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January 18, 2006

The Cartoons of Walt Disney: Why they are not just for children

Posted by Roy Kerridge

Writer and journalist Roy Kerridge describes his lifetime passion for the cartoons of Walt Disney.

Ever since I was a small boy, Walt Disney's cartoons have filled me with deepest ecstasy. After seeing one, I get "cartoon fever" and walk and talk like a cartoon.

By Walt Disney's cartoons I mean those made under Disney's personal direction. The Disney Corporation, for over twenty years, have been purveyors of vile and corrupting trash, sullying the noble name of Walt Disney. It is my deepest wish to see the Disney Corporation ruined, disbanded and scattered to the four winds before more damage is done.

Even in Disney's heyday, some mistakes were made. Instead of popularising classic books such as Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh, Disney spoiled them for children who turn from the film to the book with horror, crying, "I want the real Alice!"

Walt Disney's film of Felix Salten's Bambi inspired singer Paul McCartney to support the anti-hunting cause. A flawed masterpiece, Bambi clearly depicted a hunting preserve in America, with pheasants introduced and carnivores excluded. Were it not for hunters, all the animals in Bambi would have been eaten by wolves and bears (except the skunk). Felix Salten's Bambi was set not in America but Scandinavia.

It is in his depiction of folk tales that Walt Disney excels. My favourite film of all time is Song of the South, the Disney version of Joel Chandler Harris's collection of Brer Rabbit tales, once told on Georgia plantations. When I first saw the film, on its release in the late 'forties, I was disappointed by the "real life" sequences that took up valuable cartoon-time.

This "real life" story (which I grew to enjoy) introduced a repressed Fauntleroy-ish boy with a strict and unreasonable mother and a paternal grandmother fearful of annoying her daughter-in-law. To my amazement, I recently discovered the last "lost" Chandler Harris book, New Tales of the Old Plantation, published in 1903. Running as a sub-plot in between the Brer Rabbit stories was the self-same story as the film! Much of the film dialogue had been "lifted" straight from the book:

A grandmother doesn't count for much these days

humble-come-tumble

He took his foot in his hand.

This must have been the version of Brer Rabbit stories first read and admired by Walt Disney when he was a boy. The drawings of King Lion, by A. B. Frost, are especially recommended. A spin off Disney book of Brer Rabbit stories once considered for the film also drew largely from the little known New Tales.

Perhaps the short cartoons of Mickey Mouse, Pluto and Donald Duck could be considered to be Disney's greatest works. In their day, these cartoons were watched and enjoyed by both adults and children, just as The Simpsons are today.

Incidentally, the names Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were not invented by Walt Disney. They first appeared in an illustrated children's' book, Pets and Playmates by Millie Brown. Since Brown's book first appeared in 1900, it is likely that Disney read it as a youth, forgot about it and then recalled the names. Who was Millie Brown?

Roy Kerridge has written over a dozen books including novels, travel books and social commentary. His books include Subjects of the Queen, The Lone Conformist and Bizarre Britain. Roy Kerridge also writes for The Telegraph, The Spectator and The Salisbury Review.


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The Disney era cartoons are fiiled with anti - capitalist "wishing will make it so" ethos as well as the anthropomorphism. Disney, like Freud, has much to answer for in the destruction of western thought and life.

Posted by: staghounds at January 18, 2006 05:26 PM
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The Disney version of Pocohontas has vegan Red Indians. I think that is sympotomatic of a certain kind of moral and intellectual corruption typical of liberal America.

Anyone who's read some of the accounts from colonial America will know that in winter death from starvation was an ever-present reality for the Indians if they failed to kill game. (See, for example, James Smith: _Prisoner of the Caughnawagas_.) What we have here is a hypocritical attempt by Disney to turn these people into an object for sentimentalization by modern urban Americans while effectively traducing their real way of life, which depended on killing animals.

Neither, of course, unlike the Disney Indians, were most Eastern woodland Indians particularly peaceful people. in fact they could be extraordinarily vengeful and savage. Here is part of an account of the burning to death of a captive as an illustration.

"The Indian men took up their guns and shot powder into the colonel's body from his feet as far up as his neck. I think not less than seventy loads were discharged upon his naked body. They then crowded around him and, to the best of my observation, cut off his ears. When the throng had dispersed a little I saw the blood running down both sides of his head. ..." (from the account by Dr. John Knight of the death of Colonel Crawford.)

There we are. I don't suppose accounts like that should diminish one's sympathy for the plight of the pre-Colombian inhabitants of the continent. But that's not the point. The point is that presenting the Eastern woodland Indians as inherently peaceable is a lie. There is much that one could admire in their lives, but there is something atrociously dishonest in setting up a false admiration of people for being what they never were.

Disney, however, has to project the values of modern peace-time urban America onto the Indians, so as, again, to turn them from subjects into objects - to make them a focus for sentimental feelings directed by the emotionally infantile viewer at himself.

Posted by: Mike at January 19, 2006 12:09 PM
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Before this one disappears off the main screen, may I lodge a protest against the Disneyfication of Winnie the Pooh?

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at February 1, 2006 07:11 PM
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An odd request.

Roy Kerridge sent me a postcard this week. (He wrote an article about this part of Cornwall once many moons ago.)
I have no address with which to reply.

Roy, if you read this please contact me asgain.

Alternatively, if any reader is in contact with him, please pass on this message

Posted by: rosemery rhodes at September 23, 2010 06:04 PM
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