SAVING MR. DISNEY

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There’s been a lot of criticism of Saving Mr. Banks as constituting a glorification of Walt Disney by the company he founded. The implication is that Disney doesn’t deserve glorification, and only gets it here through corporate puffery.

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This is nonsense. Disney was one of the greatest artists, or artistic impresarios, of the 20th Century. He supervised the creation of some of the most sublime passages of cinema in the medium’s history. Here’s James Agee on some of the early Disney cartoons:

Do you ever happen to see any of the Silly Symphonies by Walt Disney? On the whole they are very beautiful. A sort of combination of Mozart, super-ballet, and La Fontaine . . .

The comparison with Mozart, with whom Agee associated Disney in other writings, is not farfetched.

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Disney also revived Victorian spectacle theater, which had indirectly given birth to the movies, in his theme parks, creating, or recreating, one of the most vital if under-appreciated art forms of our time.

And Disney had balls bigger than those of any studio executive of his time. He was willing to take creative and financial risks that would have turned his peers to jelly. He certainly had balls bigger than anyone running a studio in Hollywood today, or ever likely to again.

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Did Disney have a kind of middlebrow sentimentality? Sure. It was the middlebrow sentimentality of the audience that he, and most artists in Hollywood, sought to please. He still manged to create magnificent art within that limitation, as Dickens had before him.

Think what you will about Saving Mr. Banks — I found it fairly entertaining and occasionally moving — but don’t use it a pretext to patronize the genius of Walt Disney. One person of such genius in Hollywood today could redeem American popular movies.

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