Film-Philosophy

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Vol. 5 No. 7, March 2001

 

 

Nichola Dobson

Politicising Disney

 

 

 

Eleanor Byrne and Martin McQuillan

_Deconstructing Disney_

London: Pluto Press, 1999

ISBN 0 7453 1456 2 (hbk)

209 pp.

 

The subject of Disney is one which has been studied, and as a result,

published at length for many years. _Deconstructing Disney_, by Eleanor

Byrne and Martin McQuillan, attempts to shed some new light on a tired

subject by placing it in a modern and up-to-date context.

 

The Introduction describes the intentions of the authors and the main areas

of discussion. They are trying to provide a text which is radically

different to others on Disney, not to attack the 'dark prince' as so many

have done before, but to examine the changing face of the work produced at

the Disney studio, and question how best to read the newest films against

the current political backdrop. [1] This is one of the many elements which

sets this particular Disney text apart from those previously published.

Initially the general subject area is defined with a nod to *important*

Disney texts, which may have served to influence or inspire the authors.

They *deconstruct* these first and make the claim that their book is

different from the rest as it covers work which has previously been

avoided. Perhaps this is the case, however this is largely due to the fact

that they are perhaps the first to actually publish a work which focuses

primarily on the most recent works from the Disney studio. This is what

makes the book stand out. The authors have realised that the subject of

'Walt Disney the man' has been over done, requiring a new approach to the

subject and putting the work of the Disney studio into the context of a

modern, liberal America, trying to make its mark in the European and

Eastern markets. The text successfully advances this reading of Disney with

a fresh approach to the new works coming out of the studio. Not only does

this serve to bring the subject up to date, but the reader who is more

familiar with more recent animation from Disney will find the references

easier to relate to the themes or issues surrounding them.

 

The chapters are divided into clear subjects which, though they share a

common theme of the 'Disneyfication' of Europe, are each quite individual.

However this individuality becomes a downfall in the book. Each chapter

deals with quite specific issues, which could form whole texts in

themselves. The authors obviously wanted to cover as wide a subject range

as possible, however, after reading each one I wanted to read more on that

particular area and felt reluctant to move on to the next chapter. They

would perhaps have been better served using fewer subjects and going into

more depth, rather than spread themselves so thinly. For example, in the

opening chapter the latest film, _Hunchback of Notre Dame_ is discussed.

The themes of perverse sexuality and desire are touched upon and there is

the suggestion that these themes will be revisited later in the text,

however, the only notions of sexuality discussed later are the hunchback's,

and surrounding male characters' possible homosexuality. I felt that the

ideas about Frollo's homosexual tendencies were a contradiction of the

desires discussed previously for the female lead character. Perhaps the

authors could have altered the chapter order to accommodate both ideas in

the same or proceeding chapters. This may have led to a more balanced and

thorough discussion of sexuality in Disney films. Many of these subjects

have been examined in the past, which the authors do acknowledge, but in

the context of the current political climate they take on a new context

which is perhaps more meaningful to a new audience than previous texts have

been.

 

I found the theories on the use of film to achieve full globalisation of

the Disney brand very interesting. I have often wondered when authors

discuss the notions of *reading* texts and underlying themes, if those

themes are deliberately inserted, are the unconscious effect of a

surrounding environment, or just what the author has read into it. In this

case the timing of _The Little Mermaid_ with the launch of EuroDisney seems

less than coincidental, especially considering that this film was the first

of a new formula for Disney which was to prove highly successful, in Europe

as well as in the states. It doesn't require a great deal of cynicism to

appreciate the level of marketing involved in the *Europe friendly* revamp

of the Disney formula. Likewise the _Aladdin_/Gulf war theory was quite

fascinating -- the closer you look at the film the more you begin to

realise that the genie does represent the US, with _Aladdin_ representing

Israel as the authors suggest. Ideas of this nature can alter the way you

look at films in the future, always looking for the hidden undertones. This

could ruin the films in many respects but could also aid our ability to

truly see what the Disney Corporation is trying to teach children and

adults alike and make us aware of their attempts at global domination.

 

My work is currently identifying satirical themes in animation,

specifically in the new breed of television sitcom animation shows. I am

trying to discover the origins of this specific genre of cartoon through

examining the earlier popular television cartoons. Although the Disney

features do not entirely fit this description, they have to be

acknowledged, as it is the heavy marketing of Disney to children which

makes people assume cartoons are solely children's entertainment. Despite

this I actually found a great deal of adult themes present in the

discussions through reading this particular text. Not least the political

positioning to improve brand position, but also in the sexual and racial

themes. Unlike many of the works I am studying, the underlying themes can

go unnoticed by children without any concern of 'bad influences'. As with

most animation, it is the use of slapstick or visual comedy which appeals

so much to children. Sophisticated language and comedic styles are

generally not aimed at the children, but rather provide the parents who are

accompanying them with another level on which to enjoy the films. I am sure

that even in these early stages of my research I will come to rely on this

text a great deal as the subject matter is up to date with the current

societal and political climate changes.

 

The book uses the specificity of the films within its discussions to

develop and confirm theories and themes. Not so much the themes of cinema

and philosophy, but rather themes of global branding and political

dominance. The films are specifically discussed against their contemporary

political climate, and though it does visit notions of film philosophy, the

purpose of the text is rather to identify Disney's current position through

the analysis of their recent films.

 

_Deconstructing Disney_ would be suited to animation, media, or cultural

studies students, and ultimately serves as a critical analysis of the

Disney corporation's attempts to expand their merchandising into a European

and Eastern market.

 

Queen Margaret University College

Edinburgh, Scotland

 

 

 

Footnote

 

1. The term 'Dark Prince' refers to the title of Marc Eliot's 'Walt Disney,

Hollywood's Dark Prince' which provided an in depth look at the Walt

Disney's life and relationships with staff and friends. Marc Elliot, _Walt

Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince_ (Andre Deutsch, 1995).

 

 

Filmography

 

_Beauty and The Beast_, 1991, dir. Gary Tousdale, Kirk Wise, wr. Linda

Woolvertoon.

 

_Aladdin_, 1992, dir. and wr. John Musker, Ron Clements, Ted Elliot, Terry

Rossio.

 

_The Little Mermaid_, 1989, dir. and wr. John Musker, Ron Clements.

 

_The Hunchback of Notre Dame_, 1996, dir. Gary Tousdale, Kirk Wise, wr. Cab

Murphy et al.

 

 

 

Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 2001

 

Nichola Dobson, 'Politicising Disney', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 5 no. 7,

March 2001 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol5-2001/n7dobson>.

 

 

 

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