Tuesday, September 11

Walt Disney's Cinderella

retold by Cynthia Rylant
pictures by Mary Blair
Disney Press 2007

No, wrong. This is not acceptable.

Mary Blair worked for the Disney studios from the 1940 through the 1960's and she is responsible for the production art, the "look" if you will, of several key Disney projects including Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland, the "It's a Small World" attraction, Peter Pan and, Walt Disney's Cinderella. She was not a story artist per se though she did make contributions to the projects she worked on. Her primary function was to set the tone and mood for the animators to capture once the art had Uncle Walt's approval.

Outside of her work with the studio Blair made notable achievements in both children's books (I Can Fly) and advertising. I have a very strong visceral reaction to her work, something that comes from having been raised with it, long before I ever knew her name. Her work is an intrinsic part of the mid-century modern artists which include M. Sasek, Aurelius Battaglia, Art Seiden, The Provensens and so on.

I'm going to get all geeky here for a moment and I'll explain afterward. First up is what's called concept art that Mary Blair painted for Cinderella to give the animators a feel for what they were doing.

And how the animators worked toward that concept.

The work wasn't meant to be public, it wasn't as finished, though it isn't without merit. Sometimes these images were intended to depict specific scenes, sometimes they were flights of fancy that would later find their way incorporated into a film. On the one hand it is very beautiful work to look at, and shows just how stunning the film could have looked with a bolder approach. While there isn't anything necessarily wrong about her concept work it was never the way any of her finished work was presented publicly. And to my eye it doesn't track well for younger readers, a little too loose, a little abstract.

You know who is drooling over this? Animation aficionados (aka cartoon nerds) who as kids themselves probably would have been bored stiff by this.

So here we are, the good folks at Disney have exhumed the archives once again to make money off the work of artists who won't see a dime. Mix one part growing nostalgia market of adults who remember the Disney film as a kid, one part growing consciousness in the picture book world of the work of Mary Blair, add a dash of capitalizing on the princess market, pinch a recognized name in children's early readers and voila! instant money machine!

As much as I would have salivated over the chance to see (and own) more Mary Blair work the simple fact is that many of these illustrations just don't cut the mustard. The book attempts to tell the movie version of the story and feels entirely too long; it's as if they approached Rylant with the illustrations they wanted to use and said "Pace the story to match these pictures." I'm just not feeling text these days for some reason.

64 pages? It feels like 264. No, this book should be ignored on all fronts. Unfortunately according to Publisher's Weekly it looks like this is the first of three Mary Blair-related cash-ins: Jon Scieszka has already been tapped to surround concept art for Alice in Wonderland with an undecided author to attack Peter Pan down the road. If Disney Press had half a brain in these matters they'd have Scieszka doing Peter Pan.

For all these transgressions, and no doubt more to come, Disney Press should be spanked.

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