The essays on children’s films in this volume of The Lion and the Unicorn draw from a variety of critical models. Pace’s “Robert Bly Does Peter Pan: The Inner Child as Father to the Man in Steven Spielberg’s Hook” uses Freud, Lacan, Rose, and others to examine the Lucas/Spielberg boy-films. Critical of the modern men’s movement (Robert Bly) and Jungian theories of the archetype, Pace convincingly sees Spielberg’s Hook as a nostalgic “reimagining of our cultural history.” Kidd similarly critiques what he calls the “reactionary antics of Bly and fellow shamans” in his witty and insightful analysis of the feral child in Teen Wolf, Hook, and The Jungle Books. Drawing on ethnographic and anthropological contexts, Kidd also considers how the feral child appears in Truffaut’s The Wild Child (1969) and a Nova documentary such as “The Secret of the Wild Child” (1994). Kidd’s work requires us to rethink the sexually coded images of (feral) children in children’s films.
Neff’s “Strange Faces in the Mirror: The Ethics of Diversity in Children’s Films” suggests that “the cinema has struggled with issues of racial and ethnic identification since its earliest days.” Birth of a Nation and The Jazz Singer, Neff argues, clearly demonstrate this struggle. Neff then examines race and ethnicity in relation to contemporary children’s films such as The Jungle Book, Home Alone, The Pagemaster, Blank Check, and Richie Rich, finding that “nearly absent from the palette of American children’s feature films are depictions of Black, Latino, Native American or Asian characters in heroic roles. . . . Many of the films produced for children . . . support racist stereotypes.” The absence of racial diversity in children’s films, Neff concludes, is the absence of real democracy in the United States. Phillips and Wojcik-Andrews argue that those absences are systematically structured into the political economy of the United States. Discussing MGM’s Kim and Disney’s Aladdin, Phillips and Wojcik-Andrews suggest that children’s films provide a convenient vehicle for driving home ruling-class ideas not just about race, or class, or gender, but empire and National Security State ideology. Children’s films do not just reflect history but actively distort history in the name of ideology. [End Page v]
Acknowledging a degree of distrust at the “Disney hegemony,” Wood reads Cinderella as a modern American “marchen.” Drawing on an immense knowledge of Collodi’s life and times, Zipes cleverly deconstructs the process by which fairy tales and fairy-tale films are perceived as a natural part of our cultural heritage. Both Zipes and Wood make other important points about Disney. Wood argues that we must understand what “Disney does in his own medium” in order to avoid the kind of vilification and sycophancy common to many previous readings of Disney’s work. Wood concludes that though conservative, Disney’s conservatism contains contradictions that point up “the need for spice in an otherwise bland mixture, and the subversive attractions of a homosocial patriarchal structure that cannot speak, although it expresses, its unauthorized desires.” Zipes argues that Pinocchio is a pivotal fairy-tale film because it marks the historical beginnings of the “institutionalization of the fairy tale as genre.” It is important to be aware of this historical moment because prior to 1940 fairy-tale films were relatively simple affairs, whereas after 1940 they became complex metaphors for the economic and familial conditions of modern industrial society. Perhaps in Pinocchio we see the beginnings of commodification (Richard Flynn discusses the commodification of Baum’s The Wizard of Oz) and reification so prevalent a feature of late-monopoly capitalism.
Gillispie’s article on Burnett’s The Secret Garden examines how America has changed in the twentieth century. Each adaptation, Gillispie argues, is “radically different, reflecting the historical and sociological changes in American society.” Gillispie’s thought-provoking essay is an appropriate one with which to conclude this issue of The Lion and the Unicorn, for it reminds us that the history of film, in one sense at least, is the film of history.
In conclusion, the theoretically informed essays in this issue of The Lion and the Unicorn ask a number of...