THE BOOTLEG FILES: “THE STORY OF MENSTRUATION”

So, what’s your favorite Walt Disney movie? “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”? “Dumbo”? “Bambi”? “The Story of Menstruation”? “Sleeping Beauty”? “Beauty and the Beast”?

“The Story of…” — WHAT? No, kids, Uncle Phil ain’t smoking the wacky weed. In 1946, Walt Disney produced an animated film called “The Story of Menstruation.” But don’t look for this on the Disney Channel or at the Disney Store in your local mall. And that’s a shame since it’s Disney’s least known and (not surprisingly) most intriguing production, and it proves that some people will do anything for money.

During the 1940s, Disney’s fortunes were in a precarious state. World War II shut off the lucrative European theatrical market, which cut off a significant source of Disney’s revenues. At home, the ambitious feature “Fantasia” was a major commercial failure, draining more money from the company treasury. Disney was in desperate need of new funds, so he swallowed his artistic pride and did the ignoble: he began to take for-hire assignments for government and corporate producers.

Some of these assignments were designed to aid the war effort, most notably morale-building propaganda cartoons made for the American and Canadian governments. But some of these films were standard industrial films, such as “The Right Spark Plug in the Right Place” (commissioned by the Electric Auto-Lite Company) and “The ABC of Hand Tools” (sponsored by General Motors). For the most part, these films were fairly quotidian and not worthy of critical consideration.

However, Disney opted to take a commission from the International Cello-Cotton Company for an educational film designed to be shown in health education classes. What resulted was “The Story of Menstruation,” a 10-minute animated film covering an area where Disney’s films never went before. Indeed, “The Story of Menstruation” is the first film (as far as I can determine) which uses the word “vagina” (both in the narration and in an on-screen demonstration). Way to go, Walt!

Narrated by a very serious older woman (the actress is not identified), “The Story of Menstruation”explains one of the less comfortable aspects facing girls on the road to womanhood. Using animated diagrams, the film details how the menstrual cycle works. At first it is all fairly clinical and perhaps a bit dull, and it is easy to rue the missed opportunity of having Disney characters like Daisy Duck and Minnie Mouse prepping their girlie audience on the messy road ahead of them. Indeed, the annoying menstrual cycle may explain why Daisy and Minnie are often irritable when Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse come calling.

But after menstruation is explained, the film begins to get a little silly. The Disney animators suddenly populate the film with weird female characters: these gals have oversized heads, Stepford Wife-worthy smiles (except for one feeling the cramps of menstruation), and an exaggerated gusto for life. We see them cleaning a house (by lifting furniture with one hand and then dropping it into splinters), riding a horse (bouncing insanely in the saddle, as if they had bed springs in their undies) and dancing the jitterbug with no concern of gravity. One of these gals even takes a shower, and the narrator tells us it’s okay to bathe during menstruation.

The narrator also gives the girls some peachy advice: “Try not to throw yourself off schedule by getting overtired, emotionally upset, or by catching cold!” There is also motherly advice to avoid constipation and depression, and to always look beautiful. “It’s smart to keep looking smart!” exclaims the narrator, who winds up the film by noting: “There is nothing strange or mysterious about menstruation.” Whatever you say, sister!

Oh, the film also points out a booklet called “Very Personally Yours,” which was distributed to the young audiences who watched this film. That booklet supposedly recounts most of the information in the film and also offers generous advertising on the Kotex line of feminine products. Oddly, “The Story of Menstruation” makes no mention of feminine products. It is not being cynical to question why the film would talk about keeping up a sharp personal appearance without mentioning how to use the basic tools of feminine personal hygiene. Most likely, the film would never get shown in schools if it came across as an extended Kotex commercial.

“The Story of Menstruation” was a staple in health education classes well into the 1960s. Some online information resources state that it was shown theatrically, though I find it difficult to imagine this title ever played in theaters. Disney had no control over the film after its completion and “The Story of Menstruation” eventually fell into the public domain. Bootleg videos based on the 16mm prints distributed to the schools have been in circulation for some years.

Today’s Disney organization ignores “The Story of Menstruation,” which is a shame since the film is clearly an unusual addition to the Disney canon. It is also ripe for new revenue building endeavors. One can easily imagine a Disney World ride based on the film, with tourists climbing into an egg-shaped craft for a wild ride down a long and dark fallopian tube through a giant vaginal opening. Maybe there could be a catchy theme song, along the lines of “It’s a Small World,” to add music to the menstruation — giving the vagina a voice, if you will? Kotex could sponsor the ride and sell feminine products at the concession stands. It could make millions! Or at least it could make more than anything Michael Eisner has created lately. Considering the way Eisner has been bleeding money, “The Story of Menstruation” could easily be a much-needed financial tampon for Disney.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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Posted on October 15, 2004 in Features by
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