One of the coolest websites to hit the Internet in a while is Letters of Note -- a site designed to offer up a direct taste of history rather than a regurgitation seen through the eyes of an unknown historian. In the past, we've shared the likes of a Disney rejection letter from the site, the birth of 'North by Northwest,' Harvey Weinstein calling Errol Morris boring and even James Cameron's apology to H.R. Giger after being frozen out of 'Aliens.'

But the one for today is as much timely as it is revealing. Published over the summer, and just given link love by Nikki Finke, the letter was written by Walt Disney and sent to Don Graham, an art teacher at the Chounaird Art Institute who was developing courses for Disney animators. This is the fledgling look at the sensibilities that would not only inspire the animation giant's work, but also spark the "Golden Age of Animation." Though it rests mainly on the ways animators should think of animation and movement, it's as much a lesson for Hollywood's live action world.
In the eight-page missive, written 75 years ago next month, Disney writes: "I am convinced that there is a scientific approach to this business, and I think we shouldn't give up until we have found out all we can about how to teach these young fellows the business." Rather than just be fueled by passion, Disney's aim was to merge the creative with the logical, to bring both in tandem so that the best of both worlds could be achieved. "The point must be made clear to the men that our study of the actual is not so that we may be able to accomplish the actual," he writes, "but so that we may have a basis upon which to go into the fantastic, the unreal, the imaginative -- and yet to let it have a foundation of fact, in order that it may more richly possess sincerity and contact with the public."

He believed that intermingling basic concepts of animation -- like life drawing directly applying to caricature -- would "stir up the men's minds more, and they will begin to think of a lot of these things that would never occur to them otherwise if the way weren't pointed out to them." As such, they would become "not just technicians, but they're actually creative people."

If there's something that Hollywood is missing, it's most likely this joining of rationale and imagination. Though we're usually not privy to the letters and e-mails that get traded between Hollywood bigwigs, current cinematic output -- for the most part -- doesn't suggest that anyone follows Disney's thinking. And though it's 75 years later, the words ring true today, with many grabbing either a distinct world of logic or imagination and utterly ignoring the other aspect and how science/logic should partner with creative passion to achieve the best results.

We've got films like Mitch Glazer's 'Passion Play,' which exists as an aptly titled passion project, interested only in the drive of the filmmaker, not the audience. Though Disney said this of comedy, it applies to all or most cinema: "This is what I mean by contact with the audience. When the action or the business loses its contact, it becomes silly and meaningless to the audience." Simply seeing a filmmaker's connection to the material isn't enough to make it engaging to an audience, which is what cinema aims to do.

On the flip side, we've got James Cameron's 'Avatar,' where he connects with visuals, and puts little effort into the overall experience and how to engage viewers in every way. When audiences started saying that the film had to be watched in 3D, it wasn't only for visual experience, but because the 3D was the experience, not the film overall. Though Cameron had at least a decade to develop the script along with the technology, he didn't ask Disney's all-too-important question: "What could have been done to the picture from this point on to improve it?"

And with the ever-rising increase of remakes, reimaginings and sequels, Hollywood isn't focused on this creative process and improvement, but on the final product. I can't help but think that if the industry started to take on Disney's mindset of merging science and imagination, of questioning each aspect and refining it, we could see business find a new Golden Age.

Do you agree? Is a little Disney know-how what Hollywood needs to perk up cinematic life?
categories Movies, Cinematical