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Home --> Editorials

Editorial response to Discovery News article, "Study: Disney Films, TV Darken Elderly" written by Jennifer Viegas. Published June 11, 2007.   Editorial published June 12, 2007.

Gary J. Chambers responds:
Disney features are not being vilified by this study, but rather releasing data for scholars to interpret. These cartoons carry a great deal of social weight with young people as they are widely regarded as wholesome entertainment, often substituting for actual parenting.

For those responsible parents that do take the time to discuss with their children the thematic devices of a Disney feature, these stereotypes are innocuous. Cartoons are about character and caricature. If all the stereotypical images from these films were somhow removed, we'd find they would be sparsely populated. The stereotypes exist for a reason; they are steeped in real life. When utilized well, they are blown out of proportion to be become lampoonery of own behavior.

Kids are often depicted as snotty nosed brats, old women are cackling hags, older men are bumbling, and coyotes fall off cliffs! It's funny! These characters don't ridicule aging adults or feed into negativity. They allow us to laugh at ourselves and our own shortcomings. If Mad Madam Mim wasn't the conniving, ugly sorceress she is in the film, we would lose much of the comic nuance of the character. She makes us laugh, pure and simple.

With saggy breasts and all, Yzma, the villainess in "The Emporer's New Groove" is hilarious, and ironically portrayed by one of the sexiest women ever to grace an intimate stage. Eartha Kitt, well into her 70s at the time was making young men in the audience absolutely wilt when I saw her in Seattle's Jazz Alley.

But, these villains don't always have to be ugly. The Wicked Queen in Snow White, has features of glamorous film actress Gale Sondergaard. Cruella deVille and Cinderella's step mother's ugliness is largely steeped in the evil they carry, not necessarily their features.

If there's devaluation or a fear of the aged by the young, it may be perpetuated by stereotypes, but really it is the responsibility of the parents to educate their children of the value older adults possess.

Among my fondest memories as a child was listening to the stories my Great Grandfather, well into his 90s when I was in grade school, would tell. My parents encouraged my brother and I to listen. If at first we did it out of obedience, we came back for more and always looked forward to it because when a man gets to be that age, all of it is compelling history. Our elderly are our history, and the young are the future purveyors of that oral tradition.

Editorial response to writer, Kim Mclarin's NPR Commentary: Disney's Frog Princess Published May 22, 2007.   Editorial published June 3, 2007.

Gary J. Chambers responds:
Ms. McLarin makes several valid points. However, much of which she sites as offensive is either woefully out of date, or inaccurate. First; she states that our society, "…in many ways, devalues the beauty of dark skin and kinky hair." How, exactly? I'd really like to know.

In what way does our obsequious overweight white American Society demean black culture any more than it derides itself? How more offensive could anyone, regardless of race or creed, be than the black man is to himself? One need only observe backlash by the progeny of the civil rights movement in current black arts and entertainment for insanely popular examples. I'm of a mind that we have so succumbed to advocating the culture of victim-hood that even if somehow all vestiges of devaluation of black culture were to magically disappear there would still be those that insist it remain.

Our representatives in Congress, the Republican administration, and by proxy, the press insist on referring to Katrina survivors, like me, as "victims". This is a moniker we could choose to accept, or reject. To refer to myself as a victim would absolve me from personal responsibility, and that it is up to…someone else…to take care of me; that I have paid my dues…that I am owed a living. Nonsense! Anymore, to implicate wholesale "society" as "devaluing" any sect of legal participants and residents of this country is merely looking for an excuse to stir the pot.

Ms. McLarin refers to the three hyenas from the Lion King as "jive talking". Well, one of them is nothing but a blathering male, you know, a redneck, one is an Hispanic (Cheech Marin), and the only "jive talker" would be Whoopie Goldberg playing…Whoopie Goldberg!

I concede her point about the song, "What Made the Red Man Red" from Peter Pan. But if just to point out how far we've come in our sensitivity to it's indigenous peoples, it remains relevant in film history.

Ms. McLarin also takes umbrage that the lead character is cast a chamber maid. While perhaps so in the original treatment, that is no longer true.

Two weeks before McMclarin's commentary aired, Disney spokeswoman, Heidi Trotta stated that some of the original release information was incorrect, and confirmed the lead character will no longer be a chamber maid. Trotta stated "Princess Tiana will be a heroine in the great tradition of Disney's rich animated fairy tale legacy, and all other characters and aspects of the story will be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity." What PR bilge. This "sensitivity" propels my point, that we have become a society of lawsuit weary wussies unable to stomach our own history from which we could and should learn.

Gary J. Chambers Editorial - "Song of the South: Suberted American History"   Originally published May 16, 2007.

Unlike most Americans, I am fortunate to have Song of the South among my film library. Ten years ago, when I lived in Seattle, I was able to acquire the film from the late great film collector, George Lasitos at Scarecrow Video. It was released in the early nineties on Laserdisc in Japan (remember those?).

At the time I was in my mid-twenties and had no preconceptions of the film...no agenda. I was just a Disney fan looking to see a film that wasn't in available in the States. At the time I didn't really understand the rationale behind its lack of availability nor did I question it.

When I saw the picture, I was utterly enchanted! The story, performances, animation, and score were, and are, all stellar. This movie embodies the best qualities of Disney Feature Animation and I place it among my top five recommendations in the Disney pantheon.

Only recently have I learned of the controversy surrounding the film and to this day fail to fully understand why it has become the designated celluloid sacrificial lamb and scapegoat of the Disney Features.

Song of the South does not take place during the Civil War, but rather, during reconstruction. The African American characters that populate the film are by and large depicted in a manner which dictates contentment rather than strife. While I'll grant that this was the beginning of great challenge for our African Americans, this story takes place before the egregious Jim Crow laws, which ultimately led to 'separate but equal' facilities throughout the South.

"To truly understand all that is going on within Song of the South, we must begin with a man named Joel Chandler Harris. Born in 1848, Harris grew up during the days of the antebellum South, when slavery was still very much a part of life. He lived on the Turnwold Plantation and spent a great deal of his time with the slaves. One slave in particular, Uncle Bob Capers, told him fantastic stories of anthropomorphic characters. Those stories, along with the unique dialect in which he told them, remained in Harris' mind, until 1876, when he took over a column in the Atlanta Constitution called "Uncle Si." It can then be said that the tales Walt Disney would later base his movie upon were created with the innocent intent to publicize and thereby preserve the stories of the slaves through literature.'" ~ By Christian Willis, September 1, 2001. Revised 9/20/01

I agree, Song of the South celebrates not denigrates the black people's oral tradition.

Evolved from that tradition are the "speech patterns" the dialect portrayed in the picture. Eric comments, "The language of the African American characters is far more uneducated than that of the white characters". Dan responds, "Its stereotypical slave talk". This is just plain ignorant. What you hear in the film is African American Vernacular English (AAVE), colloquially known as Ebonics.

It dates back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade itself and is a fusion, or "pidgin" of two or more languages, created in order to communicate among themselves and their captors. These pidgins became fully developed creoles in the Americas. Significant numbers of blacks still speak some of these creoles. While many white Americans vilify the black American's use of their "bad" or "lazy" English, among linguists there is no debate, as AAVE, like all dialects, shows consistent internal logic and structure. So, contrary to your comments the dialect portrayed in the film is more accurate than "insensitive." What are far more unrealistic are the jarring Southern California accents of Bobby Dricoll and Luana Patten.

Any stereotyping being committed is by the ignorant who assume that this particular usage of the English language should be construed as unintelligent. As one who lived in New Orleans for a time, I speak from experience that there are of plenty of Caucasians who communicate in a similar manner, nor did I ever find that these 'black speech patterns' were ever inevitably or invariably associated with an inherent level of intelligence.

On the issue of subservience, Dan comments, "They do bend to the whims of the plantation owners." In actuality, there is only one instance in the picture we see any direct act of servitude towards a white individual, at the beginning of the film when Ned removes the bags from the carriage. In reality, many of the slaves who worked on plantations actually stayed on during reconstruction. Again, what we see in the film is not unrepresentative of that which should be construed as historically accurate.

Eric goes on, "It may give children those ideas you know, that there are differences between us, which is something that Disney is totally against now…their movies are all about inclusion and other cultures and things like that". Song of the South does nothing if but exemplify inclusion and exposure to other cultures. Johnny is seen hand in hand with Uncle Remus and is repeatedly mesmerized by his stories. What you purport and believe Disney sanctions is gentrification and homogenization of children's entertainment.

The actress who plays Tempy to whom you refer is the great Hattie McDaniel. She is best known for playing Mammy in 1939's "Gone with the Wind," a role for which she won an Oscar, the first Academy Award handed out to an African American. While true, at one time she was criticized by the NAACP for perpetuating black stereotypes few today would argue that she didn't also portray strong female characters.

To my mind, fear of a potential backlash from perceived Uncle Tomism is unwarranted. The Disney Company CEO, Bob Iger, said that Disney is "…owing to the sensitivity that exists of our culture…" What balderdash! This is a film that needs to be displayed and defended, not shuttled off to the archive only to be viewed by Dave Smith (The Disney Company archivist) in a little screening room! We have as a society so succumbed to political correctness and fear of offending anybody that we are purposefully subverting good stories and brain washing the masses that this is the right thing to do. Shall we next, burn all copies of 'The Grapes of Wrath' for all of Steinbeck's unfavorable depictions of the dustbowl and economic depression?

Not to release Song of the South is censorship…it is a form of withholding of the truth and suppression of film history. Eric asks, "Should it be marketed towards kids? No, not at all." What in heaven's name are we afraid of? What do we fear this picture will teach children? Why should we think for a moment that 'Song of the South' is somehow a non-stop road to depravity and intolerance? In a world where children are exposed to 'murder on television and we allow a growing acceptance of violence, it seems incongruous, and more accurately, hypocritical that we would disallow and discount the significant moral tale that is, "Song of the South."

At its essence this film says to young viewers, "You cain't run away from trouble 'cause dey ain't no place dat fuh" and the reverence of family and trustworthy friends. Add to that the subtext and we are not teaching children intolerance and indifference, but rather kindness, love, and the value of our family supersedes all.

Just For Fun
A Disney Podcast Network member recently began the forum thread: "What have Disney films taught you?" Since you're here, then you likely have a fair number of Disney DVDs on the shelf and may very well appreciate my response.   Published June 14, 2007.

What each Disney Animated Feature has taught me (in chronological order):

Snow White: Squirrels make excellent automatic brooms.

Pinocchio: If you have a nose that grows when you lie, use it to your advantage.

Fantasia: Cherubs are never, EVER anatomically correct.

Dumbo: Big ears flap, a single black crow feather doesn't do jack!

Bambi: If your mom tells you to run into the thicket...haul ass.

Saludos Amigos: Drinking in Brazil will make an organ float.

The Three Caballeros: I have never been to Baia, and Donald Duck makes an excellent template for an Indian throw rug.

Make Mine Music: Whales are the only mammal that can sing in three part harmony with itself.

Fun & Fancy Free: Singing harps make excellent bargaining tools. If you're a bear and know how to ride a unicycle, stick with the cushy gig and forget the babes.

Melody Time: Stewing pots make for excellent hats/lightning rods on young Christian men.

Mr. Toad: Never trade real estate for a car.

Cinderella: Midnight is never an arbitrary deadline.

Alice in Wonderland: Playing cards make excellent wickets.

Peter Pan: Neverland is infinitely more fun than late 19th century London.

Lady & the Tramp: If you want to be romantic with a dog, share a meatball.

Sleeping Beauty: Blue fairies are the only ones with their heads screwed on straight.

101 Dalmatians: Never work for someone with a two-tone hair do.

The Sword in the Stone: The words "higgitus-figgitus" kick ass.

Jungle Book: Every animal in the jungle can get down and funky except the stupid panther!

The Aristocats: Native Parisian felines are prissy dorks with no sense of direction.

Robin Hood: Oo-de-lally is a real word.

The Rescuers: The food and beverage service on an albatross sucks.

The Fox & the Hound: If you're a fox and make friends with a hound, you're just asking for trouble.

The Black Cauldron: Never let Jeffrey Katzenberg edit a film, he'll just f*** it up.

The Little Mermaid: Flounders are utterly useless.

Beauty and the Beast: Always let the candelabra order dinner.

Aladdin: In desert countries they cut off your ear if they don't like your face (hey...what can I say...I saw it in theaters!).

The Lion King: Never walk downwind from a warthog, and hyenas are not to be trusted.

Hunchback of Notre Dame: Gargoyles hock one mean loogie.

Hercules: You can be a Grade "A" Nimrod and still make it as an action figure. Just ask Mark Hamill.

Mulan: Eddie Murphy is a better jackass than a dragon.

Tarzan: Rosie O'Donnell is a great ape!

Fantasia 2000: Sixty years is the perfect gestation period for a sequel.

The Emperor's New Groove: Always carefully monitor your baking spinach puffs.

Atlantis: If Leonard Nimoy is in your animated film, it WILL flop.

Lilo and Stitch: "Big Wheels" make for excellent island transportation.

Treasure Planet: Films based on a classic novel...good idea. Films based on a classic novel set in outer space...not so much.

Brother Bear: Moose can't sing.

and last but certainly not least...

Home on the Range: A Dame Commander of the British Empire cannot lend legitimacy to an animated film if she's cast as a cow.

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