Silly Symphonies

film 3 of 61

The Terrible Toreador

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 14, 2015

It is and it has always been an important part of the Walt Disney Corporation’s business plan to insist that it is the premiere purveyor of family entertainment. For my part I want to be wary of the self-mythologizing of big multi-national corporations. But still, Disney’s claim—and it’s very often been a real aspiration too—isn’t at all ungrounded. Aren’t we all grateful for so many good things that they’ve made for us, and for all the dear days to which they’ve added their flavour?

Hurray, then. But also, this cartoon. Disney’s exalted claims aren’t ungrounded, but they sure can be contradicted, or at least seen to be in frequent conflict with themselves. El Terrible Toreador (love that title!) stands as exhibit A (and Z, and most of the points in between) for the prosecution.

The film was directed by Walt himself, and in it he reveals himself to be a violent vulgarian of the very first order. I personally want my kids to be occasionally exposed to things like this. Furthermore, I won’t even wag my finger or preach a sermon after I’ve done so. Isn’t that about what Tex Avery and Bob Clampett are eventually going to do for us, after all?

But you may feel differently. (Plus which, as a director WD is no Avery or Clampett!) What a litany of sluttishness, incontinence, brawling, brutality and outlandish, hilarious homophobia! (Homophobia isn’t at all funny, you say? Right you are. However, the caricature in this film is very funny, in part because of its blithe obliviousness, and also its blithe brazenness. So much so that it might even be bravely declarative. But almost certainly by accident!) There’s a culminating bit of violence, visited upon that bull, that has to be seen to be believed. So see it, or believe it, or not. But without at all wanting to make a man or his Corporation to be an offender for a word, it is also fair to say that he and it are still capable of offending.