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John Parrington


Disney’s world


From Socialist Review, No. 184, March 1995
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Howard Medwell makes some valid criticisms of Michael Rosen’s review of The Lion King (February SR) but he does seem to be missing the point, namely that within the most mainstream aspects of bourgeois culture, personified here by the Disney empire,there may nevertheless exist a number of contradictory messages.

Another Disney film, Tim Burton’s animated children’s musicalThe Nightmare Before Christmas, perhaps illustrates the point better. On the one hand this is a fairy tale with a happy ending, yet here the hero is a rather unusual character, Jack Skellington, of Halloween Town.

Jack is bored with organising Halloween so he decides to kidnap Santa and take over Christmas instead. Of course it all goes badly wrong. Instead of presents the children receive all manner of ghoulish surprises and eventually the US army is called in to stop the impostor.

Interestingly, Burton was originally rejected by Disney because his ideas were ‘too weird’. Obviously it was the commercial success of earlier films like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands – both of which mocked commercialism and bourgeois conventions – which made the difference. Even Disney must take on new and challenging work if they are to keep on pulling the crowds in.

In this context, I think it is unfair to claim that Michael is saying Disney films can be progressive simply because they irritateDaily Telegraph readers.

Having said all this, Michael is at fault in counterposing Disney to ‘traditional’ children’s literature. The latter is not so one-dimensional in its message as he makes out. Take Alice in Wonderland for instance. Not only is it full of the most contradictory and disturbing underlying imagery. More importantly, it differs from much of the children’s literature of the time in that it does not moralise but actually shows up some of the contradictions of ‘adult’ (Victorian middle class) logic as they might appear to a child.

That it took a repressed paedophile to produce such a view says as much about Victorian society as it does about the author.


John Parrington
North London

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