Thursday, 2 June 2011

The dark side of Disney

The Micky Mouse Corperation has always been an easy target for the disenfranchised artist and youth. From Dan O'Niel and his underground comix gang the Air Pirate Funnies and their constant goading of Disney, to the derivative Micky=greed=true face of America graffiti that pops up every now and then, and the references to Walt's anti-semitism in animated programs like Family Guy, anyone would think the family dream machine was a genocidal monster.

But there is at least one concrete example of when Disney have been less than ethical (although probably at the time Walt thought he was entirely justified) when they crushed the hopes and dreams of one Lou Bunin. Bunin was a puppeteer, artist, and pioneer of stop motion animation who had worked as a mural painter under Diego Rivera (Frida Kahlo's lover) in Mexico City in 1926. Whilst in Mexico he had created political puppet shows including a version of Eugene O'Neils The Hairy Ape. He later returned to the US to create animated three dimensional puppets for the 1929 World's Fair in New York. His 1943 stop motion animation war propaganda Bury The Axis like a lot of war cartoons from that time will certainly make you cringe now, especially with its portrayal of the Japanese. But obviously this got people's attention as he later landed a job with MGM where he produced the animated prologue to Ziegfried Follies.

But the crushing blow came in 1949 he created his first feature lenght animation, an adaptation of Alice In Wonderland that merged a live-action Alice amongst the marionettes*(1). Disney filled a law suit against Bunin to prevent a wide US release of his film to prevent it competing from his upcoming 1951 animated version, as if Carrol's story was Disney's intellectual property alone. Bunin of course being one man, lost, and as a consequence this wonderful looking animation is reduced to a single clip on Youtube here.

It's criminal that things like this don't get released on DVD for the whole world to enjoy, but I suppose when CGI is the norm, this tends to look dated and unexciting to most consumers.

There have many adaptations of Carol's work, Disney's being the most famous, but the Alice story permeates throughout culture with references in film, fiction, and beyond. Personally my favourite adaptation would be the Ralph Steadman illustrated version. Also if you wish to delve more into the depths of the Alice story and the life of Carrol I recommend you read Bryan Talbot's excellent graphic novel Alice In Sunderland.

(*1) This technique and indeed this version of the much adapted story was a huge influence of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer's surreal 1982 version.

No comments:

Post a Comment