True-Life Adventures Films Essay Example



During the late 1940s, the Disney production studio was suffering; not only were they struggling to make a hit animated film, but the effects of World War II were also taking a major toll on productions. On May 29, 1941 the Disney animators’ strike began due to unfair wages, undefined job titles, and no overtime pay (American Express). Not long after in the early stages of the war the United States Air Force seized more than half of the Disney production studio and utilized it as a no-aircraft military base, which led to Walt producing instructional videos and propaganda to educate society. 

Walt felt as if it was his patriotic duty to continue to make these instructional videos such as, Four Methods of Flush Riveting, New Spirit, and Stop That Tank; even when his own animated features were struggling to stay afloat in the box office. Disney’s focus film at the time was Bambi: a costly production that was also very time consuming and a difficult project to keep alive during the strike (American Experience). Animators dedicated a good amount of time studying footage of live, wild animals to truly capture inspiration and master their mannerisms, Disney’s signature style was realism and Bambi is the epitome of this. Despite the efforts, the studio took a great loss from the initial feature of Bambi, causing Walt to revert to creating live-action movies: as they were cheap and easy to film. 

Initially, they started out with classic live-action films including Song of the South and Treasure Island, but soon after transitioned into documentary style movies of wild animals. With the help of Disney’s husband and wife duo, Alfred and Elma Milotte, they gathered more than enough footage to create a plot and storyline of their very first True-Life film, Seal Island. 

The success that Seal Island accumulated began the formation of the True-Life documentaries which contain fourteen other features, the last being Jungle Cat which premiered in 1960. During this time there was a lot of speculation that Walt considered himself to be an educator but he thought very differently. Walt had said, “Our intent is not formal education in the natural sciences. Our main purpose always is to bring interesting and delightful entertainment into the theater.” Although Disney’s True-Life Adventure films are entertaining, they provide very little educational value. 

Within Professor Aufderheide’s novel, Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction, she focuses on crucial issues regarding documentary filmmaking including its definition and purpose. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of documentary is: a presentation (such as a film or novel) expressing or dealing with factual events. Aufderheide discusses that a documentary film tells a story about real life, with claims to truthfulness (Aufderheide 2). She explores the idea that documentaries can be defined and redefined over the course of time, but they will always hold an educational, truthful value that viewers will most certainly always expect. 

Professor Aufderheide continues to express that “Documentaries are part of the media that help us understand not only our world but our role in it, that shape us as public actors.” When society is given an educational tool, such as a documentary, it is expected that factual, raw knowledge will be obtained; this is a power that the filmmaker possesses and must understand the responsibility he or she has when educating the public with said knowledge. 

On page three of Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction, Aufderheide develops on this idea by explaining that the filmmaker may employ poetic license from time to time and refer to reality symbolically, but there will always be the expectation that a documentary will be a fair and honest representation of somebody’s or something’s experience of reality. This begs the question on whether or not Disney’s True-Life Adventure Films are educational or not.

Disney’s True-Life documentaries may show an audience the unknown life within the wilderness but the extremities of their storytelling falsify the natural world in which they depict. However, there are some scenes that do nature justice with the power of film making such as; The scene within The Living Desert where the rattlesnake is chasing the desert mouse to her burrow. In this scene we see that the director cross-cut the footage of the desert mouse scurrying to grab her babies and of the rattlesnake making its way into her dwelling. Using cross-cutting and intense music created a very thrilling scene, but it also depicted what would happen in a real life circumstance. In Margaret King’s, The Audience in the Wilderness, she states, 

“We often encounter stylized versions of real things and events. But because the nature films feature natural realism, filmed in what appears to be real time by observers without a discernible script there is a strong audience presumption that the footage closely records the real thing out there in mountain, meadow, prairie, and pond.” (66) 

The line is very fine when it comes to misinterpretation within documentaries. Of course the director has the ability to show what they would like but the more raw the footage is, the more accurate the information will be. In the same documentary, a scene of scorpions battling is portrayed as a hoedown including square dance music, unusual cuts and replays of the animals dancing along (Living Desert). 

This creates unnecessary misinformation of what an actual fight between scorpions would be like. Overall it pokes fun at nature and doesn't give it the justice that it deserves. From Disney’s perspective I can understand that his main purpose is to engage attention in his films -- especially from a younger audience -- but many critics saw the approach of using anthropomorphism to be sensationalizing and patronizing (King 62). 

In nearly all of the True-Life Adventure documentaries, there is a continuous use of anthropomorphism within Winston Hibler’s narration. This has been a constant theme within Disney Productions with the creation of Mickey Mouse. This sparked the way to Disney’s exploration of the animal world and their natural habitats (Izard 36). Anthropomorphism within wildlife documentaries can create a relationship between the animals on screen and the audience watching them, which brings on a sense of empathy from the viewer. 

We can see this in the 1955 release of The African Lion when Winston Hibler is narrating the actions of the lily trotter. Winston Hibler creates a relation between the hippo and the lily trotter by stating that it’s a bird beautician tidying up the hippos eyebrows and ears. Another example would be an early scene within Seal Island, when Hibler begins forming a seal family saying, “That’s the baby seal, the mother, and father” between cuts of footage. Despite this connection Disney is trying to construct it has flaws that tend to create villains and good guys.

Within Professor Izards journal, Walt Disney: Master of  Laughter and Learning, he says, “The aim of the pictures in this series was to show the animals in their habitat doing what came natural to them.” He goes on to say that this wasn’t enough for Disney and that “The cameraman’s footage contained natural drama, but the dramatist’s hand was added to make it coherent.” (37) This causes issues because it forms favoritism towards certain animals rather than others that aren’t as cute or narrated in the best light. In The African Lion, Winston Hibler describes the wildebeest as slow-witted and stupid which gives the leopard an advantage since it’s more intelligent. This makes the audience prefer the leopard over the wildebeest and almost making it’s life seem less important if it were to die. The problem with anthropomorphism and the narration within these films is that there is not an equal respect for all animals depicted. 

The largest issue at hand with this series of documentaries are the facts they provide their viewers with. As Professor Aufderheide has discussed, documentaries are to provide unknowing viewers with factual information that are displayed in any fashion the director pleases. Now that's not to say that none of the information provided within the True-Life Adventure films are factual; there is a lot of information to obtain from such films. 

In Disney’s Mysteries of the Deep, Winston Hibler explains to the viewers that there are many creatures in the sea that have different survival techniques such as the unsuspecting plant-like anemone that waits for its prey to come to it, providing an easy meal for the creature. Within Walt Disney’s Mickey as Professor, he claims, “Educational pictures merely offer a new tool for the educator’s kit. There can be no presumption that a film can replace the textbook, the laboratory, or even the lecture” (122). 

But the flaw in this is that in his very own documentaries he portrays an action of an animal falsely; thus proving his point that nothing can replace textbook knowledge from a professional in any field. The major reason why the True Life Adventure films can be considered unmeritable would be the false accusation of lemmings committing mass suicide spontaneously in Disney’s White Wilderness. In this scene, we see several dozen lemmings running off a cliff and plunging into the freezing ocean below. Winston Hibler narrates, “It is said of this tiny animal that it commits mass suicide by rushing into the sea in droves. 

The story is one of the persistent tales of the Arctic, and as often happens in Man’s nature lore, it is a story both true and false, as we shall see in a moment.” he then goes on to say, 

“It’s a kind of compulsion that seizes each tiny rodent and, carried along by an unreasoning hysteria, each falls into step for a march that will take them to a strange destiny. That destiny is to jump into the ocean. They’ve become victims of an obsession — a one-track thought: ‘Move on! Move on!’ This is the last chance to turn back, yet over they go, casting themselves out bodily into space … and so is acted out the legend of mass suicide.” 

It is unclear where the Disney Production studio has gotten this idea but within the journal article, Lemmings, the National Association of Biology Teachers explains to us that in just one year a lemming can increase its numbers by 50-fold and during peak season they are observed to do obscure things such as swim in migrating hoards far into lakes or sea ice (1). Lemmings do not commit mass suicide; their behavior is very natural for their species and not at all one-track minded as Winston Hibler described them. Since these are not professionals in biology of animals it’s easy for them to not necessarily understand the complexity of animal behavior such as lemmings, proving that the True-Life films are more entertainment than educational. 

Although the True-Life Adventure films provide insight to a world unknown to today's society, they are unmeritable due to their false accusations and misinterpretation of animals in their habitats. But they still hold a sense of iconicism that deserves praise for attempting to create a connection between nature and civilization that provides awareness of animals' beauty and the absolute need to conserve them as best we can. 

In Professor Aufderheide Documentary Film: A Short Introduction, the True-Life Adventure films would not be considered to be a documentary based on definition and fact. They do not provide factual evidence in every film but do hold some value for what Walt had intended. For the time that they were created people found them very intriguing, as i'm sure viewers still do, and they did very well in the box office; many of the films got academy awards and raised an immense amount of awareness. Recently Disney has created a sort of reboot of the True-Life Adventure films called Disneynature. Disneynature films most definitely do wildlife the justice that they deserve and a portion of the movie's earnings goes back to the attempts of restoring and conserving our world. This new Disney series almost makes up for the original and a lot of the films are high definition and very aesthetically pleasing to watch.