Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Sleeping Beauty with the Kirov Ballet

Though not the first ballet version of La Belle au Bois Dormant, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's version is the most renowned. Still smarting from the poor reception of Swan Lake, the young Russian composer was coerced into writing his Opus 66 for debut in St. Petersburg in 1890. He never lived to see it become the success that it did. Tchaikovsky passed away in 1893, but by the end of the next decade, Sleeping Beauty was already on its way to becoming one of the most influential ballets in history.

The story of Tchaikovsky's trials was well-told in the fifth season Disneyland episode "The Peter Tchaikovsky Story," a standard bonus feature on home video releases of Disney's film. Few take the time to watch the whole ballet, unless they're lucky enough to see it performed live. To address that oversight, here is the complete 1989 Kirov Ballet of Leningrad's (now Saint Petersburg) performance of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

20,000 Leagues Unda' Da' Sea

So apparently I had some free time on the weekend... Perhaps a bit too much... Either way, I hope you enjoy my little D-TV style tribute to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Little Mermaid.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Feminism and the Disney Princesses

As such a significant cultural force, Disney and their Princesses franchise serve as a touchstone for gender issues that more often than not reach far beyond the actual content of the films upon which the franchise rests. Perhaps you have seen images like the one above before, or read certain feminist analyses of the Disney Princess films that arrive at similarly negative conclusions. Unfortunately, when such analyses present themselves as being "feminist," the resulting debate tends to focus on the nature and reach of feminism rather than more pedestrian concerns like whether the analysis is actually accurate to the source material. I am a proponent of women's rights, freedoms and social and economic justice, so I do not intend to make a criticism of feminism as such. It does seem to me that, sometimes, the legitimate concerns of feminism can override clear-thinking and sound research when analyzing works of art like Disney's animated films. What I hope to do by wading in with this article is nothing more than engage in the academic practice of closely and carefully summarizing the source documents - in this case the films - to determine whether these accusations are accurate without troubling to ignite a debate over feminism in-and-of itself.

The easiest accusations to dispense with are those which apparently missed the entire message of the film and arrived at a conclusion opposite to that message. For example, the above image states that the theme of Aladdin is that Jasmine's political worth is determined by her marriageability, which is true insofar as we're talking only of her political worth and even then it is only true up to the denouement. The overarching and (what one would think of as the) unmistakable theme of the film is that one's personal worth is determined by their character and not their economic, social or political rank. The Sultan does attempt to marry Jasmine off against her wishes, in accordance with the law of the land, which she actively rebels against. Jasmine goes so far as to flee the palace, whereupon she meets Aladdin, the thief who dreams of nothing more than being able to rise above his poverty and be afforded at least minimal human courtesies (though living in the palace would be awfully nice, he believes). After Jasmine is recovered and Aladdin comes across the magical lamp, he adopts the persona of Prince Ali Ababwa to woo her. For her part, Jasmine rebuffs his showiness and expresses absolute outrage at her father, Ababwa and Jafar discussing her fate without her consultation. It is only when she realizes that Ababwa is the same thief in the market that she softens to him. Jafar, the villain, also seeks the hand of Jasmine, but only for her political worth and her physical beauty. The villain is the one who degrades Jasmine, first figuratively and then literally after he acquires the lamp. In the end, when the villain is dispensed with, the Sultan realizes the error of his ways and changes the law to suit Jasmine. He recognizes the folly and disgrace of making his daughter act against her wishes, thus exercising his political power to enable Jasmine to marry the man of her own choosing, who himself has demonstrated that good character supersedes the merits of wealth and power.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Gustave Doré's La Belle au Bois Dormant

Immediately prior to his groundbreaking, iconic work on the Bible, The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 19th century French artist Gustave Doré (one of my favourite artists) illustrated the 17th century works of his fellow French fairy-teller Charles Perrault. Presented here are the beautiful and sublime Doré's engravings for his La Belle au Bois Dormant, The Sleeping Beauty.

 The princess pricks her finger on a spindle.

The castle is consumed by the forest.

A century later, a prince finds the castle.

All the knights and retainers have fallen asleep as well.

Cobwebs have taken over the dining hall.

The prince finds the slumbering princess.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Château d'Ussé: The Real Sleeping Beauty's Castle

The Loire Valley is famous the world over for its unparalleled assemblage of Renaissance castles located in such close proximity. These include such well-known tourist destinations as the châteaux of Chambord, Blois, Cheverny, Chenonceau, Villandry, Saumur and Azay-le-Rideau. Just off the beaten path, tucked away on the tributary river Indre, overlooking the pleasant village of Rigny-Ussé and backing the Chinon forest, is a delightful castle that inspired a legendary fairy tale: Château d'Ussé, the real Sleeping Beauty Castle.

The Indre River.


Château d'Ussé.

The Château d'Ussé, of course, has a history that is quite its own. First constructed in the 11th century, the property underwent many restoration and rebuilding projects as it passed from hand to hand through the intrigues of marriage throughout the French court. The complex was complete in its present form for the most part by the 17th century, when it was frequented by literary giants like Charles Perrault and, in the 19th century, Chateaubriand. When one crosses the bridge over the Indre and approaches the great walls of Château d'Ussé, one would be blind not to see how Perrault could draw so potent inspiration from it.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Welcome to Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy

On behalf of myself and my partner in life and blogging, the lovely Ashley (aka. Gealbhonn), I welcome you to our new blog Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy!

Your hosts.

For the past six years, I have been at the helm of the blog Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age. Devoted to Victorian-Edwardian Scientific, Imperial and Planetary Romances, Retro-Futurism, Victoriana, silent and early cinema, and authentic tales of history and exploration, that blog also served as my de facto Disney website where those subjects intersect. For some time I have considered fissioning off a journal specifically for Disney content, and finally decided to take the charge with someone who is as delighted by the subject as I am.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Disney's other retro-Victorian stories of Sci-Fi were one of the paths that drew me back into an affection for Disney as an adult. In my childhood I enjoyed racing home every afternoon to watch Ducktales, Welcome to Pooh Corner and the original Mickey Mouse Club on Family Channel, Canada's response to the Disney Channel. I was born in time to see The Great Mouse Detective and a re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in theatres, but my most potent Disney memories are of the annual Halloween program, watching as Hans Conreid as the Magic Mirror introduced The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Night on Bald Mountain before we went out to scare up some candy. After falling out with Disney as a teenager (as some are wont to do), it was my turning to Goth that led me back. Gothic aesthetics makes fine intersections with Victoriana and Victorian Science Fiction, fairy tale Romanticism and the Haunted Mansion.

Ashley, on the other hand, grew up with a love of fairy tales.  An avid reader from when she was reciting the Three Little Pigs from memories of bedtime reading on the laps of her parents all the way up to hanging off the edge of the bed to catch the light from the hall late into the night, nothing inspired her imagination like fairy tales.  Luckily Ashley was just the right age to catch the films of Disney's renaissance on their first run: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. You can probably guess which was her favourite princess! The most worn book in her collection is a little volume of Brothers Grimm. Ashley also has a passion for musicals, social justice, historical fiction, and costuming, both their history and construction, sewing her own studies. When we first met about three years ago as coworkeres in the same museum, I knew that Ashley was the one for me when I learned that we had so much in common, including a rare love of fairy tales, Victoriana and Disney. I had the privilege of taking her to Disneyland USA for the first time in 2012 and proposing to her in Disneyland Paris earlier this year (she said yes!).

Approaching the subject of a Disney blog, we knew that we did not want to simply replicate the multitudes that are already in existence. We ultimately took a queue from my other blog, as well as blogs like Dan Olsen's Long-Forgotten and FoxxFur's Passport to Dreams Old and New. To paraphrase the latter, if one limits themselves only to Disney, then one is operating from a far more limited cultural experience than the writers, animators, directors and Imagineers who created these films and attractions to begin with. One does not live by Disney alone. All great art should serve to broaden one's scope and point to that which is beyond it, and that a broad scope can in turn deepen one's appreciation of great art. I am convinced that Disney can and usually does aspire to be great art.

Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy will take a two-fold approach, for the most part. On the one, we will be looking back at the original source material that inspired Disney's films and attractions. This adventure will take us through everything from the historical Davy Crockett to accurate 14th century French fashion to Tchaikovsky ballets to Lone Ranger radio shows. Our main regular feature will be called "Belle's Library" and will have us posting the original stories behind the films, chapter-by-chapter, each weekend. For those of you who never even considered reading Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, for example, come back next Sunday to start in nice, digestible, weekly installments!

On the second, we'll occasionally diverge into hopefully critically-minded and thought-provoking discussion of Disney-related subjects. By "critically-minded" I do not necessarily mean negative (though I'm certainly not above dissecting Disney's creative missteps). What I refer to is the classical, academic sense of careful, intelligent, rational reflection on creative works. We are fans at heart, of course, and there is most certainly a need for pure emotional enjoyment of something. We happen to feel that any great work of art also engages the mind as well as the heart! But every now and then we might just sneak in some photos of our travels too...

Ashley and I hope that you will enjoy what Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy has to offer. We look forward to seeing you again often!