Thursday, October 21, 2010

Disney at the ACMI

One of my undergrad. students was quick on the mark and told me about an upcoming Disney exhibition at the ACMI: "Dreams Come True: The Art of Disney's Classic Fairy Tales" (18 Nov - 26 April). I did quip that it would have made a great field trip if only it had fallen into the teaching schedule for Fairy Tale Traditions.


I find myself having the oddest mixed feelings about it, however. I did my PhD on Disney animated and theatrical musicals. I spent a good three years entirely preoccupied with windy warthogs and singing teapots. I spotted the masterclass with Glen Keane and Roy Conli and thought about the hours I spent pouring over Glen Keane's artwork and any interviews I could find that gave me insight into how he approached the physicality of fairy tale characters. How odd would be it to actually see him?

I've been teaching Beauty and the Beast since then and I'm currently just easing myself back to my earlier work and expanding ideas about how Disney deals in fairy tale fashion.

Yet, as many fear, when you do a PhD, you can sometimes make it impossible to ever again look at the topic of your research. In part, I chose my topic knowing that I could survive three years of preoccupation with aforementioned windy warthogs and singing teapots (I'm not even going to think about what that says about me). Following the PhD, I couldn't look at Disney again for a good couple of years. I needed a break.


I am gradually reconnecting with that spark of curiosity. The one that made me wonder just how Disney managed to spin fairy tales on a global scale never before imagined. During my PhD, I had to challenge the almost overwhelmingly negative scholarship existent on Disney in order to really get to the heart of the storytelling and why it was working as well as it did. I just couldn't believe that merely exploitative storytelling would capture the hearts and minds of so many over so long a time and over so many cultures and communities.

What I found was a dynamic collaboration of storytellers and for better or for worse, they still intrigue me.

So I guess I'll be visiting the exhibition after all and that a PhD doesn't spell the end of one's fascination with any given topic.

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