- It’s the Disney Version! Popular Cinema and Literary Classics ed. by Douglas Brode and Shea T. Brode
Douglas Brode has positively written elsewhere on Disney’s multiculturalism and influence on culture, an atypical stance, as anything carrying the Disney brand is typically “dismissed among the intellectual elite” (xiii). In his [End Page 345] short yet assertive introduction, the editor provides sharp counterpoints to other popular cinema and Disney critics who dismiss the company’s legacy. Brode insists that, for better or worse, Disney continues the storytelling tradition of recasting tales to suit the current time—in Disney’s case, modern America. Brode reasons that twentieth-century filmmakers like Disney “have as much of a right to adapt earlier texts as did [Charles] Perrault, [the Brothers] Grimm, and anyone else who rethought oral tradition on the printed page” (xvi). He states that, in editing this collection, there was a conscientious effort to include “a wide variety of Disney feature-length films, each derived from some acclaimed preexisting work,” and the contributors could “be pro-, anti-, or neutral/balanced on Walt, his films, and his company” (xvii). Indeed, they run the gamut.
What follows are twenty essays on a varied selection of Disney films and their sourced counterparts, with footnotes for each entry and a general index. Arranged by the chronological release date of the Disney feature, the essays focus on twentieth-century works from the premier Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to Tarzan (1999). The essays do have a common topic but are too scattered in focus to qualify as thematically cohesive, partially because some are reprinted from sources as far back as the mid-1990s.
In the initial essay on Snow White, David McGowan agrees with Brode, saying Disney features continue the long-standing tradition of adaptation. He leads with some helpful background on the emergence of animation in cinema and Disney’s role in it for unfamiliar readers. McGowan acknowledges “the level of control [the Disney film] retains and exerts” on these stories and characters, inducting them into the company brand and divorcing them from any alternative source, though he argues this still “echoes the Grimms’ own process [. . .], which similarly has become canonized” (10). Others are not able to forgive such control, as some films create a (negative) replacement instead of an expansion or a (positive) cultural reinterpretation of the tale. Peggy A. Russo affirms that Song of the South (1946) created a stereotype of the Uncle Remus character compared to Joel Chandler Harris’s version. She justifiably notes that “Disney had not created this film with a black audience in mind” (38), and the film was “a great disservice” to the source material and the culture from which it derived (40).
The authors consider other oral storytelling traditions in their entry on Robin Hood—medieval bardic songs. Furthering arguments from the introduction, they observe that the nature of oral tradition has “each temporal interpreter imparting to the piece his or her own style,” so “the versions changed slightly with the passage of time” (72). Disney has made two films of the English hero: the live-action The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952) and the animated Robin Hood (1973). Each film has a [End Page 346] minstrel character who periodically narrates, recalling the tale’s origins. Although the authors continually discuss oral tradition, they do not reference any specific songs or transcripts, so, as such, their entry lacks argumentative weight.
Alexis Finnerty and Douglas Brode highlight Sleeping Beauty (1959) in their structural analysis. They consider functions listed by Vladimir Propp and how they can easily combine with classic American/Hollywood paradigms, landing on the most culturally appealing of both. For instance, “the recurring ancient theme of good defeating evil” gives the sources and retellings wide-ranging Western appeal, partially leading to the success of Disney’s cinematic adaptations (111). In all, the entry contains nothing distinctly revelatory and has little to no support for its long-reaching claims—a consistent failing of Brode’s...