Monday, March 08, 2010

Down with Shrek--and other issues involving Disney

My friend Andrew Kern writes at Quiddity against the movie Shrek, a review in which I am in significant agreement:
Humble comment number one: This movie should never be watched by anyone under any circumstances.
Here is the comment I posted there, however, taking issue with his issue with Disney:

I agree with you wholeheartedly about this movie. The other aspect of this is that Shrek plays off of an assumed knowledge of fairy tales that many children today simply don’t possess. In many cases all they know about fairy tales are the satires of them. They don’t know the story of the Three Little Pigs; but they know the story of the Three Little Pigs from the Wolf’s Perspective. This is very tragic.

But you talk about “every fairy tale ever ruined by Disney.” I know it is fashionable to bash on Disney, but I find their early animated movies to be well within the spirit of the traditional fairy tale. Tell me the problem with Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty or Pinocchio. I think even Beauty and The Beast was quite well done. And don’t miss Disney’s Tall Tale, a fundamentally agrarian movie that exalts home and family–and tradition. Not to mention that it is an apologetic for the poetic.

I know many people who point out that Disney completely changed the ending of Han’s Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid,” but, quite frankly, its ending needed to be changed–as do many of the endings of Andersen’s pessimistic tales. They’re obviously not comedies, but they’re also not tragedies, since there is no satisfaction in the losses that punctuate their endings.

If someone is going to perpetrate the pessimism of his unrequited love affairs (some with other men), I’d prefer it not be done in a fairy tale.

Sorry, I’m being too hard on Andersen, but I would love to know your reasons for bashing on Disney–at least if you mean to include classic Disney films.

Read the rest here.


Lee said...

Martin, I actually kinda liked the first Shrek movie. But the second one made it clear we were heading into P.C./feminist territory. So I didn't bother with #3.

Martin Cothran said...


I guess I wonder exactly what "trivialize, sentimentalize, and cutify the fairy tales" really means. Does it mean they have happy endings? So does the Odyssey. Does it mean they appeal to the emotions? So does the Gettysburg Address. Does it mean that, through the animation process, some characters are made to look more attractive then they would be in real life? Then all animated movies should be avoided.

I guess I need some better definition.

Them said...

Oh, great, you come over to MY blog, the one for which YOU came up with the silly name shortly before YOU abandoned ME, and then you get people talking about MY blog over at YOUR blog. So that's what friends are for?

You're just lucky I have to follow your five rules, that's all I have to say.

What I meant by sentimentalize, which is my main word, is the way they create a false morality that is not connected to the real world of the human soul and its relations but only to the sentiments (primarily wishful thinking) of the actor or viewer.

I have no problem with happy endings whatsoever, though I question your use of the Odyssey to illustrate it (did you stop after book 23?). I have a problem with unjustifiable happy endings.

Let me also say that I didn't slam all of Disney's movies. I don't remember if I think SW and SB and Pinheadchio are OK. I do remember saying years ago that Pinheadchio is probably Dis knees best movie and being corrected by, probably, Martin Cothran.

Oh, I remember now why I can't approve of it. Jiminey Cricket. The change they rendered on JC is unforgivable.

And then there's Dumbo, but I'm not allowed to name-call on this puritanical blog.

You've hurt me, Martin, and I have to wonder why. You are small.

I'm having a hard time breaking number three in a subtle enough way for you to fail to notice, da

Lee said...

Pinocchio was a classic if only for one reason: the "Jiminy Cricket" character became a vehicle for the unlikely career resurrection of one Cliff Edwards, a.k.a. Ukulele Ike. A sad, ruined old drunk with one of the most poignant singing voices of all time.

If you doubt his talent, listen again to "When You Wish Upon a Star" and then ask yourself: could anyone have sung that song any better?

Thomas M. Cothran said...

The complaint against Shrek that people are not familiar with the actual fairy tale applies almost as readily to the Disney versions, which also twist the story (sometimes in fundamental ways). Aside from often changing the storyline, the Disney movies subtracted the element of the grotesque that is such an essential part of many fairy tales.

The Disney movies are no doubt better artistically, but they most definitely trivialize, sentimentalize, cuteify, and sanitize the fairy tales. Consider, for instance, that in the original versions of Sleeping Beauty, she is either impregnated or raped. The basic tone of the story, being rather dark, is lost in the Disney version.

Martin Cothran said...

What's wrong with changing a fairy tale? Were fairy tales written by an original author and set in stone and never changed after that? Isn't it part of the fair tale tradition that they in fact do change in the hands of different people over time?

Thomas M. Cothran said...

There's nothing necessarily wrong with Disney did, but it clearly involves sentimentalizing and sanitizing the stories, and arguably trivializing them. Just as the movie "Troy" is alright considered by itself, but changes the story of the Iliad in a way that makes it less substantive and overlooks essential elements of epic Greek poetry, so the Disney stories have been changed, albeit for a different audience. There's nothing wrong with the movies themselves (they're quite good as movies), they miss many of the crucial elements of fairy tales, especially the grotesque. Many people of my generation believe that Disney movies are the paradigm of fairy tales, because they haven't had much contact with real fairy tales.

Them said...

Rob, Yes I was jesting. Martin and I have been at each other's throats for years. The trouble you see is that because I have taught him he knows almost everything theoretically but when it comes time to put into practical terms he always gets it wrong. At least when he disagrees with me.

I'm still jesting. I love Martin. I just wish he loved me.

But Thomas has taken up my case. I would like to point out that almost everything everybody has said to correct me I agree with, so either I'm confusing or my point is not being received.

Shrek is an awful movie. That's my point.

The other movies I have not expressed much of an opinion on and what I have said I've qualified into oblivion.

I'll add one last point before I run out of the saloon, door swinging dramatically behind me:

Fairy tales should not be turned into movies.

Martin Cothran said...

Before Andrew drew the obvious conclusion from his own argument (something I sometimes have to do for him), I was going to say it myself: the only solution is not to make fairy tales into movies.

As to me being theoretical and him being practical, all I can do is point to the empirical evidence concerning our interactions together over the years. He will undoubtedly, however, have some theoretical objection to this.

Them said...


My argument is practical. It has to do with ethics and art - with what should be done.

If we are going to make sound ethical and artistic decisions, we need to think formally, not Pragmatically. The latter does not work for the simple reason that it does not attend to the nature and form of the thing about which it does not want to think.

I am fairly convinced that it is impractical to do things that don't work.

Therefore, we need to do something practical, and that is to teach people how to think formally again so that they can make decisions about movies like Shrek that go beyond "it was funny," which is really a dodge for abdicating the leadership of the family.

Now if you would take the trouble to do what you theorized about and point to the empirical evidence (I won't go into how disturbing is your implied identification of the empirical with the practical), I would be interested in what you are able to offer, though I'm not sure the act would be practical.