Academic journal article Mythlore

Mythology in Children's Animation

Academic journal article Mythlore

Mythology in Children's Animation

Article excerpt

Introduction

Children like cartoons. Children watch a Lot of cartoons, from short clips embedded in Sesame Street episodes, to Saturday morning TV shows, to full-length animated films. Given the preponderance of visual media in our current culture, and the extent to which stories are consumed in the form of film and television, any study of mythology in children's literature should consider animated films as an inseparable segment of the field of children's fantasy.

In the last few decades, there have been several examples of animated feature films presenting mythological themes. While some fairy tale movies, like Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid, may have subtle mythological resonances, they do not involve overt representations of the mythologies of the cultures in which they take place, so the current discussion is not applicable to that kind of film.

A Bit of History, and First Major Instances

With the release of Snow White in 1937, followed in the next few years by Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942), the Walt Disney studio established a precedent of full-length animated films being intended primarily for children, although enjoyment by adults was usually an added benefit. For decades, Disney animations were based on either fairy tales (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) or classic children's stories (Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland), with occasional forays into original stories such as The Aristocats in 1970.

Finally, in 1997 Disney turned to Greek mythology as a source and released their animated version of the story of Hercules. (1) Modestly received at the box office and by critics ("Hercules [1997 film]"), Hercules fulfilled a function of introducing at least some concepts and characters of Greek mythology to children via an amusing adventure-comedy. Even though the Roman form

"Hercules" is used instead of the true Greek "Heracles," other Greek gods, demigods, and mythological people and places are named specifically, such as Zeus, Hades, Olympus, the Muses and the Fates, centaurs, nymphs and satyrs. There are allusions to other stories from Greek myth, such as Pandora, Jason and the Argonauts, Achilles, Odysseus, and the Trojan Horse. In Hercules's own story, one would expect the Twelve Labors to feature prominently, but the only labor actually depicted is the fight against the Hydra; the others are merely alluded to.

However, even with the plethora of elements of Greek mythology strewn throughout the film, much of it is highly inaccurate. As the TV Tropes web site declared:

Even looking past the many anachronistic gags, the movie plays so fast and loose with the original myth, and Greek mythology in general, that it would be far, far easier to list the things they did get accurate. The writers did read up on Greek mythology when doing research for the film, but deliberately changed elements around and were often forced to change the more unpleasant elements of the myths due to their inherent values dissonance and the film having to be acceptable to kids [...], resulting in a movie that's less an adaptation of the myth and more like a mash-up of Superman: The Movie and Rocky set in a burlesque of the Greek myths. ("Sadly Mythtaken/Hercules")

Further, this Hercules is portrayed as somewhat of a buffoon, conceited and oafish. His story arc here is one long attempt to find a way to get into Olympus, where he believes he rightly belongs, so most of his actions are selfserving towards that end. Only when he actually does something truly unselfish, almost by accident, does he attain his reward; but he doesn't seem to have learned much from that one action.

While Hercules definitely draws (however badly) from mythology, a slightly earlier Disney film might also be said to present mythological elements, depending on one's definitions. Are the stories of the Arabian Nights mythology, folklore, or fairy tales? The legends found in the Arabian Nights may be myth or folklore, depending on one's definitions, but they are definitely part of Western cultural awareness; if their fantastic elements are included in a broad definition of mythology, then 1992's Aladdin would also be an example of animated mythology. …

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