Trouble with “Tarzan”

The Lord of the Jungle as exemplar for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ problematic political views (DeDisnification, Part 6)

Although at first blush it might seem like an innocent-though-improbable adventure yarn, Tarzan is a troubling tale on many levels: its author, Edgar Rice Burroughs clearly believed in social Darwinism, class hierarchy, patriarchy, eugenics, the supremacy of the white race, and indeed his own superiority, claiming a “pure” Anglo-Saxon lineage.

It is fair to call him a man of his times, since these ideas were widespread in the US in the teens and ’20s, when mainstream journals would describe anyone from anywhere south of Paris as “swarthy”, but I’m not quite ready to fall over myself forgiving him. There’s also the oft-raised question of whether we can or should hate the artist but love the art. Even Barthes in his 1967 essay, La mort de l’auteur, weighs in on the side of judging works based on their own merits rather than considering context and intention.

However, it would also be fairly difficult to disentangle Burroughs’ worldview from his works. Even though he dissembled, saying:

Entertainment is fiction’s purpose, [not] disseminating any great truths or spreading any propaganda […].¹

Such things are still frequently incorporated into his works, sometimes allegorically, but sometimes quite overtly as well. The first of the Tarzan books, Tarzan of the Apes, was published in 1912, to enthusiastic reception in America as well as Europe. But after the outbreak of WWI, Burroughs used subsequent books as a platform to attack and insult the German people, even though it lost him their readership. During the Red Scare, stories like The Moon Maid were used to condemn socialism as well.

And indeed, the author did not stick to fiction when talking about his views. He opined on the Hickman murder trial that the perpetrator was a “moral imbecile” and that,

If we hang him we have removed […] a potential menace to peace and happiness and safety of countless future generations, for moral imbeciles breed moral imbeciles, criminals breed criminals, murderers breed murderers just as St. Bernards breed St. Bernards.

He continued:

[A] new species of man has been evolving through the ages and only when society awakens […] will it realize that the members of this new species may not be judged by the same standards that hold for us […]. Destruction and sterilization are our only defense and we should invoke them while we are yet numerically in the ascendancy.

In his now neatly expunged article, “I See a New Race”, Burroughs imagined a future civilization that had adopted strict policies of intelligence testing and forced sterilization:

The sterilization of criminals, defectives and incompetents together with wide dissemination of birth control information and public instruction on eugenics resulted in a rapid rise in the standards of national intelligence after two generations […] prizes went to families that produced the most intelligent children. Stupidity became unfashionable.

Returning to his fiction, the Tarzan stories don’t just contain vague allusions to these ideas, they are a philosophical embodiment of them. The entire premise of the works is that a noble white man will come to master his environment regardless of how many obstacles he must overcome to do so. Remember, Tarzan’s birth name is John Clayton, Viscount Greystoke. Burroughs’ premise is that millions of years of evolution have made Tarzan not only superior to the creatures of the jungle, but also to humans of other races and of lower social classes, including women.

Peppered throughout are his tales are descriptions of “surly” and “rapacious” Arabs, and “superstitious” black people, though some of the stronger terms used in earlier editions have been subsequently edited out; Burrooughs would unhesitatingly use the N-word, as well as charming terms like “smoke”. Indeed, Tarzan seems to enjoy killing black men, detecting some relatedness to himself, but not believing them to be fully human. He posts a sign on his home to announce himself upon the arrival of Caucasians, reading:

This is the House of Tarzan, The Killer of Beasts and Many Black Men.

Gail Bederman, in Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917, refers to him as “lyncher Tarzan”.

Burroughs sees modern civilization, and particularly the racially mixed communities found therein as decadent, for which he sees social Darwinism, which he believes is “nature’s law” as the cure. In Tarzan and the Last Empire Burroughs’ glorification of eugenics again surfaces, in the form of an empire called Honus Hasta, whose rulers, in order to counter the rampant criminality that long ago plagued the place,

made laws so drastic that no thief or murderer lived to propagate his kind. Indeed, the laws of Honus Hasta destroyed not only the criminal but all members of his family, so that there were none to transmit to posterity the criminal inclinations of a depraved sire […] the laws of Honus Hasta prevented the breeding of criminals.

Disney, whether blithely unaware of this background, or choosing to ignore it, decided to make a movie about this character. And again they are far from alone, in addition to the 24 novels Burroughs originally penned, there were another dozen unauthorized ones, radio and stage productions, eight silent films, over 40 classic serial films, a pile of TV shows, nine more recent films, and several documentaries, including 1997’s Investigating Tarzan, which explored the durability of the character’s mystique despite the racism inherent in it and Burroughs’ other works.

I’d be the last to say that art should shy away from controversy, but Disney’s approach to controversy is not an embrace, it’s just a fresh coat of whitewash. There is an implicit societal idea that the studio takes on board that works created for children such as their films should contain ethical meaning and lessons but over and over they talk down to their audience and sanitize and trivialize the problems and conflicts that are encountered.

I’ll present a longtime hero of mine for contrast: Maurice Sendak, who, in answer to the question, “what is appropriate to tell children?” said simply:

Tell them anything you want.

That is, he did not think that children needed to be condescended to, and that no topic was off limits. His books, Where the Wild Things Are, Mickey in the Night Kitchen, and Outside Over There make up a sort of trilogy (all of these books were controversial, with Mickey drawing fire in particular for showing the titular character nude): he says they are,

[…] all variations on the same theme: how children master various feelings—danger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy—and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives.

Some pretty real topics there, and if you’ve read any of those books, you know he leans in.

Disney sidesteps some of the Tarzan issues by painting an Africa where only he and various animals live, until more Europeans arrive—effectively whitewashing black people out of existence. Nonetheless, the most laughable part of Burroughs’ tales, that Tarzan teaches himself to read, write and speak English from the books he finds in his dead parents’ home remains in the film. From a linguistic standpoint, calling this impossible would be an understatement. The animation studio does manage to also add some positive messages about family bonds, human guardianship of nature, and of course the evil and greedy villains are defeated in the end.

However, while Disney clearly can’t be accused of subscribing to Burroughs’ worldview, as we have already seen, particularly in Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, they do present a corporate Barthesian myth that the best way to deal with problematic differences between people is to simply pretend they don’t exist. And while this is certainly a step up from advocating the eradication of the other, “just look away” is a pretty poor lesson too.


Read Subsequent Articles in this Series

Part 7A: Down the Rabbit Hole

Part 7B: Alice’s Adventures in the Cousins War

Part 8: Guerrillas and the “Jungle”

Part 9A: Through a Magic Mirror Marred

Part 9A Addendum: The Woods “Over the Wall”

Part 9B: The Sum of its Versions

Part 9C: The “Snow White” Studio

Part 9D: Snowhaus

Part 10: The Little Less-Than


Read Previous Articles in this Series

Part 1: Straightening out “Hunchback”

Part 2: Making over “Mulan”

Part 2 Addendum B: Your Western Wuxia Is Weak

Part 3A: “Hercules”: Myths and Mistakes

Part 3B: Doing Hera’s Work

Part 4: “Belle” Epoch

Part 5: Putting “Pocahontas” to Rest

Part 5 Addendum: Powhatan’s Mantle


Notes

  1. As the whitewashing of Burroughs’ image seems fairly thorough, I’ve been forced to draw from secondary sources, in this case, Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs the Creator of Tarzan by John Taliaferro.

Putting “Pocahontas” to Rest

The historical realities behind a persistent national myth (DeDisneyfication, Part 5)

Disney’s Pocahontas is in many ways too easy a target: it has been criticised both by those who see it as overly politically correct as well as those who see it as a continuation of the mythmaking of a culturally dominant group. As such, it seems a good film to tackle at this juncture, as these polar points of view also strongly color our current national political discourse.

In the interest of full disclosure, I won’t leave this information to the end: I have already revealed my white-trash-royalty heritage, so of course I am related to Pocahontas. Not by blood—John Rolfe’s brother, Henry, is in my direct ancestral line, so Matoaka (as she is more properly called) would be a many-times-great grand aunt by marriage. It was common practice for the Powhatan tribes to have a large number of names, and to use them based on context. Matoaka was her birth name, meaning “Bright Stream Between the Hills”, and which they did not use among the English. Pocahontas was apparently a childhood nickname meaning “Playful One”.

So, let’s get right to it: the story is nearly entirely nonsense, made up of tales concocted by Smith to enhance his personal reputation and then romanticized by a dozen hacks selling visions of “noble savages” and “manifest destiny”.

The origin story of Disney’s Pocahontas is that a director was vaguely pondering ideas and ran across an image of Princess Tigerlily from Peter Pan, an image about as culturally sensitive as anything from the ’50s—perhaps a minor step up from the Cleveland Indians’ logo. Indeed, as far as Barthesian myths go, the Pocahontas story is already a whopper larger than any Disney could concoct: an important element of the lore that clothes the Wille zur Macht realities of our national origin story.

That Disney tries to smooth out the edges of this story draws flak as political correctness, but the fact that they touch it at all is something anyone who cares about historicity will decry. But I’ll note that Disney is far from alone in the repeated retreading of this malarkey (again, as with most of their efforts, they chose a subject often retold), although attempts to restore the facts well predate this version, so the animation studio had to very deliberately reach back for a version less rooted in history.

The central problem seems to be—once again—that Disney’s goal, repeating the success of their romantic epic, Beauty and the Beast, did not couple well with their subject, a repeatedly embellished tall tale about the origin of the United States. As usual, their choice of methods to solve this round-peg-square-hole problem is to get a large hammer and beat the whole works into jelly.

The historical facts are difficult to ascertain, but I’ll relate what I can. Even Smith never said he had anything but a friendly relationship with Matoaka. She was around 10 years old at the time, and even by 17th century standards that would have been wildly inappropriate. Smith told nearly the same story he did about Matoaka concerning his execution being prevented among the Hungarian Turks; it was apparently a favorite of his, with details cribbed from popular contemporary moral tales of faithful Christians prevailing through harrowing events: the maiden interposing her own body between Smith and his would be executioner. He related the Turkish version in his 1630 book, True Travels.

Next, Matoaka was kidnapped and held by the English for three years, used to ransom prisoners back from Powhatan, but still not released when this had been accomplished. In a very real Stockholm-Syndrome scenario, she refused to return to her people when at last given the chance, was baptized as Rebecca, and subsequently married John Rolfe. Their union finally cooled the tensions between the natives and the colonists, at least for a while.

Rolfe in his letter to the Virginia Governor wherein he asks to marry Matoaka says of her:

[Her] education hath been rude, her manners barbarous, her [breeding] accursed.

Still, he is willing to take up this burden

for the good of this plantation, for the honor of our country, for the Glory of God, for my own salvation […].

Although perhaps these are just his rationalizations as he also says she is the one…

to whom my hearty and best thoughts are, and have been a long time so entangled, and enthralled […].

He seems to be having something of a Huck Finn moment, so that’s at least progress.

Three years into their marriage, Rolfe returned to England with Matoaka to drum up investment for the colonial venture and presented her to James I as a Princess, which she really was not. Despite Rolfe’s and Disney’s desires to call her such, Powhatan apparently had a vast number of children and she in no way figured into any sort of succession. They were just about to head back to Virginia when she sickened and died—as was the case with many Native Americans coming into contact with Europeans it was likely from some disease she had no natural resistance against. She was 21 years old.

Powhatan also died soon after and peace with the English came to an end. Nonetheless, Matoaka and her father are inextricably woven into the story of the US by their many notable descendants including two First Ladies, and several members of the First Families of Virginia.

I’ve held off on specific criticisms of Disney’s film mainly because it would be a quagmire boggier than the Lernean swamp. And it’s honestly so empty headed it’s not even worth nitpicking: several of those involved in its making removed—or wished they could remove—their names from the production, for example Co-Director Eric Goldberg worked under the pseudonym Claude Raynes. Most notable among these is Shirley “Little Dove” Custalow-McGowan, a Powhatan native brought in as a cultural consultant, but who became disenchanted with the work when it became clear that there would be little done to attempt historical accuracy.

Let’s just say the film brings nearly no light to this subject, and despite the cries of political correctness, falls back repeatedly on racial stereotypes, even with its comic-relief animals, Percy and Meeko. A bright spot, if it can be called that, is that because of how fraught it is we are likely to be spared a live-action redux.

Lydia Howard Sigourney wrote a poem in 1841, now seldom recalled, but which was adapted into 1910’s silent film version of the tale. I’d characterize Sigourney’s overall tone as imperialist nostalgia, but she has some real feeling for her titular heroine, and though a bit florid, in the end it’s a more fitting tribute:

The council-fires are quench’d, that erst so red
Their midnight volume mid the groves entwined;
King, stately chief, and warrior-host are dead,
Nor remnant nor memorial left behind:
But thou, O forest-princess, true of heart,
When o’er our fathers waved destruction’s dart,
Shalt in their children’s loving hearts be shrined;
Pure, lonely star, o’er dark oblivion’s wave,
It is not meet thy name should moulder in the grave.


Read Subsequent Articles in this Series

Part 5 Addendum: Powhatans Mantle

Part 6: Trouble with “Tarzan”

Part 7A: Down the Rabbit Hole

Part 7B: Alice’s Adventures in the Cousins War

Part 8: Guerrillas and the “Jungle”

Part 9A: Through a Magic Mirror Marred

Part 9A Addendum: The Woods “Over the Wall”

Part 9B: The Sum of its Versions

Part 9C: The “Snow White” Studio

Part 9D: Snowhaus

Part 10: The Little Less-Than


Read Previous Articles in this Series

Part 1: Straightening out “Hunchback”

Part 2: Making over “Mulan”

Part 2 Addendum B: Your Western Wuxia Is Weak

Part 3A: “Hercules”: Myths and Mistakes

Part 3B: Doing Hera’s Work

Part 4: “Belle” Epoch

“Belle” Epoch

The Neolithic origins of the “Beauty and the Beast” folktale (DeDisnification, Part 4)

Beauty and the Beast marked a transition for Disney’s animation studio: the film featured a modern female protagonist, one who, rather than attending to household chores, prefers to educate herself through reading. By and large these things are quite positive and a welcome change from the frankly ditzy Little Mermaid.

The main message of the film is about people’s appearances versus their true natures—bracketed by Gaston, a good-looking creep, and the Beast, whose appearance is beastly, but who is actually good—which also feels spot on. The comic relief is good, the songs are good, its early integration of 3D CG is done well. Indeed, Beauty and the Beast was to become the mold for the studio’s films for the next decade with greater and lesser degrees of success. Arguably we are still in this era.

Admittedly, there are some niggles I feel worth mentioning: Belle’s thirst for reading apparently extends only to fairytales even though she’s an adult. The song she sings about her favorite book says that it contains Prince Charming, and this is the only example we are given of what she reads. While she seems to be of marriagable age (whatever that might be), she also wears her hair in pigtails, so it’s hard to figure out just how old she’s supposed to be.

Also, while it’s great that she’s not a domestic drudge, she also has no real responsibilities at all—she reads and hopes for adventure and does not have a great deal of agency. Her father is an unsuccessful tinkerer: his gadgets’ lack of success of is part of the case made for throwing him in an asylum, so it’s difficult to understand her independence.

When it comes to the relationship between the two titular characters, some have characterized it as Stockholm Syndrome, but I think Disney managed to successfully navigate those waters: Belle volunteers to stay in the Beast’s castle as a substitute for her father, the Beast generally treats her well, and even lets her go when confronted with the fact that she is effectively his prisoner. Overall, it’s actually a pretty great film, so I’ll mainly be discussing its origins.

And on this topic, the tale is very nearly as old as time: In folkloric categorization, Beauty and the Beast is known as ATU-425C. The first three letters merely mark the classification within the Aarne-Thompson-Uther system, the last one marks a variant type, and the number, one which applies to a large body of tales, refers to its actual motif, known as The Lost Husband. A well-known example, and perhaps my personal favorite is East of the Sun and West of the Moon, ATU-425A; the main form of the tale. Kay Nielsen’s illustrations (see above) probably have a lot to do with this. Later in life he went to work for Walt, and contributed to some of the more awesome scenes of Fantasia. In any case, some estimates place the prototype of this tale in the Neolithic at roughly 4,000 years old.

One of the earliest known written versions of the trope is the myth of Cupid and Psyche, images of which appear in Greek art as early as the 4th century BC, but which we mainly know today from the 2nd century AD version in Numidian-Roman (Numidia is split across modern Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia) writer Apuleius’ The Golden Ass—a different variant, ATU-425C. In this version, an uncannily beautiful princess is given in marriage to a monster to avert the wrath of Venus. This monster is indeed Cupid, hiding his identity from his bride, but taking fantastic care of her, as a disembodied voice in the daylight and in person only in complete darkness. Psyche’s jealous sisters get her to use a lamp to see who her husband is (shades of Cinderella; the jealous sisters are another well used folkloric trope), she does, is cast out and has to complete four tasks to expiate this breach of trust. Cupid has reasons for hiding his identity from Psyche: he is defying his mother (Venus), who ordered him to make her fall in love with some loathsome creature, and he also doesn’t want her to freak out, which is exactly what she does.

The oral tradition was eventually to spawn La Belle et la Bête, by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, published in 1740 in Young American and Marine Tales (La Jeune Américaine et les contes marins). The 16th and 17th centuries were when many European traditional tales came to be written down. This version was shortened and rewritten for Children’s Collection (Magasin des enfants) by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 to create the most widely-known version of the tale. As with many of the subjects Disney was to take up, there were dozens of retellings in various media for them to draw on.

In particular, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 French film adaptation seems to have provided a strong kernel for the animation studio’s work. The idea of expanding the cast beyond the two main characters was done very much on the model of the Cocteau version, wherein Belle gained a boorish suitor similar to Gaston named Avenant, and the Château de la Bête included objects magically imbued with life. Cocteau was multitalented; a celebrated writer, designer, playwright, artist, and filmmaker. His black-and-white film’s excellence is still apparent today, and the human form of Disney’s Beast bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Jean Marais’ Bête.

Sadly, I must end on a less positive note: there is an upcoming live-action version, which, from what I’ve seen is a nearly shot-for-shot redux of the animated film, and which is therefore completely unneeded artistically and motivated entirely by a quite different beast: mammon.


Read Subsequent Articles in this Series

Part 5: Putting “Pocahontas” to Rest

Part 5 Addendum: Powhatan’s Mantle

Part 6: Trouble with “Tarzan”

Part 7A: Down the Rabbit Hole

Part 7B: Alice’s Adventures in the Cousins War

Part 8: Guerrillas and the “Jungle”

Part 9A: Through a Magic Mirror Marred

Part 9A Addendum: The Woods “Over the Wall”

Part 9B: The Sum of its Versions

Part 9C: The “Snow White” Studio

Part 9D: Snowhaus

Part 10: The Little Less-Than


Read Previous Articles in this Series

Part 1: Straightening out “Hunchback”

Part 2: Making over “Mulan”

Part 2 Addendum B: Your Western Wuxia Is Weak

Part 3A: “Hercules”: Myths and Mistakes

Part 3B: Doing Hera’s Work

Doing Hera’s Work

The strategies used to “lighten up” the Herakles legend (DeDisnification, Part 3B)

Hercules’ place in the Disney animated film studio’s chronology comes following The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas. Both of these films were criticized for being too dark, serious, and generally inappropriate for young audiences, so the studio decided to do something lighter. How they landed on the myth of Herakles (Ἡρακλῆς) as the right vehicle to accomplish this boggles the mind: in order to do any justice at all to the tales you’d have to go very dark indeed.

The tale of Herakles is an unhappy one from the start: although it’s often been Bowdlerized, Zeus (Ζεύς) disguising himself as Alkmene’s (Ἀλκμήνη) husband to get into her bed can only be described as rape. R-rated Excalibur contains such a scene for Arthur’s conception and it’s hardly Disney material. Next, Hera (Ἥρα) gets Eileithyia (Εἰλείθυια), the goddess of childbirth, to attempt to prevent Herakles from ever being born: Eileithyia sat at the door with her arms and legs crossed, thus staying the birth, and which would have ultimately killed both mother and child. But Alkmene’s handmaiden Galinthias (Γαλινθιάς) tricked her, shouting “a son is born!” Surprised, Eileithyia jumped to her feet so releasing her hold on Alkmene’s womb, so she could finally give birth. Of course the goddess was furious at being tricked and transformed Galinthias into a polecat.

When he is born, Alkmene leaves Herakles in the wilderness to die so that she may escape Hera’s wrath—an example of ancient victim blaming—which he manages to survive with help from his divine sibling(s). Then Hera sends serpents to kill the infant.

And this continues to be the dominant feature throughout Herakles’ life, and the madness she causes in him during which he kills his children, a couple of his brothers’, and possibly his wife is just the icing on the hate cake Hera bakes for her husband’s bastard son. And even apart from the trouble brought on him because of his divine birth, Herakles is also a hothead—Hera has nothing to do with him murdering Linus (Λῖνος), or lopping the noses and ears off the Orchomenian (Ὀρχομένιος) tribute collectors, thus precipitating a war in which his foster father dies. He’s a monster slayer, but also leaves a bloody trail of homicides in his wake. He’s also sexually voracious, and for that matter, omnivorous—Philoktetes (Φιλοκτήτης), much altered in the Disney version—is much more than a pal in the myths, and was actually one of the demigod’s several male lovers.

So, although simply choosing a more light-hearted tale would seem a much better choice, Disney wades directly into this minefield. And then, in order to make this myth fit the bill, they essentially gut it, which is why the matter I dealt with in Part 3A was so lengthy. There are some specific strategies they seem to have applied: the first revolves around simply making fun of the myths, the second is equating heroism with modern sports, and the last is applying Judeo-Christian cosmology and morals to the tale.

It seems overall that Disney chose an approach that was snarky and reductive: Hermes (Ἑρμῆς) appears as a caricature of Paul Shaffer/ the FTD logo, the Muses (Μοῦσαι) are a Motown/ Gospel girl group, Pegasus (Πήγασος) thinks he’s a dog, several of the characters toss out Borscht-Belt one liners, the comedy relief is both unneeded, as the film is nearly never serious, and goofier than ever, Roman and Greek elements are conflated, the Easter eggs fly thick and fast, and Thebes (Θῆβαι) is presented as an ancient New York, complete with Yiddish quipping. All this does indeed have the effect of keeping the film light, but it also means that we have zero investment in anything that’s happening. Instead these larger-than-life gods, heroes, and deeds are made small, safe, and perhaps worthy of an occasional sympathetic chuckle.

Professional sports fame was chosen as the corollary to heroism in Greek myth. This again is pretty far off base—product endorsements like Air-Herc sandals ring false as a reward for doing in the monsters that are terrorizing the countryside. Yes, of course I understand that this does not represent true heroism, and that that’s their point, but their point is not well made. Everyone takes to calling Hercules “Wonderboy”, itself a reference to the baseball film, The Natural. The all-too-familiar training montage is employed, including a phoned-in Mr.-Miyagi-crane-kick scene, and backed by the song, Go the Distance, which is pretty clearly a dress rehearsal for “I’ll Make a Man out of You”.

Next, Haides (Ἁιδης) is presented as being a toga-wearing version of a cartoonishly evil Satan: he plots to overthrow Zeus, he makes deals (the deal Haides made with Herakles regarding Kerberos (Κέρβερος), which I mentioned in the previous article, was a rare exception in the myths), his head is on fire, everything around him is decorated with skulls, and he enjoys slurping worms and torturing his henchmen. His underworld is a gloomy place full of tormented souls—in short: it’s hell. And it contrasts in black-and-white-morality fashion with the cloud palace of Olympus (Ὄλυμπος), inhabited by glowing, floating folk; a gate with St. Peter standing guard would not feel out of place here. And finally, the idea that self sacrifice is the only true heroism appears, as it does nearly nowhere in Greek myth.

The one bright spot in the film to me was Megara (Μέγαρα “Meg”), who is perhaps the most real female person in any Disney movie. Sure, she’s a bit of a femme fatale, but her response to Hercules when he finds her in Nessus’ (Νέσσος) clutches is brilliant:

Hercules: Aren’t you… a damsel in distress?
Meg: I’m a damsel, I’m in distress, I can handle this. Have a nice day.

Unlike the wry remarks the other characters bandy about, hers land:

Meg: I’m a big tough girl. I tie my own sandals and everything.

Unfortunately, not only does the film fail the Bechdel test—as most from the studio do—she’s also alone in every regard: none of the other characters are ones we remotely care about.

Some will no doubt say that all this is just a reimagining; that the recontextualizations¹ are meant to make sense of these myths for a modern audience, and the simplifications do the same for a younger audience. But none of that is true. This is a self-indulgent and empty film, where pop culture references stand in for real comedic writing. Jason and the Argonauts, released in 1963, even though it was rated G, and its effects are quite crude compared to today’s, contained a much greater sense of the peril and wonder of the myths.


Read Subsequent Articles in this Series

Part 4: “Belle” Epoch

Part 5: Putting “Pocahontas” to Rest

Part 5 Addendum: Powhatan’s Mantle

Part 6: Trouble with “Tarzan”

Part 7A: Down the Rabbit Hole

Part 7B: Alice’s Adventures in the Cousins War

Part 8: Guerrillas and the “Jungle”

Part 9A: Through a Magic Mirror Marred

Part 9A Addendum: The Woods “Over the Wall”

Part 9B: The Sum of its Versions

Part 9C: The “Snow White” Studio

Part 9D: Snowhaus

Part 10: The Little Less-Than


Read Previous Articles in this Series

Part 1: Straightening out “Hunchback”

Part 2: Making over “Mulan”

Part 2 Addendum B: Your Western Wuxia Is Weak

Part 3A: “Hercules”: Myths and Mistakes


Notes

  1. See the novella A Dozen Tough Jobs for a decent recontextualization of the Herakles myth in the Depression-era South.