A Year in Shorts Day 259: "The Grain That Built a Hemisphere"
There’s an old adage in cinema which states that it’s not what a movie’s about but how it’s about it, and I think that’s certainly true. While I may joke occasionally about how movies about math are terrible, that’s obviously not always going to be the case. It’s just usually the case. The point is that a film can be interesting regardless of subject matter, and that holds especially true for documentaries. Look no further than today’s short for proof of that. A film entitled The Grain That Built a Hemisphere might not seem like the most interesting watch. And yet, thanks to some excellent execution, it manages to be a fun time all the same! I guess that's just part of the Disney Magic!
Directed by Bill Justice and Bill Roberts, The Grain That Built a Hemisphere is an animated documentary, which we don't really get a lot of these days. (Check out Waltz with Bashir if you haven't seen it yet!) Released in 1943, it is technically a piece of World War II propaganda, although you don't really figure that out until the end. Instead, most of the film is dedicated to the history of corn, from its origins as a pre-agricultural plant in the ancient Americas to its various industrial uses in modern times. All of this is told through charismatic narration and some truly top notch animation. I'm hard pressed to think of a Disney short from the 1940s with backgrounds as beautiful as this (the only one that comes to mind is Donald's Crime), or character animation so well done. And while the short isn't necessarily funny, it does have some pretty amusing moments involving some sentient cornstalks or a cow learning that it's going to be turned into beef. All that, and it's educational? Plus, something tells me that this is probably the only Disney film you'll ever watch which includes the word "inbreeding". (It makes sense in context.)
While The Grain That Built a Hemisphere might not be as funny as the shorts starring Donald Duck or as artistically innovative as the Silly Symphonies, it is nevertheless an entertaining watch that's well worth your time. Sure, it's not a perfect film. There's a cartoon baby in it for one thing, which is just unfortunate. (At least we don't have to see his face.) And the portrayal of the Indigenous people of Central America has certainly not aged all that well. (That being said, when you compare the way they come off in this film to the way Disney would portray Indigenous people ten years later, it looks downright progressive.) But it's certainly a nice change of pace for the studio, and that counts for something in my book. And when viewed as a piece of World War II propaganda, it's certainly a lot better than most of the ones we've covered so far. There's no annoying songs or horrific caricatures of the Japanese people. It's just a simple film that wants to teach you about the history of corn. And while that may not be enough for some, there's certainly something to be said about a film with humble goals achieving them so well.
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