Share & Connect
There was an organization that became synomomous with the idea of the ‘happily ever after’. And that organization is Disney.
Since Disney’s beginnings, from short 5-6 minute films bringing to life old folk stories, to the multi-million dollar business which has given us Disneyland, Hannah Montana, Academy Awards and fodder for many late-night SingStar sessions.
The story behind Disney’s rise to its current superpower status begins, strangely enough, with the story of the Three Little Pigs. This was Disney’s first real surprise hit, with the theme song ‘Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ proving extremely popular with movie going public, so much so that Walt Disney was able to get funding to put forward his, and the world’s, first full-length animated film.
The film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which has extremely popular since its release in 1937. On re-watching I think most of its appeal (for me at the least) lies in the almost ridiculously adorable woodland critters who worshipfully follow Snow White and assist her in her day-to-day life. I challenge anyone to watch the critters clean the Dwarves house and not want to race into the forest and kidnap squirrels to clean out the attic.
The film undoubtedly looks dated now, particularly with the CGI assistance given to the newest film, Tangled. However what Snow White does possess in the actual quality of the animation is a gentle blurring of the edges – which gives the whole film this beautifully wonderland look to it. Everything seems magical and fantastic in Snow White – she is unbelievably good and loving, the dwarves are hurtfully cute, the animals had me clawing at the screen in a desperate attempt to take them home with me and the evil step-mother seems to have been booted from Hell for being too horrible.
Disney moved onto a variety of others films after Snow White, with Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and the Little Mermaid all being hugely successful for the company. But it wasn’t until Beauty and the Beast that Disney really received major critical accolades.
Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991 and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture. On re-watching it’s easy to see why. The film is breathtaking, both in terms of beauty of design – from the opening strains of music beginning the film, that features those images of stained glass to illustrate the story, to the joyful concluding waltz every image looks warm, real and appealing.
But it’s not just the design and the amusement afforded by this film that makes it so lasting – there are moments of profoundness that you don’t expect in a child’s film. For example during an assault upon the Beasts castle the marching villagers sing ‘We don’t like what we don’t understand, in fact it scares us and this castle is mysterious at least’.
There’s some exposition of the deep fears of the human psyche in a song, set in a magical movie about love beyond the physical appearance. This movie fell into what is referred to as the ‘Disney Renaissance’ and after watching it it’s easy to see why. The film is beautiful, moving, touching, funny, sad and sometimes enraging. And worth watching time and time again.
And how far we’ve come since then! After the end of the so-called Disney Renaissance (which ended with the Lion King) Disney released slightly less successful films like Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, The Emperor’s New Groove, Lilo & Stitch and the Princess and the Frog.
There were also Pixar films (which is owned by Disney) at the same time – Toy Story, Wall-E and Up to name a few of the best. Pixar seemed to be taking over Disney’s territory of magical films filled with wonder and delight, and somehow adult and clever enough that adults and children alike sit through them again and again.
For a while it did seem that we would turn to Pixar for our Disney caliber films, for all those magical things which are conjured by the appearance of that magical castle at the beginning of a film. But then came Disney’s 50th animated film – Tangled.
Tangled is a CGI film, but it manages to capture that same sense of a magical wonderland that Disney is known for. However the use of CGI, and changing social values, do mean that Disney has had to change. Today’s audiences can appreciate Snow White, we can enjoy it and see it’s value, but it does not have the same relation to us now as it did back in 1937.
Tangled is Disney’s best meshing of our desire for magical fairytales and our changing expectations for some form of realism. There are still magical creatures, that don’t help with the housework this time, but manage to be achingly funny despite it.
Tangled is the story of Rapunzel – but it makes it much more complex then the original. As Disney does best. There’s a magical flower from the sun, a wicked old woman, a swashbuckling adventurer who turns out to be lying about his name and a man the size of a brick wall who turns out to love making ceramic unicorns.
This film brings out the same childish joy in me as the Disney Renaissance films do, a sense of amusements, wonder and magic and the safe resolution of everyone living happily ever after.
Cliched? Yes. But it’s a welcome cliché.