Was it wrong for Disney to censor Fantasia to remove the character Sunflower?

This post is an expanded version of something I wrote on Quora.

One of the most controversial aspects of Disney’s Fantasia is the censorship of the character Sunflower from the Pastoral Symphony segment of the film.

Sunflower is a centaurette (female centaur) who is depicted as being a hybrid of a young black girl and a donkey.  She is shown performing duties as a servant to the other centaurettes who are depicted in a wide variety of pastel colors.

Beginning in the 1960s, Sunflower was deemed a racist and negative depiction of black people, and her scenes in the film were deleted.  Beginning in 1990, the scenes were restored, but the shots she was in were cropped (zoomed in) so that she could not be seen, except for one that was.  For the 2010 DVD and Blu-ray release, Some scenes had Sunflower digitally erased, and others were cropped to a smaller extent than in earlier releases, all to reduce graininess.

There is much debate over whether she should’ve been removed from the film.  There are those who say that she should be censored in order to move away from the attitude of depicting black people as negative stereotypes.  Others say that she shouldn’t be censored because such portrayals were very common in animated films of the time, and that removing them is the same as saying that they never existed in the first place.  Some believe that there should be a middle ground; in other words, for example, the late film critic Roger Ebert felt, “While the original film should, of course, be preserved for historical purposes, there is no need for the general release version to perpetrate racist stereotypes in a film designed primarily for children.”

Also of note: There are other black characters in the segment.  There are two identical unnamed centaurettes who are part young black women and part zebra and another young black girl donkey centaurette named Otika who in the original rolls out a red carpet; in all versions currently available, Otika is digitally removed so that the red carpet appears to unroll by itself, and the zebra centaurettes have never been altered or removed from the film.

Sunflower

Otika

Sunflower’s scenes can be viewed here and here.

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Eulogy for Judy Garland

This blog post was originally written for a speech class.  We had to write a speech for a person, either famous or non-famous, alive or dead.  Today is the 46th anniversary of her untimely death.


Ellis Sutton

04/06/2015

Eulogy


Today, we reflect upon and say goodbye to a woman of immense talent, and who has captivated countless numbers of people around the world.  In her signature song, she sang about looking to a life beyond your own reality.  While her achievements were just as great as her struggles, what’s most important is the good parts of her life.  That woman is Judy Garland.

Like most icons, Judy Garland had humble beginnings.  She was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota 1922 to father Frank Gumm, and mother Ethel Gumm, and she was named after the both of them: Frances Ethel Gumm.  She had two older sisters:Mary Jane Gumm and Dorothy Virginia Gumm.

Judy was a star from almost the very beginning; at the age of two-and-a-half, she made her first public performance, singing “Jingle Bells.” (Shipman, 1993, p. 12).  In 1926, the family moved to California, where Ethel began working very hard to make her three daughters stars.  The trio began performing publicly as the Gumm Sisters.  Eventually their name was changed to the Garland Sisters, but Judy who was nicknamed Baby, due to being the youngest, wished to create a more distinguished identity for herself, and adopted the name, Judy.

Hard work paid off, and Judy secured a contract with MGM in 1935.  However, things would not be happy forever.  Judy’s father died that same year, leaving her devastated.

Over the next few years, Judy worked long hours on films, and then things went up from there when she received her most iconic role: Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz which was release in 1939.  This film along with the song “Over the Rainbow” touched many people with its message of the importance of creating a better life for oneself.

For the next decade, Judy was a big star, but the long hours and other personal struggles made things difficult.  There were some good parts.  She married Vincente Minnelli who directed her in Meet Me in St. Louis, and they had a daughter named Liza.  This marriage would end, but Judy moved on with her life.

In 1950, Judy left MGM, finding their demands to be too much to bear; nonetheless, she started a new chapter with her life when Sid Luft arranged for her to begin performing on stage the following year.  These performances were hugely successful.  Judy performed at the Palace in New York City, for over twenty weeks, and she received special Tony Award.  Judy and Sid would get married in 1952 and they had daughter Lorna and son Joe.

In 1954, Judy attempted a comeback in films with A Star is Born, she was acclaimed for her performance, and got nominated for an Academy Award.

Judy would make other endeavors as an entertainer.  She had her own television show, The Judy Garland Show from 1963-1964.  She also released a popular concert album Judy At Carnegie Hall.

I will leave you with this: Judy Garland struggled with life.  But she has left a legacy that will be remembered and treasured for all time.

References

 

Judy Garland. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 01:51, Apr 06, 2015, from http://www.biography.com/people/judy-garland-9306838.

 

Shipman, D. (1993). Judy Garland: The secret life of an American legend. New York: Hyperion.

 

My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music Monday: My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music: Part 11: Fantasia 2000

I’m sorry to post this a day late, but I felt rather tired, as I did not get much sleep on Sunday night, and I could not focus on completing it; I decided not to skip this post because I figured, “better late than never.”

I talked about the original Fantasia before, but today I will talk about its sequel, which was 60 years in the making.

As the original Fantasia was being developed, Walt Disney intended for it to be a perpetual entertainment experience.  In other words, people it would be regularly rereleased with new segments replacing some of the old ones.  According to Wikipedia: “Disney had wanted Fantasia to be an ongoing project, with a new edition being released every few years.[145] His plan was to substitute one of the original segments with a new one as it was complete, so the viewer would always see a new version of the film.[71] From January to August 1941, story material was developed based on additional pieces, including Ride of the Valkyries by Richard WagnerThe Swan of Tuonela by Jean SibeliusInvitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von WeberFlight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov,[13][71].”

However, that would never happen.  There were many reasons.  First, Disney wanted to release Fantasia as part of a roadshow exhibition.  However, his distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, refused to handle the film because of its length (124 minutes) and because money, materials, and time required to install the new Fantasound sound system in the theaters.  RKO allowed Disney to distribute the film himself.  However, due to the limited release (Fantasia played in only thirteen different roadshow engagements), the fact that the film couldn’t be released in Europe because of World War II, and high costs, the film failed to turn a profit.  The plans to update Fantasia were cancelled.  Disney did make two films consisting of musical segments, Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948), but they were not true updates to Fantasia, and were different in style.

Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, however, belatedly fulfilled his uncle’s dream by producing Fantasia 2000, which opened in IMAX theaters on January 1, 2000 (mirroring the special road hshow release of the original).  The film featured 7  new segments plus the return of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; instead of having one host, each segment had a different host or hosts.

The film begins with a compilation of scenes from the original Fantasia with Deems Taylor’s introduction heard in voice-over, and then the first number is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which acompanies a story of abstract butterflies fleeing their more sinister counterparts; this segment mirrors the abstract animation of the Tocatta and Fugue from the original.

The second segment uses the music of Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome to tell the story of a pod of humpback whales who can fly.  Steve Martin formally welcomes the audience to the film, and then the film changes its focus to violinist Itzhak Perlman who introduces the segment.

The third segements features the jazzy Rhapsody in Blue, the signature piece of George Gershwin, which tells the story of four New Yorkers (drawn in the style of caracaturist Al Hirschfeld) during the Great Depression who all have different dreams: Duke, a construction worker who longs to be a drummer for a jazz band; Jobless Joe, who wants a job; Rachel; a little girl who wants nothing more than to spend more time with her busy parents; and John, who wants to leave his overly demanding wife.  It is introduced by music producer and mogul Quincy Jones who is accompanied by the piece’s pianist.

Next, Bette Midler gives the viewer information on several pieces and concepts that were considered for a new Fantasia, but they never made it to the screen.  Eventually, the Disney animators chose to Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, but struggled to find the right music for it, finally settling on Dmitri Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto.  First composed in 1957, it is the newest piece in any of the Fantasia films.

Next, James Earl Jones introduces the Finale of The Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saens.  This piece answers the age-old question “What happens if you give a yo-yo to a flock of flamingos?”  It’s definitely the funniest piece in the film.

Next, Penn and Teller introduce The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the only returning piece from the original Fantasia.

Next, James Levine introduces a piece featuring Donald Duck, The first four Marches of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance set to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, featuring Donald as Noah’s assistance.

Finally Angela Lansbury introduces, Igor Stravinky’s Firebird Suite.  This segments features a wood sprite bringing a forest back to life after the winter, but then she awakens the Firebird, who lives in a volcano…

While, I don’t think that Fantasia 2000 matches the original, I still feel it’s a worthy feat, with the right amount of diversity, style, and tone.  I wish that Disney would make another one, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

 

 

TV Tropes: Non-Singing Voice

This is not a trope, but rather trivia that is on the website of TV Tropes.  The reason that it’s not a trope is because it is not a narrative device.  It’s absence or presence has nothing to do with the story at hand.

Non-Singing Voice refers to the phenomena where an actor is cast in a musical film.  However, the actor does not sing his or her character’s songs in the movie; somebody else does.  The reasons are that the actor cannot sing or that he or she simply does not have the right voice for the material at hand.

This was most common during the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Rather than cast actors who could sing, studios would cast whomever they felt was best for the role or whomever was a bankable actor.  If the actor could not sing the songs in the film, then the studio would hire someone who could.  This was done in secret because it was felt that it would ruin the film for viewers if they knew that actors were not really singing the musical numbers.  Usually an attempt was made to make sure the singer could sound the way the actors might if the actors could actually sing; so in a way these singers were also acting the roles at hand.  Such singers were known as playback singers and their actions for the films were known as dubbing; they would often sign contracts promising to keep their roles in the films secret.  Eventually, the fact that the singers would dub famous actors became common knowledge, but there does not seem to be any backlash against the films themselves.

Now here are some noteworthy cases of the Non-Singing Voice.

Marni Nixon was one of the most common playback singers; she might as well be called the “Queen of the Playback Singers/Dubbers”.  She dubbed for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

Natalie Wood appeared in several musical films and was dubbed in most of them.  The most noteworthy is her role as Maria in West Side Story.  She recorded her songs for the film, but her voice was considered sub-par because the songs were written for a higher vocal range than she was capable of.  She was given the impression at least some of her voice would be used in the final film, but after shooting completed, she was informed that all of her singing would be thrown out, and that Marni Nixon would re-record her musical numbers.  She felt betrayed.  On YouTube there are clips comparing Wood’s voice to Nixon’s voice; it’s clear that Nixon has the more refined voice, and Wood simply lacked the range to adequately sing the songs. In 1962, a year later, Wood appeared in the adaptation of the musical Gypsy as the title character, and did sing her parts; it helped that the score of Gypsy was not as demanding as West Side Story.  Wood would be dubbed two more times.  In 1965 she appeared in the film The Great Race; Jackie Ward recorded the song “The Sweetheart Tree” which Wood’s character sings.  Later that year Wood appeared in Inside Daisy Clover; she had three numbers, A slow and fast version of “You’re Gonna Hear from Me” and “The Circus Is a Wacky World.”  Once again, Wood recorded all of those songs, but only her recording of the first four lines of the slow version of “You’re Gonna Hear from Me” appeared in the final film.  The rest was dubbed by Jackie Ward.  Ward later remarked that after she recorded the songs in the studio with the orchestra, the orchestra erupted into a standing ovation; when she asked why, they said that they were happy that there was finally someone who could sing the songs; Wood’s performances of the songs were apparently sub-par.  Wood later stated that she was not against filming another musical, but only if she could guarantee that all of her songs would be recorded by her and appear in the final film.

In 1990’s several animated films featured voice actors who did not sing their musical numbers, and who instead had other people provide the singing voices of their characters.  This included the Disney films, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Mulan.  Other non-Disney animated films that did this included Anastasia, The Swan Princess, Quest for Camelot, and The Prince of Egypt.

Audrey Hepburn appeared in the 1964 adaptation of the hit Broadway musical  My Fair Lady as Eliza Doolittle.  Julie Andrews, who originated the role on stage, was considered, but was rejected as she had never shot a movie before.  The role called for a soprano vocal range, that Hepburn simply did not have.  She recorded all of her songs, but all of them were re-recorded, except for the majority of “Just You Wait” which was in a lower range than the rest, and one line of “I Could Have Danced All Night,” by Marni Nixon.  Audrey Hepburn stormed out the studio when she learned that her singing would be replaced, but she shortly afterwards apologized her behaving so childishly.  When it was somehow revealed that Hepburn was dubbed by Nixon, Nixon gained infamy, and it is rumored that this revelation is why Hepburn was not even nominated for her role in the film which won several Oscars, including Best Picture.  Ironically, Julie Andrews made her film debut in Mary Poppins that same year and won the Oscar for Best Actress.  There are clips available of YouTube comparing Hepburn’s voice to that of Nixon’s.  Once again, Nixon is clearly more skilled for the material at hand.

In film version of Carmen Jones, much  of the cast could sing, including Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, and Diahann Carroll, but they could not sing opera.  So, opera singers dubbed their voices. The exceptions included Pearl Bailey and Olga James; interestingly, Bailey’s voice did not sound operatic at all, and therefore, does not fit in the rest of the voices in the film (supposedly she refused to be dubbed) and James did have the ability to same opera.  Similarly in the film version of Porgy and Bess most of the cast (some of them had appeared in Carmen Jones) was dubbed, but some were not including Pearl Bailey.

Interestingly, it seems rare nowadays for modern musical films to use playback singers.  I think the reason might be because most actors nowadays have the clout to be able to sing their songs.  Also and perhaps, audiences would not accept the fact that their favorite actors in the film are not really singing.  Modern examples in musical live-action films inlucde George Clooney being dubbed in O Brother Where Art Thou by Dan Tyminski, Zac Efron being dubbed by Drew Seeley in the first High School Musical film (the others in the series had the songs written to fit within Efron’s vocal range) and Minnie Driver being dubbed by Margaret Preece in the film version of The Phantom of the Opera.