This is the title one of the very first Lenon Honor documentary films that I had seen a couple years ago and the title pretty much says it all. Needless to say, it covers a very dark and unsettling topic: Disney’s (allegedly) subtle and not-so-subtle references to pedophilia.
Prior to viewing this film, I had no knowledge of the early works of Walt Disney and was surprised to learn that some of his early films featured live actors, not just cartoon characters. The “Alice Comedies” of the 1920’s, for example, often featured both a live female child actress in the lead (as Alice) and animated cartoon characters. Curiously enough, the little girl in the lead would always be heavily made-up (arched drawn-in eyebrows, dark painted lips)–made to look a lot like the adult female starlets and sirens of the time. To understand this, we have to first know more about the audience that these animated features were tying to appeal to. (Hint: They weren’t children.)
Although today’s Disney films are clearly geared towards children, that distinction was not as clear back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In fact, animated features at the time catered to mostly an adult audience (more specifically an adult male audience), not to children. The popular Betty Boop cartoon film series is a notable example. Sex, politics, current events, pop culture, and various other forms of distractions and propaganda were common themes. Thus this may explain why even five-year-old girls in were made up to look like women (à la child beauty pageant contestants) and, as you will see in the film, why they were directed to act in a certain way.
So why did animated films transition from catering adult audiences to focusing mainly on children? That in itself is an interesting topic in itself and the answer may lie in part in this documentary.
Does Disney promote pedophilia (subliminally or otherwise)? The assertions made in this documentary are bold and unyielding but, ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether you accept or reject them. The Early Works of Disney is a film that is not only disturbing but scary to watch. I don’t suggest you view this film this after midnight–this is from someone who has watched many gruesome and disturbing horror movies unfazed and unimpressed (I attribute this effect to the style in which the subject matter was covered, the music selection, and the very demonic sound effects). Very dark, very creepy and perhaps even a bit…satanic. The genius of the documentary is not so much how convincing it is in terms of the information provided, but rather the chilling atmosphere created for the viewer. Style over substance? Perhaps, but good film making nonetheless.