(Selected essays: Disney Documentaries and Docudramas (7/15/09)

full name / name of organization: 
A Bowdoin Van Riper
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CFP: Disney's Documentaries

Contributors are being sought for articles to complete an edited volume (working title "Beyond the Mouse: Disney's Documentaries and Docudramas") that is designed to explore the full range of Disney films designed to educate viewers about specific people, places, things, events and concepts from the real world.

Walt Disney Studios made its name creating elaborate fantasy worlds. Walt Disney, however, saw film (and later television) as a powerful educational tool, and saw himself as being in the education business as well as the entertainment business. Disney productions designed to educate, inform, and inspire audiences ranged from theatrical releases like the "True-Life Adventures" and television programs like "Man in Space" to lesser-known corporate, classroom, military, and propaganda films. They also included historical dramas featuring real historical figures and events, designed not only to bring history to life but also to deliver political, social, and moral lessons. All of these films were, to varying degrees, what Disney referred to as "edutainment." They conveyed serious lessons, but did so in outrageously entertaining fashion because they used the full range of Disney Studios' technological, visual, and dramatic tools to do so.

"Beyond the Mouse" is designed to survey the full range of Disney's educational films, broadly conceived, and to explore the wide variety of ways in which they resolved--or failed to resolve--the tensions created by using the stuff of fantasy to teach audiences about reality. Contributions should offer a comprehensive overview of a particular category of Disney documentary films, while addressing larger issues such as narrative strategies (use of dramatization, blending of reality and fantasy, the establishment of authority), social context (intended audiences, venues, repackaging for television and home video), and messages (explicit or implicit) that transcend narrow, factual concerns. They should be free from jargon, written in a straightforward style, and accessible to non-academic readers.

Proposals on the four topics below are being actively sought, but proposals of other unique contributions that add to the volume's depth and diversity will also be considered (Disney's films about nature, science & technology, and historical events are already well-covered):

The "People and Places" Series. This series of sixteen theatrical shorts and featurettes from the 1950s paralleled the True-Life Adventures series of nature documentaries, and was made by many of the same people. Some focused on the land and people of particular nations (Wales, Siam) while others focused on particular communities (The Alaskan Eskimo, The Ama Girls).

Corporate Documentaries and Training Films. Following their success as a producer of military training films in WWII, Disney Studios went on to make short corporate training and promotional films for companies such as U. S. Steel. Most were designed to promote the corporation and its products. Training and instructional films for the military could be included here as well.

Wartime Propaganda Shorts. "Victory Through Air Power," Disney's propaganda masterpiece from 1943, has a separate essay in the book, but the studio also produced a variety of short films designed to demonize the enemy and solidify support for the war. A number of the best known, including "Der Fuhrer's Face" and "Education for Death," have been released as part of the "Disney Treasures" limited-edition DVD series.

"Donald in Mathmagic Land." This 27-minute animated 1959 theatrical featurette used Donald Duck to introduce audiences to basic mathematical principles, elements of the history of mathematics, and lessons about the importance of math in daily life.

Length of the first three essays is flexible but are projected to be in the 5000-7500 word range. "Mathmagic Land" should be 2000-2500 words.

Potential contributors should send an expression of interest as soon as possible and a detailed abstract (c. 500 words) no later than 15 July 2009 to

A. Bowdoin Van Riper
Social and International Studies Department
Southern Polytechnic State University