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.


Rob Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Murphy said...

Mr. Cothran, In light of Mr. Kern's view that the Disney "trivialize, sentimentalize, and cutify the fairy tales" in their now considered Disney Classics. What is your view on the "impressionist" art that Kern believes was in Sleeping Beauty, and possibly other Disney Classics?

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.

Rob Murphy said...

I think it includes all that you listed and defined, but isn't that what Fairy Tales and (in most cases) Animated Movies are supposed to do? Sure Disney edited them to have happy endings, of course they appealed to ethos, and assuredly they made some of the characters more attractive and better looking than the men and women in reality. But in a world of pain, imperfectness, sorrow, hate, etc... is it not okay to create words (be they animated or just plain fairy tales) that will give children a momentary respite before encountering the "real world"? Or does this defeat the purpose of preparing them for such an encounter?

Andrew 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

Rob Murphy said...

Mr. Kern though I may not know you, I hope you are jesting, when you say, "You're just lucky I have to follow your five rules, that's all I have to say."

Growing up, I watched most of the Disney Classics, such as Snow White, Sleepy Beauty, Pinocchio, even Dumbo. In all cases, as a young child, I saw Good overcome Evil--The Evil Queen in Snow White falling to her death because of her pride; Maleficent killed by the Prince, a representative of what is morally right.

I watched Beauty and the Beast with growing suspense, wondering if the Beast would throw off his anger and cold heartedness and let love take root; I hoped with all my might, that Dumbo might be liked though he was abnormally different (this does not imply tolerance, for was looked upon as those in the late 1800s and early 1900s looked upon retarded children or those with deformed physical features).

If I remember correctly, my Parent's advice and command "Not to talk, walk, or do anything with strangers" was confirmed in Pinocchio, by that distasteful fox, stupid cat, and all the consequences of Pinocchio skipping school. And as I recall Jiminy Cricket was the wisest of all the characters aside from the Blue Fairy, yes Disney may have changed him, but they didn't change his core values. The Lion King taught us youngsters not to wander off, but to do as our parent's tell us, to not slack off and take an Hakuna Matata, but to strive forward, and do the work as hard as it may be, to fight against evil, and to keep our core beliefs close to us in such a struggle.

You seem to think that just because Disney "sentimentalized" most, to all of their Classic Fairy Tales, that those Fairy Tales in question lost their "quiddity" (Latin: quidditas: was another term for the essence of an object), their morals connected to the "real world of the human soul and its relations". I disagree; the core morals are still there and will remain. These types of "Classic Animated Fairy Tales" are not supposed to be the life lessons that we older Children (teens) and adults need to learn. They are merely beginning the process of instilling the morals that we need and require as we grow and learn those "life lessons".

I disliked Shrek, the second and third were horrendous, and was slightly offended by some of the language and "jokes" used in it. Even the phrase that you considered so "really funny" and such a "creative element in the story", because to me that phrase has a very distinct meaning. It was said by Tiny Tim "God Bless us, everyone", for Scrooge, out of the kindness and love brought about his dream on Christmas eve, had given generously and with all his heart; Tiny Tim wanted God to "bless" everyone--and that is no small prayer. In any case, Shrek is on no account the summation of all the Disney Classics. Shrek had almost no moral purpose but the Classics did and still do.

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 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 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.

Andrew 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.

Rob Murphy said...

lol, and I agree with your first point. Shrek is a very disturbing, disgusting movie.

As, to your second point. Its too late.

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.

Andrew 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.