Wednesday, October 6, 2010

De-Disneyfying the Fairy-Tale Film

From Author aims to ‘de-Disneyfy’ fairytales by Aaron Cordova:

After briefly explaining the evolution of fairytales from thousands of years ago to today, Zipes showed the first video of the evening, which was an early film version of "Little Red Riding Hood." The black and white cartoon characters were line drawings, using no shading techniques. The characters did not speak as a constant upbeat tune played in the background, accompanied by whimsical sound effects that are common to all classic cartoons.

In the film, an abstract "Red Riding Hood" character was pursued by a shifty-eyed man donning a bowler hat and driving a convertible that tip-toed behind her. He eventually trapped her in her grandma's vacant house and presumably violated her, making the house jump, shake and expand as the girl screamed inside.

Zipes explained it was a symbolic wolf-pursuit, and said "Little Red Riding Hood" was "all about rape."

Following the film, Zipes showed several Disney adaptations of the fairytale. In contrast, Disney focused on sporadic outbreaks of song and infantile girls who became increasingly dumb and vulnerable.

Explaining that Disney's versions of the fairytale upset fellow Hollywood animators, Zipes showed several more versions from other creators, some of which mocked Disney's versions. One film, made with stop-motion claymation, focused on Russia in 1989 with the theme of international relations.

Of course, you can read the entire article by following the link.

Also, Zipes' The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films is due to be released on December 15th of this year.


  1. People love to hate Disney--none more so than Jack Zipes it seems. I respect the man's contribution to folklore studies, but I can't help but find his criticism of Disney somewhat paranoid. For example, in "Breaking the Disney Spell," he claimed that Disney started and ended his film version of Snow White with the Prince to reinforce patriarchy, forgetting that the movie actually opens with the queen. It seems more likely that the filmmakers had Snow White meet the Prince before the start of her adventures so that their relationship had some history (albeit brief).

    What I find ironic is that Walt Disney has a reputation for hijacking the fairy tale when in fact only three feature films made in his lifetime were based on fairy tales (Snow White in 1937, Cinderella in 1950, and Sleeping Beauty in 1959). Most were based on popular children's books (Pinocchio, Bambi, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book). It wasn't until The Little Mermaid was released in 1989 (over 20 years after Walt's death) that a new onslaught of fairy tale films came out. The so-called Princess Collection is relatively new.

    It's easy to understand why Walt Disney decided to use a fairy tale for his first feature picture (public domain, familiar story, personal favorite of his etc.) All fairy tale tellers change stories along the way. The Brothers Grimm did. Some of Lotte Reiniger's movies take great liberties with the tales that inspired them (see her "Hansel and Gretel" and "Jack and the Beanstalk"). Disney just happened to be very successful. Now his films are synonymous with dumbed-down fairy tales, even though I don't think that's a fair distinction.

    I would, however, be very interested to see that Little Red cartoon.

  2. Amen, E.K. Coughlin. Amen.

  3. I've heard a version of this Zipes lecture (or at least one where he has the same topic and films). He's focusing on the short films Disney made at the beginning of his career, not the feature films. The compare and contrast analysis was really interesting. And at least at the lecture I attended, it didn't come off as Disney-hate.

    There's a new fairy tale and film book just out from Utah State press: _Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity_, edited by Pauline Greenhill and Sidney Eve Matrix. There's some Disney in there, but not much.

  4. I have to agree with e.k.coughlin. Zipes has made wonderful contributions to the study of fairytales but his greatest failing, and one that shows through in most of his work, is that he tends fall into the narrowest confines criticism, namely this means that. I think he succumbs to the bugbear of academia which is to become so obsessed with critical meaning that the emotional meaning becomes lost. His criticism reduces the tales to dull, static and unchanging social tropes. Coming from the perspective of both a lifelong student of fairy tales (as if being an academic brings an end to ones also being a student – and woe is the day when academics lose sight of this) and a story teller I can say with absolute honesty the tales exist to be told and in telling them they are made to be embraced. I have yet to encounter a child who is influenced by Red Riding Hood or Cinderella or Snow White who asks what the stories mean within some assigned framework of critical methodology