Why Legendary Filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein Was Obsessed With Disney

An image from a classic Disney cartoon about the Pied Piper. (Image: Disney)

Sergei Eisenstein is one of the foremost stars of early film theory and a highly respected filmmaker in his own right. Through his mastery of montage and affect, he developed the popular cinematic language of the early Soviet Union, and basically invented film theory. He also really, really loved Disney cartoons.

In a new video essay, critic Kyle Kallgren runs down the complexities and contradictions of one of our best thinkers on film thinking about Disney’s early animation. It’s a fascinating video, working in quotations from Eisenstein’s own unpublished writing on Disney alongside his personal history in film and the early history of the Walt Disney Corporation and the man Walt Disney himself. It’s a messy, strange combination of minds: Eisenstein the preeminent Soviet filmmaker, and Walt Disney, the smiling capitalist cartoonist.

Those contradictions are what make the relationship of ideas, and the video itself, so interesting. Eisenstein has fantastic insights into how Disney’s animation works, but it’s worth wondering what he thought of Walt Disney’s proud union-busting behaviour or what he’d think of the state of the Disney monopoly today. With how ubiquitous Disney is now, it’s easy to lose sight of it and not think too hard about what Disney means, and what it has meant to people over time. Kallgren does a good job of reminding us.

If you’re interested in this kind of thing, Eisenstein’s book on Disney is quite a read. And if you’re curious about the effects Disney is having on the present-day film market, reading material isn’t hard to find.


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