As I said up there, I’ve got nothing against Mickey Mouse. Well, that’s not quite true, I can’t stand his voice; but that’s uncharitable, one shouldn’t judge others by their physical or mental shortcomings and in any case, it’s not his fault, Walt Disney gave it to him. Neither do I bear any ill will towards Walt Disney himself, not personally anyway. Even though my mother enjoyed telling all who would listen that for six weeks I had nightmares over the bushfire sequences in Bambi after Bernie Jamieson took me to see it back in the ’40s, I bear him no grudge. None whatsoever.
No, none of that matters. It’s what he – or his studio, and I’ll get the two confused here, I know – has done to children’s literature that gets up my nose. Fair enough, the Disney Cinderella was just one of a long line of modifications to an ancient Chinese folk tale, that is the way of folk tales, and for the same reason I could probably almost tolerate the latest rehash of Rapunzel. I will even argue that his Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Fantasia are just interpretations of the classics – after all, the culture police condone Shakespeare or Wagner set in the Bronx or East London or The Rocks because we of the uncultured classes are too dense to appreciate it otherwise and it makes them feel good to think they are bringing a little high art to the masses.
What I can’t condone, however, is what’s been done to Mowgli, and Alice, and Winnie-the-Pooh, and The Wind In The Willows, and Peter Pan – and this from someone who was never much taken by Peter Pan to begin with. Take Winnie. By growing up only knowing the film character, kids have been denied all the wonderful jokes and subtle asides in the stories and they’ve also missed a pleasant introduction to poetry.
Look what Disney did to the creatures in Kipling’s Mowgli stories. What’s become of Mowgli’s terrible nemesis Shere Khan, his guarantor Bagheera and his tutor, the disciplinarian Baloo? The dance of Kaa as described by Kipling is a terrifying thing and I can remember shuddering at what I knew would be the fate of some of the Bandar-Log when the python said: “…what follows it is not well that thou shouldst see.”, but I could appreciate the justice in Bagheera’s admonition that Mowgli was never to eat beef because his life had been bought at the price of a bull. Where is all that in the bumbling, ever-so-cute stuffed toys that populate Disney’s version?
Once again, the introduction to poetry has been taken away, but if you’ve been raised on the screen version, why expend the effort of stimulating your own imagination by reading the original?
As a kid I had a beautiful folio edition of the Mowgli stories. The frontispiece was a color plate from a watercolor depicting a long-haired, slender Indian teenager, naked save for an abbreviated dhoti, loping through a fantastic jungle. Around his neck were a garland of flowers and a sheathed knife suspended from a cord. Those who worry about such things could probably read volumes into the flowers, loincloth and long hair, and good luck to them – zip-a-de-dooh-dah indeed – but it beat the heck out of the Disney version.