, with the rise of a completely new medium for making art. "And at the same time in the United States, people thought 'Steamboat Willie' was really amazing."

I believe it was in the New Yorker that I once read an article about Kipling's "Jungle Books," which were written mostly in Connecticut. The writer of the article chatted with Kipling's daughter about the stories. He asked her about something that had puzzled me too, ever since I saw the Disney version. (I saw the cartoon as an adult, out of curiosity. I read the books as a boy.) When reading the books, the author said, he had always pronounced the name Mowgli so the first syllable rhymed with cow. But in the Disney version, the first syllable of the boy's name rhymes with go. Which way did Rudyard Kipling intend it?

His daughter sighed and said, "I hate Walter Disney."

Andrew Shields said...

Nothing against "Nosferatu," but "Steamboat Willie" *was* (and is) pretty amazing! I'm with Eisenstein on that one.

The comparison is not uninteresting: "Steamboat Willie" looks less amazing now because it established so many new tricks that are by now old hat. Just like "Potemkin"!