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The Mouse Machine

The Mouse Machine: Disney and Technology

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Mouse Machine
    Book Description:

    Throughout Disney's phenomenally successful run in the entertainment industry, the company has negotiated the use of cutting-edge film and media technologies that, J. P. Telotte argues, have proven fundamental to the company's identity. Disney's technological developments include the use of stereophonic surround sound for Fantasia, experimentation with wide-screen technology, inaugural adoption of three-strip Technicolor film, and early efforts at fostering depth in the animated image. Telotte also chronicles Disney's partnership with television, development of the theme park, and depiction of technology in science-fiction narratives. An in-depth discussion of Disney's shift into digital filmmaking with its Pixar partnership and an emphasis on digital special effects in live-action films, such as the Pirates of the Caribbean series, also highlight the studio's historical investment in technology. By exploring the technological context for Disney creations throughout its history, The Mouse Machine illuminates Disney's extraordinary growth into one of the largest and most influential media and entertainment companies in the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09263-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Performing Arts, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Main Street, Machines, and the Mouse
    (pp. 1-22)

    In the Disney theme parks, appearance is everything. The company’s insistence on accurate research and detailed reproduction is well known, and the Disney Main Street, while what Stephen Fjellman has described as “a romanticized, idealized, architecturally controlled” creation (170), supposedly modeled on the downtown of Marceline, Missouri, where Walt Disney spent his formative years, quickly affirms the corporate emphasis on detail. The parks are also notoriouslyclean. Attendants—or “cast members,” as employees are all termed—constantly walk the streets and pathways, picking up trash, wiping and polishing, watering the decorative flowers and shrubs, and generally making sure that there...

  5. 1 Sound Fantasy
    (pp. 23-41)

    In his commentary on early sound film, the noted critic Gilbert Seldes lavishes an ostensible praise on those pioneers like Walt and Roy Disney who embraced the potential of the new technology. It is, of course, something of a backhanded compliment, alluding, on the one hand, to some of the misbegotten efforts at sound narrative readily found among the live-action feature films during the rush to sound in the 1927–28 period, while also implying that the first sound cartoons, such as those produced by the Disney Company starting in 1928, were quite limited in scope, and that Disney especially...

  6. 2 Minor Hazards: Disney and the Color Adventure
    (pp. 42-55)

    In discussing the sort of “accidents” that typically accompany what he terms “technical evolution,” Paul Virilio traces them back to a kind of compromise or bargain we typically have to strike, much like those varied bargains we have been describing in the previous sections. To pursue the advantages offered by any new technological development, we also have to accept the fact that problems will accompany it; as Virilio puts it, we must expose ourselves to a potential “symmetry between substance and accident” (54). To an extent, he is reformulating an idea that has received increasing notice in our technological culture,...

  7. 3 Three-Dimensional Animation and the Illusion of Life
    (pp. 56-80)

    As veteran animator Friz Freleng recalls, the essential “trick” of early film animation was simple character movement and action, with little sense of the world in which those characters functioned. But like so many other “attractions” of early cinema, these simplistic images, emphasizing motion for the sake of motion, offering audiences the minimal excitement of seeing something seemingly come alive, soon wore thin.¹ As Leonard Maltin in his history of the animated cartoon describes this situation, “A treadmill effect started to set in until sound lifted animation out of the doldrums” (Mice1). Sound, however, was only one of a...

  8. 4 A Monstrous Vision: Disney, Science Fiction, and CinemaScope
    (pp. 81-95)

    The post–World War II era would see the emergence of a new cinematic discourseabouttechnology with the sudden popularity of the science fiction genre. While this formula had staked out a place in the cinematic imagination at a very early point in film history, as Georges Méliès’A Trip to the Moon(1902) attests, and while its subjects naturally resonated with the development of film technology itself, it had found only sporadic success and, in the late 1930s and 1940s had largely been relegated to the realm of the serials. When it did burst into popularity in the...

  9. 5 Disney in Television Land
    (pp. 96-116)

    The new technology of television had loomed on the horizon of the film industry for a considerable time. It was talked about, demonstrated, and even depicted in films throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

    It was the subject of numerous spectacular demonstrations during the 1930s, most of them illustrating its ability to transmit images over ever greater distances: broadcasting from one city to another, from one country to another, from one continent to another, and in one instance from England to an ocean liner in the mid-Atlantic (Mosely 17). That ability to obliterate distance and bring visual entertainment into the home...

  10. 6 The “Inhabitable Text” of the Parks
    (pp. 117-140)

    We have seen how Disneyland, the Disney Company’s original theme park, was quite literally produced by negotiations over another new technology, that of television. In light of Walt’s long-standing interest in developing another sort of family-oriented type of entertainment, a park where parents and children might go to “play” together, and Roy’s insistence on a sound plan for financing any such project, the studio agreed to produceDisneylandfor ABC largely in exchange for the network’s backing of the proposed park. And on the first episode of the series Walt himself emphasized the connection, suggesting a new concept, that audiences...

  11. 7 Course Correction: Of Black Holes and Computer Games
    (pp. 141-158)

    In the opening scene ofThe Black Hole(1979), Disney’s first serious science fiction film in twenty-five years, one of the characters notes a strange force acting on the exploratory spaceshipPalomino, a force requiring the crew to adjust their course unexpectedly. It is an effectively suspenseful way of introducing the central focus of the film, their encounter with a massive black hole that is pulling everything towards it and requiring, even before they have detected it, an unscheduled course correction. It is also a comment that speaks unwittingly to the creation of this film, as well as to another...

  12. 8 “Better Than Real”: Digital Disney, Pixar, and Beyond
    (pp. 159-178)

    In describing his approach to the “look” ofToy Story(1995), art director Ralph Eggleston points to an interesting bargain that was at work as Disney and its new partner, Pixar, set about creating the first all-digital feature film. Traditional Disney animation had long been lauded for its efforts at realism, for what had come to be known as the “illusion-of-life” approach, so the partnership with Pixar may have seemed a curious move. After all, as we noted in our discussion ofTron, early film efforts with CGI had some difficulty with that reality illusion since they depended on what...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 179-190)

    As early as 1938, in an address to the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, Walt Disney initiated the discourse that informs this study. In his talk “Growing Pains,” he emphasized that, in his mind, numerous technical accomplishments were every bit as important, as much “milestones” in his studio’s development, as were the films by which both the industry and the public had primarily come to measure its achievements. That emphasis suggests that any effort to formulate a history of the studio or simply to better understand the larger achievement of the Walt Disney Company should take into account the sort...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 191-202)
    (pp. 203-210)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 211-222)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-225)