Tuesday, July 30, 2013
People of the Chair: Walt Disney
I've been thinking about new topics to write about on this blog, besides movies because that can get a little boring after a while and I haven't been able to go to the movies as much as I would like to this summer. So, I figured why not write about the people behind the camera? The people that sit in the chair all day and make the films that we love or the films that we despise. They can be actors, directors or even producers. They are the talented individuals who make what we see on the screen possible. And so, I've decided to start giving credit where credit is due by starting off with the name that everyone in the world has heard: Walt Disney
I was thinking about who I should start this series off with, and while you could make the argument for people like Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, or Steven Spielberg (and don't worry, we'll get to them) would make better starting points, to me, Disney was the one that made the most sense. Why? Well, because everybody knows who Walt Disney is and for a lot of people, some of the first movies they ever saw were ones that had the name Disney attached to them. He is one of the first, if not the first real icon of film and animation.
At work, I've often heard the saying "It all started with a dream and a mouse", and I don't really see Disney's work as being the fulfillment of a dream, I'd say it was more of following a vision. Fulfilling a dream is great, but doing what Walt did takes mountains of dedication and commitment and the word 'dream' doesn't seem to do that hard work justice. Walt was more than just a film maker, he really was a visionary, and that can be seen in many of the films that were made during his time. Probably the two best films that signify this are Bambi and Fantasia. Neither of these films follow the typical conventions of films made at that time or even today. Unlike Fantasia, Bambi may have a narrative like most films, but it doesn't have a typical one. One of the most identifiable aspects of Disney films are the villains, and Bambi doesn't really have one, or at least a clear one with a face. The villain is fate. I know a lot of people say that the villain is man, but it's really the cruel hand of fate. Man didn't enter the forest with the specific intent of messing up Bambi's life, it just happened. And in that way, Bambi is more of just a story of life and how things may happen for a reason, but the reason is not always clear, sometimes, stuff just happens whether we wish it to or not. But the strength of movies like Bambi lies not in the story but in the visuals or animation. When you get a chance, take some time to just watch the film and admire the animation. At times, it really is life like and you just feel like you are in nature.
Fantasia is a movie like no other because it doesn't have a narrative or real story. Sure, some of the segments have their little story to them, but they don't last very long. And if anything, this is the movie that should be released in 3D. When Walt Disney was envisioning Fantasia, he wanted it to be a total experience, he even wanted people in the theater to smell the things that you would be smelling when you would see these segments. The only way to describe it is animators listening to the pieces of music and just coming up with images to accompany them. In some instances, they are pretty akin to what you may have imagined, but in other times, you really have to ask how they came up with that. An obvious example would be in the sequel when they envisioned the whales emerging from the water and swimming in the clouds as they would in the ocean. But another example from the original would be The Rite of Spring, in which the visual accompaniment is dinosaurs. When I was a kid, I thought that was awesome, now I look at it and think "How did they come up with that?" It's just a testament to how the creative juices flowed at that studio. And the funny thing about all of this movie was that it was only intended to be one short, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Initially, the film was just going to be the bit where Mickey gets ahold of a sorcerer's hat and does all sorts of crazy stuff with it. But the expenses just kept building up and it took way more time than was supposed to, so Disney just said "Screw it, let's make more out of this".
What do these movies say about Disney? Well, if anything, they are a statement about his commitment to the craft. A lot of people have argued about whether movies should be considered as art, and if you wanted a quick end to that argument you'd only need to look at these two films. And even if you don't like the movies or any movies that came from Disney, you have to admire the passion and the effort that went into them. Walt was always pushing his animators to see what they could come up with and try to top it, and the final result ended up being some of the most iconic movies in history.
But what about the man the myth the legend himself? Well, while Disney was an icon and a father to many, he certainly wasn't perfect. It has been reported that he was a workaholic and that he did have a bit of a temper at times. But does that mean that we shouldn't remember him as we do? The answer is of course not. Even if he did have his moments where he wasn't as cheery as the pictures show, the thing that we all have to remember is that he was devoted to making films that were primarily to be enjoyed by families, not just one specific age group, and that's really hard to do. Even if he wasn't always successful, you can't knock him for trying. Is trying even the right word for it? I feel like you are doing more than trying when you are giving each and every project your all.
I know I sound like a broken record by singing Walt Disney's praises as much as I am, but I do it for a reason, as does everyone else who you've heard talk like this. Unfortunately there are times where I believe that the Disney film studio of today has long strayed from the initial vision that Walt had when he initially started Walt Disney Studios, what with the countless direct to video sequels of 50+ year old movies, but as long as people like Hayao Myazaki (I'm kind of winging it with that name spelling) and John Lasseter are around, I still think that there is some hope that children and family entertainment won't fall into the chasm that houses Hannah Montana and The Suite Life.