Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Golden Touch

We’ve discussed before how the Silly Symphonies are a sort of proving ground for Walt’s ideas, and how the animators could experiment with their craft. It’s also the place where the animators are getting their skills ready for the grandest experiment of all – a feature film in the form of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The Golden Touch, today’s subject, is one of those experiments. But unlike others we have seen before, the new thing is not some form of animation or camera trick. Instead, it’s the seriousness and raw emotion of the subject matter that is so striking about this short.

The story of King Midas and the golden touch is a familiar one. A king who loves gold is offered the chance to turn everything he touches into gold. When he accepts, though, he finds that it is a curse more than anything else, because he cannot eat, he cannot touch another person and he cannot live a normal life.



This short follows that script, but it is extremely emotional and serious. The opening of the short features a minute and a half close up of King Midas, singing about his love of gold. It’s a fantastic piece of animation, because the camera never moves, but as a viewer, I was fascinated the entire time.



A little elf, Goldy, appears to offer Midas the golden touch. But there is more malice than whimsy in Goldy’s emotions, which adds a touch of fear to the proceedings. Midas’ desperation to get the golden touch is also stunning, because it is not as cartoonish as you would expect. You feel the raw emotion of this desperate man, and it’s almost frightening.



The predictable happens next – when Midas goes out to celebrate he turns half the garden to gold, to his delight. But, when he sits down to indulge his insatiable appetite; he cannot, because the food turns to gold. It’s the next sequence that is so very real and beyond the level of what we’ve seen before from Disney.



Midas returns to the mirror, but this time sees a golden Grim Reaper menacing him, and flees. This is not a cartoon reaper, but one that is definitely going to take his target. Midas runs back into his gold room, and Goldy reappears. The delight that the little elf takes in the King’s predicament is understandable, but a little scary.



In the end, Midas trades his entire kingdom for a hamburger, a more contemporary take on things. It’s only at the end that there’s a little comic relief, as Midas’ clothes shrink up and he devours the burger.

Throughout this short, though, the prevailing sentiment is dread or revulsion. It’s set up like a classic horror tale, to be honest. The achievement of real emotion beyond laughter in a cartoon was an important step for Disney to take. The scary Evil Queen from Snow White would not have been possible without first taking the steps taken in The Golden Touch.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


4 comments:

  1. You know I happen to like this film, too. I like how they sorta tease the censors near the end.

    However, back when the film was released, the director, Walt himself, wasn't so happy about the results and decided to never direct a cartoon ever again.

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  2. Walt may not have been happy, but another oft-repeated legend about the cartoon—that it was unsuccessful–seems to be bunk. There were numerous book and comics adaptations of it dating from the 1930s to the 1950s; if it had flopped, publishers would have had no interest in it after its initial release!

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  3. I wonder if the 'unsuccessful' rumour stems from Disney's own dissatisfaction with it. It may have been popular enough with audiences, but maybe Walt and the staff at Disney considered it a failure because they didn't achieve what they wanted from it as a film. I've always quite liked the cartoon myself, although I always wonder what happens to cat. Midas turns him to gold, throws him in the air and he seemingly never returns to earth.

    I'm not sure exactly what it was that Walt hated about the cartoon. Maybe it could be that Midas remains such a selfish character. An important factor of the version of the Midas story that I grew up was that Midas accidentally turned his own daughter to gold and was filled with regret. In the cartoon, Midas only grows to hate his curse because he himself is going to die.

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  4. I wonder if the 'unsuccessful' rumour stems from Disney's own dissatisfaction with it. It may have been popular enough with audiences, but maybe Walt and the staff at Disney considered it a failure because they didn't achieve what they wanted from it as a film. I've always quite liked the cartoon myself, although I always wonder what happens to cat. Midas turns him to gold, throws him in the air and he seemingly never returns to earth.

    I never understood that part either, unless the cat got trapped up in the tree again or fell off camera, that's all I can think of. I also assume he got taken away with the rest of the king's possessions in the end as well. The way the cartoon ended, they Goldy could've given the king back his cat if they just had it popping back on screen while the king chows down on his only source of food for the moment (what he'll do about his current impoverish state is anyone's guess).

    I'm not sure exactly what it was that Walt hated about the cartoon. Maybe it could be that Midas remains such a selfish character. An important factor of the version of the Midas story that I grew up was that Midas accidentally turned his own daughter to gold and was filled with regret. In the cartoon, Midas only grows to hate his curse because he himself is going to die.

    The meaning certainly is changed in this version I noticed as well, and also remember the former with the daughter as well, which I think would've been more interesting to adapt into animation if they even had done so back then, but it's Walt's mess, and it's how it was. :-)

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