Silly Symphonies

film 55 of 61

Little Hiawatha

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 6, 2015

By this point the visuals are always terrific. The concepts, and the level of taste attending their execution, is considerably more varied. This one is actually kind of offensive. HW Longfellow’s Hiawatha is a young man, fully situated in a setting which, though admittedly mythologized and idealized, is respectfully researched and detailed. To the point of knowing, for instance, that a young Native American wouldn’t swear off hunting because an animal made a cute face at him. You realize that Disney wanted to draw in their kid viewers, and probably their indulgent parents too. But what a disastrous choice! It makes profundity and possibility—and environmental expediency, and a degree of cultural specificity— into ridiculous sentimentality. Stupid, in other words. Plus which, we have a ton-of-a-lot of unseemly scoffing. Little Hiawatha makes a mistake, and all of the forest creatures laugh at him. Over and over again. (Also, à la Disney, his pants fall down, hilariously and repeatedly.) I guess that’s ugly duckling stuff, tribulation that can lead to strength and empathy and adulthood. Except, as in this case, when it doesn’t.