Thursday, 22 May 2014

Walt Disney and the Triumph of Corporate Synergy

A visit to any given Disney fan forum will often suss out complaints about how talentless and corporate Disneyland has become. Every new "kiddie ride" and attraction based on a hip current franchise rather than an original concept brings it out, as does every new Starbucks that opens in a Disney Park. I'm not immune to it myself, since I could certainly do without Tomorrowland being reduced to a Universal Studios-style patchwork of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. However, the oddest tack taken by these complaints is that "it weren't always that way"... The false impression that this sort of activity is something new. While the pain of its obviousness may have gotten worse over time, there is no greater example of corporate synergy than Disneyland itself. I'm sure we all know the story of Disneyland's growth from a tiny historical village adjacent to the Burbank studios to the Magic Kingdom in an Anaheim orange grove. In order to gain the necessary funding to pursue this vision, Walt and Roy were forced to cut a deal with ABC to provide them with a television program. That program was... Disneyland. Let's grab our copies of Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland USA (or do a quick search on YouTube) and take an hour to go back in time to watch that first episode from October 27, 1954.

"The Disneyland Story" a fascinating program to watch for many reasons. For one, it demonstrates that Disneyland is not just a theme park, but a conceptual space. Frontierland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Main Street USA are not just places but states of mind. The theme park itself reinforces and is reinforced by presentations on the Disneyland program that embody each of these conceptual spaces. Though I am speaking of it in terms closer to cultural studies and art critical theory, make no mistake about what this is from the other side of the ledger: a multiplatform, multimedia brand.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Perrault's Sleeping Beauty in the Wood

With the excitement over the upcoming revisionist fairy tale Maleficent, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the original story published by Charles Perrault in 1697, with just a bit of commentary at the end. Most of us are familiar with the first half of the story, in which the princess (who is nameless in this version) is cursed by the aged fairy and slumbers for a century before being awoken by her predestined prince. This translation from the original French was by Charles Welsh, for the publication of The Tales of Mother Goose in 1901. I've also included the illustrations by the unparalleled French engraver Gustave DorĂ©, published in 1867.
Once upon a time there was a king and a queen, who were very sorry that they had no children,—so sorry that it cannot be told. At last, however, the Queen had a daughter.  
There was a very fine christening; and the Princess had for her godmothers all the fairies they could find in the whole kingdom (there were seven of them), so that every one of them might confer a gift upon her, as was the custom of fairies in those days. By this means the Princess had all the perfections imaginable. 
After the christening was over, the company returned to the King's palace, where was prepared a great feast for the fairies. There was placed before every one of them a magnificent cover with a case of massive gold, wherein were a spoon, and a knife and fork, all of pure gold set with diamonds and rubies. But as they were all sitting down at table they saw a very old fairy come into the hall. She had not been invited, because for more than fifty years she had not been out of a certain tower, and she was believed to be either dead or enchanted. 
The King ordered her a cover, but he could not give her a case of gold as the others had, because seven only had been made for the seven fairies. The old fairy fancied she was slighted, and muttered threats between her teeth. One of the young fairies who sat near heard her, and, judging that she might give the little Princess some unlucky gift, hid herself behind the curtains as soon as they left the table. She hoped that she might speak last and undo as much as she could the evil which the old fairy might do. 
In the meanwhile all the fairies began to give their gifts to the Princess. The youngest gave her for her gift that she should be the most beautiful person in the world; the next, that she should have the wit of an angel; the third, that she should be able to do everything she did gracefully; the fourth, that she should dance perfectly; the fifth, that she should sing like a nightingale; and the sixth, that she should play all kinds of musical instruments to the fullest perfection. 
The old fairy's turn coming next, her head shaking more with spite than with age, she said that the Princess should pierce her hand with a spindle and die of the wound. This terrible gift made the whole company tremble, and everybody fell a-crying. 
At this very instant the young fairy came from behind the curtains and said these words in a loud voice:— 
"Assure yourselves, O King and Queen, that your daughter shall not die of this disaster. It is true, I have no power to undo entirely what my elder has done. The Princess shall indeed pierce her hand with a spindle; but, instead of dying, she shall only fall into a deep sleep, which shall last a hundred years, at the end of which a king's son shall come and awake her." 
The King, to avoid the misfortune foretold by the old fairy, issued orders forbidding any one, on pain of death, to spin with a distaff and spindle, or to have a spindle in his house. About fifteen or sixteen years after, the King and Queen being absent at one of their country villas, the young Princess was one day running up and down the palace; she went from room to room, and at last she came into a little garret on the top of the tower, where a good old woman, alone, was spinning with her spindle. This good woman had never heard of the King's orders against spindles.