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Animating Narratives: Disney, Cultural Production, & Critical Literacy

Department: Literature                                                        

Instructors: Haydee Smith & Nur Duru
Instructors' Emails:;
Prerequisites: none 
Schedule: Mon, Tues, Thurs, 1:00PM - 2:30PM PST

Course Description

This course examines how the cultural and critical forms of fairy tales, documentaries, and analytic arguments depict the nuances between knowledge, wisdom, fact, fiction, power, and persuasion. Tracing the common theme of the "overcoming narrative" across these genres enables us to observe and analyze: 1) How fairy tales have been used to create role models and ideals rooted in specific cultural systems and ideologies; 2) How documentary storytelling creates an atmosphere of credibility and truth-telling; and 3) How college-level writing prepares us to become critically-informed and community-minded citizens of an increasingly globalized world. First, our course will examine the cultural and political assumptions and consequences that drive the retellings and adaptations of certain fairy tales. Next, our work with documentaries engages with questions about truth, multiple sides to every story, and the social assumptions made about type casted people and communities. Finally, our course culminates in a capstone project where students will complete their own analytic projects that align with the learning objectives of the AP English Language and Composition exam and introductory level College Composition and Rhetoric courses.

Course Goals / Learning Objective

By the end of this course, students will

  • Understand and apply the formal and content requirements of personal statements
  • Define and apply the concept of the “overcoming narrative”
  • Understand how to navigate and apply the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales and the Stith Thompson Motif-Index of Folk Literature
  • Analyze documentary films, television shows, and publications
  • Evaluate the cultural contexts of narrative adaptations and retellings (i.e. folk tales, Disney adaptations, etc.)
  • Learn about and practice for the University of California Entry Level Writing Requirement and Placement exam.

Topical Outline

Unit 1: Genres and Purposes of Storytelling 

  • Narrative Genres (folk tales, documentary, investigative reporting, animated films, autobiography, personal statements, anecdotes, creative non-fiction) 
  • Disability Studies and the Overcoming Narrative 
  • Identifying and Addressing Audiences 

Unit 2: Folk/Fairy Tales 

  • One Thousand and One Nights 
  • The Ballad of Mulan 
  • Beauty and the Beast 
  • Cinderella 

Unit 3: Documentary Forms and Source Types 

  • Expository 
  • Observational 
  • Participatory 
  • Reflexive 
  • Performative 
  • Investigative 
  • Background 
  • Exhibit 
  • Argument 
  • Method 

Unit 4: Analytic Arguments 

  • Differentiating between professional, public, and personal use writing practices 
  • Synthesizing Sources 
  • Supporting evidence-based claims 


*Courses vary by experience and exposure to content. Instructors have the ability to change content and pace to serve the needs of students. Courses have been modified for online teaching.