Volume 16, Number 6
October 20, 2009

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This Week

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alev değimThis week I thought I would take up the subject of animation where Alev Değim left off two weeks ago because... Disney Pixar's latest, Up, opens this week!
Up is Disney Pixar's tenth feature film since the entertainment giant and high end CGI animation company started out together with Toy Story in 1995. The story of Up centers around a grumpy old man and an overeager 9-year-old boy scout. The two embark on an adventure in a house that flies with one thousand helium filled balloons.

I am as excited about Up as I was whenever my parents took me to the movie theater for the latest Disney animated film when I was a child. This week I would like share my thoughts on the evolution of animated Disney movies over the years.

Putting aside advancements in animation technologies, there are considerable differences of style, plot, character, moral, and even humor between the movies produced before and after the millennium. Even if you're not an avid animation fan, if you compare The Lion King with WALL-E, you can see what I mean.

We can observe that the animated movies of the Disney Renaissance period (starting with The Little Mermaid in 1989 and ending with Tarzan in 1999) and prior follow a certain pattern. There is a protagonist, his/her love interest, one or two sidekicks for humor and an antagonist who is usually pure evil. The story is usually set in the periods of antiquity since it is based on fairy tales, legends and literature, no matter how freely adapted (as was the case in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame). Therefore, the moral in these movies are generally the power of love and dreams (The Little Mermaid), embracing individuality (Pocahontas, Mulan), the importance of inner beauty (Beauty And The Beast, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame) and confronting destiny (The Lion King).

Disney-Pixar animated films also follow a pattern, but one that is quite different from what I explicated above. Although it wouldn't necessarily explain the other differences, it is important to know that the stories are originally written for the movies. They tend to incorporate themes like friendship, strength in unity, morality over materialism and environment, which was strikingly conveyed in WALL-E. Something I have noticed about these themes is that love takes a different twist. While romantic love was previously almost a must-have, other kinds of love are more emphasized in Disney-Pixar productions-like parental love in Finding Nemo, or the kind of protective love in Monsters Inc. In the same way, while "the past" was almost the default setting before, "the present day" (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), "the future" (WALL-E) and even alternative universes (Monsters Inc.) are preferred.

But perhaps the most striking difference in Disney-Pixar animated films is that there is no villain without a reason or even no bad guy at all. Think of the three sharks in Finding Nemo who start their Fish Eaters Anonymous meeting by saying their pledge: "Fish are friends, not food." I honestly felt sorry for them. But I find that "good and evil blend into gray" sets a better moral for kids than "good always prevails over the evil at the end" if we are always to look for a moral in Disney films. And we do look for a moral.

Since Disney is the biggest entertainment company out there, it naturally assumes the role of a moral educator for kids all around the world. Therefore it is under constant criticism, among many other issues, for drawing the lines between good and evil too strictly. But it seems that some of this criticism actually made a difference in Disney's understanding of morality, because in 2005 a storybook series called "My Side of the Story," which retells classic Disney stories from the villains' perspective, was released.

In conclusion, Disney has undergone an evolution on many aspects of its understanding of film making. Whether this evolution is 'good' or 'bad' (or neither) depends on our own life perspective. But I highly doubt that anyone will hate Up.

By Gönenç İnal (TRIN/IV)

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