Guest blog: A Disney Journey

Today Rowena Preston analyses some classic Disney cartoon characters from a personal perspective.

1937: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”

Grumpy: Now, I’m warnin’ ya. Don’t let nobody or nothin’ in the house.

Snow White: Why, Grumpy, you do care.

[Kisses the reluctant Grumpy on the head]

I love Grumpy best of all the dwarves! He is initially suspicious of the stranger in the house, but gradually warms up to her. She offends him by laughing at him occasionally, but she mainly shows him kindness. She even makes him a special pie with his name on. When Snow White is threatened, Grumpy leaps into action.

1940: “Pinocchio”

Jiminy Cricket: Now, you see, the world is full of temptations.

Pinocchio: Temptations?

Jiminy Cricket: Yep, temptations. They’re the wrong things that seem right at the time… but… uh… even though the right things may seem wrong sometimes, or sometimes the wrong things…


Jiminy Cricket: may be right at the wrong time, or visa versa.

Jiminy Cricket: [clears throat] Understand?

Pinocchio: [Shakes his head] Uh-uh. But I’m gonna do right.

Jiminy Cricket: Atta boy, Pinoke! And I’m gonna help ya.

The world could be a better place if we all listened to that small voice inside us. Jiminy finds that his best efforts aren’t always appreciated and sometimes thinks that Pinocchio is not worth the trouble, but his loyalty always wins out. He saves Pinocchio from being turned into a donkey. (Assume makes an ass of you and me.) “Pinocchio” is one of my favourite animated films, although it carries the dreadful message that justice is not always done. That is true of life though and everybody has to learn that lesson. Life is not always fair or kind, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t try to change that.

1941: Dumbo

[the elephants think that Dumbo with his big ears is the reason Mrs. Jumbo has been locked up]

Timothy Q. Mouse: What’s the matter with his ears? I don’t see nothin’ wrong with ’em. I think they’re cute.

“Dumbo” is a difficult film to watch, especially in modern times, but the character is adorable! While most of the cast jeer, Timothy and Mrs. Jumbo are his stout defenders. After Timothy shames them, the crows also become useful allies, supplying the magic feather. Timothy aids Dumbo to realise that he can fly on his own. It is a worrying sign of the times that some people would censor this film and while I can empathise with their reasons, I, personally, am not offended. The past remains the past and we should learn from it; not keep apologising. If we’re not careful, book burning will come back and that will be terrible. (Don’t get me started on electronic books!)

1942: Bambi

Thumper: He doesn’t walk very good, does he?

Mrs. Rabbit: Thumper!

Thumper: Yes, mama?

Mrs. Rabbit: What did your father tell you this morning?

Thumper: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

Out of the mouths of young rabbits, children and autistics! I often remember this lesson. Honesty is a minefield. Autistics value it and I am certain it ought to be one of our strengths. However, we learn the hard way that honesty is not always valued by the rest of humanity. Non-autistics have a complex code of conduct, so sometimes it is wiser just to keep one’s thoughts to oneself. I am uncertain why I find it so difficult to speak. The fact that I can speak, but not necessarily all the time, if a source of vexation to everybody, including me. Anxiety is the root cause, but could I have “selective mutism” or is it a “shield” to protect myself? I seem to get into trouble for speaking and also for not speaking. I really don’t understand why the proof of someone’s intelligence or worth seems to rest on them speaking. I can express myself well by writing. I can identify writing as a strength. People compliment me on my writing. If you have the good fortune (or misfortune) to meet me in person though, you will be baffled by the extreme “awkwardness” that will soon arise. It can be like trying to “squeeze blood from a stone”; although my mum can confirm that I do have the ability to “talk the hindleg off a donkey”, but only to her. I have not mastered the skills of two-way conversation, which is why you need to display patience. Being on the autistic spectrum means that I have a “communication disability”, so expecting me to communicate at your level is surely too big an ask? Autistics need allies. You can be an ally by listening to me and to other autistics. I am convinced that bridges can be built, but it requires both sides to be responsible. Communication requires a minimum of TWO participants. It is not MY problem; it is OUR solution. Accept that we are both going to be uncomfortable and we shall go from there. I’ll BELIEVE in you; you’ll BELIEVE in me. Let’s solve this together.

Sucker Bait

Angry young man in laboratory

By Isaac Asimov
Adapted by Meade Roberts

Mark Annuncio is a genius at making connections between often seemingly unrelated facts. He is one of a rare breed of humans called Mnenomics. He is also utterly unable to connect with other people, comes over as neurotic, rude, and requires a special handler who acts as his go-between with the rest of society. Now a set-up like that sounds a TV series all in itself. The brilliant but weird investigator and his “Watson” has been a popular formula in recent years. So it is a little surprising that Mark’s condition and his relationship with Dr Sheffield is just a side issue in this very science orientated episode. As with the earlier The Dead Past, Asimov is most concerned with the over-specialisation of scientists and the way that can cause them to miss vital discoveries.

Chartered spaceship the Gordon G Grundy is taking a party of scientists on a secret mission to the planet Troas, to discover what killed an entire colony. Amongst them is the intense and unpopular Mark Annuncio, raised to be a kind of human super computer. There seems to be no obvious reason why the pioneers died. As outbreaks of mania begin affecting the scientists, the question arises, is the planet really inhabited after all? By some kind of hostile lifeform?

Autism as a phrase may have been coined in 1938 but it is only relatively recently that it has come into the mainstream. Certainly watching this episode today, Mark clearly seems to be on the autistic spectrum, obsessed with learning facts, having no understanding of humour or metaphors, flying into violent anger when he is frustrated. What is disturbing is the suggestion that he has been deliberately made this way. Early on Dr Sheffield explains to the ship’s captain that mnenomics are raised in isolation from the age of five, trained to absorb knowledge and kept away from any human contact that might “contaminate” their minds and form normal patterns of behaviour. Even if the child was already diagnosed as autistic, this sounds like a horrific kind of child abuse, yet Dr Sheffield is unperturbed and the captain makes no protest either. There is a whole story just there and potentially a better one than the scientific investigation that follows.

Sucker Bait is a serious minded play of ideas rather than action. As with many Asimov stories it essentially a series of conversations between scientists about a fantastical problem. This leads to the cast manfully tackling a host of jargon filled dialogue. The summit comes in the scene where Sheffield, a psychologist by profession, tricks the arrogant leader of the expedition Cinam into panicking over a made-up theory about Troas’ twin suns causing psychosis. Actor John Mellion has to deliver a whole stream of made-up science and it no wonder he has to take quite a few deep breaths and looks slightly glassy eyed at points.

The technology of Television Centre is also stretched uncomfortably. The set rattles alarmingly whenever someone walks on the metal gangway and clanking sounds can be heard distractingly off-camera in some scenes. The planet surface is a small, claustrophobic rocky set where the astronauts frequently seem to be weaving around each other since there is so little space.

At the end the revelation of what has been killing the colonists comes as something of an anti-climax. I remember reading this story, and I think it works better on the page. It is logical and ingenious but the whole scene feels a bit flat. Perhaps in part because we have just found out that a potentially exciting climax involving mutiny and the scientists being marooned on the deadly planet all took place off-screen between scenes. Yet its last moments are quietly affecting. Mark, who has been played well by young Clive Endersby, stares out at deep space and confesses that this mission has made him aware of his own mortality for the first time. “And there’s so much left to learn.” he says plaintively. The captain, who earlier been so hostile to his odd passenger, allows him to remain on the command deck this time, counting the stars.