Monday, October 18, 2004

Lewis on Disney

I read this amusing anecdote last night in the book C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Remininscences. It seems that a young American writer, Jane Douglass, had written to C.S. Lewis about making a dramatization of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but was turned down. He did, however, extend an invitation to Ms. Douglass to stop by and visit if she were ever in Oxford. Undaunted, she headed across the Atlantic to pay him a call:

"He repeated his dread of such things as radio and television apparatus and expressed his dislike of talking films. I said I quite understood this, and that nothing would distress me more than that he should think that I had in mind anything like the Walt Disney shows; I hoped nobody had suggested the book to Mr. Disney. This seemed to relieve Mr. Lewis to such an extent that I thought perhaps Mr. Disney had been after the book, but of course I did not ask. And in his usual generous way, Mr. Lewis said, "Too bad we didn't know Walt Disney before he was spoiled, isn't it?"
~Jane Douglass, "An Enduring Friendship", C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table (1979)

That reminded me of this letter to Alfred Jenkin:


"What did you think of Snowwhite and the vii Dwarfs? I saw it at Malvern last week on that holiday...Leaving out the tiresome question of whether it is suitable for children (which I don't know and don't care) I thought it almost inconceivably good and bad--I mean, I didn't know one human being could be so good and bad. The worst thing of all was the vulgarity of the winking dove at the beginning, and the next worst the faces of the dwarfs. Dwarfs ought to be ugly of course, but not in that way. And the dwarfs' jazz party was pretty bad. I suppose it never occurred to the poor boob that you could give them any other kind of music. But all the terrifying bits were good, and the animals really most moving: and the use of shadows (of dwarfs and vultures) was real genius. What might not have come of it if this man had been educated-- or even brought up in a decent society?"
~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter to A. K. Hamilton Jenkin (January 11, 1939)

8 Comment(s):

At Mon Oct 18, 07:23:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Lewis is being a little "snobbish" here, don't you think? I don't think I like him saying that America isn't a decent society!

(But I do agree with him about Snow White.)

 
At Mon Oct 18, 09:19:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerewyn: Hmm, so he's not a Disney fan. Is it Snow White herself, do you think, that he refers to as being 'so good and bad'? I wonder if he means bad:vulgar rather than bad:wicked.

 
At Mon Oct 18, 11:52:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

I read it as Lewis saying that Walt Disney was good and bad. Hmmm....

 
At Mon Oct 18, 05:44:00 PM EST, Blogger Sandicomm said...

People often confuse irony with coincidence. Now this is irony. (Point and laugh! Point and laugh!) So, who wants to take a poll? Would Lewis have liked Disney before or after it became a cooperate behomoth and bought the rights to his books? Huh...

I agree with what he has to say about Snow White: some of it is really quite ugly, but "the terrifying bits" really are great. And there are definitely some beautiful parts, too. I've always loved the scene, early in the movie, when Snow White is picking flowers; I just love the colors. The backgrounds are also beautiful, and I love the scene where winter turns into spring. And we should also mention that the technical achievement is amazing. (But Snow White's voice is SO ANNOYING.)

And as for Mr. Lewis's comments on Disney's upbringing: oh no you di'n't! **Snaps fingers.**I think Disney was middle class (hardly uneducated) and was certainly a genius when it came to psychology. Disney's characters' have big eyes and large foreheads because they look like babies, and that way you care about them more.

 
At Tue Oct 19, 12:47:00 AM EST, Blogger Bob said...

I think Lewis failed to understand (or did and thought his criticism still apt) that Disney attempted to appeal to as broad a swath of society as possible. Disney wanted a movie that would be palatable to children, adults and those in between. It was a money making venture, not a work of art. Lewis, on the other hand, probably had a conception of art as an ideal. That it should be done well regardless of its financial viability and that Disney should have approached his films the same way.

I think his buddy Tolkien would have agreed. In film versions of their books, they would have been willing to sacrifice financial viability and (perhaps) strict interpretation for the sake of artistic merit, but not artistic merit for the sake of financial viability. My guess is that Lewis objects to aspects of Disney that repel his aesthetic sense. Why are such repellent things included? Disney or his upbringing must have been deficient in some way.

And I don't believe it was uncommon for Brits of Lewis' class and time to have a rather low opinion of the US and its citizens. A reflexive and unthinking disparagement such as this would probably have passed unnoted among his circle of friends. I could well be wrong about this, however. That last observation is based mostly on reading other English things from that time period.

 
At Tue Oct 19, 10:23:00 AM EST, Blogger Sandicomm said...

Yeah, well, anyone who thinks Bambi is better than Snow White (cough, Lewis, cough) has no right to judge Disney. ;)

 
At Tue Oct 19, 10:31:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Really, Sandi? Does he talk somewhere about Bambi? I have to say that I think that technically, Bambi is brilliant. The animators hit all the right notes for that movie, and the behind-the-scenes documentary that is included in the anniversary DVD is something my kids have watched over and over. It is amazing how they did so much without the aid of computers back then.

But Bob, I think you are right in pointing out that a negative attitude about American society was quite prevalent at that time, and he wouldn't be alone in expressing that point of view about us Yanks. (And our present-day standing in the opinion of most of the world is not the best, either, for that matter).

 
At Tue Oct 19, 01:02:00 PM EST, Blogger Sandicomm said...

LOL, actually I shouldn't talk about Bambi. I just remember seeing it once and not liking it; that's it.

And as for the whole Brit/ American thingy: Empire envy. Yes.

 

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