Sunday 30 November 2008


I have been writing quite a lot about Disney recently and I do realise that not everyone views the goings on in the Magic Kingdom in quite the same light as I do. But even I was a little taken aback by today's The Sunday Torygraph which carried a pretty angry attack on the Mouse House from this benign-looking clerical gent...

Christopher Jamison, the Abbot of Worth in West Sussex, who "starred in the hit-BBC series The Monastery" (Starred? Is that permissible under an abbot's vows?) accused the Disney corporation of "exploiting spirituality" to sell its products and of turning Disneyland into a modern day pilgrimage site.

Here's an extract from the article by Religious Affairs Correspondent, Jonathan Wynne-Jones...

While he acknowledges that Disney stories carry messages showing good triumphing over evil, he argues this is part of a ploy to persuade people that they should buy Disney products in order to be "a good and happy family".

He cites films such as Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians that feature moral battles, but get into children's imaginations and make them greedy for the merchandise that goes with them.

"The message behind every movie and book, behind every theme park and T-shirt is that our children's world needs Disney," he says.

"So they absolutely must go to see the next Disney movie, which we'll also want to give them on DVD as a birthday present.

"They will be happier if they live the full Disney experience; and thousands of families around the world buy into this deeper message as they flock to Disneyland."

He continues: "This is the new pilgrimage that children desire, a rite of passage into the meaning of life according to Disney.

"Where once morality and meaning were available as part of our free cultural inheritance, now corporations sell them to us as products."

Fr Jamison, who is one of Britain's most prominent Catholic clerics, claims that brands such as Disney market themselves to be about more than mere materialism to create an addiction to consumption.

"This is basically the commercial exploitation of spirituality," he says, adding that as a result Disney and other corporations "inhabit our imagination".

"Once planted there they can make us endlessly greedy. And that is exactly what they are doing."


You can read the full story here.

And I'll simply leave you with what - I imagine - is Uncle Walt's response...

Images: Abbot Angry © Julian Andrews; Grumpy © Brian Sibley

Saturday 29 November 2008


In writing about Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty the other day, I mentioned the work of Eyvind Earle, the American landscape painter and graphic artist whose concepts for the film and extraordinary background designs established the unique look which so totally sets it apart from every other Disney animated feature.

Many of Earle's sketches drew their inspiration from the style of medieval manuscripts such as the French 15th century book, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry of which this is just one stunning example...

Eyvind Earle's inspirational pictures - and the film images which they inspired - capture the same detailed, crowded interiors and landscapes dotted with similar cut-out, pop-up castles...

As can be seen from the concept paintings above for the abandoned woodcutter's cottage where the three Good Fairies raise the Princess Aurora (under the disguised identity of a peasant child named Briar Rose) and the picture below, Earle was a master when it came to drawing stylised trees...

I vividly remember the first time I discovered that the Evyind Earle Sleeping Beauty look was not confined to the footage of that film.

I was having lunch with the American novelist and fantasy writer, Ray Bradbury, on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and Ray said there was an art exhibition he wanted me to see in a nearby gallery.

As we walked through the door and I looked at the walls, I knew that whilst I had not seen any of the paintings hanging there, they were all amazingly familiar: that was not really surprising since were by Eyvind Earle...

Horses by the Sea
© 2006 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

Sea Cliffs and Pine Branches
© 2001 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

Sunset Silhouette
© 1999 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

Graze on High Meadows
© 2001 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

Sea Mist and Pastures
© 1999 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

Crimson Eucalyptus
© 2001 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

Ocean Mist
© 2001 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

A Sounding of Surf
© 2001 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

Earle was a master of sunlight and shadow and many of his paintings (like some of the cartoons by Britain's comic genius Giles that I was writing about recently) are superb demonstrations in the art of depicting snow...

Snow Laden
© 2001 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

Snow Tree
© 2001 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

Ray, who already owned several Earle paintings, fell under the spell of one of Earle's dramatic landscapes and bought it there and then. The director of the gallery handed Ray's credit card back to him and said that he would have the picture sent round as soon as the exhibition was ended.

But that wasn't going to satisfy Ray. "Oh, no," he said firmly, teaching me a vital lesson about responding with immediacy to one's passions, "I'll take it with me now!" And he did! The picture was unhooked from the wall, wrapped in brown paper and the pair of us manhandled it out of the gallery and into the back of a yellow cab.

I've never been able (and never will be able) to afford an Eyvind Earle original, but David and I do own a few signed serigraphs including a couple of those snow paintings - one, 'Winter Oak' is quite small...

Winter Oak
© 2001 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

...but the other - entitled 'Yosemite' - is huge and wall-dominating, but never ceases to move me with its simplicity and power, its sense of the might, majesty and mystery of nature...

© 1999 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

You can see more of Eyvind Earle's landscapes at: Gallery 21 and Visions Fine Art Gallery.

And you can see more of Eyvind Earle's Sleeping Beauty art on Michael Sporn's Animation Inc, Splog: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3 and Part 4.

The recently released Platinum Edition DVD of Sleeping Beauty includes a documentary, Eyvind Earle: The Man and His Art.

You can read about Eyvind Earle in his autobiography, Horizon Bound on a Bicycle

Images: Sleeping Beauty artwork © Disney; Eyvind Earle paintings © Eyvind Earle Publishing

Quiet Pastures
© 1999 Eyvind Earle Publishing
(Click to enlarge)

Friday 28 November 2008


Congratulations to


who, this week (according to his blog), performed his


Magic Show!

I never tire of watching him perform, whether for children or adults:
it's a great gift to be able to be able to create


Thursday 27 November 2008


To all my American readers


For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Post Script: LISAH asks (see comments below), "Does anyone know why Thanksgiving is held on a Thursday?" The answer is a little on the long side, but you'll find it on the website of The Belcher Foundation.

Any American readers (with time to kill while the turkey roasts - or digests!) are welcome to add to our sum total of knowledge on this Thursday holiday-thing which, to me, just seems like an excuse for an extra-long weekend!

Main image: © Norman Rockwell

Tuesday 25 November 2008


Another small milestone passed: I received, today, the 4000th comment on the Sibleyblog and, appropriately, it was left by that long-serving Sibleyblogger, BOLL WEAVIL!

Thanks for all the thoughts, folks...


Budge up Barbie!

Shove over Cindy!

At last, the perfect toy for bookish tots and blue-stockings-to-be has arrived...

Click to enlarge

"I profess myself one of hose who consider intervals of recreation and amusement as desirable for everybody..."

- Jane Austen Pride & Prejudice

Sunday 23 November 2008


I was not quite ten when, in 1959, I was taken to the Odeon cinema, Bromley, to see the then latest Disney animated feature, Sleeping Beauty. I still vividly remember being overwhelmed by colour, music and visual richness of a kind I had never previously experienced in a movie.

Almost fifty years on, I've had the privilege of contributing to Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty, one of the 'extras' to Disney's latest, Platinum, DVD release.

It has to be admitted that Sleeping Beauty isn't everyone's cup of sherbet: some think it lacks originality (being too much of a re-hash of Disney's earlier princess-movies: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella), others find it's baroque style too fussily ornate; but for the true Sleeping Beauty devotee (of which - as by now you've guessed - I'm one), this lavish picture, filmed in Super Technirama 70 and with a stereophonic soundtrack featuring a score based on Tchaikovsky's ballet suite of the same name is a matchless gem!

This was the last Disney feature film to be made in the traditional ink-and-paint method that had been used by the studio since it's earliest pictures featuring Mickey Mouse and the Gang. The very next film to be released - 101 Dalmatians in 1961 - made the pioneering leap to a more economic, streamlined method of animation using a Xerox process that knocked mega-dollars off the costs and produced a look that chimed with that lively, graphic style of popular art typifying the 'sixties. What was gained was a new energy and fluidity of animated movement; what was lost was a sumptuousness that swept the viewer off into a world of pure, ecstatic fantasy.

The story in Sleeping Beauty successfully tidied-up some of the problems of the original plot (in which the princess is awoken from a hundred years sleep by a prince who wasn't born when she dozed off!), gave personality to the fairytale character-ciphers, added a measure of humour with the woodland critters (above) who are clearly children of those in Snow White and Bambi and in the persons of three Good Fairies - Flora, Fauna and Merryweather...

There is also Maleficent, the mother-of-all villianesses: a kind of animated amalgam of the nastiest qualities of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford...

And Maleficent's dramatic transformation into a fire-breathing dragon in the film's finale, is unquestionably one of the most dramatic and fantastical scenes ever animated.

The senses-embracing, wide-screen process allowed for far greater detailing and texture than had previously been seen in a Disney feature film and, under the art direction of the brilliant landscape artist, Eyvind Earle, the film took on a look that crossed the most elaborate excesses of the Hollywood set designers of the 'forties with the pictorial precision of medieval illuminated manuscripts.

There's a popular fallacy that Disney's Sleeping Beauty was a disaster but whilst it's true that it failed to recoup its huge budget, it nevertheless proved the most popular movie at the box-office in 1959 after Ben Hur.

The newly restored two-disc Platinum Edition, marking the film's 50th anniversary, includes - in addition to the aforementioned 'Making of...' documentary - a host of 'extras' among which are deleted songs, a never-before-seen alternate opening and two related Disney productions: the 1958 CinemaScope release, Grand Canyon (exquisite footage of America's natural wonder scored with Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite) and The Peter Tchaikovsky Story (originally televised on the Disneyland TV show in 1959) which is a rather more sanitised biopic than, say, Ken Russell's The Music Lovers!

There is a deluxe version of the release which comes in a faux-jewel-encrusted volume (as pictured at the top of this post) with an accompanying book full of background information on the making of the film, stills and original artwork, but Blu-ray owners will be peeved to find that this particular issue is not actually available with the Blu-ray discs!

The film itself, however you view it (but especially on Blu-ray), looks sensational: it glistens and gleams, sparkles and shimmers with gem-like brilliance that is worthy of what is, arguably, a masterpiece of Disney animation.

Images: © Disney (Click on images to enlarge)

Friday 21 November 2008


Thinking back to that impressive bust of Antinous in the Hadrian exhibition, reminds me that, during the same visit to the British Museum, I snapped an interesting juxtaposition of anthropological artworks.

A basalt statue known as Hoa Hakananai'a (probably 'stolen' or 'hidden friend') from Easter Island/Rapa Nui, Chile (South Pacific), dating from about 1400; and Mask II a mixed media self-portrait by Ron Mueck created in 2000-2001...

As the Brit Mus website says (with only a modicum of arty-fartiness):
These two figures speak to each other across several centuries and 8,500 miles in the long history of monumental sculpture. Both reveal the enduring human need to make our own image on a grand scale.

Mask II’s prostrate orientation also alludes to the many fallen moai (statues of human figures) that remain on Rapa Nui today as reminders of a civilisation that has since been transformed.
You can see more of Ron Mueck's disturbingly hyper-realistic figures here.

And here's another curious alignment of images - this time from Brighton Museum: a glazed and enameled earthenware Bison, made for the Au Printemps store in Paris, c 1925, and Early Morning, an oil painting dating from 1927 by Dod Proctor...

If anyone feel inspired to write a BM style analysis of this particular juxtaposition, please feel free...

All entries
will be published!

Wednesday 19 November 2008


Since today is, believe it or not, World Toilet Day, the Sibley blog continues its customer service of bringing you the latest loo-lowdown from around the globe, DAVID came across the following photo snapped on the streets of Athens...

Too public to be entirely convenient? I'd say so... But useful for motorcyclists...

And now check out this story from the most recent edition of The Sunday's Times discussing the perennial question Why are there so few public toilets for women? and, brace yourself for these Top 10 Toilet Horrors.

Among these Letters to The Times is one sent in 1930 that has an opening that is beyond parody: "Sir, - On September 22 I looked in about 2.30 p.m. at the Natural History Museum for a short time. While examining the locust exhibit close to the entrance on the ground floor I was conscious of a well-dressed young fellow hovering around apparently with no direct interest in the exhibits..." The locust exhibit?? Do check it out, along with some other marvelous missives on the subject of lavatories across the centuries...

Tuesday 18 November 2008


Today is the 80th birthday of a little guy named---

I have described my first encounter with Mickey Mouse elsewhere, but just as, for me, that meeting was the beginning of a life-long fascination with animation so, for Disney, the birth of Mickey Mouse was the advent of a legendary career and set the cornerstone of a vast, worldwide corporation, symbolised by this radiantly-smiling face...

It was on this day in 1928, that the public first witnessed Mickey's antics in a little film called Steamboat Willie...

The cartoon was a spoof on a recent Buster Keaton silent comedy, Steamboat Bill, Jr., and it caused it sensation! This was hardly surprising as it was the first ever cartoon with synchronised sound.

Fate was kind to Walt Disney, since he had already made - but had not yet released - two silent Mickey Mouse cartoons, Plane Crazy and Gallopin' Goucho, when Al Jolson astonished movie-goers by speaking and singing in the epoch-making 'talkie', The Jazz Singer.

Disney - making a decision that demonstrated his entrepreneurial acumen - immediately decided to make a new film for Mickey's debut and to do so in sound. After numerous trials and tribulations, he succeeded and the result was Steamboat Willie.

Who knows how things would have turned out if Mickey had begun his career in a silent movie - history might have been very different --- just, indeed, as things might have taken quite another turn had he stuck with his original idea of calling the character Mortimer Mouse!

Steamboat Willie looks and sounds crude when compared to present-day cinematic expectations, but, in 1928, sheer novelty made up for any lack of sophistication and for Disney and his Mouse fame were assured!

Mickey's original appearance was rather different from the character people are familiar with today from the Disney studio's corporate logo, the walk-around figures in the Disney theme parks and a zillion cuddly toys and other items of merchandise.

Over the years, Mickey has gone through many changes: he lost his tail, became less spiky and more rounded...

He also matured from the impertinent, irreverent little scrap of thing that frequented barnyard and back-alley and became - like Chaplin - a symbolic Everyman character. As such he could, and did, do anything and everything...

In 1940, he even dared to enter Art's Temple and gave - in Fantasia - what is arguable the finest performance of his career as 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'...

Over the years, Mickey's screen popularity was eventually overtaken by that of Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Chip 'n' Dale and the characters from Disney's feature-length animated films, beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but Walt - who, for many years, provided Mickey's piping falsetto - always acknowledged his indebtedness to the character: "I hope we never forget," he often said, "that all this started with a mouse!"

Such was Walt Disney's attachment to Mickey that he constantly found ways to rejuvenate his career: appointing him, in the '50s, the genial host of both his newly opened Disneyland park and the weekly '50s television show, The Mickey Mouse Club...

Even though Disney himself is long gone, the studio has continued to keep Mickey's reputation alive: casting him in 1983 as Ebenezer Scrooge's put-once clerk in the Dickensian fantasy Mickey's Christmas Carol...

And, in 1995, once again coaxing him back in front of the cameras for a wild little pseudo-science-horror film, entitled The Runaway Brain...

The Mouse simply keeps on going and a digitally-animated Mickey is now entertaining pre-schoolites in the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

So, 80 years on - without a sign of a white hair on his little round head - what can we say, but...

Happy Birthday, Mr Mouse!

I was on Radio 4's Today programme this morning talking about Mickey's career. You can listen again here; and you can read a lot more of what I said about the Mouse on the Today website - a page that, apparently, received 50,000 hits on its first day...

Images: © Disney

Monday 17 November 2008


So, last night, the BBC's former Political Editor, John Sergeant, again survived the public vote-off in TV's Strictly Come Dancing contest and will, once more, be blundering around the dance floor next Saturday evening.

More outrage and condemnation have, naturally, followed, but A A Gill, writing in yesterday's Sunday Times - before the latest news broke - put the controversy neatly into perspective...

On Strictly Come Dancing, a terpsichorially challenged audience failed to dismiss the political broadcaster John Sergeant for not dancing properly, or at all. One of the judges — the strangest collection of human effluvia this side of Grimms’ Fairy Tales — admonished us by saying we must remember this was a dancing competition.

Now, I think it’s time I called the old dancing judges... into my office to remind them of a few home truths. Listen carefully, all of you.
Strictly Come Dancing is not a dancing competition. The X Factor is not a talent contest. The Queen Vic is not a real pub, and Basil Brush isn’t actually a talking fox. They are all entertainments.

Dragons’ Den
isn’t real venture capitalism, and I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! isn’t a real jungle or, indeed, real celebrity, and everybody there has been begging their agents to get them in it. You are all suffering from a common green-room delusion: you believe your own billing. You are not on television because you’re experts or gurus. You’re there because you’re either funny, hateful or shaggable, and if you’re in any doubt which, then it’s not the latter.

That pretty much sums it up, I'd have said - though I was devastated to read that revelation about Basil Brush!

It should also be pointed out that the Beeb clearly invited John Sergeant (as they did Jimmy Tarbuck last year) with an eye to his adding a little comic relief to the proceedings - and, in the early stages of the competition, making the other dancers look better than they actually were. If the great British public have now seen through that somewhat callous ruse and decided to continue promoting the jester towards the throne, well, then they've no one to blame but themselves.

Sunday 16 November 2008


I went to my favourite BBQ Smoke House Restaurant, Bodeans, the other week and guess what I spotted hiding on a shelf over the kitchen...?

Well you can hardly blame it, can you??