Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Disney rant, in context...

After my initial, rather snarky post on my impressions of the upcoming movie 'Tangled', I saw several other blogs, videos and articles on the same topic. The opinions were fierce on both sides: Those who were underwhelmed by what they saw, and the ones who felt the former were acerbic cynics raining on a perfectly fine-looking flick's parade.

I actually don't like to be some big bad wolf, putting down the hard work of skilled 3D artists, so I figured an honest opinion in the proper context is wiser than a few snarky remarks in a vacuum.

If I did NOT love Disney and its contribution to animation, I wouldn't be bothered enough to voice criticism about their recent output.

Animation is an important and delightful form of art. I have been fascinated by it since early childhood. I have studied it out of sheer interest. I have a beloved collection of films including Paul Grimault, Soyuzmultfilms, Ivanov Vano, Norsteyn, Miyazaki, Kon... Pixar and Disney films are on the shelf with them.

It has bothered me that, for the past few years, I have no longer been drawn to the Disney flicks (I don't count Pixar as Disney: I did love Finding Nemo, WALL-E and UP, each for reasons I won't get into here).

I was SADDENED that after all the contrived, PC issues and blatant business-driven changes to 'The Princess and the Frog', I had to make myself want to see it. It's not at all how I wanted to feel about the 'revival' of Disney's 2D animation.

It had lots of good potential. The art no doubt was lovely. But it struck me as artificial, not magical; repetitive, not innovative. A familiar recipe: Broadway tunes, a slightly darker-coloured Belle clone, another 'necessary' ubiquitous, Owen Wilson-type love interest that the girl is bound to marry (no matter how utterly mismatched), a Jafar/Scar-type villain.

All I could think was, this is set in the roaring 20's, it's in New Orleans' jazz era, it has VOODOO in it... how can it NOT feel like a mind blowing, refreshing, trippy masterpiece!? The whole thing ought to feel like the 'drunk Dumbo scene' on banned absinthe and swamp gasses, an intoxicating juxtaposition of art-deco sophistication and quietly mysterious bayous...

Basically, I was extremely disappointed in Princess/Frog because I had high expectations. I had this nagging feeling that the idea and premise had ME way more inspired than the writers. This may be too arrogant of me, but we're talking about DISNEY, arguably America's most heavily funded, premier, default animation studio (unless I'm wrong). Mea culpa, I DO expect more of them.

I'm starting to have the same, nagging feeling about 'Tangled'. I'm seeing a pattern: Business-driven, contrived changes (namely the ridiculous name-change to attract male viewership; obviously, the suits at Disney have a low opinion of young boys' intelligence, in spite of desperately pandering to them), the 'necessary' Owen Wilson schmoozing bad boy, a Barbie/Bratz-doll clone... I'm waiting for this one to come out on DVD. My expectations are now lower.

I think I have OUTGROWN Disney movies. I loathe saying this, because I am a firm believer of animation as a great art form for all. But Disney movies are starting to smell more like flashy selling tools for tickets, DVD's, games, toys and plastic tiaras than inspired and passionate stories and works of art.

I finish with the words of Sylvain Chomet, of Les Triplettes de Belleville fame:

Walt Disney invented everything, he absorbed all these guys who came from the eastern countries who brought their rich cultures with them. He found this brilliant way of making money out of a new artform.

[...] The artists have no say any more. The suits decide everything now, and there are so many of them. It is like the dinosaurs, it has got too big and the brain is too small.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, but Disney did not invent everything. And some of us found the studio's product as nauseating in the heyday of their cel production as you do now.

    I guess it is a matter of where you draw the line.

    I cringe for all the reasons that you cringe about the contemporary product. But the old stuff makes me queasy too. Personally, I find the sexism and racism of the old films more disturbing than the recent (and very half-hearted efforts) to be more inclusive.

    The reasons for my lack of enthusiasm are many. The old films bored me. I found the dumbed-down Arthur Rackham look as tacky as the schmooze face. The politics irked. The films were as smug as Captain Kirk, traveling the universe to deliver white American male superiority to the unfortunates who were other.

    But what really got to me was the relentless PR efforts of the studio. They were very successful and, as good PR people do, they rewrote history, playing up Disney's significance in the early days of the studio. Truth be told, Disney started out as one of many. The early work was far from outstanding. Years ago, when I programmed film society events, there would always be an illustration major who would beg me to include some Disney. Back then, in the dark days of the 70's, the only old animation that the public saw was Disney, and I didn't like to waste the screen time. But I'd put Steamboat Willie back to back with Koko's Earth Control. Even though the latter is silent, it blows the former out of the water. And after that there would be no more requests for Disney. I hope I cured a few people of their fetish.

    But in their own commercials, Disney constantly blew their own horn about how their films were the most beloved animated films of all time. They hadn't been. We heard, endlessly, how Mickey Mouse was the most beloved character. He wasn't, no more than Ronald McDonald was. He was certainly recognizable. But to be loved, you need a personality and Mickey has none. He's a product.

    And that is the most irksome thing about the studio. They don't make films so much as they make product. They'll take perfectly fine books (when they aren't flat out stealing, like they did with the Lion King) and whatever goes into their machine comes out looking the same. So help me, when I saw the trailer for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I stood up in the theater and shouted "SOMEBODY STOP THESE PEOPLE'.

    They are fine marketers, extraordinary self promoters and for some reason, some people like to watch the circle jerk. But Disney did not invent everything and they haven't so much gone downhill as they've lost market share now that they've got some competition that isn't so cynical and as relentlessly formulaic.