Medievalists on Disney's middle ages


Just to point out that the Native Americans used to be an integral part of Frontierland. I actually remember this as a small child.

There is one thing I have always wondered about the primarily American animated or video game version of the middle ages. What’s up with all the blue roofs (usually combined with Smurf Tudor architecture)? That seems like the least likely roof color in real life, but it is oddly common in animation. Is there a specific reason for that?

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I wonder if it was taken out due to Native American activists upset about how they were being depicted? Not all depictions are equally good and some can create either a negative or an inaccurate understanding of how people actually lived, or the creation of the noble savage trope.

Not having seen the original exhibit myself, I can’t say, but maybe that’s the reason it was removed over time? Plus, what the book seems interested in is how the past is actually about a certain american mythos of social equality that never existed in the medieval period.

Yes, some historic castles in Germany and France have blue tiles. The style is very much what influenced Disney’s Castles.


That may well have been a factor. Also the decline in the interest in the “Wild West,” and the increasing “ridification” of Disney.

That one looks a lot less blue in many other pictures and in person though. Unfortunately I can’t find a good source saying what material that is. But yes, that may be it.

Old blue tiles were a very rich blue. Here’s an example from Beijing: The Temple of Heaven

Here’s a French Chateau in Cheverny with a blue slate roof - they appear more blue and darker after a rain:

The Chateau D’Usse also has a slate roof:


Um, Neuschwanstein (although beautiful) is basically whatever the opposite of a historical castle is :wink:


I don’t really get the article. Disney based their stories on fairy tales, not the Medieval Period per se.

Also, Disneyland was originally laid out – more or less – to take us from glimpses of the distant past (Adventureland), forward in time, and eventually on into the future of Tomorrowland. Fantasyland is an important part of the journey, as “the happiest kingdom of them all,” yet is still just a part.

The foundation of a day spent at Disneyland, thus, was “progress” – and wasn’t intended to be a meditation of how American the Medieval era was.

My biggest problem with work from Disney is the need to make everything end on a good note. Classic fairytales (which are meant to be cautionary tales, not wish fulfillment) were edited to provide “Happily Ever Afters” - even when they didn’t exist in the original stories. For example, The Little Mermaid originally lost her prince and ended up as sea foam the morning after his wedding to another woman. Examples of this type of editing exist throughout Disney’s retellings of classic tales. The stories are whitewashed, and the author’s intent taken away. Original screenplays fare better, mainly because they’re designed to fit Disney expectations.

Here’s a link to a list of all of Disney’s animated films.

I have a lot less trouble with Disneyland, because it’s obviously a melange of fantasies sourced from different eras, locations, and literature. Here are some other examples not yet listed.

Tom Sawyer island opened a year after the Park did, and was originally designed to be where Injun Joe’s hiding place was. You could fish for catfish if you brought your own fishing rod. This was when the park had one price for entry, and separate prices for ticketed attractions.

When Fantasmic! opened, the island was redone, and now is styled to be a “Pirate’s lair”.

Storybook Land has been around since the park first opened, and is regularly maintained. It’s an outdoor boat ride past miniatures of famous storybook houses.

The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House no longer exists at Disneyland, but is maintained at other resorts. At Disneyland, it’s become Tarzan’s Treehouse. Disney had added the Treehouse to the park in 1960 after the studio released a film based on the book.

Still around are The Enchanted Tiki Room and Captain EO!

Disneyland doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and it has pulled from all sorts of references. None are really true to life, but instead are “imagineered”.


I really don’t think that is valid… “To remain true” to a story that’s been around ages.

In the middle ages most stories are retailing of previous stories. Tweaked and honed to their audience. Changed and edited to a their new audience.

If you look into Medieval Literature, most of them are based on previous books and stories and changed up into their particular time and audience

Yes…they are retailing of classic stories. But that’s really more true to the history of literature for all stories.

Take a look at a Lord of Rings…it’s woven in with retailing of classics with other elements and plots threading in the story.
The idea something should be wholly original or true to some ‘classic’ is a modern (20thcent) invention. And begs the question “Which Classic” of the little mermaid etc…because there are several versions.
Personally, I think its’ good that Disney is retailing classic tails and even putting their spin on it. Look at the non disney Forbidden Planet film, which retailing of “The Tempest”.

It’s rather good that there’s SOMETHING that’s keeping the DNA of ancient stories alive. Even if it isn’t carbon copy of whatever ‘source’ you might think exists.

I wouldn’t expect a DVD of snow white with the evil queen dancing in iron shoes that were heated up to be a big draw for your 5 year old.

Re telling of stories has been and will be a valid thing.

Oh…if you want to see the MOST EVIL FILM THAT DISNEY MADE.

Get a copy of Old Yeller.

There’s no wish fulfillment there…

If you’ve never seen that movie…see it… It can bring grown men to tears.
And there’s is no Happy Ending.


Nice. I tried to be pretty clear, but I guess you (kinda deliberately?) missed my point.

I don’t disagree.

However, I’m not complaining about retelling stories. Stories are - of course - retold with details altered over time. I directly said that Disney had altered the intent of the stories, and that’s an entirely different thing to do. The original stories were designed as cautionary tales, and by removing consequence for a lot of their major “good” characters, they removed the weight of consequence. They removed the point of the story.

It would be like telling the story of Pandora, but there’s nothing bad in the box and hope gets let out. They weren’t “retelling” the original stories, they were telling new stories that looked similar using the existing characters, but that fit their goal of clean, happy entertainment.

The first full length Disney animated feature - Snow White - really isn’t one of the problem films.

It contains much of the Grimm story. Snow White does trust a stranger, and ends up eating the poison apple. Some other tricks the Queen played in the Grimm tale are removed, but they carry the exact same message - so there’s no real problem there. The witch still dies for her crimes against Snow White and her family, but it’s a more “judgement from above” type of death.

Also, you should probably know that the original full-length animated features weren’t simply aimed at 5 year olds. They were “whole family” films - and terrifically popular. Charlie Chaplin was among the stars who attended the premiere for Snow White - an Academy Award winning film which grossed $8 million during the Depression. Chaplin’s statement to the L.A. Times was that the film, “even surpassed our high expectations. In Dwarf Dopey, Disney has created one of the greatest comedians of all time.” Check out the one of the original trailers.

In response to your “Old Yeller” comment - this thread was about “Medievalists on Disney’s middle ages” - not Early America. About the movie’s ending: Old Yeller was released in 1957, when rabies was still a very real concern for kids with dogs in rural areas. The first vaccine wasn’t developed until 1967. So that was a book (released in 1956) that Disney couldn’t afford to change.

Yes, but a lot of modern “medieval” fiction is not so much set in what we consider the real Middle Ages but either in the romanticist interpretation of the period or deconstructions of that.

Because of that it makes a certain amount of sense that Disney and others took that as their source material and not a medieval castle.

That a story should be true to its previous tellings is hardly a new idea. It’s a core principle of every ancient oral tradition. Hell, in a lot of those, you had/have to earn the right to be allowed to tell a story by proving to some authority that you could tell it properly and that you could be trusted to do so when the previous storytellers were gone.

would anyone go to Disney if it were a realistic depiction of the Middle Ages?

Ok, some people would, but certainly not kids and certainly not as many as do now.

I am going to see if I can get funding to write a book on Disney’s depiction of ghosts … or maybe pirates…

I’m confused - is this supposed to be an “a-ha!” expose book? That the real Middle Ages were nothing like a cartoon fantasy? The comparison is like an undergrad pop culture thesis. Yes, yes and the Smurfs depict communism.

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yeah, but none of these are actually medieval…

Not sure if you meant to respond to me directly, and if so - not sure why.

I think you may not have viewed the spoiler text for “Old Yeller”. To do so, click on the blurry text a few times. Fair warning, it mentions the end of the film, and explains why that film (unlike almost every film in the Disney catalog) has a sad ending. I mentioned when Old Yeller is set because it’s from a children’s book published in 1956, and is specifically set in post-Civil War Texas. The movie was released in 1957.

Grimm’s fairytales were first published in 1812. They weren’t the Brothers’ own stories, but instead were classic folklore that they collected. Various fairy stories used by Disney were taken from originals written by other authors. For example: The Little Mermaid was written by Hans Christian Anderson in 1836 and Pinocchio was originally released (as separated chapters) in 1881.

Fairy tales generally take place in a land that exists out of time, but is often represented as medieval or Renaissance. If you read my comments in full, you’ll note that I made no complaint about era-appropriateness for the fairy stories. My complaint rested on changing the very nature of the stories from cautionary tale to wish fulfillment.