August 27, 2007

Whoa. Mary Blair's Disney's Cinderella??


Our approach to thwarting the Disney Princess Industrial Complex is simple. I think. Oh, who'm I fooling? They're complicated and doomed to failure as soon as the kid has a sleepover party, but whatryagonnado? Here's the plan:

  • The movies are fine; we'll let those come as they may.
  • No character clothes, toys, or merchandise.
  • Except for that Golden Books version of Snow White that someone gave us, no books.
  • Disney's version will not be the only or definitive version of the story.

    That last tactic feels like our secret weapon. One criticism of Disney is that they've overwhelmed and appropriated stories they didn't invent. Rather than declare a fatwa on all things Disney--I did used to work for the company, way back in the day--we'd rather just expand the variations and stories the kid's familiar with.

    The kid's only movie so far is Cinderella, so in addition to the Disney version, she has a book, an Art Deco-style retelling by author/illustrator Lynn Roberts. From the library, we checked out a truly ridiculous, 1985 version introduced by Shelly Duvall starring Jennifer Beals, Matthew Broderick, the governor from Benson, and the principal from Grease, Eve Arden. [She's watching it right now, in fact. Jean Stapleton can't figure out if her Fairy Godmother accent is from 'Bama, the Bronx or Brighton.]

    So what does Disney go and do? They publish a different version of Cinderella themselves. And who'd they get to do it? Mary Freakin' Blair.

    That's right. Mary Blair. Turns out she did concept paintings as part of the movie animation process, some of which were published in John Canemaker's 2003 monograph, The Art and Flair of Mary Blair. [This stepsisters image was apparently not included in Amid Amidi's great survey of 50's animation, Cartoon Modern. Not sure if it was in Canemaker, or if it's in this one.]


    Disney combined the paintings that were in private hands with the works in their archive, and then commissioned Newberry Medal-winning author Cynthia Rylant to write the story.

    Blair and Rylant's Cinderella hits stores this week. It'll be followed up by Blair versions of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. I have to say, I'm kind of psyched to see this. But get back to me if you see a Mary Blair Cinderella backpack and Trapper Keeper at Target.

    Buy Cinderella by Mary Blair at Amazon.
    puffy backstory: A Riches-to-Riches Story [publishersweekly via dt reader marjorie]

    "and much, much more!" update; So it's not listed on the box anywhere, but the bonus disc of this Cinderella DVD , there's a 15-min segment, "The Art of Mary Blair". It's pretty fluffy, but interesting, and great to look at. There are some Blair paintings in the deleted scenes sections, illustrating a couple of songs that I'm not really missing, frankly.


    fwiw, barbara mcclintock's retelling of the charles perrault version of cinderella, set in the time of louis, um, i don't do numbers, but, like, versailles? is GORGEOUS to look at, and well-written, and my then-four yr old (it was published a couple of yrs ago) just loved looking at all the gowns and hair. might be a nice compare-n-contrast with the mary blair version. i'm with you on the fight-the-disney-hegemony-yeah-good-luck-with-that, even tho my sister-in-law works for the mouse.

    the last time we were at disneyland i thought it was sweet that a couple of the employees (sorry, CAST MEMBERS) called my daughter "princess," as in, "hey, princess, are you finished with your grilled cheese?" then i realized they were INSTRUCTED to do that. (i'm slow.) it just made me SOUR. what a moment before had seemed sort of old-school and charming suddenly felt inauthentic, dictated, plastic, ick ick ick.

    [we actually banned 'the p word' for a while. not sure it helped much. -ed.]

    nice post, what did you used to do for Disney?

    And I am a bit excited to see the peter pan book, that is really the only main Disney film my kid loves.

    [m&a. mid-90's. -ed.]

    I'm tempted to buy this even if I have a boy since I luuuuurve Cynthia Rylant passionately.

    I figure, Cynthia Rylant+Mary Blair=not-so-bad Disney product?

    We've been pretty successful subverting Disney's strangle-grip on the tale with our daughter's 1st (and repeated) Cindrella exposure being the 1957 Rogers & Hammerstein version with Julie Andrews.

    Great songs - some of our best video of her are when she would sing 'in my own little corner, in my own little chair' by herself....

    we were doing a pretty good anti-disney routine, the only one that slipped through is 101 dalmations (ruff ruff). but then we got to (our second) sublet here in New Zealand, and the Aussies that own this place have a full set of disney books or really, as Greg indicates, every story in the world retold by disney in 20 pages or less. its gonna take a lot of work (and discipline) to find a bunch of other books with all these right here. but luckily there is also a nice swath of Dr. Suess. it all brings back sunday nights in front of the tv - the magic kingdom.
    now, is it because you worked for them that there is no fatwa? not so clear on that.

    I went to Disneyland for the first last year time after about a 17-year boycott and have to say that I thought the place was pretty disappointing. I was only really looking forward to the Tiki Room (still pretty good) and Tomorrowland (completely gutted and basically empty - even the submarines had been removed to make them "Nemo-themed". Pirates was also closed to put in characters from the movies. Very sad... My only consolation was that we had access to Club 33, so I got a martini and some decent food.

    Anyway, thanks for the heads up on this book. I'll break our own "No Freakin' Princesses" rule to get it. Speaking of Cinderella, did you know that in some of the original French versions (Perrault's version was only one of many), it's not a glass slipper, but a fur slipper? It's a mistake in the translation because "verre" (glass) and "vair" (old French for fur) are pronounced the same...

    Finally, wanted to post an endorsement for Amidi's great book, Cartoon Modern. Beautifully done.

    [you know, I think the combination of your own memory of a childhood visit--and the desire to give your kid a similar 'unforgettable' experience--is extraordinarily powerful. Not sure why, and it's not the only kind of Disneygoer, either; there are fans, locals with annual passes, etc. But i wonder if our parents had just as uninteresting a time, too. -ed.]

    You should check out - this blogger is digging up some pretty cool Disney artwork. And she's a Mary Blair fan, as well. Still pretty new, but looks promising.

    Have you seen the rest of the Shelly Duvall's Faerie Tale Theater? Some are amusing- Billy Crystal as one of the 3 Little Pigs, others might freak the kid out- Joan Collins as the witch who cooks and eats children in Hansel & Gretel. I grew up with these movies & really liked them.

    episode guide

    Buy all 26 episodes on DVD

    [the only other one we've seen is "Sleeping Beauty" with Christopher Reeve and Bernadette Peters, which got really weird and freaked the kid out, so back to the library it went. -ed.]

    The Rob Marshall-directed version of the Rogers & Hammerstein Cinderella is quite good and non-Disney - starring Brandy, who really can sing and act, and is a less pushed-around-by-fate version of Cinderella, Paolo Montalban, who does a terrific job as the prince, Victor Garber, Jason Alexander, Bernadette Peters as the stepmother, and some fabulous songs.

    We are doing the same Plan with our kids -- glad to think others believe it's worth the fight, too!

    A note on the vair/verre thing, it appears to be not true.

    Summary quote
    "But Perrault didn't invent the glass slipper, and it probably didn't arise from vair/verre confusion either. As the French folklorist Paul Delarue pointed out in a 1951 essay, "one can also find [glass shoes in Cinderella stories] in other countries where there is no homonym which permits the confusion."

    Citation: on

    ... about halfway down the page.

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