(2009) dir. Ron Clements, John Musker
viewed: 01/09/10 at Century 20 Daly City, Daly City, CA
It’s easy to view the Walt Disney Corporation with cynicism. Way easy.
When the first traditional cel animation film from the studio appears after five years of going “digital”, the studio offers up yet another of their very bankable “princesses”, and this one, is the first African-American princess. And instead of feeling like some long-standing glass ceiling has broken, it is read much more just an opportunity for marketing and sales and pandering to children and future children. Representation in Disney-land is not about ethics but money.
And I have to say that the trailers for this movie looked extremely tired. As formulaic as Disney has become to be known, this one seemed particularly by the numbers, just with a slight variance. But then the film actually got quite a bit of decent reviews and despite that, seemed to not have succeeded at the box office in the same way. And came a gray afternoon and a good enough opportunity to take Clara to a princess movie (We don’t encourage the “princess” mentality, but it also seems wrong to totally try and stifle it).
The film certainly has some charms, including a couple of decent tunes, a couple of moderately enjoyable characters, even some nice effects with the shadows and shadow creatures. Really, it’s nothing new whatsoever, and at times feels quite lifted in scenery and design from aspects of The Rescuers (1977) and Peter Pan (1953). But it’s not a completely empty offering. But it’s also hard for me to sing the praises of something that aspires for so little in comparison with what other finer films do.
Most annoyingly, the film touts its messages of “hard work” and “family love” and such sort of bland though “true enough” social truisms, that you kind of want to puke. Characters verbalize quite literally the messages of importance (or at least what the writers deem important). There is little left to the imagination in that sense.
But what there is certainly, a complete lack of dealing with the truth of racial issues of the time and place in which the film is set. It’s 1920’s New Orleans, and while there is a rose-colored view of the fantastic jazz music that arose from there, the truth of a free-thinking and blissfully unchallenged African American woman who strives to open her own restaurant to multi-racial folks… There is only one brief aside, made by the realtor that suggests anything so real or embarrassing, “a woman of your background” or something, which could be read a lot of ways.
While not dealing with this isn’t necessarily damning in a film that is meant for the quite young, the complete denial of the reality of racial situations in the South in the 1920’s to the extent that the film does is almost akin to Hollocaust denial. I know that the Disney studio worked hard to make sure that the film would not offend African Americans, doing a lot of testing and screening and taking input, but the resultant film, for anyone with genuine knowledge of history certainly almost draws more attention to its lack of truth by its complete omission of it.
Now, for Clara and the other girls who saw the film, this wasn’t at issue, but the “death” of Ray the firefly and his symbolic transformation into a star in the sky certainly shook them a bit. They enjoyed the film, I believe, and I thought that it had its merits. But really, it’s not just not hard to be cynical at Disney, but Disney does attract cynacism, perhaps from a growing list of hypocrisy and aesthetic and moral “crimes”. Ah, would it were easier to just be young and naive again.