Symbolism in Disney’s Pinocchio

February 29, 2008

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This article was submitted in 2000, but was never added to the site.

Contributed by Mikazo.

16_pinocchio.jpgPinocchio is entirely symbolic. I’m going to use the Disney 1940 animated version to explain. I’m also going to skip the obvious and go to the interesting and deep stuff.

First off, Pleasure Island was pure symbolism. The kids get spirited away to an island where they can smoke, play games, fight, etc., and put all their worries aside. In the end, however, the boys get turned into donkeys and are sent to work as menial laborers to places such as the salt mines. It seems that what the writer or writers were trying to say was that this happens in real life: if you fart around and waste your life now, then you’ll be a jackass working in the salt mines as an adult. They just had a totally different way of portraying that situation (i.e. the boys physically getting turned into donkeys by some unknown and unseen force).

The coachman, who takes all the kids to Pleasure Island, is a character similar to Willy Wonka. He is basically like a christ child who’s responsible for weeding out the stupid and unruly and putting them to work. He also represents a path that some people take, where they find the world of fun and games, and then later pay for it. Of course, I disagree with his methods. A stupid kid can grow into a wise adult. However, a stupid adult usually stays stupid. I feel like he should be weeding out the stupid adults. But, he’s just an anthropomorphic version of the fate that some kids unknowingly and unthinkingly choose.

I’m moving on to another character, John Worthington Foulfellow, who was the graceful and charismatic fox that conned Pinocchio and several other kids. I’m looking at his clothes: the top hat, the white theater gloves, the cape, and the pant legs that hook around the bottoms of the feet. An interesting thing is that he’s dressing like the upper class; however, his clothes are patched and worn. Also, when he looks at Pinocchio’s book, he looks at it upside-down when pretending to read it. It’s odd to think of where he actually came from or why he didn’t get an education. Perhaps schooling wasn’t open to non-humans, so he had to resort to thievery and trickery to get money, all the while dreaming of being wealthy. Or he simply decided that he didn’t need an education to make cold, hard, instant cash. This character seems to be the embodiment of empty promises and traps. However, when striking a deal with the coachman in the pub, he recoils with fear when the coachman describes his plans to steal kids away. Then he responds with frightened “yessir’s” when the coachmen tells him what to do. It seems like he’s also a pawn, someone who’s used often by the truly wealthy. I think that with his skills in conning people and his persistence, he would’ve made a good used car salesman, army recruiter, or credit card advertiser, and get a steady paycheck instead of unreliable street deals. He’s just too damn good at that stuff.

Who else? Gideon, who was Foulfellow’s feline companion. I can’t seem to find a relation between him and the other messages of the film, but he seems to be the lost soul in the movie. He never says a word and doesn’t seem to have any paths or goals. He probably is incompetent, which explains why he follows Foulfellow around helping him gain money.

Those were some of the more striking things in the movie. The writers were trying to paint a physical picture of fate. This film really ought to be used in career planning classes in high school.


From the archives: Sexual Ambiguity in The Brave Little Toaster

February 27, 2008

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Contributed by Alejandro L.

blt-10.jpgI saw that cute cartoon The Brave Little Toaster for the seventieth time but the protagonist, for which the title is named after, still comes across as lacking a definite gender, unlike the others. Here are some supporting analyses: every other appliance is undeniably masculine, there are (as far as I’ve counted) 4.5 exceptions of effeminate appliances (an old recorder, a sewing machine, a toaster oven, and one of the cars that was executed by the compactor) who rely on extreme stereotyping to get that point across. It has become customary to make a concept cartoon (such as talking appliances, talking animals, goofy-looking video game characters, etc.) male first as some sort of template for later additions to its world. Of course, this all leads back to Toaster’s gender. The animators and screenwriters took great lengths to avoid having to reveal that issue. The four other appliances in the Faithful Five have been fully defined (in regards to Blankie, Curby points out “he’s just stuck in a tree”). In fact, the only time Toaster was referred to by a pronoun was during the waterfall/rescue sequence, over the blaring rapids and music, Lampey screams “(he/she) sank”. That’s it. It could have been a gigantic Japanese to American transition fluke but I remained unconvinced.

The most likely reason why we never learn Toaster’s sex is to let everyone feel a sense of equality, so to speak. This plucky appliance is always in charge, tries to keep the rest of the gang in line (just wondering, were ya ever been reminded of a real person who has said “Knock it off you guys” like that?), suffers fear of inadequacy, and eventually makes the biggest sacrifice to save the Master. Why should someone of those characteristics have to been specified? Perhaps for one brief moment, cartoonists realized how much of an influence they were to children and decisively broke tradition. With a strange mixture of a placid yet heart-warming appearance, voice, and behavior, Toaster proves to be a role model for all. (I’m aware there is a sequel out there on videocassette, but I haven’t seen it.)


From the archives: Historical Context of Bugs Bunny’s Transvestism

February 27, 2008

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Contributed by Tracy D.

sexybugsy.jpgI’m agreeing with the general flow of the conversation about Bugs and his penchant for frilly little things from Victoria’s Secret. But I think a lot of posters try to equate him to modern standards of sexuality. Remember, Bugs was one of the biggest box-office draws of the late 30’s, 40’s, & 50’s who was grounded in the great vaudevillian tradition. An obviously male star donning female garb and then confounding the boobs and society was a guaranteed laugh-getter. Bugs’ genius (and star vanity) is that he must take on the  complete persona of what ever he’s trying to be. (the first Method actor?) So, he can’t just slap on a skirt to distract Elmer for a second or two, he’s gotta be Carmen Miranda with a bowl of fruit on his head, or one of the Andrews sisters, or Brynhildr of the flowing braids. I think his closest contemporary was the actor Danny Kaye (who also spawned many rumours about his sexuality). To both of them there is a bit of New-Yorker-sons-of-immigrants brassiness combined with a whole-hearted willingness to take a character to its most absurd extreme.


From the archives: Smurfs are Communists

February 22, 2008

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[Editor's Note: There's no shortage of "Communist Smurf" articles on the grid nowadays. Eventually, I'll do an Ex Situ roundup of some of the best ones.]

Contributed by Erika K.

papasmurf.jpgAs I was browsing through your page on the over-analyzation of cartoons I was surprised not to see something that seems so obvious to me: those lovable blue minis the Smurfs are a bunch of Communists. It’s kind of funny that in the final years of the cold war a cartoon that so blatantly stressed the Communist Manifesto would be so popular in the old U.S. of A. To prove my point, I cite:

  1. They live in a communal village and are discouraged to leave the village without the company of their fellow Smurfs.
  2. Every Smurf has his own specific job and does not deviate from that job. The job even becomes part of their personality and their name (Brainy Smurf, Handy Smurf, etc.)
  3. If ever a Smurf decides to strike out on his own he is cast into danger in some way of another and it is up to the collective to save him.
  4. And finally, Papa Smurf looks an awful lot like Karl Marx. Plus, he wears all that red.

The Smurfs are Communists, and their nemesis Gargamel is the personification of Capitalism: out for himself and profit trying to destroy the peaceful commune of Smurfs.

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Comparing Sympathies: Tom and Wile E. Coyote

February 21, 2008

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[Editor's Note: This article was submitted in 2001, but was never added to the site.]

Contributed by Bess G.

tomandjerrytitlecard21.jpgEven as a child, I found it curious that I sympathized with Jerry in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, while rooting for Coyote in the Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons. The premises of the cartoons were similar, were they not? Desperate carnivore fruitlessly pursues cute prey. Why did I cheer when Jerry got the best of Tom, but share Coyote’s frustration when he was yet again thwarted by Roadrunner?

I think I’ve figured it out.

Jerry is more than just cute. He is smart, resourceful, brave, and kind to friends and family who occasionally drop by. He may tease Tom from time to time, but usually we see him acting in self-defense to protect his home and his life. We like him. We don’t exactly hate Tom. He’s merely acting on basic cat instinct. But it’s always satisfying to see him get what’s coming to him for picking on Jerry. It isn’t Jerry, after all, who thought it would be a good idea to run around the house with a loaded rifle, or rig up a bunch of explosives in the living room. Tom gets hurt through his own foolishness. And he has no real reason to persecute Jerry other than his own petty malice. Sure he may get swatted on the rear with a broom, or get put outside for the night, but that’s not so bad in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to what he had in mind for a decent fellow like Jerry.

Coyote, on the other hand, is in a desperate situation. He and Roadrunner appear to be the only living organisms (besides cacti) in the vast desert expanse they inhabit. If Coyote wants dinner, Roadrunner is his only option. The cartoon takes place entirely from Coyote’s perspective. We see the painstaking research and planning that go into his intricate Roadrunner traps. We see his utter conviction that this time his plan will work. We see the pathetic fear on his face as he plummets yet again from that blasted cliff. We identify with these feelings. Roadrunner, on the other hand, is barely a character. He merely runs around, pausing occasionally for some bird seed, with a vacant expression in his eyes. He never exhibits fear, or relief, or joy, or cunning, or bravery. He is one of the least “human” animated characters I can think of. Why should I feel sorry if Coyote gets him?

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Ex Situ: Conflict and Tension in Ratatouille and Surf’s Up

February 20, 2008

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It’s no secret that the editorial staff here at J. Cart. Overanal. thinks Ratatouille is just about the greatest thing since sliced Gertie. It’s smart, well-acted, with beautiful imagery and character animation, and it has amazing set pieces, and dialogue, &c.

On Surf’s Up, on the other hand, we cannot comment since we have yet to see it. However, Mark Mayerson, blogmaster of Mayerson on Animation, has seen both. Recently, he wrote a thoughtful article comparing and contrasting the dramatic conflict in both movies. I would not be so gauche as to cut-and-paste the entire article, but here is an excerpt from his introduction, followed by the appropriate link:

Having just seen Surf’s Up, I was struck by the nature of conflict in the film compared to Ratatouille. Both films have animals who are obsessed with something and that obsession brings them into conflict with those around them. While I enjoyed Surf’s Up, the nature of the conflict in that film is much less compelling than in Ratatouille and I think that is one reason for the film’s relative failure at the box office.

>Catena Ex Situ


From the archives: Beast Wars as a Cold War Allegory

February 20, 2008

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Contributed by “TOPAZ1A”

beastwars.jpg American animation, the Red Scare has played a role in the portrayal of certain characters. The most well known of these are ‘Boris and Natasha’ from Rocky and Bullwinkle. This show aired in the 1960’s, during the height of the Cold War with Russia. Not surprisingly, the two evil characters were formed out of anti-Russian stereotypes. Another example of American skepticism toward Russia is in an episode of Beast Wars. There is a guest appearance in this episode by a transformer from the original 1980’s series named ‘Ravage’. At the beginning of the episode, he helps the Maximals to capture the leader of the evil Predicons named ‘Megatron’. When Megatron offers him more power in exchange for turning against the Maximals, though, Ravage does so. This may seem harmless, except for the fact that though all of the characters in Beast Wars speak with American accents, Ravage speaks with a Russian one. Though Russia fought along side of America against Germany in World War II, after the battles were over, Russia and America emerged as the two superpowers least devastated by the fighting. When that happened Russia seized its opportunity for more power and began to take over what was left of Europe. In an identical manner, Ravage, representing Russia, helped Optimus Primal, representing America, defeat Megatron, who represents Germany. Once Germany/Megatron was defeated, though, Russia/Ravage seized its/his opportunity for power and turned against America/Optimus. This was aired in 1994, well after the fall of Communism in Russia, proving that America still preaches anti-Russian attitudes to its youth in subtle ways.


From the archives: Sentai Symbolism

February 15, 2008

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Contributed by Jason T.

rwryo.jpgIt is important to note that many of the cartoons you are referencing come from Japan. In Japan, there is a type of superhero sub-genre called the “sentai.” The best example of a sentai series is the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Other examples include the Samurai Troopers (Ronin Warriors), Go Lion (Voltron), Magic Knights Rayearth, and Sailor Moon. The basic formula for the sentai team is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »


From the archives: The Cobra Paradox

February 11, 2008

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Contributed by “Summusdeus”

gijoe12.jpgAh, the late 80s. I have fond memories of getting up in the morning before school and running downstairs quickly to the room with the television to watch my favorite show at the time: G.I. Joe. I loved that show and still have fond recollections of it. I always considered myself more of a fan of Cobra than the Joes, but I’ve always had a predisposition the side of evil and to villains. Having said that, one thing keeps bugging me about the show. In all the episodes (unless you count that alternate universe one), Cobra always loses despite having the best technology and an advantage in terms of sheer number when compared to the Joes.

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From the archives: A Discretization of Cartoon TV Audiences

February 10, 2008

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Like most from the archives, this article is at least six years old, so some of the references are rather dated. It’s another reminder that comments and additional examples are always highly encouraged.

Contributed by K.M. L.

daria2.jpgThere are, I have noticed, 3 distinct target age groups (excluding adult cartoons, which are their own genre) that almost all cartoons fit into. There’s the preschool group (e.g. Caillou, from Cinar); school-age, the definite majority (which is just about everything on Nickelodeon); and teen/ young adult cartoons (Daria and The New Ripley’s Believe It Or Not). The preschool-age cartoons’ animation is colorful, bright, and simple enough for kids to understand. Plots aren’t complex at all; rather, they are entertaining and they are good for holding the short extension span of this age group. Characters are friendly, and rarely do we find a villain. After all, no kid under 4 will watch something that gives them nightmares.

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