Disney, Decapitation, and David Bowie.

August 29, 2008

Since we are talking older films, I think I’ll start with the ones I remember as a kid.  No, not the Disney sappy cartoon movies.  I’m talking about the darker fairytale movies that arose in the 1980’s and early 90’s, most of which were either forgotten or forever idolized as cult hits.

Certain titles immediately come to mind; Labrynth (1986), the Dark Crystal (1982), the Secret of NIMH (1982) and of course, the Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).  There were tons of others as well, and all of them loosely shared a mystical and sometimes haunting aura that directly challenged the model used by Disney.  Ironically, Disney tried to capitalize on the dark fantasy movement, but only had one extrordinary success.

There is little question as to the visual esthetic and mastery of puppeteering that complemented some of these films. After all, these are the masterpieces of Jim Hensen and Tim Burton. Don Bluth even managed to give Disney a little competition in the animation field.  One even features David Bowie in excessively tight pants.

But looking back, were these films all that dark? Sometimes they were. Consider the film Return to Oz (1985):

It starts off with Dorothy being taken to a shrink who wants to subject her to electro-shock therapy to cure her “obsession” with Oz.  After Dorothy narrowly escapes down a river, she finds herself in a post-apocalypse version of Oz, where the buildings are in ruins and the people turn to stone (and therefore, dead). The land is terrorized by insane mostrosities and ruled by an evil  old queen, who cuts off pretty young women’s heads so she can wear them. 

Wow. Now thats different.

Obviously, not all of these movies were so extreme, and even Return to Oz had a happy ending. Movies like these generally were intended for somewhat older audiences, hence the PG ratings.  What you have to understand is that “fairy” tales weren’t always cheery Disney stories. These films harken back to the old days when children were told “faerie” tales to scare them so they wouldn’t wander into the woods. 

Faeries used to be conceived as fallen angles that Didn’t quite make it to hell. They generally weren’t good or evil, but they were chaotic and not to be trusted. They could be beautiful winged women, or goblins and trolls that dwelled under bridges. Alot of these stories have sad endings and sometimes involve small children being stolen. Although these movies don’t go that far, they do tend to blur the lines between black and white. Inevitably, mainstream audiences became uncomfortable with this style, and opted for traditional Hollywood movies.

Why talk about all this? Tommorrow, I will do my review of the Nightmare Before Christmas.I haven’t seen it in nearly a decade and I am a fan of the German Expressionist aesthetic. Seeing as how this is the first review, why not give it and its predecessors a proper introduction

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One Response to “Disney, Decapitation, and David Bowie.”

  1. Danny Johnson Says:

    Far out! Well written and very interesting. By the way, what was Disney’s one extrordinary success? Were fairies created solely to keep kids out of the woods? What is the German Expressionistic aesthetic. I’m looking forward to your “Nightmare” review.


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