Animation in 1941: Wartime Allegory for Children

Page 4

Children’s Play: Capturing Impishness for the Good…

In deciphering the Princess Plaintain adventure and a related Wan studio cartoon narrative, “Monkey disrupts the Heavenly Palace” (1964), one cannot but notice how much of the action is moved forward by children or childishness – what we might better call harmless, irrepressable impishness. Almost by definition children are not (cannot be) evil except when ensnared by older or larger miscreants (demons, supernatural animals, etc.). If they misbehave, which of course they constantly do, it is [in real life] because they grow by constantly testing the constraints (unfreedoms) imposed by seniors, and only settle down when their pranks or disruptions are finally acknowledged as serving the greater good – as if by accident.

The Monkey King (Sun Wukong, Sun Dawang) has long graduated into that latter, “adult-honored” caste; if he seems incurably rambunctious and constantly in need of re-disciplining, that is not just because he is Peter Pan: but also because he is still “enough child” to earn the trust of (pre-lingual) earthling children, who by definition are chronic if charming disrupters of all adult rules.

But if Sun Wukong (Dawang) is a sine qua non boundary-crosser adept at using (childish: non-goal-oriented) disruption to stymie truly evil (purposed) disruptors or creatures of violence – and that is his role – he needs have under control an arsenal of magic tricks that function, first and foremost, to overawe his childish underlings. And, by the same logic- that of audience retention of the “brats” or “imps” – he must be both chaste and non-pecuniary, for these vices are not comprehended hence neither admired nor shunned, just bewildering.

So his many sub-adventures into and back out of trouble follow the epic rule of wandering ALONE over uncharted (mysterious, dangerous) spaces WHERE CHILDREN ARE NOT ALLOWED TO GO, with the goal of acquiring a new “trick-machine” (disguise, metamorphosis spells etc.). He is (if we look closely) never a true romantic hero because he (as a “child”) is not a devotee of the opposite sex (whom he could attract only by foreswearing the childish escapades he so loves).

And yet, for all this, he turns out to be a military leader capable at least of directing his childish charges (the “masses” in Princess Plantain, but his junior ape brethren in Danao tiangong) on to victory.
A trickster not a defeator or vanquisher [meta-nature or the Gods take care of that].

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