Goliath can withstand a beating

January 22, 2008

Ever since my high school years, when I drove from Los Angeles to Anaheim to catch a Matchbox Twenty show one night and to the Sunset Strip a week later to bop my head to an unknown band, I’ve been faced with a dilemma that I hope most culture lovers can relate to. When it comes to music, theater, literature or cinema, is smaller always better? When an artistic endeavor is surrounded by a larger machine that guarantees more exposure and box office gain, is it necessarily hollow in creativity?

Despite my love for independently financed projects that exist due to sheer willpower, I’ve always held an inherent discomfort with the term ‘sellout.’ The box office success of Garden State shouldn’t immediately warrant sessions of Zach Braff-bashing, and Billy Collins’ popularity and public fame shouldn’t make him unworthy of the poetry crowd’s attention.

And, as much as I understand the frustration of New York’s indie theater crowd, Disney’s blockbuster musicals aren’t necessarily void of real creative steam.

That Richard Zoglin’s article, The Little Mermaid: In Defense of Disney appeared in Time Magazine rather than New York Press is no surprise–after all, the piece was an example of one big dog defending the honor of another. It’s also hardly a shock that Leonard Jacobs of the Press posted a rebuttal to Zoglin’s article today.

Both critics make valid points: Zoglin wonders whether the journalists who dismissed Broadway’s Mermaid as “sparkly garishness” even saw the visually subtle show. On his end, Jacobs alleges that the problem with Disney Musicals isn’t their carefully orchestrated staging, but “spectacle at the total expense of a well-textured narrative.”

Zoglin “[wishes,] just once, that Disney might get a little credit for recruiting some of the most adventurous theater artists in the world to bring new ideas in staging and storytelling to a mass theater audience, kids and adults alike.”

“OK, nice, so Zoglin likes all the pretty pictures and he’s angrily that the critics call out crap as crap, if they think it’s crap,” Jacobs continues.

While I see Mr. Jacobs’ point–after all, the animated version of Beauty and the Beast felt more three-dimensional than the live-action show–I’m still not convinced that the entertainment giant’s spectacles are all that bad. There are worse things than envisioning beautifully staged and stunningly sung musical experiences for young crowds, and like all other theatrical productions, Disney musicals are a hit-or miss in their cultural value (even Jacobs takes his hat off to Julie Taymor’s The Lion King).

Perhaps Disney’s biggest crime is not the content of its musicals, but its tendency to hog the spotlight from the other side of the theatrical spectrum. Transformers might have been the target of my frustration this past summer when it occupied far too many of Manhattan’s screens, but there was nothing wrong with the film’s content. As an action flick, it succeeded on almost all counts, and comparing it to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly would be both childish and impossible.

(image from Playbill.com)


One Response to “Goliath can withstand a beating”

  1. […] Here’s another interesting post I read today by Peeking through the curtain […]

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