In 1930, therefore, a new code, which came to be known as the Hollywood Production Code or Hays Code, was written. Hays Office had to organize formal self-regulation of movie content through its notorious Production Code Administration (PCA). But, that, certainly was not a real censorship for movies industry. Censorship takes place when an outside force, usually a governmental agency, dictates what may be published or shown. The Hays Office policed the productions of its own member companies: any fines were paid to the Hays Office, owned by and operated for the members themselves. The PCA was created so that federal censorship, most strongly advocated by the Catholic Church, would not become the law of the land.
The industry accepted The Code nominally. Hays had established some kind of morality suggestions more than rules and the most producers followed them or pretended to do it. However, after a few years the guidelines started to relax and by the coming of sound in the late 1920s, the treatment of crime, violence, sexual infidelity, profanity, and even nudity became alarming to some people. The arrival of sounds made even more shocking this kind of contents and the strong morality Catholic group in society claimed for the necessity of a governmental censorship control.
THE NATIONAL LEGION OF DECENCY
In 1933 a new organization dedicated to identifying and combating objectionable content in motion pictures from the point of view of the American Catholic Church was founded, it was The National Legion of Decency, also known as The Catholic Legion of Decency. At the time, the population of Catholics, some twenty million, were theoretically forbidden from attending any screening of films under the notion of mortal sin. Then, films were submitted to the National Legion of Decency to be reviewed prior to their official duplication and distribution to the general public, after receiving a stamp of approval from the secular offices behind Hollywood’s Production Code.
Hays and Hollywood reacted and 1 July 1934, Hays’ Code was actually working. For that reason, movies made between 1930 and 34 are thus often referred to as precede or pre-code, even though the Production Code was theoretically in effect. Under the original 1930 Production Code, all films were designed to be suitable for viewers of all ages, even if adults were their primary target audiences. They were created for an adult audience and they were full of trickery and salaciousness, as well animation. Like the rest of the industry, cartoons were not particularly worried about The Code. They do include the broad ethnic and gender stereotyping that was common to the comedy of the era, and an inordinate amount of caricatured cameos of celebrities and newsmakers.
BETTY BOOP VS MINNIE MOUSE
Betty Boop made her first appearance on August 9, 1930, in the cartoon “Dizzy Dishes”; the sixth installment in Fleischer’s Talkartoon, a series of 42 animated cartoons produced by the Fleischer Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures between 1929 and 1932. At 1932, Talkartoon were replaced by the Betty Boop series, which continued for the next seven years. It is regarded as one of the first and most famous sex symbols on the animated screen. As it is well known, Betty, a sexualized woman character, has never been the favorite character between conservatives, however, her popularity was drawn largely from adult audiences having a healthy profitable life until 1934 when The Production Code was operating effectively. The Code of imposed guidelines on the Motion Picture Industry and placed specific restrictions on the content films could reference with sexual innuendos. This greatly affected the Betty Boop cartoons in deep.
At that time, Minnie Mouse was as well displayed showing their underwear or bloomers regularly, but in the style of childish or comical characters, not an entirely defined woman’s form. Disney’s style had no problems with the conservative Catholic thought. Although his ancestors arrived at EEUU in between the lately 18th and the early 19th centuries, his family preserved the original Irish Catholic mentality. Elias Disney educated his children inside of a strict conservative style of life. Walt Disney did not need to do any work to make cartoons according to with the imperative moral at the moment because he was a good example of it. And audiences appreciated it. So, meanwhile others producers were in trouble with the application of The Code, that became an excellent opportunity for the company of the Mouse.
DISNEY AND THE DEPRESSION
It was not until 1934 when the things actually started to be serious about the code. Scenes, scripts, shoots even whole films were banned. Nude, violence, racial points of view or religious critics were cut. And, of course, that was for animation as well. But, unlike films, animation fed on irony, social and political criticism, sarcasm, surrealism and, of course, sex. People did not make drama or philosophy using animation and the code represented a hard blow for a business which was difficult enough. It was starting to be pretty difficult to make money with animation. The production required a higher technical quality every day and that meant money; however, the cost of the production increased day by day, the income produced by short cartoons did not. The effects of the depression were present all around; the problems with the censors made more complicated to find the fun for the cartoonist and the development of the new technologies were another handicap to add to the enough difficult economic situations during the depression.
However, even Disney was affected by the censorship. There were two main reasons for that. By one hand, the competitors who were not very happy with the successful of the mouse; by the other, Disney behaviour became an example of how the things should be work in cartoons.
On February 16, 1931, The Times explained
“Motion Picture Producers & Distributors of America last week announced that, because of complaints of many censor boards, the famed udder of the cow in the Mickey Mouse cartoons was now banned. Cows in Mickey Mouse or other cartoon pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed other of Mickey Mouse’s patrons. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting when the cow stood still; it also stretched, when seized, in an exaggerated way.”
But that what for the most of the people are all problems is the same that for someone become an opportunity. Disney had the right point of view, the one which audience were opened for accepting and dreaming with. Free of what the conservatives could feel like a treat and full of the happiness and hope that the desperation of the time during the Big Depression needed it after, Disney had an opened path to becoming a kind of the land. He developed a character that represented the purest and classic American Spirit: Mickey Mouse became quickly a phenomenon. Disney, always learning from the successful before him, and deeply wishing to be as famous as they, wanted that his Mouse was more loved than the previous “Felix The Cat”. Mickey was ready to have his own line of products, but Disney was going to do it better, he was going to invent merchandising.
THE MOUSE’S MERCHANDISING
During the early years of the depression nothing was easy for nobody, but while the whole country was in bankruptcy Mickey Mouse/Disney became rich, richer and richer, and more and more selected as the model of the perfect American.
“The fresh cheering is for Mickey the Big Business Man, the world’s super salesman. He finds work for jobless folk. He lifts corporations out of bankruptcy. Wherever he scampers, here or overseas, the sun of prosperity breaks through the clouds.” H. L. Robbins. The New York Times March 1935.
The feeling and the rules of censorship will be changed, but for that moment, Disney was already the absolute kind of the land. Disney was laying the foundation of cartoons production with a very concrete and defined way to do it. The eternal happy Disney ending, and cute characters with sweet colours suitable for the whole family, according to with a conservative point of view, had shown how substantial business it could be. Because finally, that is what all is about!
And cartoons started to become sweeter, happy and sex free like if that was a natural way to do it, and the only right way for fantasy films and adults were losing their interest. And one day, suddenly, it seemed like nobody thought about animation for adults anymore…. until now when business is growing up again thanks to the whole family concept again.
But that is another story….
THE HAPPY 20’s
From the late 19th century everything had changed in the new world. The working class had been growing fed by thousands and thousands of new immigrants, who, unlike the first ones who came from Britain, Canada, Germany, Ireland and Scandinavia, these arrived from Hungary, Italy, Poland and Russian. The new immigrants were often Catholics and Jewish and, often as well, their cultural and religious heritage collided with the one of the first colonists.
Cinema and cartoons were the main forms of entertainment in cities, a cheap ticket to dream for a while trying barely to escape from a harsh life. Cinema was not only inexpensive so that everybody could go, but it also was silent, so you did not need to speak English to understand the film, and in this way, immigrants became a very significant volume of the audience.
It was September of a happy 1921 when newspaper showed a new face of the glamorous joyful dreamed Hollywood.
Rosco Abaco “Fatty”, one the best paid and most famous Hollywood stars was charged with raped and murder. It was a social shock, especially because Rosco was a naive and innocent comic character. Rosco was charged for killing Virginia Rappe, another star, with his weight while savagely raping her. After three days of a wild party, Virginia was translated from a destroyed suite of the hotel to the hospital where she died some days later. Rosco was declared innocent of all the charges, but his career was finished, and the public opinion was convinced of his culpability.
But, Rosco was not alone. February 1, 1922, William Desmond Taylor, one of the most famous movie directors, was murdered in his bungalow in the West Lake District of Los Angeles. He had been shot in the back by a 38 caliber revolver. Taylor’s murder became one of the most sensational cases in the annals of Hollywood crime and one that has never been close to being solved.
Hollywood land of dreams had a dark side and this affected to the box office. The enormous weight of the new immigrants with their traditional Catholics and Jewish moral ideas let showed all his power in the answer of the audiences to the new Hollywood face, and they were not ready to accept this kind of behaviour. The producers had serious reasons to be worried. The forces of moral conservatism, fresh from their triumph of adding a prohibition against alcohol to the United States Constitution, prepared to challenge the film world. They started to claim to ask the government for some federal action; voices began calling for censorship of the movies, and the box office went down.
The movie industry needed to be put their house in order, and Will Hays was going to be the man for the task. On 14 March 1922, The Association of Motion Picture Producers, and The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc MPPDA, made Hays the first president of it, with an office on Fifth Avenue in New York. He accepted a salary of SI 15,000 per annum (about 8600,000 in 1986 dollars), a prepaid life insurance policy, plus an almost unlimited expense account.
Hays’s first move was to strengthen the finances of the new trade association. He approached New York bankers whom he knew from his days as head of the Republican party and within a week had set up a line of credit which put the MPPDA on stable economic footing. Such quick action impressed his new bosses. With his political connections, he demonstrated that he was the right man for the job. Then, he created a formal public relations arm of the MPPDA to deal with the religious groups, educational organizations, and other parties so concerned with the presumed negative influence of the movies.
It was Hays who, in 1927, established the Copyright Protection Bureau to register titles of films and thus head off disputes over duplication. The next year saw the establishment of a formal committee on labour relations. This interest in
Labour resulted in the formation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 1928, today well known for its annual Oscar Awards, but the Hays Office had created the academy to provide a forum for labour disputes.
CARTOON FOR CHILDREN, OR MAYBE NOT.
We are in Big Cartoons Database too! Have a look!
The idea that cartoons were born for children is pretty common. However, as far away from the reality. Since Disney became the king of the land, turning animation part of the film industry, his philosophy had been dominating the market until the end of the century. But, animation, not even in Walt Disney intentions, was never only for kids. We must not forget that Disney is more interested in being wearing with the moral of the times than in understanding the child’s mind. For more painful it could be, Disney himself, barely before to die, said that it was never an artistic point, it was always a business, and while the box office worker that meant the people wanted it because that is what all is about and it was always!
Then, everything started with Disney?
Yes and not. Better start from the beginning.
In the early 20th century EEUU was inside of a thick and speed industrialization process. The modern America was born during the so-called “America’s formative period”, between the late 19th and the early 20th centuries when an agrarian society of small producers was transformed into an urban society dominated by industrial corporations. And, a little place called Hollywood was a good example of that. At the beginning of the 20th century, Hollywood was anything else than an orange plantation. One day, “D. W.” Griffith passed for there and thought that it was a perfect place for shooting, full of wonderful opened landscapes, peaceful people, and sun. It was 1910 when he shot “In Old California” the very first film ever filming in Hollywood. Three years later, C.C. B. Demille arrived to shoot “The Squaw Man”, the very first production filming.
The largest production company, at late 19th and early 20th centuries, was the French Pathe, until the I World War arrival. It was in 1914. Four years later, 1918 the world had changed and Hollywood was about to become a new power in a new era without any barrier in front of it. Like a volcanic explosion, the development of the new industry was a phenomenon that seemed to have own life, and this was unstoppable.
In 1909, the Selig Polyscope Company established the first permanent studio in the Los Angeles area. In 1910, the “Star System” knew his very first American name: Florence Lawrence, the “Biograph Girl.” Barely later, Mary Pickford became the first million dollar contract, the “America’s Sweetheart”. Long before 1920 Hollywood already was Hollywood and the actual nature of the blood in his veins was as well already crystal clear, money. Nobody could imagine how big it was going to be, how capable of influencing the public opinion and the individuals the existences of the Star System was going to be.
In that decade animation was still looking for his way. In 1911, Mc Cay had made “Little Nemo” that was a remarkable success, to the point that four years later Mc Cay decided to put colour in the film, and he did it by hand frame by frame. Gertie the Dinosaur saw the light the year of the First World War, 1914. This same year, John Bray opened his studios and made animation series, “Colonel Heeza Liar”, possibly, if not the very first recurring cartoon character ever created. In 1915, Max Fleischer, who was then Art Editor for Popular Science Magazine, invented the rotoscope. Bray, who was already making his animation series, was intrigued by Fleischer’s invention.
He decided put Max’s brother in a clown suit hired Max with the idea to make a series about a clown, “Koko,” going out of the inkwell; the thought of the famous “Out of the Inkwell” series was born. But with the arrival of the war, Bray decided to send Max and Jack Eventual, a brilliant mechanical draftsman, to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma where they made some first training films for the US Army. Koko, the clown, had to wait for better times. After the break, Max came back to New York and finally started to make “Koko, out of the inkwell” for Bray Studios. The success of “Little Nemo” probably was an inspiration for “Out of the Inkwell” series, which, in turn, was an inspiration for Disney’s “Alice Comedies” series.
It is remarkable the work by Mc Cay, who, always looking for innovations, made “The Sinking of the Lusitania” in 1918. It was a real action film, with the first integrated animation scenes, about re-creating the never photographed 1915 sinking of the British liner RMS Lusitania. At twelve minutes it has been called the longest work of animation at the time of its release. The film is the earliest surviving animated documentary and severe, dramatic work of animation. It is a work of propaganda, maybe the first one in animation. It affected in deeply the public opinion about the war and the role what EEUU must play in it.
“The Sinking of the Lusitania” in 1918
Until 1928, the animation was a vanishing novelty. During the 20’s less than 23% of theaters carried animated short, the demand wasn’t high for them. “Felix the Cat” and “Out of the Inkwell” were the only series of importance of that period, and even they were starting to lose steam by the closing of the decade. However, “Felix the Cat”, who came right from comic strips, had been able to develop merchandising about himself. Koko the Clown, the protagonist of the “Out of the Inkwell” series by Fleischer Studios, was, without any doubt, a successful series, but far away from the real life films capacity to produce money. Cartoons were slower and complicated to produce than real films and the results were good for entertainment and laugh but anything else. Cartoons were not for children, but they neither could produce the deep emotions than audiences experimented with real actions films.
“Felix the Cat,” created by Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer, saw the light in 1919 with “Feline Follies,” Paramount Pictures. It will be a hugely successful throughout the 1920s. The world must wait until 1922 for Disney opened Laugh O Grams first studios, and two years more, 1923 for he decided to move to the Hollywood land of gold. And nobody, not creators, no distributors, not the audience, had any thought about the necessity of any calcification for films or advises about the contents. There were no distinctions of any age. There were films and cartoons. And, sometimes, cartoons in films or real life stars in cartoons.
During the 10’s, Hollywood went from being a good place for oranges to become the world capital of cinema. It would be not a geographic location in a map anymore; it had converted in the Emerald City of Oz, the place where the Star lived and everything was possible, the capital of glamour, hedonism, and fun. And, of course, eccentricity, dreams, and money. At the end of the decade, Hollywood was a truly gold mine which a clear reason for existing, make money. You could make whatever you wanted, but, the principle was clear, whatever you want if it means money. That is what it’s all about…
The called Star System was surprised but itself, and his powerful capacity to make money and move masses. At the end of the decade, First National Pictures was one of the largest film companies. It opened a studio in Burbank in 1917 and signed a contract with Charlie Chaplin, it was a nine picture deal, becoming the first actor with a million-dollar deal. Next year, the company signed a new millionaire contract with Mary Pickford. But, no one was better to pay than Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who was lured in 1918 by the first multiplier, multi-million dollar a year deal to make six feature films within three years with Paramount. And, remember, one million dollars in 1920 had not the same value than now. Life smiled to Hollywood, and nothing and nobody seemed able to stop it.
Animation was on his way, but that was a bit slower than real action films. Everything looked to be smooth, perfect and millionaire for Hollywood business. But, there is always a “but”.
PART II THE HAPPY 20’S
ZOOTOPIA. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SECOND CHARACTER
Zootopia is a classic lesson in cinema. Full of reference to the history of Hollywood, its script technically perfect, it’s a good model for teaching new writers how the magic can only emerge when the whole set and the relationship between the parts is working in harmony. A story is not the result of the addition of his individual parts, but a lot more.
Nick Wilde, Disney, 2016.
In cinema, like in the rest of the creative world, there are trends; some kind of structures or characters which are fashionable. The audience decides. It is not a rule, it’s a trend. But, cinema loves what works, because that’s what it’s all about, the box office. And now, there is a particular second main character who seduces the public with his tricky charm, the Disney sweetened version of the trickster.
One of the directors, Rich Moore, (the other being Byron Howard,) explained that they eventually made the decision to switch the narrative focus from Nick Wilde to Judy Hopps.
About two-thirds of the way through production, we changed the story to Judy’s story, because Nick, being kind of a cynical character, he didn’t like the city of Zootopia. He was kind of oppressed by the city of Zootopia. And in our movies, we want the audience to like the world, not dislike the world. And it was very confusing with our main character as someone who didn’t like the city, how do we feel about this world? So we said, let’s just try, as an experiment, making Judy the main character — since she’s an optimist, she sees the best in everything — let’s try making it her story and see what happens.
Beyond this kind of spontaneous vision of the modern film process, I would like to have a close look with you at this eternal –never disappointing- second character cliché of the trickster, now, definitively remastered by Disney.
The protagonist is only one among a lot of other key points to be considered if you want to paint a good story. As much as it may seem, characters are not people; through them, we show different aspects of human nature. Every story is about a specific conflict and you are going to build a little group of different characters in order to show diverse features of the same problem. The protagonist needs a companion or companions, who allow him to express his points of view, and to face, in one way or another, his fears. A second character, based on some aspects of the archetype of the trickster, is something that the audience always love, especially when your main character is a smartie-pants cute bunny. That means contrast, and contrast gives colour and rhythm, guarantees the funny opposition and exciting relationship.
Have a look at Han Solo, Flynn Rider (Tangled), or Jack Sparrow just to name a few. Disney has a strong background in this kind of characters. Baloo, The tramp, Genie, Thomas O’Mally… the list could be long. It’s well known, Disney’s habit to feed his stories and characters with his own precedent works. It is not a particular Disney religion; Hollywood feeds on itself and the audience loves when it does. In fact, it is not necessary to have a Masters to notice how the adult public enjoys recognizing some of the most classic films ever inside of Zootopia. However, it is not needed either the audience knows every resource used to make a film in order that the trick works.
Personally, I had a deep feeling of deja vu seeing Zootopia. I could not avoid the memories of the old Robin Hood film. Not only because, in this animal world without humans, the animals play our roles like in all the Disney movies that filled my childhood, but for the old trickster fox recycled with pants and tie, but still the same. Sort of Jack Sparrow played with the classic Paul Newman elegance, a sweet trickster more in accordance with to Disney animation standards, who, agreeing with the moral of our times, finished as a policeman; so sad after the pre-requisite slice of psychoanalysis of his societal problems, based in his childhood traumas.
Nick Wilde and Robin Hood are like two peas in a pod. And, like Robin, he is not actually the bad guy, and he is not “Wild-e” because he is a fox, but because he is outside of the rules, of course. To be outside of the rules is the essential requirement for being a trickster. However, the Disney trickster is a likable happy fellow always ready to make you smile, and it is impossible not love him and his style. You have to. He is adorable, a little cheater, a bit of a liar, but adorable. He always is going to have a peculiar style, a swing, and a light playboy touch. He gives you the perfume of freedom, but, overall, he will show you eventually the value of integral things, friendship, love, loyalty…. This kind of clean stuff. Please, do not be confused here. This is not an everyday trickster this is a Disney trickster.
The tradition of this kind of trickster version in Disney commenced long ago…All started with a mouse. Sorry, (it is a reflex), all started with a mouse fox. Actually with a one called Reynard the Fox, or the red Fox. It was long, long time ago.
Just after the Snow White success, Uncle Walt started to furiously buy the rights of whatever sort of story he thought could be good for cinema. Not only because he wanted to keep the future possibility to go ahead with it, also because he wanted to be sure that no one else could make it. These politics are very common in Hollywood productions companies. One of the stories that earlier fell into in his hands was Reynard the Fox. By 1937, Disney was already interested in making the story of Reynard, a red fox and an outlaw in the worst kind of way. Walt had moral problems with a character who had no sense of decency or honour. Reynard would have to wait until someone was able to find a way to make him suitable for Disney standards. Walt was thinking about Reynard for decades, but, unfortunately, he died without having to see the transformation of Reynard into Robin Hood. Ken Anderson, a Disney legend, was who came up with the idea. After all, Robin is the perfect good boy outside of the law. Larry Clemmons wrote the story for 1973 animated Disney film. A new legend was born.
But, who is Reynard the Fox?
Reynard is one of those magnificent characters whose origins are lost in the mists of time of the ancient European fairy tales. One of the oldest references is the French tale, Le Roman de Renart by Pierre de Saint-Cloud around 1170. This tale already sets the typical setting. Reynard has been summoned to the court of King Noble, or Leo, the lion, to answer charges brought against him by Isengrim, the wolf. I am pretty sure that Disney knew him through the American version written by Harry J. Owen and illustrated by Keith, who in turn, probably knew the Ward Henry Morley version, who made a translation from William Caxton’s English in 1481 and published in 1889 as part of Early Prose Romances. Reynard is the main character of a literary cycle of allegorical French, Dutch, English, and German fables, an anthropomorphic red fox and, of course, a trickster figure. All these fables are filled with anthropomorphic animals of whatever kind and the whole Middle Ages are full of amazing manuscripts filled with wonderful illustrations of them.
It is fascinating to see these illuminated manuscripts with Reynard and his fellows more than one thousand years old already playing the same roles that we still use in comics or films today.
Handschrift, um 1290/1300
Source Book of Hours/ Livre d’heures/ Stundenbuch – Utrecht, Master of Catherine of Cleves, Lieven van Lathem (illuminators); Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum (MMW), Den Haag: Ms. 10 F 50, fol. 6r
In the medieval bestiary, you can read,
The History of Reynard the Fox edited by Henry Morley, LL.D. William Caxton’s English Translation of 1481 originally published as part of Early Prose Romances George Routledge and Sons London, 1889
Reynard the Fox was medieval Europe’s trickster figure, a nasty but charismatic character who was always in trouble but always able to talk his way out of any retribution. (…)In editing this edition in 1889, Morley modernized the spelling of words still in common use in his day but did not attempt to modernize the style of the text. The result is a readable text that has all the flavor of the original.
In 1945 an American version appeared, written by Harry J. Owen and illustrated by Keith Ward and it is not difficult to appreciate the influence of Ward drawings in the work or Anderson for Disney Robin Hood.
Keith Ward, 1945
Robin Hood Disney, 1973
Nick Wilde is that sort of secondary character who the audience love as much as the protagonist, sometimes even more. It’s the case of Jack Sparrow, for instance, who, I promise you, is not the protagonist of the story. However, according to the audience, he is, definitely, the Main character!
Zootopia is a detective’s story. Hollywood knows everything about that genre. The very first film detective appeared in 1909 during the silent era. It was French and it was a series as well. It was called Nick Cramer. Coincidence or homage? Who knows… does it matter?
But, one thing is crystal clear, to create is to re-invent. New writers are usually afraid of taking into consideration an old classic masterpiece and that is a rookie critical mistake. Mickey Mouse is anything but an Oswald evolution and if you want to know something about adventures all you have to do is to read Homer or Virgil. The interest of the story does not lie in the fact that nobody heard it before; but in your particular, personal, and unique view point of it. That is what creation is all about.
Paris, March 2016