Friday, June 12, 2009

On "Breaking the Disney Spell"

Most of the time, I can't decide whether I love Disney productions, or
abhor them. Some of the films produced by the company (and admittedly
other companies as well) are fantastic for teaching literary terms in a
manner in which my 8th graders can understand, but that doesn't make the
fact that the films are infused with stereotypes and cultural biases any
less disturbing.

Zipes in Tatar's The Classic Fairy Tales says that "Disney was a
radical filmmaker who changed our way of viewing fairy tales" (1999, p.
333). While this is true, there are other considerations to be made when
deciding if Disney's portrayal of these fairy tales was a legitimate
transformation from one medium to another or if Disney actually
bastardized the tales to suit his own whims.

When the printing press was invented, a shift from the fairy tales being
solely oral, to oral and printed occurred. At this time, Zipes says, the
written tale allowed readers to remove themselves from society to be
alone with a tale and that "this privatization violated the communal
aspects of the folktale, but the very printing of a fairy tales was
already a violation since it was based on separation of social classes"
(in Tatar, 1999, p. 335). What bothers me about this statement is the
author's choice of "violation" to describe what some view as
technological progress. The connotation of "violation" is clearly
negative, though without this process, there is no guarantee that
stories adapted from the oral traditions and their many variations,
would have survived.

While Zipes criticizes Disney's adaptations of fairy tales, that they
are self-serving and a desecration of the written tales, Disney used
these tales in the 1930s to "[touch] the lives of people during the
Depression" (in Tatar, 1999, p. 346). These adaptations, the
stereotyping and cultural biases portrayed in the films aside, holds
with the modifications made to oral tales when the needs of the
listening group changed. It is no different than being able to see
qualities of the English Romantics in Jane Austin's Pride and
, of the Victorians in Bram Stoker's Dracula, or
criticism of American society in Aaron McGruder's cartoon The

Zipes, J. Breaking the Disney Spell. In Tatar, M. ed. (1999). The
Classic Fairy Tale
. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

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