Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Cory's Disney in Review 2013

If one wishes to, it's easy to look on the past year of Disney's performance with a growing sense of disappointment. One almost begins to approach each new press release about what is being mangled, removed, or forced upon us with a sense of impending dread. What are the highlights though? The stuff that keeps me coming back to the Mouse? The best things Disney has produced this year? Here are my votes for the Fab Five of 2013:
  1. Mickey Mouse. Hands down, the frenetic new Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts produced by Paul Rudish are the best thing Disney has produced all year. I eagerly await each new one that pops up online (and find a way around the exclusive American regional coding to watch them). Mickey sheds the "aw shucks" banality of a harmless corporate icon and rediscovers the inner s**t-disturbing smart-ass he was in the black-and-white era, but with a wonderful vintage-moderne aesthetic sensibility and great slapstick humour. It's so good to see Disney taking risks with the Mouse and having them pay off so well.

  2. Disney Dreams! Technically, this evening show at Disneyland Paris debuted last year. However, the version we saw was new for 2013, featuring two new segments with The Lion King and Brave, so I'm counting it anyways. I'm sentimentally attached to it because it was immediately after watching it that I proposed to Ashley. More objectively though, it is my second favourite Disney show after Fantasmic. Like Fantasmic, it perfectly captures the essence of a Disney park as a place to leave behind the real world and enter the Neverland where Disney films come to life. In this show, projection effects and fireworks set us on an adventure to track Peter Pan's shadow through a montage of classic musical numbers like "Be Our Guest" and "Friend Like Me" as we try to restore the pixie dust to the Second Star to the Right. Pure magic! 

  3. Mystic Manor. Since having a Haunted Mansion would be grossly inappropriate in China, Hong Kong Disneyland got this instead, and in the process made Disney fans in North America froth with envy. An imaginative attraction with great effects, gags and characters, Mystic Manor is the sort of fresh and original ride that recalls the glory days of WED Enterprises. The only problem is that it's all the way in Hong Kong. Mystic Manor would fit so perfectly in Animal Kingdom or Adventureland. Instead we're stuck with "Soarin' over Pandora." Even find a way to shoehorn it into California Adventure, I don't care! Just bring it over here!  

  4. The Lone Ranger. Unfairly maligned in ways I can't even figure out, The Lone Ranger was, for me, the surprise cinematic hit of the year. I suspect it's lack of success had something to do with the fact that you need to have a working understanding of both the history of Western settlement and the Western film genre to fully appreciate what it was trying to do, which is hard to find when audiences just want to see things punching other things really hard. Funny, intelligent and thought-provoking, with some great action scenes and fantastic pay-offs, I must agree with Quentin Tarantino that The Lone Ranger was one of the best films of 2013. 

  5. It's a Small World: The Animated Series. It's a Small World, the ride, is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and unfairly maligned of Disney attractions, even as it is one of the most beloved. Looking at it as a massive piece of kinetic artwork that you float through rather than standing in front of in a gallery, I like it quite a lot. Perfectly fitting its theme. Disney Interactive has teamed with Rosetta Stone to produce an online animated series that is delightful, stylish, and educational. Rather than work directly from Mary Blair's art, the series' look derives more from Joey Chou's illustrations for the Small World book and iPhone app, which does lend the new franchise a nicely coherent brand. With additional music by Richard Sherman, co-writer of the original song, it's just really neat to watch.

Anything to add? Anything you felt we missed? What were your highlights of the past year in Disney? 

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Lie back, rest, and if you'd like a little something to watch, here is a clip from one of my favourite Disney movies, Melody Time...

And if you don't celebrate the holidays... Boy, it sure is cold out!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Lone Ranger and Deconstructing the American Myth

The Lone Ranger is being released to Disney Blu-Ray and DVD in a mere five days, so we thought it would be worth revisiting one of the most unfairly maligned - and misunderstood - films of the year. It was also my favourite of the year, and one of Quentin Tarantino's top 10, and if we agree then you know it's a great movie!

Despite poor critical reviews, Disney's The Lone Ranger was unexpectedly one of the most intelligent and adventuresome films of 2013. The histrionics of professional critics was almost in direct inverse proportion to how intelligent and adventuresome. Gilbert Cruz of The Vulture decreed that it "Represents Everything That's Wrong With Hollywood Blockbusters," San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle called it "the biggest stinker of 2013" and Lou Lumenick of the New York Post audaciously declared it "the worst [Western] — and then some." Such immoderate complaints are pure nonsense: The Lone Ranger is nowhere near the worst movie of the year or the worst Western ever made. It's not even the worst Disney movie of the year, nor the worst version of the Lone Ranger ever made. Mark Hughes of Forbes was right to decry the media as "flop-hungry," overwhelmed by the sheer momentum of their own self-important negativity.

A great irony of critics complaining that The Lone Ranger  was  big, dumb and banal - a complaint better befitting most other summer flicks, including critical darlings like Pacific Rim -  is that it actually outsmarted them. It is a common habit of ignorance to think that something is stupid because one does not understand it, and I suspect that habit came into play with The Lone Ranger. Some complaints were simply frivolous, like how it was a comedy or that it was "overlong" (sorry, at only six minutes longer that the first Pirates of the Caribbean, I didn't notice), but I can at least sympathize a little bit with the fact that maximizing one's experience with the film requires a functional knowledge of historical American Western settlement and the American Western as a genre.

The Lone Ranger, drafted by the same creative team as Pirates of the Caribbean, pokes at the corniness of the original radio and television versions while genuinely attempting to reach out to the tastes of modern audiences. In doing so, it can become corny in its own right, with a wink and a nod, proving that it isn't poking at the original Ranger in a mean way. On the contrary, knowledge of the original is required to understand the film's subtexts. Our story opens in a carnival in San Francisco in 1933, the same year that The Lone Ranger debuted on radio. A young boy, clad in Hollywood cowboy style complete with Lone Ranger mask, enters a Wild West show, out of which pours the music of celebrity singing cowboy Gene Autry. The carnival barker promises that the exhibit will take visitors back to "the thrilling days of yesteryear" - a quote from the radio show's opening - though inside are mostly static displays of buffalo and grizzly bears. One display, however, features a living "Noble Savage"... An aged and decrepit Tonto, who proceeds to tell the boy the true story of the Lone Ranger.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Lone Ranger Animated Series

Of all the versions of the Lone Ranger ever committed to media, my favourite is not the Disney movie, nor the original radio show, nor the iconic television series. It is the off-the-wall animated series that ran for 26 episodes from 1966 to 1969 on CBS.

The radio show ended its astonishing run of nearly 3,000 episodes in 1956, and the television show with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels likewise came to an end a year later. During the intervening decade, a new TV Western arrived - The Wild, Wild West - which transfused the old genre with the sensibilities of the "Spy-Fi" shows that were becoming a rage in the Sixties. Following in the footsteps of James Bond and The Avengers (the real, British ones), James West and Artemus Gordon launched their mission for the US Secret Service in 1965. A new Lone Ranger animated series was quickly placed in production that pitted our masked hero against monsters and mad scientists.

Each episode was divided into three segments: two tandem adventures and one solo Tonto story. These adventures were, for the most part, utterly, enjoyably daft, which is why I love it so much. My favourite is a story called "The Monster of Scavenger Crossing" in which the Lone Ranger and Tonto investigate a series of riverboat sinkings along the Mississippi. The guilty party turns out to be a salty pirate with a peg leg and a hook who is scuttling them with his own version of the Nautilus. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find clips online, including that one.

I have gathered a pair of clips here to give you a taste of the Lone Ranger's most bizarre adventures. As you watch, also make note of the show's visual style. Though not the best quality animation by any means, the style is fantastically graphic and texturally rich.

The series introduction and The Ghost Riders episode.

The Cult of the Black Widow.

Monday, 9 December 2013

'Tis the Season for Giving

Amidst the seasonal flurry of  presents and spending and bills and Black Fridays and Boxing Days and things of that sort, don't forget to put a little money aside for those who could really use it. Right now, there are a couple of Disney-based campaigns that could use donations.

First up, and ending tomorrow, is the Small Worlds of Walt Storybook Land Restoration campaign. An original 1957 section of Storybook Land, removed during the 1981 recreation of the attraction, has landed in the possession of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society and Carolwood Foundation. This society, if you don't already know, is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of Walt Disney's railroading legacy and is best known for operating Walt's Barn, "the only free Disney attraction in the world" on the grounds of the Los Angeles Live Steamers in Griffith Park. Through funds raised online, they hope to restore this section of the old French village under Cinderella's Castle with a protective cart that can be shown during their open houses. Visit their blog for more details and contribute what you can to preserve a piece of Disneyland history!

Concept art for the wagon to house "The Small Worlds of Walt."

It's very probable that you've already heard of this next campaign by now: the Walt Disney Birthplace Preservation Project. Despite the pervasiveness of the Disney company's media empire, precious few historic sites connected to Walt Disney himself still remain. The old farm in Marceline, Missouri, is gone, as is the Disney Bros. first studio in Kansas City and the original Hyperion Studios in Los Angeles. Even in Disneyland itself, corporate heads are fond of saying that "Disneyland is not a museum" when yet another piece originally placed by Walt and his first Imagineers is removed, paved over, blocked off, or replaced by some recent IP acquisition. Only pieces here and there remain, like Walt's Barn or what has been enshrined in the Walt Disney Family Museum. Astonishingly, the very home that Walt Disney was born in still exists! Time has taken its toll, and the current owners are looking for donations to restore the house to its 1901 appearance and build a small museum to celebrate the life of the man who came into life there. The campaign lasts until the end of the month, so you have something you can use that Christmas money on!

Concept art for the fully restored Walt Disney Birthplace.

Allow me to make one last appeal. Remember that while it is important to preserve the heritage of great artistic works and the people who created them, there are still many in the world who go without even the most basic of amenities. As you are helping these other causes, do not forget those in other parts of the world and in our own backyards who desperately need a hand up. One of my favourite charities is Canadian Lutheran World Relief. This humanitarian aid organization's expenses are largely paid for by the Lutheran churches of Canada, making it one of the most efficiently run charities in the world. Through their Gifts from the Heart program, a $20 fuel-efficient stove or a $50 training program for teachers or a $75 pair of goats can turn the life of a family in the poorest parts of the world around, saving lives and granting self-sufficiency, self-determination, and economic prosperity. Please find it in your heart this year to give to this or another deserving charity in your area.    

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Original Origin of the Lone Ranger

The incomparable website Kiddie Records Weekly has provided a download of the 1951 Decca Records album The Adventures of the Lone Ranger. This album includes several key episodes of the original Lone Ranger radio show that ran from 1933 to 1956, through which one can hear how closely Disney hewed to the Lone Ranger's origin but diverted considerably from Silver's. Click on the album cover below to check it out...

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The William Tell Overture

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

There is a joke which says that an intellectual is someone "who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger." One of the most popular pieces of classical music ever written, Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture is instantly recognizable and has been used, reused, parodied and abused for countless purposes, not the least significant being The Lone Ranger and Disney's The Band Concert.

This 12 minute piece, the overture to Rossini's 1829 opera William Tell based on the Swiss legend and  play by Friedrich Schiller, has four movements. The first, "Prelude (Dawn)," sets the stage of the Swiss Alps that serve as the opera's backdrop. This is followed by "Storm," which is self-explanatory. The calm after the storm is the "Ranz des Vaches" or "Call to the the Cows," which has been employed over, and over, and over again as aural shorthand for both the arrival of Spring and of the dawn. The William Tell Overture ends in hyperdrive with the "Finale (March Of The Swiss Soldiers)," otherwise known as the theme from The Lone Ranger. This "cavalry charge" recapitulates the scene from the final act of the opera in which the Swiss soldiers arrive to liberate the nation from Austrian oppression. As a form of music called a "galop," the "Finale" lends itself very well to any scene of horses galloping, or anything moving at a quickened pace, including the hearts of anyone listening. For the finale of Disney's film, Hans Zimmer goosed just this one movement to almost the same length as the whole overture, but the payoff was fantastic!

The following video clip presents the Neponset Valley Philharmonic Orchestra recording the complete William Tell Overture for their Pops in Love concert of February 13, 2011.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Visit to the Walt Disney Studios - Part 2

In our previous installment, we caught a glimpse of the Roy E. Disney Animation Building, entered through security, saw the famous signpost at Pluto's Corner, entered the original Animation building and passed by Walt Disney's office. Now let's continue our tour with the soundstages...

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Visit to the Walt Disney Studios - Part 1

During our trip to Disneyland USA in May of 2012, Ashley and I decided to take up the offer of a day-trip through Hollywood with Adventures by Disney. Entitled Lights... Camera... Magic!, this tour brought us to Grauman's Chinese Theater, the then-Kodak Theater and Hollywood and Highland Center, a brief stop at the Disney Soda Fountain and Studio Store in the El Capitan Theater, and the Original Farmer's Market for lunch. The true highlight, however, was a tour of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. 

For your enjoyment, here is a two-part photo-tour of our visit to the place where the magic is made. First is the Roy E. Disney Animation Building, which is the current home of feature animation and which was not on the itinerary of our tour. It does, however, very distinctively show off the stark contrast in architectural styles to be found at the studio. On the one hand are the original buildings from when the studios were built in 1940, and on the other are the products of Michael Eisner's love affair with architect Michael Graves in the Eighties and Nineties.     

Nevertheless, here we are, passing through those gates and the security station made famous in The Reluctant Dragon and the Disneyland/Wonderful World of Color series.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Jules Verne at Voyages Extraordinaires

If you are a fan of Jules Verne, Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Tokyo Disneysea's Mysterious Island or Disneyland Paris' Discoveryland, you may be interested in the series of posts on my other blog, Voyages Extraordinaires, starting this month. In May, Ashley and I visited France and took a day out to see Amiens, the town in northern France where Verne lived and was buried. It starts today with a travelogue of his mansion, and continues through November.

Click here to visit Voyages Extraordinaires.

Jules Verne's manor.

The city of Amiens.

Jules Verne's grave.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Join the CommuniTour!

Our good friends George Taylor and Jeff Heimbuch over at Communicore Weekly are heading to Hollywood and they want you to join them!  They are already hosts of the Greatest Online Showtm, so what more could be in store for them in the movie capital of the world? The Oscar? The Golden Globe? In-N-Out Burger? 

Howabout The Walt Disney Studios and Archives, Imagineering, Jim Henson Studios, the sights of Hollywood Blvd. and special guided tours of Disneyland? Check out George's latest post at MiceChat to find out more, and see some photos from our own Adventures by Disney tour! In the coming weeks, we'll share the full story of our tour of the Walt Disney Studios to help entice you.  

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Headless Horseman, the 1922 film

The first filmed version of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was released in 1922, starring famed cowboy humourist Will Rogers in the role of the hapless Ichabod Crane. It is presented here for your Halloween enjoyment...

Friday, 25 October 2013

Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy on Doorless Chambers

Our Halloween-season posting of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow wraps up tomorrow, but starting today we are offering a special way to enjoy the complete story. To celebrate our inaugural year, we are participating in the Doorless Chambers online trick-or-treating neighbourhood shared among Disney and Monster Kid fansites. Our contribution is a special PDF edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with Washington Irving's non-fiction(ish) essay Sleepy Hollow, suitable for printing, e-readers and the like. Doorless Chambers will be running from October 25th to the 31st, so get your costume on and start clicking door to door! Start by clicking the logo below... 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Wild Hunt

Many North American tall tales have their roots in European legends and ghost stories. A particularly horrific one is known as the "Wild Hunt": those dark, moonlit nights when a phantasmagorical troupe of spectral huntsmen charge through forest roads astride their night-mares, cursing, killing or carrying off any mortal in their path. A popular modern American version of it is the song "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend," written by Stan Jones while he worked for the US National Parks Service in Death Valley. Jones began working for Disney in 1955, during which time he starred in films, wrote soundtracks and recorded albums for Buena Vista Records, including Ghost Riders in the Sky in 1961. Another classic version of the Wild Hunt, also connected with Disney, is Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Åsgårdsreien by Peter Nicolai Arbo, 1872.

The Wild Hunt is ubiquitous across Northern Europe, with variations in the Nordic and Germanic countries as well as the United Kingdom. England's Wild Hunts were originally hosted by faeries, and were often headed by the antlered Herne the Hunter, the Welsh trickster-magician Gwydion, and eventually King Arthur. Herne, a forest spirit, was first committed to paper by William Shakespeare in Merry Wives of Windsor:
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv'd, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.  
Herne the Hunter, illustrated by George Cruikshank, c.1843.

A variation of England's Wild Hunt includes the ancient Anglo-Saxon deity Wodan, as does Germany's. Wodan, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Odin, was considered a guide to the afterlife for dead spirits, or what is called a "psychopomp" by mythologists (in Disney's oeuvre, Charon from Hercules and Davy Jones and eventually Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean occupy the same role). It is not difficult to see how ancient Germanic peoples could derive stories of Wodan going on the hunt, picking out the souls of the deceased, or how that could translate to the Headless Horseman. Another version casts the goddess Freyja as the hunter. A prime Nordic and Germanic goddess, Freyja is notable here for her collection of souls from fallen warriors. Freyja keeps her home in the realm of Fólkvangr, and in the aftermath of great battles, half of the slain warriors are received by Odin in Valhalla and the other half by Freyja in Fólkvangr. Modern scholars are not exactly sure why this mythology has two different forms of the arfterlife, but some speculate that nested in the names are identifications for two different breeds of warriors (i.e.: Valhalla for "knights" and Fólkvangr for "soldiers," etc.). In the Scandinavian countries, it is Odin himself who hunts, usually tracking down trolls, elves and gigantic jötnunn.

Odin on the Wild Hunt. Illustration by August Malmström. 

A third variation in the German version makes the supernatural Wild Hunt a punishment for cursed noblemen like Hanns von Hackelberg, another obvious translation to the Headless Horseman. Hanns von Hackelberg was the huntsman of Duke Julius of Brunswick during the late 1500's. One evening before the hunt, he saw in a dream that a strong boar would grievously injure him and he would die. Despite the pleas of his men, Hackelberg went on the hunt, and sure enough, he was attacked by a boar. Using his skill and weapons, he emerged victorious in the battle with hardly a scratch. At that evening's feast, however, Hackelberg raised the head of the slain boar and began mocking it and his dream. The head slipped and the boar's tusk sliced into his foot. By the next evening he had passed away from infection, but not before cursing himself with riding forever on the roaring gale with his horse and his two hunting dogs.

Halloween seems a particularly appropriate time for Wild Hunts, but traditionally they were held in the dead of winter between Christmas and Epiphany (i.e.: New Years') with the occasional one held around Good Friday. As one might glean from those dates, the Christianization of Europe through the Early Middle Ages transformed these stories from the exploits of the deities to the poltergeists of the angry and cursed. A traditional Canadian version, called the "Chasse-galerie," involves a group of French Canadian Voyageurs who want to enjoy New Years' with their sweeties back in Montreal but are stuck wintering in the north country. They make a deal with the Devil to fly them home in a supernatural canoe, but at a price. If they curse the name of God or touch a steeple, their souls are forfeit. This is problematic, of course, because nearly every swear in Canadian French is sacrilegious and trying not to touch a steeple in Quebec is like trying to swim without getting wet. The Voyageurs agree not to drink in order to maintain control of themselves, but one is not so disciplined...

 La Chasse-galerie, illustration by Henri Julien.

If one happens to come across a Wild Hunt, Christianity also offers some protection. Typically you have nothing to fear from a Wild Hunt if you have nothing to fear from God (and you better be sure about that). For added security, it is best to avert your eyes and prostrate yourself, or better yet to hole yourself up and pray like the Hebrews in Egypt during the Tenth Plague. If you treat it frivolously - mocking it, provoking it or even deliberately peeping out your window for a look - be prepared to suffer the consequences.  

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Real Sleepy Hollow

Today's guest post comes from our friend and co-worker Charmaine, who visited the real Sleepy Hollow, New York, with her husband Tom a few years ago. Thank you Charmaine and Tom for sharing your adventure with us! 
- Cory

Last autumn, my husband Tom and I had the amazing opportunity to visit good friends living in New York City. Five short days was all the time we could spare, so months of planning was done in advance to maximize what could be seen during our stay.

Our friends allowed us to explore the city alone during the work-week but offered up their services as extempore-chauffeur-tour-guides come the weekend. Where would we like to visit a bit further-afield? Massapequa? Eastchester Bay? Hoboken?

For us, the choice was clear. A famous place not far from New York City for a couple  of Canadians who live and breathe Disney? We NEED to go to Sleepy Hollow.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

John Quidor's The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane

Painted in 1858, John Quidor's The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane has one of the simplest, most descriptive titles of any artwork I've come across. Quidor was a native of the Hudson Valley and based the majority of his works on the local writings of James Fenimore Cooper and his personal friend, Washington Irving. His reputation as an artist was never great, and The Headless Horseman dates from a later period when his dedication to the craft declined even more. Nevertheless, it is still valuable as one of the earliest depictions of the climactic chase from Irving's story. The original resides in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Sleeping Beauty with the Kirov Ballet

Though not the first ballet version of La Belle au Bois Dormant, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's version is the most renowned. Still smarting from the poor reception of Swan Lake, the young Russian composer was coerced into writing his Opus 66 for debut in St. Petersburg in 1890. He never lived to see it become the success that it did. Tchaikovsky passed away in 1893, but by the end of the next decade, Sleeping Beauty was already on its way to becoming one of the most influential ballets in history.

The story of Tchaikovsky's trials was well-told in the fifth season Disneyland episode "The Peter Tchaikovsky Story," a standard bonus feature on home video releases of Disney's film. Few take the time to watch the whole ballet, unless they're lucky enough to see it performed live. To address that oversight, here is the complete 1989 Kirov Ballet of Leningrad's (now Saint Petersburg) performance of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

20,000 Leagues Unda' Da' Sea

So apparently I had some free time on the weekend... Perhaps a bit too much... Either way, I hope you enjoy my little D-TV style tribute to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Little Mermaid.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Feminism and the Disney Princesses

As such a significant cultural force, Disney and their Princesses franchise serve as a touchstone for gender issues that more often than not reach far beyond the actual content of the films upon which the franchise rests. Perhaps you have seen images like the one above before, or read certain feminist analyses of the Disney Princess films that arrive at similarly negative conclusions. Unfortunately, when such analyses present themselves as being "feminist," the resulting debate tends to focus on the nature and reach of feminism rather than more pedestrian concerns like whether the analysis is actually accurate to the source material. I am a proponent of women's rights, freedoms and social and economic justice, so I do not intend to make a criticism of feminism as such. It does seem to me that, sometimes, the legitimate concerns of feminism can override clear-thinking and sound research when analyzing works of art like Disney's animated films. What I hope to do by wading in with this article is nothing more than engage in the academic practice of closely and carefully summarizing the source documents - in this case the films - to determine whether these accusations are accurate without troubling to ignite a debate over feminism in-and-of itself.

The easiest accusations to dispense with are those which apparently missed the entire message of the film and arrived at a conclusion opposite to that message. For example, the above image states that the theme of Aladdin is that Jasmine's political worth is determined by her marriageability, which is true insofar as we're talking only of her political worth and even then it is only true up to the denouement. The overarching and (what one would think of as the) unmistakable theme of the film is that one's personal worth is determined by their character and not their economic, social or political rank. The Sultan does attempt to marry Jasmine off against her wishes, in accordance with the law of the land, which she actively rebels against. Jasmine goes so far as to flee the palace, whereupon she meets Aladdin, the thief who dreams of nothing more than being able to rise above his poverty and be afforded at least minimal human courtesies (though living in the palace would be awfully nice, he believes). After Jasmine is recovered and Aladdin comes across the magical lamp, he adopts the persona of Prince Ali Ababwa to woo her. For her part, Jasmine rebuffs his showiness and expresses absolute outrage at her father, Ababwa and Jafar discussing her fate without her consultation. It is only when she realizes that Ababwa is the same thief in the market that she softens to him. Jafar, the villain, also seeks the hand of Jasmine, but only for her political worth and her physical beauty. The villain is the one who degrades Jasmine, first figuratively and then literally after he acquires the lamp. In the end, when the villain is dispensed with, the Sultan realizes the error of his ways and changes the law to suit Jasmine. He recognizes the folly and disgrace of making his daughter act against her wishes, thus exercising his political power to enable Jasmine to marry the man of her own choosing, who himself has demonstrated that good character supersedes the merits of wealth and power.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Gustave Doré's La Belle au Bois Dormant

Immediately prior to his groundbreaking, iconic work on the Bible, The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 19th century French artist Gustave Doré (one of my favourite artists) illustrated the 17th century works of his fellow French fairy-teller Charles Perrault. Presented here are the beautiful and sublime Doré's engravings for his La Belle au Bois Dormant, The Sleeping Beauty.

 The princess pricks her finger on a spindle.

The castle is consumed by the forest.

A century later, a prince finds the castle.

All the knights and retainers have fallen asleep as well.

Cobwebs have taken over the dining hall.

The prince finds the slumbering princess.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Château d'Ussé: The Real Sleeping Beauty's Castle

The Loire Valley is famous the world over for its unparalleled assemblage of Renaissance castles located in such close proximity. These include such well-known tourist destinations as the châteaux of Chambord, Blois, Cheverny, Chenonceau, Villandry, Saumur and Azay-le-Rideau. Just off the beaten path, tucked away on the tributary river Indre, overlooking the pleasant village of Rigny-Ussé and backing the Chinon forest, is a delightful castle that inspired a legendary fairy tale: Château d'Ussé, the real Sleeping Beauty Castle.

The Indre River.


Château d'Ussé.

The Château d'Ussé, of course, has a history that is quite its own. First constructed in the 11th century, the property underwent many restoration and rebuilding projects as it passed from hand to hand through the intrigues of marriage throughout the French court. The complex was complete in its present form for the most part by the 17th century, when it was frequented by literary giants like Charles Perrault and, in the 19th century, Chateaubriand. When one crosses the bridge over the Indre and approaches the great walls of Château d'Ussé, one would be blind not to see how Perrault could draw so potent inspiration from it.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Welcome to Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy

On behalf of myself and my partner in life and blogging, the lovely Ashley (aka. Gealbhonn), I welcome you to our new blog Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy!

Your hosts.

For the past six years, I have been at the helm of the blog Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age. Devoted to Victorian-Edwardian Scientific, Imperial and Planetary Romances, Retro-Futurism, Victoriana, silent and early cinema, and authentic tales of history and exploration, that blog also served as my de facto Disney website where those subjects intersect. For some time I have considered fissioning off a journal specifically for Disney content, and finally decided to take the charge with someone who is as delighted by the subject as I am.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Disney's other retro-Victorian stories of Sci-Fi were one of the paths that drew me back into an affection for Disney as an adult. In my childhood I enjoyed racing home every afternoon to watch Ducktales, Welcome to Pooh Corner and the original Mickey Mouse Club on Family Channel, Canada's response to the Disney Channel. I was born in time to see The Great Mouse Detective and a re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in theatres, but my most potent Disney memories are of the annual Halloween program, watching as Hans Conreid as the Magic Mirror introduced The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Night on Bald Mountain before we went out to scare up some candy. After falling out with Disney as a teenager (as some are wont to do), it was my turning to Goth that led me back. Gothic aesthetics makes fine intersections with Victoriana and Victorian Science Fiction, fairy tale Romanticism and the Haunted Mansion.

Ashley, on the other hand, grew up with a love of fairy tales.  An avid reader from when she was reciting the Three Little Pigs from memories of bedtime reading on the laps of her parents all the way up to hanging off the edge of the bed to catch the light from the hall late into the night, nothing inspired her imagination like fairy tales.  Luckily Ashley was just the right age to catch the films of Disney's renaissance on their first run: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. You can probably guess which was her favourite princess! The most worn book in her collection is a little volume of Brothers Grimm. Ashley also has a passion for musicals, social justice, historical fiction, and costuming, both their history and construction, sewing her own studies. When we first met about three years ago as coworkeres in the same museum, I knew that Ashley was the one for me when I learned that we had so much in common, including a rare love of fairy tales, Victoriana and Disney. I had the privilege of taking her to Disneyland USA for the first time in 2012 and proposing to her in Disneyland Paris earlier this year (she said yes!).

Approaching the subject of a Disney blog, we knew that we did not want to simply replicate the multitudes that are already in existence. We ultimately took a queue from my other blog, as well as blogs like Dan Olsen's Long-Forgotten and FoxxFur's Passport to Dreams Old and New. To paraphrase the latter, if one limits themselves only to Disney, then one is operating from a far more limited cultural experience than the writers, animators, directors and Imagineers who created these films and attractions to begin with. One does not live by Disney alone. All great art should serve to broaden one's scope and point to that which is beyond it, and that a broad scope can in turn deepen one's appreciation of great art. I am convinced that Disney can and usually does aspire to be great art.

Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy will take a two-fold approach, for the most part. On the one, we will be looking back at the original source material that inspired Disney's films and attractions. This adventure will take us through everything from the historical Davy Crockett to accurate 14th century French fashion to Tchaikovsky ballets to Lone Ranger radio shows. Our main regular feature will be called "Belle's Library" and will have us posting the original stories behind the films, chapter-by-chapter, each weekend. For those of you who never even considered reading Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, for example, come back next Sunday to start in nice, digestible, weekly installments!

On the second, we'll occasionally diverge into hopefully critically-minded and thought-provoking discussion of Disney-related subjects. By "critically-minded" I do not necessarily mean negative (though I'm certainly not above dissecting Disney's creative missteps). What I refer to is the classical, academic sense of careful, intelligent, rational reflection on creative works. We are fans at heart, of course, and there is most certainly a need for pure emotional enjoyment of something. We happen to feel that any great work of art also engages the mind as well as the heart! But every now and then we might just sneak in some photos of our travels too...

Ashley and I hope that you will enjoy what Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy has to offer. We look forward to seeing you again often!