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Disney’s Folly Made History

January 5, 2010

In 1867, the US purchased around 586, 412 miles of square territory from Russia. The territory was called as Alaska, and the person who negotiated the deal, was the then US Secretary of State, William H Seward. To many in Washington DC, it made no sense to purchase such a large area, which was snowbound, hostile, and apparently held no real value. Observers dubbed it “Seeward’s Folly”, other less charitable names being “Seeward’s icebox” and Andrew Johnson’s “Polar Bear Garden”. There were of course strategic reasons too, Russia had supported the Union during the American Civil War, and this was Johnson’s way of saying thank you. I guess this must have been the few instances of Yankee-Rusia bhai bhai in history. Anyway politics aside, later on Alaska, became to be known as a gold mine, treasure trove of various minerals, natural resources. And Seward is something of a folk hero in Alaska.

disney-swasd1Precisely 70 years later in 1937, another kind of Folly, hit the theaters. Walt Disney, after being successful with a talking mouse, a hot tempered duck, a goofy dog and a whole host of characters, set his sights higher. There is a difference between a merely great director and a pioneer. The former creates great cinema, win’s awards, the latter creates great cinema, wins awards and makes history. To call Walt Disney as a great movie maker, is to understate the obvious, he was a man, who created history, a pioneer. He was the one who cut the bushes, laid the trail, created the road to the top of the mountain, others followed him. Today you have Pixar and Dreamworks, comming out with some stunning animation features.

But way back in 1937, Walt Disney, was fighting a lone battle, making an audacious attempt the first of it’s kind. He was creating the first full length animated feature in movie history, as well as the 1st animated feature in American cinema, the first in full color, first in Walt Disney, blah, blah. But beyond all the firsts, what was happening was something of a paradigm shift. Traditionally animated stuff, were those short fillers, you saw before the movies, or they would come in Sunday matinee shows, as a series of shorts. What Walt was doing here, was taking it out from that space, and proving that a full length feature film could be made. However not many were enthusiastic about the idea. His wife Lillian, told him ‘No one is going to pay a dime to watch a dwarf movie’, and his brother Roy was not too taken up by the idea. Hollywood called it as Disney’s Folly. With no financiers willing to back what they saw as a dud project, Walt himself had to mortgage his home to raise the funds.

Disney’s Folly aka Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, was premiered on Dec 21, 1937 to a whole gathering of Hollywood glitterati. The movie was released, went on to became a hit, and 6 Days later, Walt and his movie, were on Time. Disney’s Folly had created history, as much as Seward’s Folly did 70 years earlier. This is what some movie makers had to say

Mike Powell( director of Red Shoes)- “Disney is one of the 3 persons necessary to the evolution of movie making; Griffith, the master showman: Chaplin, the Lonely Genius; and Disney the experimenter”.
Sergei Eisenstein-” Greatest movie ever made”.
Charlie Chaplin-”In Dwarf Dopey, Disney has created one of the greatest comedians of all time”.


The opening shot of Orson Welles Citizen Kane, showing a castle at night with the one lighted window, where Kane was dying, was influenced by the opening scene of Snow White. When Fellini made Juliet of Spirits in 1965, he wanted that the woman who plays the vain mother of Giueliatta Masina, should be modelled after the “Queen in Disney’s Snow White”. Makes me wonder about 1 thing though, today every movie lover, keeps quoting, Welles, Fellini, Chaplin to appear knowledgeable, or maybe appear cool, just beats me why they miss out on Walt Disney and John Ford, two directors who have influenced more number of  movie directors, than any one else. That’s the reason, why guys dropping out fancy names, leave me cold, you don’t understand movie history, what’s the use of quoting all those people. Some time back, i was having to listen to one of those “knowledgeable movie fans” about why he did not like animation and fantasy, and my thought was simple “Get a Life”. For me people who can never appreciate fantasy or animation, are as dull as ditch water, and i would rather avoid being anywhere even close to them.


From → Walt Disney

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