JCU Logo


COURSE NAME: "Myth and Animation"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2020

INSTRUCTOR: Alessandra Grego
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 1:30-2:50 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: COM 220

The course investigates how myths, universal narratives and archetypal paradigms find their way into contemporary media products. Mythology, the body of inherited myths in any culture, is at the core of narrative processes, and any new text recasts one or more fundamental myths for the society that develops it, renewing its validity for the society itself. By using the animated feature films produced by Disney throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the course traces the use of children’s media in general and how Disney products in particular make use of these traditional narratives, thus providing a valuable observation point from which to survey the relationship between media, social context, and audience.

Myths have been considered universal and timeless narratives describing human existence, or geographically determined stories reflecting essential features of a specific culture; vehicles of absolute truths or ideologically unsound delusions. Probably in the West today the word is principally used to describe a story, character or object which is entirely fictional and which should be revealed as such.

And yet mythology, a body of myths that is formed collectively, is at the core of narrative processes and any new text recasts one or more fundamental myths for the society that develops it, renewing its validity for the society itself. It seems to be impossible to organize experiences into narratives without reworking preexisting ones.
The presence of narrative paradigms is often particularly visible in media products aimed at children, and refashioning myths for the new generations is also an ideological enterprise: shaping the minds of the young has always been one of the principal ways of creating a cohesive society. Using the myth theories of Hans Blumenberg and Roland Barthes, among others, the course will study animation as a particularly interesting place to investigate the way myths,  defined by Eric Csapo as "socially important narrative [that] is told in such a way as to allow the entire social collective to share a sense of this importance," are selected, validated, rejected, recast.

Students will learn the basics of myth theory, how to evaluate the work of myth in contemporary media,  how to think critically beyond the content of movies, to discuss their findings critically in academic papers, to consider the impact of new media and technology on narratives.
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Pixar's AmericaDietmar MeinelPalgrave Macmillan 2016ISBN-13: 978-3319316338  
Outline of a Theory of PracticePierre BourdieuCambridge University Press 1977ISBN: 9780521291644  
Kenneth Burke on MythLaurence CoupeRoutledge 2005ISBN-13: 978-0415762328  
MythologiesRoland BarthesHill and Wang 2013ISBN-13: 978-0809071944  
Theories of MythologyEric CsapoWiley Blackwell 2005ISBN-13: 978-0631232483  

Class contributionActive participation in forum and quizzes30%
Mid-Term Paper 30%
Final examResearchproject40%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

Attendance is mandatory. Students are required to arrive on time to class, to stay in class for the whole period, and to limit their absences to a maximum of four per term.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Week 1 - Introduction to the course:  Myth and Animation/Humans, nature and technology: Read Eric Csapo: "Introduction," Theories of Mythology.
Week 2 -Viewing "The Pixar Story."  Read Roland Barthes, "Myth Today," Mythologies (1957)
Week 3 - Viewing "Bambi" Disney, national politics and "natural" patriarchy. Read Whitley "Bambi and the Idea of Conservation."
Week 4 - Viewing "The Lion King." Social Darwinism and the natural ruler. Read Ward, Mouse Morality, "Lion King."
Week 5 - Myth of the Father/Ruler: relationship between power and the environment. First Home Paper Due
Week 6 - Viewing "Princess Mononoke" or "Ponyo on the Shore" Miyazaki, anime, and shinto/ Handrawn animation. Read Okuyama, Japanese Mythology, chap. 7.
Week 7 - Myth of human destruction and human integration in nature
Week 8 - Viewing Wall-E: learning to be human. Posthuman fairytales and CGI. Read Murray et al. That's All Folks? Ecocritical Readings of American Animated Features. Chap. 9.
Week 9 - Myth of the apocalypse: humans destroy, humans restore.
Week 10 - Viewing "Brave" : mythologizing and de-mythologizing The myth of Atalanta and the Pixar Princess.
Week 11 -  Viewing "Moana" : the way back to nature.
Week 12 - revision
Week 13 - Final Research Project due.