Though some people have a lot of negative opinions of Jack Zipes’ radical article on “Breaking the Disney Spell,” (myself included), I actually liked reading his piece. I found some of the parts quite interesting, and some of the others purely entertaining in their ridiculousness.
Near the beginning of the text, Zipes provides a detailed history of the roles and origins of today’s classic fairytales. Being the huge history nerd that I am, I savored the account. While the fairytales we think of today are centered on royalty and lavish ball gowns, they were actually based on tribal rituals. Indeed, they were spread by mouth and varied from tribe to tribe, as they celebrated customs and attempted to explain natural phenomena. Zipes points out that there is a strong emphasis on communal harmony in fairytales, which I find interesting when compared to a similar emphasis in modern Disney films. Over time, the tales evolved alongside changing beliefs and attitudes among social groups. Fairytales really only remained static after the invention of the printing press. Since only the wealthiest members of society could afford to receive an education, this small, literate portion of the population controlled what versions of the fairytales made it past the printing press. As a result, the traditional tribal tales tailored themselves to fit the aristocratic life style. It was around the eighteenth century that fairytales began to follow this pattern, thus establishing themselves as part of an overall genre. This is where Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Carlo Collodi come into play. Contrary to popular belief, Zipes points out, the fairytales of the time were meant for adult consumers. After having read the Grimm version of Snow White in which the evil Queen dances herself to death in blazing iron shoes, it’s easy to see why children were not the primary audience. Fairytales adapted more to children around a century later, taking on new moral tones. In time, Disney turned these tales into the classic stories we know and love today.
According to Zipes, however, Disney went horribly wrong in doing so. Zipes views Walt Disney as a pompous, capitalist villain who destroyed the very nature of the fairytale. (Here’s where things go downhill). He views the animated film industry as a blatant attack on imagination and cultural tradition. In my opinion, Disney’s films were yet another interpretation of the fairytales that would always change anyways according to the storytellers and the time period. It just so happens that his interpretations became the most popular, as they captured both younger and older audiences with their beautiful pictures, songs, and family ideals. Why attack Disney for being creative and successful because of it? Because Zipes hates the idea of corporate success, too. Clearly a marxist, Zipes attacks Disney as favoring enterprising men who are self-centered, deceitful, and careless about the people in their community. Yes, Disney made a lot of money and a name for himself. But that’s not all… He also created an entire childhood culture around his films, products, and Disney lands, that would last for generations.