Moana: “We Know the Way”

I’ve been listening to the Moana soundtrack on heavy rotation lately. It gives me a connection to the film while I wait to go see it again. One song that I keep coming back to is this one, “We Know the Way.” Spoilers will come after.

Last night, I wrote about Moana and the ocean. This song appears at that crucial moment in the film when Moana learns that her ancestors were sea voyagers. The scene, which involves a cave in that epic sort of way would make Joseph Campbell proud. We can learn so much of ourselves when we go into caves, or at least that’s what the myths tell us. Moana goes into the cave at her grandmother’s advice, because Moana is trying to learn why the island is dying. She is instructed to bang the drum and listen to what the cave tells her. The cave sings “We Know the Way” to her.

Here’s a lyric excerpt:

We read the wind and the sky
When the sun is high
We sail the length of the seas
On the ocean breeze
At night we name every star
We know where we are
We know who we are, who we are

The wayfinding tradition is that they learn how to read the stars, the ocean, and the wind to navigate the sea. Because they have been landlubbers for so long, they’ve forgotten how. The secrets weren’t passed down. When Moana’s father tried to venture beyond the reef, he didn’t know how to sail, so when he encountered a storm, he lost his best friend to the depths. He never forgave himself, and when he became the chief, he put an end to voyaging past the boundary of the reef. Moana, whose name means ocean, couldn’t ignore the call.

Learning the origins of her people is a significant moment for her–it gives her the validation that she can, in fact, heed the call of the ocean. She realizes that if she can revive the sailing tradition with her people, it would solve their food shortage and dying island problem. Her father is displeased by this idea, and threatens to burn the boats. Her grandmother uses this time to fall ill (again, in a perfectly Joseph Campbell pushing-you-on-the-adventure sort of way). Her grandmother tells her to go, and while everyone’s back is turned…she does.

My interpretation of the song hinges on the line,

“We know where we are
We know who we are, who we are”

The very identity of the people is wrapped up in the adventure. By adventuring, they know who they are. They always know where they are, and they’re never lost. Importantly, their collective Self is never lost. It’s a rather popular notion in contemporary culture that “not all who wander are lost.” But what does it mean to be lost really? Can one be lost if one knows exactly where one happens to be?

This is something that I think American culture values in our myths. From pirates, to cowboys, to space explorers, American myth is filled with people who are never lost, yet are constantly on the move. The constant state of being rootless has created a weird phenomenon that Rollo May sums up through his analysis of “the lonely cowboy” (The Cry for Myth). We perpetuate the myth of this character, even if it’s not factually true–we want to be on the move, but it does get lonely.

Moana’s ancestors traveled as a tribe. This is something that is missed in American culture. We may move in our small families, but not the entire extended family. We no longer move in tribes, and seem to value the fact that we don’t. Part of Moana’s boon is relearning the wayfinding tradition so she can reactivate the identity of her people. Imagine what strength we could have as a country if we reactivated our identity as a people, and started to once again sail together as a tribe.

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Moana and the Ocean

The other day, I was surfing a Buzzfeed article about Moana and came across a delicious little tidbit:

“Moana” means “ocean,” and it’s a nongendered word.

This is a significant detail in the context of the movie. Spoilers below.

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So, here’s the thing: The whole point of the film is that Moana is struggling with the fact that the ocean is calling her. When she’s a baby, the ocean chooses her. She wanders over to the sea, lured by a pretty shell. She reaches for it, and the ocean parts a pathway for her. She follows the trail of shells and meets a column of ocean, who essentially kisses her in the universal symbol of blessing, and gives her the green heart of Tafiti. She drops the heart as she runs back to her father, who is very nervous about the lure of the ocean (although he recognizes that Moana experiences the same call as he does–but this really isn’t a story about father atonement, so don’t get distracted by this detail).

Until she finally heeds the call to adventure, she struggles with the call of the ocean. I wrote about her anthem, “How Far I’ll Go,” in another post. One of the other members of my Doctor Disney trinity, Dori Koehler, wrote this great post about the Call to Adventure and Moana’s message for our country. (Our third is the ever-wonderful Amy Davis. You know, that Amy Davis.)

But think about it this way: if her names mean ocean, that call that she’s struggling with is the call of her Self. So let’s talk about how this film isn’t just about empowerment; it’s about individuation.

Personally, I think that individuation is one of Jung’s best concepts. This is the process by which one becomes a whole in-divid-ual, with a balanced psyche (conscious and unconscious). One of the arguments I get into with older Jungians is whether or not individuation can happen in younger people. One way of interpreting Jung’s theory about individuation suggests that once you achieve it, you’ve achieved nirvana, and you’re done. The way I tend to interpret individuation places emphasis on the process, and brings together the end goal of the process with the hero’s journey of Joseph Campbell. One often overlooked detail about Campbell’s journey is that the hero has to go home and share the boon, and once this is done, the hero goes off on another journey. Stories aren’t written to share with us the next step of the journey. So what if the heroes aren’t just going off into the woods…but rather going on their next journey?

That, to me, is closer to the reality of life. We constantly go from one journey to the next. Each journey builds on the previous to define who we are, adding a facet to our in-divid-uality.

When Campbell writes about what happens to us when we ignore the call to adventure, he’s cautioning us from getting so static that we forget about the journey and forget who we are. That little voice constantly calling us tells us who we are. It’s our heart.

The ocean is calling Moana. The heart of Tafiti is her heart. Her heart is literally calling her home.

Moana’s boon is to restore her people to their Wayfinding tradition. She learns from Maui how to navigate the seas, and she takes her people back on the adventure. As the song of the Wayfinders tells us, they always know home in their heart as they go searching for the next island. The point of her people is to go on the hunt for the islands that Maui raises with his fishhook. To constantly go on questing journeys for the next adventure.

When I sat through the credits of the film, I posted on Facebook the observation that this film out-Campbells Joseph Campbell. Because it does: Campbell may have given us the literary road map of the hero’s journey, but this film takes to that next level: the journey continues. Literally. We continue.

Speaking of heart, I want to give a shout-out to the short film ahead of Moana, called Inner Workings of the Human Body. Do you follow your head? Or your heart?

Lego Disney Castle, Part Two

I’m still not finished yet, but on track to be finished this week. I am intentionally not building it in one sitting to give it some time to sink in.

Phase Three

This one too about an hour to build. This phase gives the castle the first set of walls and the main door. Not too much to see here.

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Phase Four

This one also took about an hour to build. This phase is a little more exciting than Phase Three, in that there is a lot more detail than we saw in the previous sections.

This one has a movie reference:

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There’s Merida’s arrow, quiver, and the target from Brave. The best part? Those little tan circles represent the three cakes that her mother and brothers eat to turn into bears!

Main entrance chandelier:

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A Grandfather clock:

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As an interesting bit of trivia, all of the clocks in the castle are set for 11:55, locking the castle in the last exciting few minutes before midnight.

A vase of flowers:

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While not technically a movie reference, I can’t help but imagine Bedknobs and Broomsticks when I look at the suits of armor.

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And all together:

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Phase Five

This phase only took about 40 minutes. Minnie joins Mickey:

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And the castle gets some walls:

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Phase Six

This one took an hour-twenty (I’m tracking the time, because I’m curious how long the total project takes).

A reference to Aladdin (the carpet and lamp):

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More walls:

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Phase Seven

Just under an hour at 50 minutes. The front is coming together now:

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Phase Eight

This one took an hour. I constructed both Phase Seven and Phase Eight during the third presidential debate. Building Legos made the show of the debate much easier to deal with. And perhaps with a bit of irony (given that I was watching the debate), Donald Duck joins the castle cast:

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And the walls start growing towers:

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Phase Nine

And then I took a couple days off to get ready for a conference this weekend. This phase took almost an hour, and the towers got flags:

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To be continued!

 

Lego Disney Castle

For my upcoming birthday, I decided to get myself the Lego Disney Castle. This is an exclusive set that contains more than 4,000 pieces. I have a profound love of Lego, and it seems that they increasingly turn their sights toward developing model kits, not just free form bricks. That makes my previous posts about why Lego instructions are useful all the more relevant. I don’t often spend my time or money on Lego products any more. For a while, I was obsessively buying the Star Wars models, only to burn out of Star Wars. I’ve sold or gotten rid of most of those sets by now, but I still have my Millennium Falcon, which, until this castle, is my Lego pride and joy.

So I got the castle:

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When the castle was released in September, it boasted being the set with the most pieces Lego has ever released. The forthcoming Death Star (!) might actually have a bit more. The price tag is also daunting–a whopping $350 (retail)! Before you scoff at the idea of a box of plastic (by the way, the box itself is as big as my daughter), this set has far more custom parts than I have ever seen in a Lego kit. I can forgive the price and exclusivity. I really can’t imagine Lego mass manufacturing plastic mouse ears…

So last night I started the build. The instruction book is 450 pages, and is a hefty chunk of pages. I’ve noticed a couple new features about Lego kits (I also recently bought a newer set for my daughter’s birthday): one is that the instruction books include an inventory of the pieces that are included in the book, including how many and their part number. This is helpful in case one ever needs to get just a single piece (remember when a kit was ruined forever when it was missing one single key piece?). The other is that the pieces are divided into phases, and numbered accordingly. Given that this castle has 14 phases spread across 30 or so bags, I’m grateful for not having to hunt and peck through all 30 bags. I’m also grateful for not having to have all bags open at once.

There’s another piece that Lego has since designed:

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It’s a Brick Separator! I’m convinced that my entire childhood would have been different had I had one of these. One of my complaints with my old bucket of bricks was that certain pieces were IMPOSSIBLE to separate, so I stopped piecing them together. I’m convinced that this tool would have encouraged me to free form build more. (Imagine the possibilities!)

Last night, I started building Phase One and Phase Two. Because I can, I thought I’d share the process. I have a conference next week and I haven’t finished my paper yet, so I think it’s going to take me a little bit to get the whole castle built.

PHASE ONE

I started Phase One last night at 8:49. This stage included building the foundation for the castle. There’s a lot of detail involved in Phase One; the foundation is 3 layers thick, and it feels like one of the most solid modular foundations (as opposed to a single baseplate) that I’ve ever built on. About halfway through, I found the first film reference:

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Yes, those are little Lego frogs. Tiana and Naveen. On lily pads! The castle boasts 14 film references, mostly Princess and Fantasyland films, but it adds a layer of detail that makes this castle even more magical.

I finished Phase One at 10:21, so roughly an hour and a half later, and here’s what I accomplished:

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It doesn’t seem like much, but, like I said, it’s a really strong foundation. I’m confident that it’s not going anywhere. Since the final product is over 2 feet tall, a strong base is important.

PHASE TWO

I began Phase Two at 10:23 with the building of this little guy:

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Mickey is one five minifigs that comes in the set. When Disney released the minifig mystery bags over the summer, I got a few of them (I wish I had tried to get more, but I didn’t realize they were a temporary thing…like everything else Disney). I didn’t take a picture of his back, but part of building Mickey includes a little cloth tuxedo tail.

I finished 40ish minutes later at 11:09, and it doesn’t look like much progress:

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With any luck, I’ll build a bit more tonight. There’s something truly thrilling about building Legos, and it’s a similar something to knitting a sweater or building IKEA furniture. I enjoy the exercise of taking two dimensional instructions and making the three dimensional product manifest, come to life, and become a tangible object for me to enjoy. So, more to come. Stay tuned!

CALL FOR PAPERS

So, I decided to move in the direction of writing a Second Book, and the idea manifested to also write a Third Book as well. Second Book is going to be an exploration with fellow Disney Doctors, Dori Koehler (author of the forthcoming exegesis of Disneyland and ritual) and Amy Davis (author of such notable classics as Good Girls and Wicked Witches and Handsome Heroes and Vile Villains), exploring Disney Princesses from a few different angles, including the princess as a kore, her role as an archetypal image of American culture, and the evolution of the princess over the history of the films. This is still in the nascent stage, but now that I’ve announced it, that makes it real.

The Third Book is an edited volume for Intellect Books’ Fan Phenomena series. This is a really cool series that looks at fandoms, the culture impact of fandoms, the psychological meaning of fandoms, and how fans connect with their fandoms. Each volume in this series is themed around a specific fandom, and volumes in the series include: Buffy the Vampire SlayerStar Trek, Star Wars, The Big Lebowski, Twin Peaks, Mermaids… So I’ve proposed a volume to add to the series, one focusing specifically on Disney. From Princesses and Pirates to MousePlanet and Lou Mongello’s WDW tours to the D23 and MMC, this volume plans to explore the delicate intersection between Disney’s consumerist machine versus the organic way that fans connect with Disney.

The CFP and submission guidelines can be found on Intellect’s website: http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/weblog/view-Post,id=82717/

The aim of this project is academic and focused specifically on the fans, not analyses of the movies etc. The focus is specifically on Disney, not Star Wars or Marvel, because they’re already included in other volumes in the series.

Deadline for proposals isn’t until April, but why not get a head start?

I wrote a book!

I’m a little late to my own party (such is the life of an adjunct teaching new curriculum during the summer), but remember that dissertation thingy I wrote? I made it into a book and it’s available for your purchasing pleasure!

walts utopiaHere are a few links where you can find it:

McFarland Books – This is the publisher

Amazon.com – This is one of my favorite online booksellers because of their convenience

Barnes and Noble – Because why not?

No public events are currently scheduled, but I’ll make sure I post something should they appear. I don’t necessarily have the resources to travel far and wide, but I’m open to any suggestions and invitations.

Here’s the blurb from the back:

The “Happiest Place on Earth” opened in 1955 during a trying time in American life–the Cold War. Disneyland was envisioned as a utopian resort where families could play together and escape the tension of the “real world.” Since its construction, the park has continually been updated to reflect changing American culture.

The park’s themed features are based on familiar Disney stories and American history and folklore. They reflect the hopes of a society trying to understand itself in the wake of World War II. This book takes a fresh look at the park, analyzing its cultural narrative by looking beyond consumerism and corporate marketing to how Disney helped America cope during the Cold War and beyond.

I did want to take a moment to comment on the writing process, since that’s what this blog has been mostly about for some time, right? I admire those people who can seemingly *just write a book.* With the academic research process being what it is, I’m amazed at people who seem to publish a new book every year or two. I started my dissertation in Fall 2010, and it only became book-worthy at the end of 2014, and that was with the benefit of taking a couple summers off from teaching. More interestingly, the final push to turn the dissertation into a book involved adding some new content. At the time I was writing this new content, most of my books were in storage, so I had to swim those waters with unfamiliar tools. But somehow I did it, and I gave my dissertation-child to the world.

So, here it is, dear public. The culmination of everything this blog has been about for the last 5 years. I have a few Next Projects in mind, all Disney myth related. I even have them outlined. Stay tuned, all two of you who still follow this blog. More to come!

Persephone got legs

Several years ago, as a fresh graduate student at Pacifica Graduate Institute, I wrote a paper about Persephone, interpreting her story less as a mother’s loss for an abducted child, and more as a teenager’s rebellion for the sake of identity formation. My thinking hinges on the very tiny detail that if Persephone really wanted to leave the Underworld and return to her mother, then why did she capitulate and eat pomegranate seeds? Sure, you could say it was because she was hungry, but determined women are rarely bothered by minor inconveniences as hunger. I think that Hades made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Notice, after all, that the story is written from Demeter’s perspective. The only perspective we get of Persephone’s experience is when she is crying to her mother. Do we really think that she’s telling her mother the whole truth? She didn’t even want to reveal that she ate the pomegranate. Let’s pretend that Persephone donned a leather jacket and jumped onto the back of Hades’ motorcycle early one morning. Of course, her mother would see it as an abduction. The little snot didn’t even say goodbye.

Anyway, the other day I was watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I work from home, and don’t have daycare, so my daughter and I watch a LOT of Disney Junior (far more than I’d like). When they broadcast a movie that gives me some relief from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Doc MacStuffins that takes me to my Laughing Place, then I’m all for it.

Perhaps it’s because this time I watched the movie as a mother, or perhaps it’s because I’ve been recently giving new consideration to the Princess phenomenon, but I just happened to see Persephone in Ariel, only in reverse–Ariel wants to leave the Underworld for the human world, not the other way around. She wanted to shed her goddess powers (as a mermaid) so she could walk and dance. She, too, made a defiant departure from her father. She felt restricted and confined. He wouldn’t even allow her to dream about the human world. So she left. And got a pair of legs.

The story is far more complex, with a sea witch and losing her voice and such. But the point of any mythic story is that we put our own spin on the details, but the basic structure carries from version to version. Stories such as The Little Mermaid help answer the question of Persephone’s story–just what was her experience while she was gone? Disney’s version tells this story to a modern audience, with Ariel experiencing many of the same growing pains as the American teenager. Even 25 years after its initial release, The Little Mermaid continues to tell the story of the American teenager who is trying to separate herself from parental control and become her own woman. (I’ll save the Eric bit, and the leaving home for a boy bit, for another conversation.)

True Love’s Kiss is today’s pomegranate. It’s a literary symbol that symbolizes union with someone or something else other than a parent, the divine marriage, a key step in the Individuation process. Regardless of what one things about love in the real world, the symbolic marriage in literature and myth speaks on a psychological level, helps elevate the inner reaches of psyche to a conscious level, leading to wholeness.

I contend that Persephone, and Ariel, had to leave. Without the departure, a daughter can’t become her own woman. Disney’s Rapunzel and Pixar’s Brave both illustrate the problems of an over-bearing mother on a girl’s identity formation. Sometimes, it comes with sacrifice, like trading fins for legs, but often, as The Little Mermaid II demonstrates, it doesn’t mean forever.

Why Mr. Banks Needed Saving

*This post contains minor spoilers about the film, Saving Mr. Banks, but I question if they count as spoilers since the historical events in the film are well-documented in many Walt Disney biographies or Disney histories.*
*and there are some spoilers about Mary Poppins, but I would like to pretend that everyone has seen that film in this day and age.*

My friend in her review of Oz Great and Powerful observed that Disney has been rewriting its origin myths lately. Indeed, they invested gobs into a redo of Disneyland California Adventure to theme the park to the Los Angeles of Walt’s arrival. When I initially saw the trailers for Saving Mr. Banks, I saw her observation in action to a new level. Here is the first bio-pic of Walt Disney, highlighting a very specific time and turning point in Disney History–the production meetings with P.L. Travers to secure the rights to Mary Poppins.

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Mary Poppins is one of my favorite Disney films. Heck, it may possibly be one of my favorite films of All Time. I found solace in Mary’s guidance when my mother was first hospitalized for her COPD. I still to this day think of the Denver capitol building when I hear “Feed the Birds.” Whenever I feel a little blue, Mary Poppins is one of my cheer-up films. I have such intimacy with the film that I refuse to see it on stage…So I can understand why Mrs. Travers would hesitate to allow Disney to make the film.

Here’s the trailer:

I have always been aware that Mary Poppins arrives at the Banks’ to help put a family back together, which also involves helping Mr. Banks appreciate his family, not just his well-ordered life. Mrs. Banks is a secret suffragette, dividing her time between her husband, children, and her cause. Sometimes she can get overwhelmed, as when she comes home from the meeting and doesn’t initially hear Katie Nanna’s resignation, but she quickly comes around. The children just want to be loved.

There are two distinct storylines, beautifully interwoven in Saving Mr. Banks: Travers’ memories of her childhood at a particularly difficult time and her visit to Disney to negotiate how the film will be made. The underlying theme of the film appears to address the classic Freudian Daddy Issue. The film portrays Travers Goff, Mrs. Travers’ father, as kind and loving, but drunk and falling apart. The young Travers loves her father completely, even defying her mother to get him booze. We see Mrs. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) in the middle of the film meltdown during a production meeting because she feels they are making Mr. Banks into this cruel father who doesn’t even mend the kite (inspiring the “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” sequence, borrowed also from the Sherman Brothers’ relationship with their father). Walt (Tom Hanks) convinces her to give him the rights when he flies to London and explains his own father relationship and that Mary Poppins is actually about saving Mr. Banks.

Who is Mr. Banks but that hyperrational piece of all of us who just needs some play in his life? Regardless of the claim that Walt wanted the rights because of a promise to his daughters, the movie of Mary Poppins reminds us to just stop and play, or fly a kite or just love to laugh. Much of Disney reflects the need for play, ever more so following the opening of Disneyland. Play is the spoonful of medicine, and with the total themed experience of the park, we’re allowed to shut out the outside world and be in the land of Dream. That we can do it consciously and physically is what makes it so potent, provided we are willing to release ourselves to it, captured beautifully in Travers’ (Emma Thompson) hesitation to go to the park, much less ride the carousel.

The business about the origin story? Mary Poppins ushered in a new era for the Disney studio, allowing it to grow and expand in a way it hadn’t done since the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It gave the studio the money to continue developing films and to be able to devote itself to the World’s Fair attractions, expanding Disneyland, and dreaming about the Florida Project. In other words, Mary Poppins made possible the only Disney I and many others know–the Legacy that was able to survive Walt’s death.

Sure, there were some liberties taken in this film (Saving Mr. Banks), some of which may even include the storyline of Travers’ childhood (I know nothing about her). But the film does stay true to the spirit of Poppins and to the spirit of Disney. Travers (Emma Thompson) remarks to Walt, “You mean, Disney didn’t make man in his own image?” Well, no, but those of us who willingly go for the Disney dream share the same attributes: we love to laugh, we happily will fly a kite, and we know how to invest our tuppance.

Song of the South

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the gone-but-not-forgotten Disney film, The Song of the South. There are a couple reasons for this:

One–I was watching some of the collections in the Walt Disney Treasures series a while back, and some of the special features open with a disclaimer from Leonard Maltin about how the cartoons were made in a different cultural environment. Rather than bury the cartoons, Maltin encourages viewers to use them as gateways to conversation about changes in American culture.

Two–I’ve been reading Jim Korkis’s book, Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South? and Other Forbidden Disney Stories.

I’ll be among the first to admit that I tend to see the world through Disney-colored glasses (if I can coin a phrase), but I struggle to see why this film should be so marred in controversy, and in light of some of the other “questionable” cartoons collected in the Walt Disney Treasures, I don’t see why the film can’t be distributed for educational purposes at the very least.

It’s a beautiful film, and one that is recognized for its technical achievements. It was the Disney studio’s first major foray into live action production, and it was the first film that seemlessly blends together technicolor film and animation, paving the way for Mary Poppins and other films.

Its inherent flaw is that The Song of the South doesn’t make clear what time period it is portraying, which leads people to assume that it’s about happy slaves, which isn’t historically accurate. The film is actually set during the Reconstruction and the African Americans who work on the plantation (perhaps a bit of an anachronism) are all free. It is difficult to faithfully capture the heart of Harris’ stories without taking a few CYA measure to make sure the film will be well-received. Korkis suggests (and I have to agree with him) that this major flaw is the result of Walt not taking into consideration that people will take a live-action film as a real, bonafide, authentic portrayal of the time period and neglected to take appropriate measures.

Iger has said that Disney won’t ever rerelease the film in the US. Perhaps his future replacement will reconsider, given that, again according to Korkis, there’s an online petition that already has “tens of thousands of signatures.” Clearly, there is an interest.

So let me just come out and say it, having seen the film–it’s not a racist film. There is no harm being portrayed about any group of people in the entire film. If we can get over the politics and down to the heart of the film, it’s one of the most integrated films of the era. A lot can be learned about relationships from a close read of the film. Korkis poses the argument that part of the reason for the controversy comes in response to the first draft of the film’s screenplay–one that was actually racist–and not from a single viewing of the final product (the film did receive mixed reviews, probably because the seed of distaste had already been planted–I question the objectivity of these reviews).

The controversy of the film is also indicative of the era of the film’s release. Perhaps it’s time to consider rethinking the controversy in the interest of furthering interest in Disney history? After all, in the Disneyfied versions of stories, kids are going to remember Splash Mountain before they remember The Song of the South or any of Harris’s original stories.

 

It should be noted as a Truth, that there’s just too much doing on these days. I’m not just talking about media overload, but there’s something in the air, a tension. I’m now living in a whole new region of the country, having left my home state of Texas just in time for all the drama about women’s rights to go to a new level:

I’m working in a very depressed city. A city that once shone as an industry leader, then *something* happened in the 1920s (*cough cough*) to destroy the paper and textile industries, and the city never really recovered. But this little city is filled by people that love it and is surrounded by a larger community that has a lot going for it:

The personal difficulty that I’m running to is that this area is a very difficult for one who identifies with Walt Disney values to live, because there is a lot of social awareness and poverty–things counter to Walt’s utopian vision:

So what do I bring to the region? What should I bring to the region? There are a lot of silent voices wanting to speak out:

Meanwhile, the Disney Channel recently turned 30: