Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Disney, Extoller of Nature

When I was a tyke, I was swept up in the lush romanticism of a Disney semi-documentary entitled Perri. Mostly forgotten today, the film told the story of a flying squirrel, and I still remember the dream sequence's stylized, overlarge snowflakes. At the time, they jazzed me. (Why else would I remember them a half-century later?)

I'll admit it: I was nine or ten years old, and I cared about Perri's trials and tribulations, her brushes with danger. So I was kind of crushed twenty years after the fact when I heard one of Perri's filmmakers say:

"Man, if people only knew how many squirrels we damaged and killed making that thing! It wouldn't have gone over real well ..."

Which takes us to the New York Times' meditation on Disney nature films, both animated and otherwise:

Just how much of a friend Disney has been to woodland folk (and their kin in the sea and the jungle) has long been batted about by scholars and writers ... “These films have taught us variously about having a fundamental respect for nature,” [David Whitely writes in] “The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation” (Ashgate). “Some of them, such as Bambi, inspired conservation awareness and laid the emotional groundwork for environmental activism.”

... But many scholars have taken Disney to task on this very issue, citing the company for environmentally unfriendly policies and the films for candy-coated sentimentalism and distorted views of nature and animals.

Ralph H. Lutts, the author of “The Nature Fakers: Wildlife, Science & Sentiment,” wrote that Disney’s version of the original Bambi story by Felix Salten, first published in English in 1928, was “a ‘Sunday school’ vision of nature as a place without stress, conflict or death,” and that compared with the original story on which it is based, the Disney version was a much less “ecologically and philosophically complex vision of nature" ...

I've always had problems with academics who've sneered at Disney for "sentimentalizing" and "oversimplifying" literary works or the complex wonders of nature. Come on already, they're freaking movies! Anybody going to get the vapors because Armageddon is unrealistic? It's a Bruckheimer movie, not a documentary.

Call me a simpleton, but I've never had a problem immersing myself in Snow White, Dumbo, or even, God help me, Perri.

But it still, like, bummed me out that they killed all those squirrels.


Anonymous said...

Ahh, acedemics are like lemmings over a cliff...wait a minute...didn't Disney force those lemmings off the cliff?!

Floyd Norman said...

No, Eisner forced traditional animation off the cliff. Heck, they even replaced the studio Macs with PCs.

Is that evil or what?

Anonymous said...

Hey, Floyd, Eisner might be your boogie man and the easy butt of silly jokes, but he was never responsible for forcing animals off a cliff that I'm aware of...

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