My e-book on the themes of Walt Disney’s greatest films is now up and available for purchase on Amazon!
G.K. Chesterton wrote that, “There is no way of dealing properly with the ultimate greatness of Dickens, except by offering sacrifice to him as a god; and this is opposed to the etiquette of our time.” Something similar could be said of Walt Disney. In less than sixty-five years of life, he elevated animation to an art form, built what became one of the most powerful media companies on Earth essentially from scratch, revolutionized the American theme park, and all while producing some of the finest and most beloved films of all time.
Most filmmakers would count themselves fortunate to produce a single undisputed masterpiece. Walt Disney made at least three in the form of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, and Mary Poppins. That isn’t even counting the long line of excellent films he produced such as Pinocchio, Bambi, and Old Yeller, nor the even larger number of high-quality films like Cinderella, Treasure Island, and Swiss Family Robinson.
These films are not just well made pieces of entertainment; they are rich stories that continue to speak to audiences decades after their debut. Mr. Disney drew on some of the finest storytellers who ever lived, including Johann Goethe, Charles Perrault, Jules Verne, and Robert Louis Stevenson in search of timeless tales that could speak to people at their core. He aimed, not to appeal to children, but to the ‘continuous thread of being that remains when a child becomes an adult.’
In a time when more and more people, especially artists, were chasing after new ‘revolutionary’ ideas, Mr. Disney struck his roots down deep into the ancient and eternal truths that had formed Western civilization, placing his cutting-edge filmmaking techniques at the service of timeless ideas. He frequently included religious themes, offering them up with a careless, matter-of-fact sincerity that sometimes shocks the modern viewer.
These timeless themes and eternal truths are the subject of this book. Our goal is neither to provide a historical study of Mr. Disney’s career nor critical reviews of his film (though both historical information and critical opinion will appear in order to provide context). Rather, this book is an attempt to examine twelve of Walt Disney’s best and most important films as examples of wisdom literature: to ask what they have to say and how they say it.
The interpretations in these essays are all my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of either the Walt Disney Corporation or Mr. Disney himself, though from what I have read and understood of the man, I don’t think there is anything herein that he would have objected to (apart from my calling him by the respectful ‘Mr. Disney’ throughout: he always preferred the casual ‘Walt’). That said, I have tried to avoid assuming anything not actually present in the films themselves. That is, I have tried not to ‘force’ the films to present a certain theme, but merely to listen to what they have to say. I have, of course, taken historical and cultural knowledge – i.e. the allusion to Ephesians 6 in Sleeping Beauty – into account, but only when it appears to me justified by what is occurring on screen. Any allusions to literary or scholarly works not expressly referenced in the films are meant as illustrative examples, not necessarily as a reading of the filmmakers’ intentions. On that subject, I have also done my best to avoid speculating as to the filmmakers’ motivations. Wherever I have, I present it merely as a possibility rather than an established fact.
As for the themes and ideas herein presented, I believe they are present for any to see who cares to view these films with a discerning eye. If any are novel in the sense of not being inherent in what passes on screen, they are so unwillingly.
My intention is not necessarily to say anything original or groundbreaking, but merely to showcase the rich thematic depths that form the core of these classic films. In so doing, I hope to leave the reader with a greater appreciation for both the films themselves and for their illustrious creator, whose work has meant so much to so many.