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Disney’s Medievalized Ecologies in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty

Disney’s Medievalized Ecologies in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty

By Kathleen Coyne Kelly

The Disney Middle Ages, eds. Susan Aronstein and Tison Pugh (New York: Palgrave, 2012)

Dwarves' cottage from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Dwarfs’ cottage from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Introduction: The history of animation and its precursors (including praxinoscope, the zoetrope, and the flip book) is one in which technology and aesthetics continually influence each other, and in which the available technology produces the aesthetics, the signature look, of a given era. The earliest animations, for example, were driven by a desire to simulate the motions of the human form, but such animations could only do so in limited ways. In the first animated projection, Charles-Emile Reynaud’s Pauvre Pierrot (1892), the focus is on the movements of Pierrot, Arlequinn, and Colombine: that these figures moved at all was a wonder for the late nineteenth-century audiences. In the the first photographed animated projection, Stuart Blackton’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906), Blackton’s extradiegetic hand animates various people on blackboard. Despite the caricatured nature of the images, the focus is once again on the human face and body in motion.

At a time when animated pictures employed no sound, animators developed character through exaggerated motion, and such hyperbole came to dominate the look of early cartoons. Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) is the first significant example of what has come to be known as character animation, which establishes the personality, thinking process, and emotions of a character through physical appearance and movement alone. Gerie is a winning creature indeed. After Gertie, mere motion was no longer sufficient to entertain audiences. Walt Disney understood this both aesthetically and commercially, when he created the character of Mickey Mouse. At his early directions to the animators at his young company reveal, Disney focused almost entirely on character animation even as he innovated in the realm of sound, and later, speech.

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