Hyacinth Hippo – History, Walt Disney, and Race

by Guest Contributor Mo Pie, originally published at Big Fat Deal

Those of you out there who have seen Fantasia and who fondly remember the hippo ballet sequence might appreciate this rare glimpse into the history of Disney animation: photos of actress Hattie Noel, who was the live action reference for Hyacinth Hippo in the film. I don’t know much of the history, but I’m gathering that Hattie Noel’s contributions haven’t always been publicly acknowledged. The photos can be seen here and here, where many of the ancillary issues surrounding Disney politics and race are being discussed in the comments.

BFDude Matt, who sent along the links, says:

I know comparing a fat woman to a hippo can be misconstrued but I think it’s a positive piece. It’s great to see more old Disney reference made public (Disney has always been secretive about their process, to not ruin the “magic” of animation) and for Hattie to finally get credit… Always so wonderful to see a fat woman take center stage!

Cartoon Brew also linked to a video of Hattie jitterbugging (her entrance is at 3:47). So what is your response to all of this? Is it a part of Disney history that we should be proud of, or is it uncomfortably tinged with racism? Or both?

[Latoya's Note - Big Fat Deal is a body acceptance blog, so they are viewing this from a different perspective. Obviously, some of us have other reasons we remember Disney's animation studios. We've discussed how Disney (among other animation companies) provides a very interesting snapshot into America's racial psyche in a few other posts. What do you all think of this new twist?]