The Lion King, The Enneagram, And The Shape Of Our Imaginations

I had a friend tell me the other day that I’m loathe to see my gifts, and naturally I replied that was demonstrably untrue because I readily acknowledge my gift of self-deprecation.

But I’m not actually as callous as that, and I’ve been stewing on his loving correction for a week. Because something definitely has been off in my innards and it’s been spilling over onto the people I love.

So I pulled out a reflection tool today and started running through the questions. Right away I noticed two things: I’m living in fear of what others think of me, and I’m regretting the mistakes (real and imagined) that got me to this point.

I’m Simba!

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Ah, the power of imagination. Once I saw myself in the Simba narrative my thoughts crystalized: both in illuminating my false beliefs and behavior, and more importantly the possibilities ahead.

Like Simba I was choosing false peace over true peace. And like Simba I was loathe to see how my own contributions matter. Simba denies his place, denies his responsibility, denies that he offers any hope to Pride Rock. “Hakuna Matata,” one of the most seductive songs in all of the Disney Canon for falsely shaping our imaginations, became Simba’s theme.

Simba was paranoid and mistrustful of what people would think if they found out the truth - or his perceived truth - of the stampede and the fact that he’d been living in self-imposed exile. “No one has to know” he tells Nala when she asks what everyone will think when they find out Simba is alive.

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Because of his mistrust he started looking to authorities, but he found that unsatisfying as well. “You said you’d always be there for me!” he screams in frustration to the stars that represent Mufassa and all the great kings of the past.

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This all leads to a state of stagnation. Unable to trust himself or authorities to make decisions he gets stuck in a cycle of neglecting facing his problems, covering those problems in the sticky gooey sentimentality of Hakuna Matata, and living in reaction instead of possibility. “You think you can just show up and tell me to live my life?”

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By the time Simba does make a decision his home is in ruins. “You want to fight your Uncle for this?” Timone asks incredulously. But by that point Simba has moved back into a healthier place. He’s seeing things not as they are but as they will be. God will be gracious to the land once again.

Psalm 85:1 - 4

You have been gracious to your land, O LORD: you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.

You have forgiven the iniquity of your people : and blotted out all their sins.

You have withdrawn all your fury : and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.

Restore us then, O God our Savior : let your anger depart from us.

Close readers whose minds are shaped like mine by the imagination of the Enneagram will see here that Simba’s narrative arc follows very closely that of a nine on an Enneagram. The peacemaker who when unhealthy trades true peace for a facsimile of peace, believes they don’t matter, and moves toward the traits of a six. (Yeah, I just typed a fictional lion, did you expect something else?)

The healing words I needed today, and that maybe you need too are these: If God can withdraw his fury and His indignation toward me, shouldn’t I do the same. If God sees a restored land in the future, not defined by the mistakes of the past, shouldn’t we live in that same hope and possibility.

Shouldn’t we be Simba?

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Walt Disney's Alice Comedies And The First Faltering Steps To Blending Live Action And Animation

This is from the failed Laugh-O-Gram studios in Kansas City, a catalyst of sorts for what later became Walt Disney Studios. After making this movie the studio went bankrupt before ever getting it distributed, prompting Walt to leave Missouri and head to California. To borrow a cliché, the rest is history.

Perhaps Walt losing interest in the animation side of his studio shouldn’t be all that surprising; he was always practicing the art of pushing technology into the adjacent possible. He’s certainly doing that here. And, there is a joy in seeing him doing that. Even watching this nearly 100 years on (!) there’s a palpable sense of wonder and energy in those “rubber hose” animations. The Look-What-We-Can-Do playfulness still stirs the imagination, in many ways more effectively than what we see in The Three Caballeros.

The Disney Animation Strike of 1941

A very brief summary of the strike, told by Tom Sito, President-Emeritus of The Animation Guild. In other words, not Walt’s side of the story.

Walt felt personally betrayed when Art Babbitt, his highest-paid animator, resigned as president of the Disney company union to join the Guild. Three days after Disney brazenly fired Babbitt, the Disney strike began on May 29, 1941.

The strike lasted for five weeks, forever tearing the social fabric of the studio.
— Tom Sito

Around The Network: Sectarian Review, Episode #50: The Wolf Man
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As part of the annual Christian Humanist Network Massive Crossover 2017 discussing the Universal Monster Movies, Michial went over and guested on The Sectarian Review.

Take a deep dive into the film’s story, background, and subtexts. Freud, Feminism, Class Struggle and more. Also, the team tackle questions about the film from listeners via Twitter. Plus, Danny makes an impassioned defense of the 2010 remake of the film.

Show Notes

Bambi: A Life In The Woods by Felix Salten
Young Diane herself complained to her father that Bambi’s mother needn’t have died, and when Walt answered that he was only following the book, Diane protested that he had taken other liberties and that in any case he was Walt Disney and he could do anything he wanted.
— Neal Gabler in Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination
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Documenting the Recycling of Scenes in Disney Animated Films

What I love in here is the argument presented that the films were never really meant to be watched the way that we watch them now, where we can take the time to slow down and really analyze them, and create books, podcasts, youtube documentaries, essays, and more around them. I like that ecosystem of art: where once it’s in the world, it can support whole other endeavors that weren’t in the mind or even the imagination of the creator; all these Odes to Grecian Urns that we undertake. Yet the films can withstand it.

I was surprised to learn that this copying of previous work was happening prior to the use of xerography, although the xerography certainly seems to have provided an uptick in how much the technique was used; however there were several other factors involved there as well.

This video does the side by side comparisons, but also gives another overview of the history of Disney Animation Studios.

The Eras Of The Disney Canon
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As we converse through the Disney Animated Canon in chronological order sometimes we refer to the Silver Age, or the Dark Age (in the image above more charitably called the Bronze Age). Other than the wartime/package films era being a pretty clear line between the Golden Age and the Silver age, the rest of the eras are more debatable. For example Michial said during our 101 Dalmatians episode that he thought we were entering the First Dark Age, although many people put the start of the Dark Age after Jungle Book and Walt Disney’s death. Although honestly, Walt had definitely lost interest in the animation for several years before his death, and it may be a better delineator to call this the xerography era. Those debates are all part of the fun of looking at these movies. Either way, this graphic from Network 1901 is a pretty good one, and the video I grabbed it out of ain’t bad either if you’re looking for a nice overview of the entire canon. I disagree with a few of the narratives presented in the video, but it’s an overview so there’s not a ton of room for nuance.

And, if you’re just looking for a list of the films in the canon - Wikipedia is your friend : )




The Adjacent Possible and Xerography

On the show Michial and I spent a fair amount of time discussing the new technology, xerography, that both allowed animation to be cost effective at Disney, and ushered in a new aesthetic that perfectly matched the Dalmatians.

Steven Johnson is the popularizer of an idea called the adjacent possible. As he puts it:

The phrase captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation.
— Steven Johnson

It’s a particularly apt idea to describe what happened with 101 Dalmatians because of the convergence of so many limits and potentials. The combinations of technologies that makes xerography as an animation tool an adjacent possible. (I’d love to know more of that story - Ub Iwerks, the guy who first animated Mickey Mouse, is a key player.) The xerography itself that makes animating 99 puppies an adjacent possible. Choosing to adapt that story makes the other modern art style decisions adjacently possible. And of course all these ideas are smashing into one another at the same time, which is another big idea in Johnson’s book: Where Good Ideas Come From. Very nicely illustrated in the trailer for the book below.

Matt Draper has a nice video that further explores some of those smashing together limits and potentials. If you listened to our episode you already know them: Walt Disney’s losing interest in animation, the financial struggles after Sleeping Beauty, etc. If you’re only interested in the actual technology of Xerography, skip to about 3:40 for a nice visual explainer.

Back to Johnson:

The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.
— Steven Johnson

There’s no doubt that Disney already had a palace by the time 101 Dalmatians was released in 1961. However a whole new wing was opened through the use of the Xerography, not only to allow animation to continue at the studio, and to expand the types of stories that were told.

If you read all of Johnson’s Wall Street Journal article adapted from his book he gives one more example of the adjacent possible from the Apollo 13 movie. And as this has to be one of my favorite scenes in cinema, I couldn’t resist sticking it in here as well.

The space gear on the table defines the adjacent possible for the problem of building a working carbon scrubber on a lunar module...They are the building blocks that create—and limit—the space of possibility for a specific problem.
— Steven Johnson



Pink Is A Boys Color
For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
— Jeanne Maglaty

It seems gender neutral was becoming the fashion at the time of 101 Dalmatians in ‘61, and remained so until 1985!

When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?

Podcast Recommendation: Sticky Notes

For more on appreciating classical music, Michial and I recommend this podcast, Sticky Notes. Here’s an episode on Joseph Haydn and particularly the comedy of his pieces (although oddly he left out the bassoon fart)

He also has some more episodes that would be of particular interest to Fantasia lovers:

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A Christian Humanist Review of Treasure Island
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During the 101 Dalmatians I was bumbling around trying to remember the live action movie that was reviewed on the flagship website. I swung twice and missed before giving up. And to add insult to injury Treasure Island wasn't even released in the 60’s which was the decade we were speaking of.

Over on the flagship's website, Coyle Neal (of The City of Man fame) gives us an overly kind shoutout in his review of Treasure Island (The rare Disney movie that was live first and animated later, but we'll get to that when we get to Treasure planet)

I thought I'd return the favor and direct readers here over to his review. Here's a quick taste, but do go read the whole thing.

The plot is surprisingly involved for a movie only about ninety minutes long, and numerous themes run through the film. One of the most interesting of these is the idea that a part of coming of age is growing to understand the complexities of character. An aspect of transitioning from childhood into adulthood is realizing that human character is often a mix of good and evil. We are all of us both made in the Image of God andtainted in every part of ourselves by original sin.