Golden Age Cartoons : A Puzzling Phenomenon

                              The universal success of Walt Disney's cartoons was one of the most puzzling phenomena of the 1930s to movie magnates. One of them said, "You spend a million dollars on a super-spectacle and they sit through it just to see Mickey Mouse." Intellectuals and working classes alike were passionately fond of this enchanting figure. In a depressive world, the Disney fancies provided the most early-sought escape and release of all. In Disneyland violence and repressed aggression might find outlet without harm, for everything ended in sweetness and humanity. There was no meanness in any of these anthropomorphic characters, not even in the villains who were comic rather than evil.
                          The secret of Disney's technical superiority over other screen cartoonists lay in two things : his understanding of the possibilities of distortion in draftsmanship, and his feeling for film rhythm. Both are seen at their earliest and best in the first Silly Symphony, The Skeleton Dance (1920). The formal dance in this film, with rhythmic accompaniment of expressive sounds and music, forecast the later work in which the whole animate and inanimate world seemed to dance to the measure of the soundtrack. These films, were greatly enhanced by the addition of color in 1932. A succession of colorful transformations had a rhythm of their own. Flowers and Trees (1932) and The Old Mill (1937) represent the summit of Disney's technical achievement. 

                     These films were widely animated and enjoyed, but they were second in popularity to the Mickey series and other Disneys which featured animal characters with well-defined human characteristics. Mickey had been becoming increasingly civilized since his early roughhouse days, and Donald emerged about 1933 as the badger-er who disrupted his elegant conducting of grand operas and magic shows. When Donald's popularity surpassed Mickey's, and he became a star himself, his violent rages took on a different motivation. No longer himself the disturbing element, he finds himself pitted against an environment which refuses to obey what are to him his simple quiet wishes, and in an hysteria of exasperation he goes to extremes to force his surrounding to do his will. 
                   Every film writer has pointed out how these characters figure worth the individual's contemporary dilemma, and Donald now served the same purpose. From providing escape for the world, Disney had now presented it with a symbol. Disney's success with short subjects, reached its peak with the celebrated 'Three Little Pigs' (1993). This film made as much money for Disney as a feature might have done. But such extravagant hits were necessarily rare, and he began soon to face the same dilemma with which he had confronted others. The success of his Mickeys and Donalds had sounded the death ring of two-reel comedies in the early thirties.   
               Laurel and Hardy had had to launch themselves in feature films. Now Disney faced the same necessity. Shorts, by nature of the industry's distribution, did not make money. For all his popular success and prestige, Disney's annual production scarcely did more than break even. He too, must go into the feature-length production.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                His first full-length film, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937) more than fulfilled his financial expectations; it had earned many millions of dollars. Adults as well as children enjoyed this resourceful and charming fairy tale on film. Some of his team's best draughtsmanship is in it, and it added many new creations to his pantheon of folk-characters. In Snow White, the drawing begins to imitate conventional camerawork, and the directorial cliches of Hollywood story-telling. Disney had begun to try to imitate the real world instead of continuing to create a world of his own. All this was brushed aside, or went unnoticed, in the first flush of Snow White's box-office triumph. Its financial success enabled Disney to build a large studio, hire an army of draughtsmen and set them turning out his Donalds and Mickeys on and assembly-line basis.                                                                                                                                                              Disney himself plunged into the production of more and bigger features. Subsequent films of Disney confirmed the suspicion that Disney has turned aside from the free inspiration of his early clays toward literalism. The moving camera in Pinocchio, and Dumbo observes the artists' characters against the illusion of a three-dimensional background. The style of the drawing more and more imitates romantic painting of the early century.                                                                                                                                                                   His later films no longer created the sensation once expected of them. Nor were audiences as appreciative as they had been. As though he realized that he could not sustain his fancy though full-length features, Disney for the next five years presented features which are actually collections of short cartoons strung together on a thin thematic thread.                                                                                                                                                        Certainly they have been financially successful. The films are regularly revived for children at holiday season, and the merchandising tie-ups represent a fortune in themselves. But, it would appear that Disney is a prisoner of a success which he, like so many others, is only able to conceive of in terms of the big money. Watch the instructional and training films he has made for the War department of U.S.A.  They are artistically and in every other way, his best. They are intelligent, imaginative, educationally effective, and beautifully drawn. None of them was made for profit. Walt Disney - Wikipedia


Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Awww that was like a trip down the memory lane :) Great post buddy

Puru@ShadowsGalore said...

In an America full of depression , these cartoons provided the rare smile. Thats the cause of their success. Needless to say, they are immortal

Anonymous said...

Wow. That was very informative and nostalgic too. I saw Tangled recently, and it is amazing how far "cartoons" have come.

Arun Kumar said...

@Haricharan, Thank you very much.

@Puru, Thanks for the comment.

@Subhorup, Thank you. Yeah, it was really amazing how cartoons have developed along with technology.

Meoww said...

Disney movies are indeed a pleasure to watch (and must-see at our home). They seem to really create some kind of magic with the movies.

Anonymous said...

gr8 post ! reminded me of childhood. reasons to get excited about life and TV! :)