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'A Place Called Slaughter Race': Spectres of conflict in contemporary Disney animation



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Chew, Kevin 


This thesis traces the themes of war, racism, ecological anxiety and postindustrial subjugation as forms of conflict informing the Walt Disney Animation Studios features Big Hero 6 (Don Hall and Chris Williams, 2014), Zootopia (Byron Howard and Rich Moore, 2016), Moana (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2016) and Ralph Breaks the Internet (Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, 2018). By interrogating these films on the levels of narrative, aesthetics and production, I chart a series of tensions and contradictions between the fantastical diegeses of the films and their historical dimensions in order to produce an account of their critical potential. The history of violence haunting the United States through to the present day provides the extradiegetic touchstone for my analysis, which reflects on the entwinements between Disney animation and cultural history to reformulate the significance of my corpus as a form of critical memory. This reformulation goes against the grain of more traditional Disney scholarship that seeks to identify and interrogate an ideological and political programme pursued by the Walt Disney Company at large. Instead, my work complements historical materialist approaches that situate film and animation in a dialectical engagement with historical knowledge, suggesting that the repression of conflict frequently critiqued in Disney animation conversely serves as a mode of transmission in popular memory. I thus propose that a critical reading of these films involves unpacking the historical contents that persist in the family-friendly spectacle widely associated with Disney animation, while also accounting for the melancholic gap between the utopian imagination expressed in these films and the historical violence that they inevitably commemorate.





McMahon, Laura


Animation, Film, Disney, Critical theory


Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge Trust