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cic2008-03-20.jpgPeople who aspire to become actors want to be on stage or on television or in the movies. Even those of us without that particular career ambition may fantasize about being “in the movies” in a different sense. In the silent comedy Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Buster Keaton’s character falls asleep in a movie projectionist’s booth, and in his dream sees the figures on the movie screen. enacting the tale of a jewel robbery, transform into people he knows. Keaton’s dream self proceeds to walk up to and into the screen, interacting with the characters on-screen. After being catapulted from one movie location to another by a series of edits, Keaton’s character eventually returns to the first setting, this time having metamorphosed into a character in the story, the detective, Sherlock Jr., who sets out to find the thief and recover the jewels.

Travel between reality and illusion goes in the opposite direction in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), in which a heroic figure from a movie steps down from the screen and enters the real world.

In animation there is a long tradition of attempting to break down the barriers between the real world and the cartoon world. In Max and Dave Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell cartoons, the animated Ko-Ko the Clown repeatedly escapes and wreaks havoc in the “live action” world of Max (see “Comics in Context” #190: “Pop Eye-Con”), while in Walt Disney’s early Alice shorts, a real girl appears within a cartoon environment (see “Comics in Context” #211: “The Silent Rabbit”). Over succeeding decades filmmakers continued to experiment with mixing live action and animation, as in conductor Leopold Stokowski shaking hands with Mickey Mouse in Fantasia (1940), Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry (of the Tom and Jerry team) in Anchors Aweigh (1945), the “Jolly Holiday” sequence in Mary Poppins (1964), complete with dancing penguins (see “Comics in Context” #158: “Jolly Holiday”), and Robert Zemeckis’s visually astounding Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Since then, advances in computer technology have resulted in the creation of animated characters that blend seamlessly into “live action” environments. While watching the films, it is easy to forget that Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies or the title character in his 2005 King Kong (see “Comics in Context” #121: “The Once and Future Kong”) are merely digital constructs interacting on-screen alongside real people. Zemeckis’s The Polar Express (2004) and Beowulf (2007) seek, not entirely successfully, to fuse live action and animation, utilizing real actors; performances as the templates for digital characters (see “Comics in Context” #66: “A Christmas Potpourri” and #205: “Identity Theft”).

You could argue that this same desire to mix cartoons with reality underlies the live action screen adaptations of comics properties from Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980) and Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990) to the current wave of live action movies featuring Marvel and DC superheroes.

And then there are the attempts to adapt cartoon properties to the stage. Victor Herbert wrote the music for a 1908 operetta based in Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo, and the classic Broadway musical of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner premiered in 1956.

The Walt Disney Company’s first effort to adapt one of its animated films to the Broadway stage was Beauty and the Beast in 1994. With its talking animals, it might have seemed impossible to translate The Lion King to the stage. Rather than attempt the hopeless task of persuasively disguising her cast as realistic animals, director Julie Taymor triumphed in her 1991 Broadway production by imaginatively emphasizing theatrical artifice. Some members wore animal masks or costumes that did not conceal their real faces. Other animals, including various principal characters, were represented by puppets, yet the puppeteers remained clearly visible. Through such means Taymor openly acknowledged that she was dealing in make-believe and was inviting the audience to participate in the process by using their imaginations to pretend that the puppets and masked figures onstage were real animals. It worked brilliantly, and the Broadway Lion King was and remains a tremendous artistic and commercial success. (Taymor is reportedly currently working on a Spider-Man stage musical, which will include a group of singing comics fans known as “the Geek Chorus” who recount Spider-Man’s history. I do not feel complimented.)

Walt Disney Theatricals has launched other stage versions of past Disney animated or partly animated films, such as Tarzan (see “Comics in Context” #133: “Swinging down Broadway”) and Mary Poppins (see “Comics in Context” #158: “Jolly Holiday”), but each time has fallen short of the standards set by Taymor’s Lion King. The latest of these is the new Broadway musical version of The Little Mermaid, and I did promise a while back to review it for this column. Unfortunately, I’ve decided against it. In large part this is due to my current financial straits, and also, thanks to my recent software upgrades on my computer, to the encyclopedic video resources of the Internet. On YouTube it’s easy to find videos of the Broadway Mermaid’s versions of the best known musical numbers from the animated film, but the stagings are in each case disappointing. For example, in the film “Under the Sea” is sung to a rollicking montage of dancing fish that builds to a climactic spectacle. In the Broadway Mermaid performers move around on skates in order to convey the impression of swimming, and following the Taymor mode, their costumes do not conceal their faces. Even so, in this Good Morning, America clip of “Under the Sea”, the performers seem to ne no more than they really are–weirdly costumed humans performing surprisingly conventional choreography–rather than somehow, through movement, costume and acting, conjuring a world of frolicking fish in the imagination. And if I can tell from the videos that the Broadway Mermaid can’t pull off the big musical numbers from the animated film, then odds are that I’d find the show as a whole disappointing. It would cost at least to but a ticket for Mermaid, and in my current financial state, the gamble doesn’t seem with it.

But a while back, before my current situation arose, I purchased a less expensive advance ticket to another current Broadway show, which provides an amazing new twist on the theme of combining the world of animation and the world of reality. This show employs computer animation directly on stage. Most of you are surely aware of how movie actors perform in front of “green screens” so that CGI animation or computer-generated backgrounds can be inserted later. Imagine attending a Broadway show in which the actors perform against projected CGI backgrounds and interact with CGI characters!

In “Comics in Context” I write about comics and cartoon art in their various forms, and any related subjects: for example, a live action film adaptation of comics material is fair game. Sometimes it may seem like a bit of a stretch to include a particular subject within this column’s purview. Longtime readers may recall that one week in my column I wrote about waiting outside Manhattan’s Symphony Space to see a panel discussion with Buffy the Vampire Hunter creator Joss Whedon and the great Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim; I never got in, but the panel discussion was broadcast outside through speakers, so at least I got to hear and report on it (see “Comics in Context” #77: “Gone with the Steam”). Now what did this have to do with comics and cartoons? Well, Whedon has written extensively in comics, including Astonishing X-Men for Marvel (see “Comics in Context”#42: “Joss Whedon’s Comics and Stories”), and his current Buffy “Season 8″ comics series for Dark Horse. But Sondheim? Well, if I push a point, he did write the songs for the 1990 Dick Tracy movie and even lyrics for a song for off-Broadway’s The MAD Show, inspired by MAD Magazine, back in 1966. But now I’ve got a better answer: it is the Roundabout Theatre Company’s new production of Sondheim’s and book writer James Lapine’s 1984 musical Sunday in the Park with George, at Manhattan’s Studio 54, that employs animation so astonishingly onstage.

(Yes, that’s right. I can now claim to have been to the notorious Studio 54 three times, albeit long after its days as a notorious discotheque. Before that, it was a CBS radio and television studio that was once home to The Jack Benny Program, What’s My Line? and even Captain Kangaroo. See here.)

The first act of the musical is about the 19-th century French neo-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat and the creation of his masterwork A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Un dimanche apres-midi a l’Ile de la Grande Jatte), which now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. (Back in the 1980s, I attended the Chicago Comicon several tines, back when it was held in Chicago, not Rosemont, Illinois, and before Wizard bought it. By Sunday afternoon I would feel saturated with comics and would walk a few blocks up Michigan Avenue to the Art Institute, where I would spend most of my time in the museum’s world-class Impressionist collection, including La Grande Jatte.)

The scenes shift between Seurat’s studio and the setting of the painting, a park on an island in the Seine River in Paris. But the set looks like a large indoor room, complete with doors, but all in white, like a new canvas for a painter, or the blank white page that is supposed to intimidate the writer who is trying to get started, or even a blank computer screen. Seurat enters, makes verbal commands or gesture with his hands (like that archetypal figure, the conductor), and the room around him begins to change. A huge streak of black materializes on the walls, running across the set. An oddly tied white curtain, wide at the top, narrow below, suddenly bursts into colors, and thus transforms before our eyes into a tree. Before long, the walls of the set have transformed into what seems to be one of Seurat’s studies for La Grande Jatte in conte crayon, all in black and shades of gray. Rightly impressed by this opening coup de theatre, the audience burst into applause. But there was more to come: eventually, perhaps without the audience even noticing exactly when it happened, this preliminary version of La Grande Jatte blossomed into color.

This opening suggests that, even when the story is literally taking place within Seurat’s studio or on the island of La Grande Jatte, the real setting of the first act is Seurat’s imagination. Just as the evolving work that will become La Grande Jatte covers the walls of the set enclosing Seurat, Seurat is, figuratively, within his own painting. Seurat is consumed by his passion to create art; everything else, even his lover Dot, must take a secondary place. No matter where Seurat is physically, psychologically he exists within the world of art he is creating.

At two points during the show, the same point is made through simpler, less spectacular means. We see Seurat standing behind a semitransparent screen on which the evolving La Grande Jatte appears, as he works on it. The figure of Seurat–or, all of it that we can see–is completely contained within the frame of the painting. So Seurat looks as if he is inside the painting, working on it from within, while Dot, his neglected lover, can only gaze at them both from outside.

So the setting is ambiguous. Indeed, at one point Seurat decides to remove a tree from his painting (another curtain with projected color, which proceeds to move offstage). Shortly afterwards, Seurat’s mother, whom he uses as a model for one of the figures in La Grande Jatte, enters, presumably on the real island. But she then wonders aloud what happened to her favorite tree. It’s as if Seurat’s decision to dispose of the tree in his painting somehow altered the landscape of the real island.

The identities of most of the first act’s supporting cast of characters are similarly ambiguous. They are primarily supposed to be the real people who Seurat used as models for the figures in the painting, including Dot and Seurat’s mother. But at times these actors are playing not the models but the figures in the painting, as in the first act finale, when Seurat, acting as conductor or director, maneuvers them into the places they occupy in his finished painting. The second act opens with the song “It’s Hot,” in which the figures in the painting complain about having to remain frozen in place in the painting for year after year, as if they retained the personalities of their models.

Not every figure in La Grande Jatte is represented onstage by an actor. In the original 1984 production, the other prominent figures were represented by life-size three-dimensional cutouts. (The original production was shown on PBS in 1986, was made available on home video, and, chopped into over twenty sections, has been posted in YouTube, probably in violation of copyright.) In the course of the Roundabout production, animated sailboats sometimes pass along the river, and occasionally an animated human figure appears and moves in the background. There are two soldiers standing side by side in La Grande Jatte. In the Roundabout production one soldier is played by a live actor but the other is a CGI animated figure, which interacts with actors onstage. Seurat brings out small screens on which animated dogs appear, one of which scampers about merrily. (You can get some idea of what the production looks like from The New York Times’s audio slide show here.)

The second act takes place a hundred years later, in the 1980s, and centers on Seurat’s (fictional) descendant George (played by the same actor who portrayed Seurat), an artist who finds himself in a creative rut. In the song “Putting it Together” this George explains how life in the modern art world forces him continually to network and schmooze with wealthy collectors, museum executives and art critics in order to obtain the commissions he needs to finance his work. In the original production the actor playing George moved life sized cutouts of himself into position on stage during a party scene. The idea was that these doppelgangers represented George’s public self, chatting away amiably with the people he needed to impress at the party, while the actor playing George represented his true, inner self, singing about his disdain for the necessity of having to sell himself in this manner. (You can see the original staging for “Putting It Together“.)

But in this new production George’s doppelgangers are moving, projected figures of himself. There is even a point at which the actor playing George pours a drink into a glass held by one of the projected George dopplegangers!

The reviews and articles about this Roundabout production put such emphasis in the animation that I expected more of it than there was. Still, I was impressed with what I saw. This production originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory, a small company in London, before transferring to the West End. In all three of its venues, the production was directed by Sam Buntrock, who was formerly best known as an animator. (See his February 2008 interview in The New York Times). Buntrock explains in a video on the Roundabout website that animation has been used in stage productions before (though it’s the first time I’ve seen it onstage) but what makes this production different is that the animation is integral to expressing the meaning of the show. Sondheim told The New York Times that “The play is about perception, and here we see the work as George perceives it,” as it evolves.

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen anything about this Sunday revival on animation websites I visit. Now that CGI animation has been used so effectively in a live stage production, where will it go from here? I would be surprised if Disney Theatrical Productions–and Disney Imagineering–were not studying Buntrock’s use of animation onstage and planning how to take it further, both in theme park attractions and onstage. I would have supposed that creating computer animation for a stage production is expensive, but maybe not, considering that this Sunday revival started out in such a small venue with a presumably low budget.

Would “Under the Sea” have worked better onstage with live action performers interacting with CGI fish? Is it possible that a future live action production of Mary Poppins could have a live action Bert dancing with animated penguins, recreating the number from the movie right in front of us? The animation in Sunday in the Park seems to me to be only the beginning of a new stage technology. How much further will it have advanced ten years from now?

Sunday in the Park with George is not simply about Seurat and his fictional descendant, but about the life of the creative artist, a theme that I’ve found in other works I’ve discussed in past installments of this column. Critics find autobiographical themes in Sunday: The New York Times‘ Ben Brantley wrote in his February 22, 2008 review that “As a portrait of the artist as an embattled and rejected man Sunday has been read as a sort of apologia pro vita sua by Mr. Sondheim”. If so, then perhaps Sunday also has autobiographical meaning for James Lapine, who wrote the show’s book and directed the original production. Seurat was a painter, but Sondheim the composer and Lapine the playwright can identify with him because they are all creative artists.

And I think of writing criticism as an art. I saw the original production in the 1980s and, though I admired it, I felt no emotional connection with the work. But perhaps that was because back then I thought of myself as a student. Now that I’ve been a professional writer for decades, upon experiencing Sunday again, I see all these connections to my own experience. If Seurat created his paintings from dots if color (using the pointillist technique he devised), and Sondheim creates music from individual notes, then each week I start with nothing–like the white set at Sunday’s opening–and assemble one of these columns out of individual words, studying the works I review (as Seurat studied his models), forming ideas, developing them, discovering connections, and fitting my concepts together into an overall structure.

The show describes Seurat as having a “mission to see.” That captures the artist’s sense of duty to his or her art, to follow the muse wherever she takes him or her. (In the second act, when Dot appears to Seurat’s descendant to encourage him to pursue his art, she is not so much the “real” Dot as she us the personification of the muse.) As this musical shows, that sense of mission is so strong that it can outweigh practical concerns and even reduce personal relationships to secondary importance. Dot leaves Seurat, and his descendant George parts from his wife, probably in both cases because the artist’s devotion to his art takes first place. I can understand this sense of isolation as well; writing is a solitary task. Brantley’s reference to Seurat and Sondheim as “embattled” may be too strong a word, but in the show Seurat has to contend with people–a successful fellow artist (who, of course, is now forgotten) and even hs mother–who do not comprehend what he is attempting to do. (Why, it’s like people who are bewildered at the idea that someone would take the comics medium seriously and spend his life writing about it.)

Yet the show demonstrates that the artist’s life of devotion to his “mission” is a noble quest. One of the show’s songs is titled “Children and Art”, asserting that these are the proper legacies for any person to leave behind him. Seurat only inadvertently fathers a daughter, but his true legacy is his art, both through its own merits and as an inspiration to future artists (like Seurat’s descendant George) who will build upon this heritage. The first act of Sunday ends with Seurat arranging the other cast members into the positions the figures take in his finished composition, fixed “forever” as an enduring work of art, achieving transcendence. In the finale of the second act the figures from the painting reappear and bow to the 1980s George, encouraging him to follow his ancestor’s example and pursue his own new creative path.

In the final moments, the supporting cast leaves the stage, and the projections vanish, returning to the production’s original image of the blank white room. But this is not an image of emptiness; rather, the 1980s George gasps with joy, seeing possibilities for creating something new out of this blank slate. It’s like that famous saying of Michelangelo’s, that the sculpture he created was already in the block of marble he started with, and he merely had to uncover it.

Should a writer or a creative artist of any kind need reassurance that he or she has embarked in the right path, and need inspiration to go further, that person should see this show.

My only qualm about Sunday is that it seems to insist that the creative artist’s life must be a solitary one. (In Seurat’s darkest moment in Sunday, he agrees to let Dot and her new husband care for his–Seurat’s–own daughter because he “cannot look up from my pad” to be a proper father.) I may live by myself, but certainly I know plenty of creative people who have kids and significant others. Indeed, one of the main points of Mark Evanier’s new biography and art book Kirby: King of Comics is that Kirby had two principal motivations in life: to pursue his artistic goals, but also to support his wife and children. In Sunday Seurat speaks of “balance” as one of his artistic virtues. Jack Kirby evidently found the balance between art and family that the Seurat of Sunday was incapable of achieving.

I began my commentary on Kirby: King of Comics months ago, but agreed to postpone the rest until after the book had come out and you all had a chance to read it. If all goes according to plan, next week I will resume my Kirby review.

Last fall’s Disney musical film Enchanted, which came out on DVD this week, provides yet another clever variation on the themes of mixing live action with animation and forging links between the cartoon world and the world of reality. I’ve read some negative comments to the presentations of the three nominated songs from Enchanted at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Granted, the songs may not work well out of the context of the film, but this should not stop anyone from seeing the movie, which is a delight.

Like DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek movies, Enchanted satirizes the long tradition of Disney animated features, especially those adapting classic fairy tales. But unlike the increasingly crass and unfunny Shrek movies (see “Comics in Context” #186: “Le Petit Chef”), Enchanted is not only genuinely witty and imaginative, but also succeeds in revivifying that sane tradition for a 21st century audience, demonstrating that it isn’t outdated after all.

The movie opens in a cartoon world that evokes Disney’s Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, and yes, it is presented in traditional, “2-D,” hand-drawn animation. Not long ago, the conventional wisdom was that hand-drawn animated features were dead, having been supplanted in the public’s affections by computer animated movies, and Disney even disposed of its old animation tables and other tools for making hand-drawn animation. Let’s hope that Enchanted, along with last year’s Persepolis and The Simpsons Movie (see “Comics in Context” #188: “D’ohme!”), signals that “2-D” animation isn’t a dead and obsolete artform in the realm of feature films after all.

Within the land of Andalasia in this cartoon world lives the film’s young heroine Giselle, who falls in love at first sight with a handsome prince, Edward, after he rescues her from a troll. But Edward’s archetypal wicked stepmother Narissa believes that if Edward marries, his bride will displace her as queen. Employing her sorcery to transform herself intro an old crone, Narissa pushes the unsuspecting Giselle down a well (rather like Snow White’s wishing well). Plunging through darkness (rather like Alice falling down the rabbit hole), Giselle emerges in the middle of Times Square in the real, “live action” world. What’s more, she has been transformed into a real, live action human being herself. Eventually other characters from the cartoon world will follow Giselle into the real world, including Prince Edward, Queen Narissa, her henchman Nathaniel, and Giselle’s chipmunk friend Pip. (In the cartoon world Pip could talk; in the “real world” he can’t, though he retains his human -level intelligence. In Andalasia Pip is a hand-drawn animated character, but in the “real world” he becomes a computer-animated figure, since CGI, in this film, reads as “real.”)

Last November I saw Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf and Enchanted only one week apart, and I’ve come to think of them as opposites. The epic poem Beowulf, as it has come down to us, depicts an ideal hero. As I wrote in my review (“Comics in Context” #205: “Identity Theft”), one of the anonymous Beowulf poet’s themes “is to describe and commend the behavior of the ‘good king,’ the good leader of men, and, perhaps, the good man in general.” Zemeckis’s film reveals this supposedly good man as a fraud, a liar who succumbs to his lust for an enemy and who literally fathers the evil that later plagues his kingdom and brings about his own death. The Beowulf movie seems to suggest that the truly good man does not exist and never did, that stories of noble heroes are falsehoods, and that the high ideals of the Beowulf poet are merely delusions.

You might expect that Enchanted would similarly demolish the Disney fairy tale tradition. Once Giselle lands in New York City, the film puts this unworldly innocent though misery until she finally is taken in by the story’s leading man, single parent named Robert, whose profession, divorce lawyer, indicates that he doesn’t believe in anyone living happily ever after with his or her one true love. The movie continues to mock Giselle’s childlike naivete, gently but nonetheless pointedly. It seems impossible for her to fit into the real world. We associate the world of Disney animated features with childhood, so the real world must be that of adulthood. Giselle’s plight is a comic metaphor for someone struggling with the transition from childhood innocence to adapting to reality as an adult.

And yet Giselle not only succeeds in fitting in, but does so while remaining true to herself, and even triumphantly changes her new world for the better. Although she comes from a world in which magic is real, Giselle lacks any magic powers. Yet somehow her innate optimism, her capacity for joy, and her sheer goodness have a positive influence on the people-and even the animals–around her. In the musical number “Happy Working Song” Giselle enlists animals to help her clean Robert’s apartment, just as friendly animals aided Disney’s Snow White and Cinderella in their chores. In this case, though, since it’s in Manhattan, Giselle’s animal assistants include rats and pigeons. Visiting Robert’s office, Giselle weeps over a couple who are seeking a divorce and who seem to think she’s crazy, yet by the end of the movie the couple happily report that they’ve reconciled thanks to Giselle’s influence. In the movie’s musical high point, “That’s How You Know,” people in Central Park spontaneously form into a singing and dancing parade, with Giselle at their lead, inspired by her infectiously cheerful presence.

Giselle dies adapt to her new world by “growing up” in certain ways. She comes to recognize that she didn’t truly love her bubbleheaded suitor Prince Edward. A turning point comes when, in a clash with Robert, she realizes she has become angry for the first time in her life. Jungians would say she has tapped into the “shadow” side of her personality; having gotten in touch with her anger, she will no longer be simply the passive potential princess, waiting for her prince to rescue her. Indeed, towards the film’s end, Giselle even pulls out a sword that had been struck into the floor (thereby mimicking the future King Arthur in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone) and goes to rescue her true love, Robert, from Narissa’s clutches.

But while Giselle rises above her naivete and passivity, she retains all of her many virtues: her empathy, her idealism, her great capacity for love, and her sheer goodness. If Zemeckis’s Beowulf contended that its epic hero was a fraud, Enchanted maintains that its heroine’s virtues are not only real but are viable even in the supposedly cynical world of the 21st century.

Amy Adams’ performance as Giselle is absolutely essential to the success of Enchanted. Although she brings out the comic side of Giselle’s childlike innocence and enthusiasms, she never ironically comments on the character. rather, Adams pulls off the miraculous feat of making Giselle’s unworldly goodness and innocence completely credible. Not only that, but in this role Adams exudes a sheer, irresistible lovability appropriate for a classic Disney heroine. As Manohla Dargis so vividly put it in the November 21, 2007 New York Times, “Ms. Adams doesn’t just bring her cartoonish character to life: she fills Giselle’s pale cheeks with blood and feeling, turning a hazardously cute gimmick into a recognizable, very appealing human confusion of emotion and crinoline. ”

In a December 13, 2007 interview for London’s Times Online, Enchanted director Kevin Lima explained that “With this movie I set out to make Mary Poppins. With that in mind, I had to throw away the mean tempered mockery. It has been done so much. The Shrek movies were very successful in turning the screws on Disney in that way. So I was looking for a new way.” Hence, as the reporter put it, “he managed to persuade the company that there was a way to make the film as a love letter rather than a cynical pastiche. The result is a film that, although a departure for Disney, also has a charming, old-fashioned innocence.”

Moreover, the Times states, “according to its director, Kevin Lima, it is effectively Disney’s first postmodern movie.”: Enchanted is filled with references to classic Disney features. Lima said “it became an obsession. Every single name had to somehow have a relation to Disney, every image had to relate back to the Disney iconography.”

Some of the references take the form of archetypal plot elements. For example, Narissa is a wicked queen who, like the one in Snow White, has a magic mirror, magically disguises herself as a crone, and administers a poisoned apple to the heroine. Longtime readers know that I’m an admirer of Susan Sarandon, who makes this wicked queen surprisingly sexier than her Disney prototypes. When Sarandon wears heavy old page makeup as the crone, I was struck by how recognizable her distinctively large eyes remain.) Robert proves himself to be Giselle’s true love–and surmounts his cynicism over “fairy tales”–by reviving this sleeping beauty with a kiss.

Watching the movie I spotted other references. Most viewers will recognize the voice of Julie Andrews, Disney’s Mary Poppins, as the narrator. But i was pleasantly surprised to see Jodi Benson, the voice of the animated Little Mermaid, turn up in the role of Robert’s secretary (complete with a fish tank in the office). Of course I noticed that the couple seeking a divorce in Enchanted were Mr. and Mrs. Banks, named after the dysfunctional parents in Poppins (see “Comics in Context” #160: “Banks’ Holiday”). There are numerous other allusions as well, many of which are catalogued in Enchanted’s Wikipedia entry; it’s rather like decoding all the references in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

I received a big surprise when I discovered that throughout the film Lima and company duplicated visual compositions from classic Disney animated features. (You can find some examples here) Might this have a subliminal effect on viewers, especially those well versed in the Disney canon? It’s as if Lima and company are saying that these archetypal stories and characters still underlie modern reality, even if we are unaware of it.

That may be the ultimate lesson of Enchanted. We may live in an age disposed towards realism and irony, and yet, as Robert comes to learn in the course of the film, the archetypes of these great fairy tales still survive and continue to carry psychological and emotional power, even in the early 21st century, and even into our adult lives.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone who hasn’t yet seen Enchanted that Giselle and Robert end up living happily ever after together (presumably as husband and wife, though this is, surprisingly, not made explicit). I was amused to see that for two other characters in the film, their equivalent of living “happily ever after” is writing a book and getting to do a signing! Well, yes, I’m proud of being a published author, and I always enjoy doing signings of my new books. But as I well know, in most cases, unless you’re J. K. Rowling, a single book doesn’t pay the bills for very long. But I still appreciate the fact that Enchanted regards the publication of a book as a cause for celebration!

-Copyright 2008 Peter Sanderson


2 Responses to “Comics in Context #218: From Animation Into Reality”

  1. Peter b. gillis Says:

    It’s worth remembering that P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, was a serious occultist and anthropologist, and a founder of the magazine Parabola, which deals with myth and tradition. Her Mary Poppins is something of an enlightened master, though deftly disguised. Julie Andrews’ performance is surprisingly true to that, though overwhelmed in part by the Disneyness of the rest of the movie–not so much the Dick Van Dyke character (because you just can’t have a movie with only a magical powerful female doing Her work) as the banal ‘banking is boring’ moral.
    It’s interesting that Niall Johnson focussed on Mary Poppins, because beneath the thick layer of treacle there’s some medicine.

  2. recount writing Says:

    [...] in an on-line project called &quot13 Myths on War in Iraq&quot here’s a lrpayne.blogspot.comComics in Context 218: From Animation Into Reality People who aspire to become actors want to be on stage or on television or in the movies. Even [...]

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