LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

on January 30, 2013 4:25pm

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Let me start off by saying I am a diehard Disney fan.  There are people who will say that he was an anti-Semite or that he hated children, and to that I say, there are a lot of people who do good things for the world who didn’t necessary have great personal lives.

So that being said, the article “Breaking the Disney Spell” by Jack Zipes made me absolutely angry.  Down to the very rhetoric he uses, referring to Disney’s “stranglehold” over the fairy tale, and his “capitalization of American innocence”.  This is obviously a man with a vendetta.  I don’t know what Walt Disney did to make Jack Zipes so angry, but it definitely comes out in this article.

At one point, he writes, “Throughout the entire production of this film, Disney had to be consulted and give his approval for each stage of development”.  But then he goes onto write, “As we know, Disney never liked to give credit to the animators who worked with him, and they had to fight for acknowledgment. Disney always made it clear that he was the boss and owned total rights to his products.”

Already, I have an immediate problem with this statement because if it’s really true that Disney had a hand in every aspect of the production of the film, doesn’t that entitle him the label of “boss” and doesn’t he truly own total rights to the product?  He even makes a strong point about how his re-telling of Snow White is truly his Americanized version that just totally strips the Grimm brothers of the traditional meeting.  If he totally remade the story in an entirely new way, doesn’t that make him the owner of the product more than if he had just adapted the story directly to film?

And as for the other assertion, that his animators had to fight for acknowledgment, I give you this, displayed in the opening seconds of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:
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Enough said.

Jack Zipes honestly has some huge problem with Disney and his style of bringing traditional fairy tales to life.  I don’t see the problem in adapting the stories, because isn’t that how we are left with the versions we have today?  From a variety of different people in different places passing the stories on to their children where they get altered a little or sometimes even a lot?  Disney is just another one of those story tellers who chose to adapt the story to his own taste.  Whether that taste is “Americanized” or not really isn’t the point.  He gives our children a story to watch on screen and relate to.  Would you rather read your child a story about a mermaid who cuts out her tongue, is in constant pain, and then almost stabs the object of her affection, or would you rather give them a happy ending?

I see absolutely nothing wrong with Disney’s adaptions and I’d really like to know what Jack Zipe’s beef is.  He didn’t die a billionaire for nothing.

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3 responses to “

  1. While I understand why you feel upset with Zipe for his criticism (I too love Disney films, as they are a hugely sentimental part of my childhood), I think you perhaps have abandoned your critical eye because of this emotional response. With just a little google-ing, you can find out quite easily that Disney was indeed well-known for his credit-taking habits. Yes, I understand that he was the “boss,” but when watching a movie at the theater today, do you become confused when the long list of credits go up? Have you ever thought to yourself, “Hey, why are there all these freaking names when really only the director’s name should be here? Why should anyone else get credit?” My guess is you have not had this response, and that not many people have.

    I will go out on a limb and say that most people in this country, with our hard-work-build-your-own-life-American-dream type of mentality, that from the costume designer to the guy playing Street Man #7 to the girl who got the coffee for everyone, each of these people were a part of the effort and should get some amount of credit for their work- they earned it. Likewise, it would be scandalous for the director of a blockbuster to publicly say they did all the hard work, they were the creative genius, and they should get all the credit. These are the sort of stunts Walt Disney pulled, and I find it very understandable that the men and women who spent months and months working away at “classic” Disney films should be outraged when they received little to no acknowledgment for such work. As to image you provided in your post, I find this incredibly lacking in terms of acknowledgment. No names are mentioned. By no means do I believe Disney was some tyrannical jerk who we should throw stones at, but I also know enough of humanity that I am sure he was not perfect.

    I think this idea is perhaps also what maddens so many people who loved the original versions of the stories Disney recreated- the morals, the quiet human truths, and the messages they connected with have been misshapen and drastically changed to suit a certain agenda. I do agree with the very well put comparison you made with the changing of fairy tales across countries and continents- why should DIsney not be allowed to change these stories in his own way? Well, there is no good reason against, and I don’t think there needs to be one. I am eternally grateful for Walt Disney’s work. However, I offer this situation to think about: If some brand, new hotter-than-Pixar company came around and reinvented Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, etc., into versions you barely recognized… Would this tug at your heart strings? Would this make you yearn for the tales that remind you of childhood and the stories that soften your heart? Perhaps this is how an older generation felt when faced with the bright colors of their once beloved, and written, fairy tales.

  2. Rebekah says:

    Unfortunately, Zipes is accurately representing the state of affairs when it came to Disney’s treatment of his animators and crew. That title panel that you reference on Snow White is in lieu of payment for the hundreds of hours of overtime that the animation crew worked in producing Snow White. Also, the animators were initially promised 20% of the profits of Snow White to be passed out as bonuses, but Disney reneged on that promise when his business managers feared Snow White would be a box office failure: Disney instead chose to raise the salaries of only a few of his favorite animators. As a result of the long hours, harsh treatment and unfair payments, the Disney animators went on strike in 1941, seeking, among other things, recognition for their contributions to the Disney’s films. Over half of the striking animators, editors and cameramen were fired. To this day, few people know the name Ub Iwerks, who was the creator and animator of Mickey Mouse: Disney took credit for Mickey but never actually drew him.

    All of this information and more is available in any good biography of Disney or historical look at the Disney company. Here is just a brief article to get you started:
    http://libcom.org/history/1941-disney-cartoonists-strike

    I know how strongly many of us feal about Disney films and how important that brand name is to our childhoods. However, Zipes is not alone in feeling that Disney strip-mined folk tales and cultural texts for content, then took all the credit for the films, not acknowledging the original authors, cultural contexts, or the thousands of people who spent thousands of hours creating the films we have all come to love. However, I think it is fully possible to be critical of the business and the indivdual while still honoring and appreciating the achievement that is Snow White (and the other animated films that set the standard for the industry).

  3. Rebekah says:

    Also, it might help to further put this conflict into context: Jack Zipes is one of the foremost scholars of folk tales/fairy tales in the world. As somone who has dedicated his life to collecting, studying, analyzing, recovering and publishing about folk tales from around the world, in all of their complexity, variations and rich cultural history, I would imagine that Zipes feels Disney has done the world a disservice by boiling all of that down into 1 standard version that is sanatized, Americanized and copyrighted. I can only imagine him at a party, telling someone that he is working on a recently recovered manuscript of a rare eighteenth century version of Snow White only to have that person respond “oh, my kids love that movie!” Just something else to think about.

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