HEIGH-HO, HEIGH-HO, IS DISNEY HIGH OR LOW? FROM SILLY CARTOONS TO POSTMODERN POLITICS

by Harry M. Benshoff

The animated film occupies a unique niche in the history of twentieth century popular art. In combining the techniques of drawing, painting (or other media) with the cinematic apparatus, it must immediately be understood as a hybrid art form. Donald Crafton has argued that the origins of the animated film can be traced to the visual features of fin de siecle newspapers and magazines-specifically political caricature, illustration, and the comic strip.1 Thus, the animated film has an immediate association with traditionally commercial (low) art sources. Yet, during these early years, the animated film also accommodated high art practitioners: Leopold Survage in the 1910s and Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann, and Viking Eggeling during the next decade.2 It seems, then, that the animated film had the potential to develop as either a high or low art form. In America, however, the popular conception of the animated film was centered around an industrially produced entertainment artifact, the movie cartoon. Its placement upon a Hollywood bill of fare, and the rise throughout the 1930s and 1940s of the Walt Disney and Warner Bros. animation factories, firmly situated the American animated film within the mass culture industry.3

It is not difficult to argue that Disney is the most recognizable name in animation, throughout both America and the world. The company has maximized its consumer appeal by careful production and marketing strategies that have developed in various stages throughout the past seventy years: from a small cottage industry in the 1920s and 1930s, through monopoly capitalism in the 1950s, to the world-wide corporate conglomerate that is Disney today. A specific mode of artistic production can be roughly correlated to each of these three stages of capitalist enterprise.4 At Disney in the 1930s, the cottage animation industry produced films of a classical nature, interested in unity, closure, and practices of realist representation. Monopoly capitalism was the impetus behind a certain modernist impulse, an auteurist attempt to self-consciously produce art that critiques classical representation. Finally, the global corporate capitalism of the last few decades seems to have led to postmodern aesthetic practices, a joyful recombining of the fragments of high modern art into industrial art products. Between the historical poles of Disney's classical and the postmodern tendencies falls over fifty years of experiment and change. This essay will discuss the company's positioning in the high-low continuum, and will examine the ideological implications of stylistic change through a comparison of the "Silly Symphonies" to a recent animated feature released through Disney Home Video, The Brave Little Toaster (1987).

The High and Low of It

One might say that the key to Disney's success lies in their aesthetic orientation toward a mass audience. It seems that the studio's "tradition of quality" is based in large part on a realist impulse in their classical productions: the "Disney style," which began to develop in the 1930s and has since become the popular measure of the quality of all other commercial animation.5 The Disney style is dependent on the recreation of natural movement and it is well-known that live models of actors and animals were (and still are) often studied and copied by the studio's animators to ensure increased realism.6 But during the 1940s and 1950s, modernist influences-which widely affected live action movies, advertising and other forms of popular culture-did make their way into Disney productions.7 It was during this time, for example, that United Productions of America studios popularized a less realist, more abstract style of animation through such productions as the Gerald McBoing Boing and Mr. Magoo series.8 While the style of the Disney feature remained closely aligned to pictorial realism, several overtly modernist shorts were produced during this era. But even before this, Disney had flirted with the idea of bringing "high art" into animation. Perhaps their best-known entry into this realm is the company's 1940 production, Fantasia.

In Fantasia, the high-low dichotomy is evident at the level of its classical musical score. Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra were brought on board to lend their high art credentials to the soundtrack, while Deems Taylor-a musicologist who had a popular radio following-was used to introduce each segment, lending an air of folksy ease to the high brow proceedings. Some of the problems inherent in the project can best be illustrated by the experience of famed German artist and high art animator Oskar Fischinger, who was hired to work on the Bach "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" segment of the film, and whose eventual clash with the studio has been well-documented.9 Fischinger eventually disowned both the project and the possibility of combining high art within Disney cartoons. He wrote: "The film 'Toccata and Fugue by Bach' is not really my work, though my work may be present at some points; rather it is the most inartistic product of a factory. . . .no true work of art can be made with that procedure used in the Disney Studio."10

The financial failure of Fantasia and the fall out with Oskar Fischinger undoubtedly caused the studio to shy away from high art models and artists. Commercial artists such as Gustaf Tenggren, Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle were assimilated within the studio production system much more readily than were creators of high art.11 Nonetheless, much artistic experimentation is still evident in the studio's productions of the 1940s. Between the sustained narrative animations of Bambi (1942) and Cinderella (1950), Disney produced a number of compilation films made up of shorter animated pieces. Visually, many of these features are wonderfully abstract: note, for example, the inclusion of surreal shorts such as "After You've Gone" in Make Mine Music (1946) and "Bumble Boogie" or "Blame it on the Samba" in Melody Time (1948). For their soundtracks, however, these films turn away markedly from classical music to embrace more popular musical modes such as jazz and big band. When classical music is used, it is tempered with voice-over narration (as in Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf") or burlesqued outright (hear Nelson Eddy as "Willie the Whale"-both examples from Make Mine Music). Contemporary vocalists appear in lieu of Beethoven and Bach,12 as in the "Ballade Ballet" sequence from Make Mine Music. It features dancers Tatiana Riabouchinska and David Lichine of the Ballet Russe, who dance not to music by Tchaikovsky or Ponchielli, but to a vocal by Dinah Shore. South American musical idioms (in a nod to the Good Neighbor Policy) were also appropriated for films such as Saludos Amigos (1943) and The Three Caballeros (1945).

But despite its various departures into the realms of high art, Disney's impetus was clearly towards pictorial realism and the mass production of culture. In its period of monopoly capitalism, when modernist influences affected American popular culture as a whole, Disney films merely incorporated this tendency as evidence of a mainstream trend. But, as a gage of cultural production, it seems useful to look at Disney animation as more than a reflection of popular aesthetics. Through an analysis of film form and ideology it is possible to examine the theoretical implications of Disney productions as cultural products.13 Are they ultimately reified and conformist, as Theodor Adorno would argue, because of their status as a mass produced artifacts? Or is it possible that changes in film form and/or society have created new ways of understanding the animated cartoon?

Theodor Adorno Meets "The Sillies"

What parades as progress in the culture industry, as the incessantly new which it offers up, remains the disguise for an eternal sameness; everywhere the changes mask a skeleton which has changed just as little as the profit motive itself since the time it first gained prominence over culture. - Theodor Adorno14

The hundreds of short films produced by the Disney Studio between 1920 and 1967 can easily be situated into standardized character-based genres, such as Donald Duck shorts or Mickey Mouse shorts.15 Between 1929 and 1939, there were a series of seventy-five short films produced under the classification of "Silly Symphony," which differ from the company's other series in that they do not feature a recurring character. This should not, however, be construed to mean that these films are somehow less conventionalized than other Disney productions.

Basically, a "Silly Symphony" tells a story or evokes a mood that is cued from its musical soundtrack; in this respect they are clearly precursors of Fantasia. Disney's attitude towards music in the "Sillies" was irreverent from the start, mixing music from every possible idiom into each "Silly." His "cheerful chopping and bowdlerizing of music" would place snatches of Rachmaninoff next to "Turkey in the Straw."16 The very name itself, "Silly Symphony" also suggests a mixture of high and low. And while I do not wish to make a case for Disney being a postmodern musical bricoleur (at least not yet), one should note that his penchant for mixing high and low musical idioms caused him all sorts of problems when Fantasia was released. These were problems that one can scarcely imagine happening in today's postmodern world, wherein we see Fellini parodies on Saturday morning television and dance to music that incorporates Gregorian chants.

Many of the "Silly Symphonies" recount a fairy tale or fable, such as the Three Little Pigs (1933), The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934), and The Tortoise and the Hare (1935). These "Sillies" rely heavily on well-known stories from such sources as Mother Goose or Aesop, and transfer dominant ideology to the screen fairly transparently. Thus the little rodent who wants to be The Flying Mouse (1934) learns that it is better to be just like everyone else, because being different only causes ostracism and misery. What Theodor Adorno put forth, in general, holds especially true for these short cartoons: "the advice to be gained from manifestations of the culture industry is vacuous, banal or worse, and the behavior patterns are shamelessly conformist."17

Other "Silly Symphonies" have more general narratives built around a fanciful community of non-human creatures. These films might be read as allegories of utopian human communities in which all races, creeds, and sexualities interact as harmoniously as do the caterpillars, spiders, and grasshoppers of Woodland Cafe (1937).18 But, in fact, one can see-in such examples as Flowers and Trees (1932), The China Shop (1934), The Moth and the Flame (1938)-that the films work to naturalize an ideology of heterosexual bourgeois romance, another form of "social cement" by which viewers might, in Adorno's terms, "achieve some psychical adjustment to the mechanisms of present day life."19 These films may appear to celebrate subaltern communities and/or heterogeneity within those communities, but their narratives are fundamentally identical in action and ideology.

Theodor Adorno's concept of pseudo-individualization is applicable here. Adorno first addressed this notion in his critique of popular music, but his thoughts are valuable in a consideration of the "Silly Symphonies:"

By pseudo-individualization we mean endowing cultural mass production with a halo of free choice or open market on the basis of standardization itself. Standardization of song hits keeps the customers in line by doing their listening for them, as it were. Pseudo-individualization, for its part, keeps them in line by making them forget what they listen to is already listened to for them, or "pre-digested."20

Each of these "Sillies" looks and sounds quite differently-the Disney animators were able to create clever individualized trappings for each of the fantastic communities they depicted-but the protagonists in each film are ultimately "prescribed by the standardization of the framework."21 They behave exactly as do the protagonists in every other "Silly Symphony."

The classical narrative trajectory of these films generally begins with an idyllic celebration of the fantastic community, especially as it is embodied in a (hetero)sexed couple who are engaged in courtship rituals. The conflict arises from the interference of another male, who kidnaps the female (tree, statuette, insect, whatever) and holds her captive to his unwanted advances. Often, the female is shown to be the cause of the abduction, it being the result of her careless or wanton behavior. By the climax the good male (tree, statuette, insect, whatever) saves her by defeating the interloper in a spectacular battle. Harmony is thus restored to the community. And while the community has been depicted visually as alternative (tree, statuette, insect, whatever), it is shown to operate in film after film firmly within the ideology of bourgeois white male propriety.22

Because of their apparent alignment with dominant ideology, it is difficult to read the "Sillies" in an oppositional manner; by virtue of the fact that they are created and utilized through mass channels, the possibility for subversion is minimal.23 As Adorno put it, the generic nature of industrial culture precludes politics: "Those who ask for a song of social significance ask for it through a medium which deprives it of social significance."24 Additionally, Adorno critiques a catharsis model of popular culture by concluding that "music that permits its listeners the confession of their unhappiness reconciles them, by means of this 'release,' to their social dependence"-thus a "Silly Symphony" such as Three Little Pigs might acknowledge the economic terrors of the Depression through a wolfish displacement, but Adorno's argument suggests that the cartoon can only ultimately provide fantasized blinders that remove the spectator from the social, political, and economic parameters of the situation: "It is catharsis for the masses, but catharsis which keeps them all the more firmly in line."25

Still, Adorno's top-down and totalizing theories do acknowledge a point of potential resistance to the industrial culture machine:

Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley . . . do not merely supply categorical wish fulfillment for the girl behind the counter. . . . What does occur may be expressed as follows: when the audience at a sentimental film or sentimental music become aware of the overwhelming possibility of happiness, they dare to confess to themselves what the whole order of contemporary life ordinarily forbids them to admit, namely, that they actually have no part in happiness.26

This model admits that the viewer or listener acknowledges on some level his or her "unhappiness" in the face of the culture industry. What the individual viewer then does with that knowledge is altogether another matter. Adorno, whose model of popular culture was influenced by world-wide economic instability and the rise of European fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, saw no way for the consumer to resist the overwhelming ideology of the culture industry. Today, however, models of popular culture often focus on viewers who use and transform popular cultural artifacts to their own ends.27

Fredric Jameson has commented upon how the positioning of popular culture within society has changed over the years:

. . . even if contemporary art has all the same formal features as the older modernism, it has still shifted its position fundamentally within our culture. For one thing, commodity production and in particular our clothing, furniture, buildings, and other artifacts are now intimately tied in with styling changes which derive from artistic experimentation. . . . 28

Not only has the relationship of art objects within the culture changed fundamentally since Adorno's time, but textual practice itself has changed, creating further possibilities for resistant textual practices. Postmodern aesthetics of textual construction seem to have produced texts that, while apparently firmly situated within the culture industry, contain more than just the seeds of resistance, ala Comolli and Narboni's Type (e) films.29 Many of these textual practices (pastiche, nostalgia, schizophrenia, intertextuality, etc.) are common to high modernist art, although they they must be reconfigured and reconceptualized when they appear in industrial or commercial art artifacts. Whereas critic J. Hoberman has noted the appearance of these tropes in Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s and classified them as examples of "vulgar modernism," I prefer to eschew the pejorative and hierarchical biases of such a term, finding it more productive to discuss this phenomenon as another aspect of the collapse of high and low within postmodernism.30

However, whether or not these postmodern aesthetic tropes afford the spectator a means of resistance to the ideology of the culture industry remains a heatedly debated topic. Jean Baudrillard suspects that we are ultimately trapped within the code of the hyperreal and that there is no room for oppositional ideology within the postmodern langue. Fredric Jameson is similarly pessimistic, although he does leave the question open: "We have seen that there is a way in which postmodernism replicates or reproduces-reinforces-the logic of consumer capitalism; the more significant question is whether there is also a way in which it resists that logic."31 Other theorists do find an oppositional impetus within postmodernism. Hal Foster, for example, identifies both a postmodernism of reaction and a postmodernism of resistance. The latter "seeks to deconstruct modernism and resist the status quo."32 In so doing, it "seeks to question rather than exploit cultural codes, to explore rather than conceal social and political affiliations."33

E. Ann Kaplan, drawing upon Bakhtin's concept of the carnivalesque, offers the terminology "utopian postmodernism" to describe the potentially oppositional meanings that can arise from a supposedly commercially coopted text such as MTV.34 According to this argument, even a "Silly Symphony" such as The Cookie Carnival (1935), which appears firmly situated within a hetero/sexist bourgeois ideology, might be read as counter to that ideology by virtue of its carnivalesque excesses.35 One might reject its latent totalized (narrative) meanings in favor of pleasurable play with untethered signifiers: we might be able to overlook or reject the conformist ideology of the action and instead focus on the spectacle of color, movement, difference, and artistry.

The Brave Little (Postmodern) Toaster

Recent foci on reception communities and models of active spectatorship have problematized many of Adorno's theories and undermined his assertion that "progress in the culture industry . . . remains the disguise for an eternal sameness." New perspectives on the mass culture debate indicate that it might be possible for the industry to disseminate "oppositional" ideologies. Granted, the culture industry is still in the business of making money, but perhaps today it has more freedom to do so without necessarily replicating conformist ideology. Upon the larger cultural grid, some oppositional ideologies have at last become marketable. In looking at industrial art in 1991, it is easy enough to find texts that actually endorse a formerly subaltern ideology within their encoding and subsequent dominant decodings.36

One such example can be found in Hyperion Pictures' international co-production, The Brave Little Toaster. In its production process alone, the film reflects the multiplicity of origins that is typical of postmodern practice; nonetheless, it seems logical to describe it as a Disney production. Despite the fact that it was not completed as a Disney project, The Brave Little Toaster was originally in development as a Disney feature and was heavily funded by Disney. It did not receive a wide theatrical release but was released by Walt Disney Home Video in the summer of 1991. Thus, even as it has been subsumed by the multinational Disney corporation and somewhat suppressed theatrically, it has also been given the opportunity to become a truly popular cultural artifact through extended home video distribution.

The film is based on Thomas M. Disch's novella: the title itself is an allusion to the German fairy tale "The Brave Little Tailor" and the 1938 Mickey Mouse cartoon of the same name. Superficially, The Brave Little Toaster would appear to have much in common with the "Silly Symphonies." It tells the story of five household appliances (a toaster, a lamp, a radio, a vacuum cleaner, and an electric blanket), who, feeling abandoned in their woodland cottage, travel to the city to find their "master." Like the anthropomorphized objects in the "Sillies," the toaster and his confreres form their own idyllic community. Unlike the "Sillies," however, there is little attempt made to sexualize the toaster et.al., and there is no enforced heterosexual romance among the appliances.37 What is foregrounded within the text is an exposé of consumer capitalist culture. The filmic narrative employs both intertextual references and a pointed song score (by Van Dyke Parks) to critique the notion of high-tech inflated exchange value in the postmodern age. And, via a sort of reverse or extended anthropomorphism, it exposes the very value (or lack thereof) of subaltern groups within the human community under a system of global corporate capitalism.

Intertextuality-one of the predominant narrative devices in The Brave Little Toaster-ruptures the diegesis for the knowing spectator, while adding another textual pleasure (that of "catching the reference"). It "rewards" the spectator for being a good consumer of popular culture, reassuringly tying him/her back into the larger map of familiar pop culture icons. For example, the toaster and his pals dance to a song by Little Richard, make quips about North by Northwest ("Look out for low flying airplanes") and worry about "Lions and Tigers and Bears-Oh My" in a throwaway reference to The Wizard of Oz. They meet other appliances who speak with the vocal inflections of Jack Nicholson (the air conditioner) and Peter Lorre (the hanging lamp). Other appliances are characterized by obvious references to Mae West and Joan Rivers. When the five good objects encounter a woodland pond, they suddenly find themselves in a magical milieu in which frogs, insects, and cat-o-nine tails make music much as they did in the 1937 "Silly Symphony," The Old Mill. The frogs perform like little green Esther Williams-es, and the geometric visuals recall the spectacularized musicals of Busby Berkeley.38 However, this allusion pushes well beyond homage and into a substantial critique: by the end of the sequence, the woodland animals (who had seemed so recognizable and friendly) turn somewhat vicious, even attempting to drag the electric blanket underground. What had appeared benign in the "Sillies" (conformist ideology?) is now figured as menacing.

The complexities of anthropomorphism and identification are foregrounded when the toaster and his pals get captured by an evil capitalist shop keeper. This character (one of the few humans to be characterized in the film) earns his living by salvaging parts from old appliances. Despite his "humanness," spectator identification is already firmly sutured to the five good appliances; our interest and sympathy clearly lie with the toaster and his pals (even though they are non-human). Indeed, as seen from the appliances' point of view, the obese shop owner is figured as a grotesque mass murderer, lording over a stock of mutilated appliances, ready to dismember a blender for its motor which he sells (as new) for $5.95. The musical number in this sequence equates his capitalist enterprise with the Hollywood horror film. Assorted monstrous appliances-made so by the chopping apart and splicing of mechanical parts-are led by the Peter Lorre lamp in lyrics that drop allusions to Vincent Price, House of Wax, and Frankenstein. The chorus cannot make it much plainer: "It's like a movie/It's a B-movie show."

The implications of this sequence are numerous and complex. The capitalist enterprise as represented by the shopkeeper is depicted as a horror, but one without a real referent. The conventions of the animated family film genre prevent the direct representation of "real" capitalist horrors (poverty, starvation, lack of humane health care), so these images are displaced onto another genre where they can be shown: the Hollywood monster movie. The musical sequence becomes even more reflexive if one considers that most B genre movies are themselves made up of parts culled from other successful texts. The monstrous appliances might also be seen as postmodern art objects, a bricolage of high and low art forms produced under a capitalist system and geared for mass consumption. (A "Silly Symphony"?) The hybrid appliances are frightening to the toaster and his pals in a B-movie kind of way, but are nowhere near as threatening as the human capitalist himself, the system he represents, or the high tech appliances they next meet.

Using Adorno's terms, the citified appliances-who are variously (and negatively) characterized as thugs, smoothies, gossips, and/or Asian-offer the consumer brand name exchange-value, in contrast with the no-nonsense toaster and his pals who are clearly use-value appliances. As Adorno puts it:

If the commodity in general combines exchange-value and use-value, then the pure use-value, whose illusion the cultural goods must preserve in completely capitalist society, must be replaced by pure exchange-value, which precisely in its capacity as exchange-value deceptively takes over the function of use-value.39

The modern appliances brag to the old-fashioned toaster that they offer "everything you've wanted and more, More, MORE!," but their insecurity and neurotic fear of their use-value counterparts is stated by their continued nervous reassertion of being "on the cutting edge." The conflict between these two groups of material goods exemplifies Baudrillard's theses on capitalism in the age of the hyperreal. The old-fashioned toaster and his pals were produced (and were producing) according to basic capitalist notions of use-value, but the high tech appliances demonstrate clearly that current international capitalism is now about consumption rather production-is about satisfying status and identity rather than any kind of physical need.

Concomitantly, the new appliances literally preach the doctrine of the televised simulacrum:

You want to go to ol' Rio de Janeiro, my Dear
You want to join in any club paradise
You really got to stay at home, where the picture is clear
You get it all in stereo and you don't even have to go.

The tone of the song is satiric and the visuals are schizophrenic, a-temporal, and without "real" referent or signified. Sales blurbs flash on the screen: "As seen on TV," "Not available in Stores," "Actual Simulation." Icons of consumerism float against an unreal backdrop, perfectly embodying "the characteristic hysteria of our time: the hysteria of production and reproduction of the real. The other production, that of goods and commodities, that of la belle epoque of political economy, no longer makes any sense of its own. . . ."40 The toaster and his pals, who have been projected into a televised South American fantasy sequence ,41 literally tumble out of the hyperreal image and back into the "real" world, only to be forced out the window and into the dumpster by the high-tech appliances. Their basic use value is outmoded because, as Baudrillard puts it, "contemporary 'material' production is itself hyperreal."42

The film's final sequence at the junkyard contains what I feel to be the film's strongest critique of disposable American culture. So far the film text has focused on material goods and how they represent different notions about use-value and exchange-value. Now, these notions are extended beyond consumer goods and onto human communities as well. The song "Worthless" is sung by a variety of cars as they are picked up by a huge electromagnet, dropped onto a conveyer belt, and crushed. Each anthropomorphized car specifically signifies a human character type or group who has been discarded, deemed worthless by the culture at large: a post-race Indy 500 Racer, a Motown sports car, and (most amazingly) a Native American pick-up truck, who is given the penultimate verse in the song:

I worked on a reservation.
Who would believe they would love me and leave on a bus back to old Santa Fe?
Once in the Indian nation,
I took the kids on the skids with the Hopi- was happy to lie here and say:
"Your Worthless."

Disney used ethnic stereotypes throughout the "Sillies," but the depiction of the Native American community as a worthless pick-up truck being crushed by the machinery of the capitalist culture industry is a far cry from the tar-baby licorice candies of The Cookie Carnival. Rather than merely exploiting ethnic or cultural differences, The Brave Little Toaster foregrounds the way in which dominant American ideology configures both products and people as disposable commodities.

The Brave Little Toaster might thus be read as an industrial art text about the slide from high modern art/production into postmodern art/production. It is significant that the streamlined chromium toaster and his pals (especially the Bakelite radio) are figured visually as products of American industrial design circa 1930s-1950s. Their confrontation with the high tech Japanese appliances may be read as a nostalgic yearning for the days of high modernism, even while the film's form seems to celebrate the collapse of high and low. There may be a Western/modernist bias at work in the figuration of good Western appliances battling evil Japanese products, a bias that might be extended to the realm of animation art itself: in recent years the classical Disney animation product has been challenged by the rise of a very different type of animated film, most of these emanating from Japan. The classical cel animation of The Brave Little Toaster may indeed be making a last ditch stand against the increasingly computerized technology of contemporary animation art, much in the way that the toaster and his pals bravely fight off the demands and rigors of a system that finds them increasingly outmoded.

Conclusion

I began this essay by suggesting that the animated film must be considered a hybrid art form from its very inception. In bringing together painting or drawing with the filmic medium, cel animation has always had the potential to fuse together or randomly draw elements from traditionally high as well as low art forms. The never resolved tension between high and low at Disney during the 1940s and 1950s can be understood as a reflection of this dichotomy. Even though Disney cels have lately become big business in the world of "fine art," they still have not attained traditional high art status per se. It is the culture that has changed, and animation art has slid sideways into a postmodern space, wherein high/low dichotomies are no longer particularly useful. Indeed, an impetus towards postmodernism may have always been present in Disney's drive toward realism, the creation of an animated simulacrum of life.

I have argued (against Adorno's rejection of popular art forms), that in today's postmodern era there is no longer any one ideological position necessarily forced upon industrially produced texts. My discussion of The Brave Little Toaster shows that there is the possibility of a resistant postmodernism at work within the culture industry. The postmodern aesthetic draws on pastiche, intertextuality, the carnivalesque, and a schizophrenic mode of image production/reception that opens up new spectator positions within and without the text. It may even encode formerly subaltern ideologies within its dominant reading. The postmodern artifact, whether it be Los Angeles's Bonaventure Hotel or The Brave Little Toaster, is most fundamentally about postmodernism itself, about questions of representation and systems of meaning production under global corporate capitalism. As such, it represents a genuine development in form, content, and ideological functioning from what has come before.


1 Donald Crafton, Emile Cohl, Caricature and Film (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990), 3-90.

2 Cecile Starr, "Fine Art Animation," The Art of the Animated Image: An Anthology, ed. Charles Solomon (Los Angeles: American Film Institute, 1988), 67-71.

3 Disney and Warner Bros. are, of course, only two of the studios who have contributed to the development of the American animated film. Perhaps due to its placement as a commercial (and therefore degraded) art product, much of the history and theory of animated film remains unexplored. The perpetuated fallacy that animation is solely a children's medium may also have contributed to its academic neglect.

4 This model is mostly drawn from Fredric Jameson, "Postmodernism and Consumer Society," in The Anti-Aesthetic, ed. Hal Foster (Port Townsend,WA: Bay, 1983), 111-25, and Todd Gitlin, "Postmodernism: Roots and Politics," Cultural Politics in Contemporary America (New York: Routledge, 1989), 347-59.

5 To see changes in the studio's style, compare, for example, the fluid movement of the skeletons in Skeleton Dance (1929) with the more anatomically correct jointed movement of human figures in Snow White (1937).

6 I find many of the highly naturalistic shorts (such as the 1938 Farmyard Symphony) far less interesting than the more stylized, surreal "Sillies." The cartoons that approach "reality" seem rather redundant; why bother to animate at all? Others have shared my bias: Sergei Eisenstein championed the recombinant zoology of Merbabies (1938), one of the more fantastic of the "alternative community" "Sillies." See Eisenstein on Disney, ed. Jay Leyda (Calcutta: Methuen, 1986). Disney's leaning toward realism in animation might be theorized as an aspect of postmodernity: perhaps what Disney was really striving for was an animated simulacrum of reality, "the illusion of life," a perfect re-presentation of the world through industrialization. Disney's interest in automata and the subsequent development of "audio-animatronic" figures for his theme parks also illuminates this argument.

7 This is not to say that their were never "modernist" cartoons before the 1950s. See J. Hoberman on "Vulgar Modernism," Artforum 20, February 1982, 71-76, for a discussion of high modernist tropes within industrial culture. However, modernist tropes such as self-reflexivity (which were especially apparent in "Felix the Cat" cartoons of the 1920s or in Tex Avery's cartoons of the 1940s) were kept to a minimum at the Disney studio. The creation of a seamless diegetic world seems to have been the chief aim of the Disney animators.

8 Many of the artists responsible for the UPA look were Disney expatriates who had emigrated during the 1941 strike. Disney artist Leo Salkin later wrote: "People have asked why Disney didn't do more films in the so-called UPA style. The answer is, I think, that Walt wasn't interested in style as style. Walt's concern was with story and characters-personalities." Leo Salkin, "Disney's 'Pigs is Pigs': Notes from a Journal, 1949-1953," The Art of the Animated Image, 20.

9 William Moritz, "Fischinger at Disney-Or, Oskar in the Mousetrap," Millimeter, February 1977, 25-28+. Using conference notes from Disney and personal communique from Fischinger, Moritz relates Disney's "certain suspiciousness about abstraction," (65) quoting Disney as follows: "I don't think the average audience will fully appreciate the abstract" (66).

10 Moritz, "Fischinger at Disney," 65.

11 During the 1940s, Salvador Dali was to have worked for Disney on a project tentatively entitled "Destino." After a few sketches and many unresolvable differences the project was abandoned. Personal interview with Ross Care, November, 1991.

12 Dinah Shore told the musical story of "Bongo" in Fun and Fancy Free, while the Andrews Sisters sang about "A Love Story" in Make Mine Music and "Little Toot" in the Melody Time.

13 What kind of ideological message does the modernist cartoon convey? Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953) and Noah's Ark (1959) are good examples of modernist experimentation at Disney during the fifties. The former is an Oscar winning widescreen cartoon that domesticates musical history, and the latter tells the Biblical tale with characters that are for the most part made up of found objects. Yet, even though the form of these films was perceptively more modernist than what had come before at Disney, the films' content was still ideologically conservative.

14 Theodor Adorno, "Culture Industry Reconsidered," New German Critique 6 (Fall 1975), 14.

15 Indeed, Disney scholar Leonard Maltin sees this as the easiest way to approach these films, classifying them "A" for the "Alice in Cartoonland Series," "O" for "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit," "MM" for "Mickey Mouse," etc. Leonard Maltin, The Disney Films (New York: Crown, 1984), 307-14.

16 Reported in Richard Schickel, The Disney Version (New York: Avon, 1968), 103.

17 Adorno, "Culture Industry Reconsidered," 16.

18 Along these lines, Fredric Jameson has noted that all industrial artworks must incorporate utopian fantasies somewhere within their ideological functioning: these works "cannot manipulate unless they offer some genuine shred of content as a fantasy bribe to the public about to be so manipulated." Fredric Jameson, "Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture," Signatures of the Visible (New York: Routledge, 1990), 29.

19 Adorno, "On Popular Music," On Record, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (New York: Pantheon, 1990), 312.

20 Adorno, "On Popular Music," 308.

21 Adorno, "On Popular Music," 308.

22 This trait has also been observed in Disney's nature films of the 1950s and 1960s. Quite literally, these films naturalize bourgeois ideology by projecting middle class values onto animal subjects.

23 In addition, it is no secret that there is a fairly strict "Disney line" put forth in the studio's productions, which emphasizes conservative "family values."

24 Adorno, "On Popular Music," 312.

25 Adorno, "On Popular Music," 314.

26 Adorno, "On Popular Music," 313. For more information on Theodor Adorno's views on the culture industry see his essay "On the Fetish-Character in Music and Regression of Listening," The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, ed. Andrew Acato and Eike Gebhardt (New York: Continuum,1982), 285.

27At the very least, some viewers may find oppositional space in a "Silly Symphony's" depiction of diversity (albeit stereotyped) within a joyful populist community, and be less affected by the ideology of the narrative. Other recent work focuses on the differences in meaning production experienced by different viewing communities watching the same text. In my ethnographic work on sixties television, viewers have told me in interviews that shows such as The Munsters and The Addams Family afforded them a model and a space for being different and/or resistant to American middle class ideology, despite that fact that these fantastic families can also be seen as pseudo-individualized examples of the Leave it to Beaver and Donna Reed school of family sitcom.

28 Jameson, "Postmodernism and Consumer Society,"124.

29 In their seminal essay on film form and ideological content-originally published in Cahiers du Cinema 216 (October 1969)-Comolli and Narboni distinguish seven possible "types" of film based upon the relationship of film form and content. Their Type (e) category discusses films of traditional (realist, Hollywood) form "which seem at first sight to belong firmly within the ideology and completely under its sway, but which turn out to be so only in an ambiguous manner." Jean-Louis Comolli and Jean Narboni, "Cinema/Ideology/Criticism," Movies and Methods, ed. Bill Nichols (Los Angeles: U California P, 1976), 1: 22-30.

30 Hoberman, "Vulgar Modernism."

31 Jameson, "Postmodernism and Consumer Society," 125.

32 Hal Foster, "Postmodernism: A Preface," The Anti-Aesthetic, xi-xii.

33 Foster, "Postmodernism: A Preface," xii.

34 E. Ann Kaplan, "Introduction," Postmodernism and Its Discontents: Theories, Practices, ed. E. Ann Kaplan (New York: Verso, 1988), 1-9.

35 One might attempt to locate a potentially resistant impetus within Baudrillard's own work, despite his eventual disavowal of resistance ontologically. His theorization of seduction, or the positive play of surfaces, rejects latent meaning systems which have the capacity to tyrannize. "To seduce is to weaken. To seduce is to falter. . . . The secret of seduction is in this evocation and re-evocation of the other." Similarly: "For seduction or challenge to exist all contractual relations must be nullified in favor of a dual relation. . . . the enchantment of seduction puts an end to every libidinal economy, every sexual and psychological contract, substituting in its place a staggering openness of possible responses." Here Baudrillard seems to suggest that seduction might afford the possibility of resistant readings via free-floating spectator positionings or interpretive communities. Baudrillard, "On Seduction," Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1988), 161-63. See also Douglas Kellner, "Provocations," Jean Baudrillard (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1987), 122-52, for a particularly lucid account of Baudrillard's theories of seduction.

36 For example: Thelma and Louise or Michael Jackson's Black or White video. Though there are those who would still argue that these works' mainstream mode of production and popularity preclude the possibility of opposition, I would suggest that mainstream production has turned to these formerly denigrated (read: minority) ideologies because they have at last become profitable; that is to say that they are now being negotiated within the dominant hegemony because it has become profitable to do so. While they may be losing some of their hard-edged oppositional qualities, these alternative ideologies are still reaching far wider audiences than ever before. Is the trade off worth it or not?

37 There is a heterosexual relationship between the now-college-aged "master" and his girlfriend, though their courtship rituals are not a focus of the narrative. Additionally, and I find significantly, the girlfriend is depicted as having a darker skin tone than the "master," implying a multicultural relationship, further acknowledging a break from the Disney tradition of Snow White heroines.

38 Disney's most recent features have started to use similar moments of pastiche: Beauty and the Beast (1991) features a Busby Berkeley inspired number wherein kitchen objects perform in a synchronized ballet.

39 Adorno, "On the Fetish Character," 279.

40 Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Simulation," 180.

41 The South American fantasy setting directly invokes the history of American cultural imperialism from the Good Neighbor Policy of the 1940s (one of the appliances is wearing Carmen Miranda's "tutti-frutti hat") to the defoliation of rain forests in order to make way for First World vacation spots such as Club Med.

42 Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Simulations," 180.