Disney the ecowarrior

Lost artworks by Disney animators have been restored to America after being discovered in Chibo University, Japan. The works, hand-picked by Walt Disney, were sent to Japan in 1960 as part of an exhibition which coincided with the opening of Sleeping Beauty.

The display, which was designed to explain the various processes of animation, included rare images from the Oscar winning cartoon Flowers and Trees. No doubt the leafy theme of the discovered paintings pleased David Whitely, the Cambridge professor responsible for giving Disney a green make-over. Although Bambi and Nemo may not seem likely eco-warriors Whitely’s new book The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation suggests that they are in fact instrumental in conveying the green message to a new generation. He praises how Disney encourages children to relate to the natural world, describing each film as: "a cultural arena within which serious environmental issues can be rehearsed and explored."

Forget April in Paris - next month New York will be the City of Love. Taking inspiration from the film Paris, Je T’aime (2006) the similarly narcissistic New York, I Love You will pull together a variety of directors, including Mira Nair and first-timer Scarlett Johansson. One key figure is missing however: Anthony Minghella. His feature for the series of short Manhattan based love stories (for which filming will begin next month) was one of a handful of projects that the British director had planned before his untimely death. However, Shekhar Kapur (Cold Mountain, Elizabeth) revealed this week that Minghella passed the work to him to complete shortly before he died. Writing in his blog, Kapur confirmed that Minghella had written his section of the Manhattan feature and discussed it with his chosen successor before his death: "He told me his film was about the value of life, and how people sometimes just throw away their lives unable to look beyond into the real beauty of it." Not a crime Minghella could be accused of. Indeed Kapur’s earnest summary of Minghella’s intentions perhaps exposes some of the good-natured sentimentality which permeates The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency (according to The New Statesman’s Rachel Cooke).

The British-born singer Estelle, currently at No. 1 with her single American Boy, has hit out at the recent rise of groomed white soul singers. In an interview with the Guardian, Estelle questioned the authenticity of hit artists such as Adele and Duffy: "I'm not mad at 'em - but I'm just wondering, how the hell is there not a single black person in the press singing soul?" Estelle, who grew up in London, but only found success after taking her music to New York, also criticised the British Music Industry’s support of black singers. Could this be about to change? In a recent article for The New Statesman, Daniel Trilling discusses Reggae MC’s in England and their influence upon the future of the music industry.

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Leader: The age of Putinism

There is no leader who exerts a more malign influence on world affairs than Vladimir Putin.

There is no leader who exerts a more malign ­influence on world affairs than Vladimir Putin. In Syria, Russia’s military intervention has significantly strengthened the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad. Under the guise of fighting Islamist terrorism, Mr Putin’s forces have killed thousands of civilians and destroyed hospitals and schools. Syrian government forces and their foreign allies have moved closer to regaining control of the rebel-held, besieged eastern part of Aleppo, a city in ruins, after a period of intense fighting and aerial bombardment. In Europe, Russia has moved nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad, formerly the Prussian city of Königsberg, through the streets of which the great philosopher Immanuel Kant used to take his daily walk.

Across the West, however, Mr Putin is being feted. As Brendan Simms writes on page 30, the Russian president has “annexed Crimea, unleashed a proxy war in eastern Ukraine and threatens Nato’s eastern flank, to say nothing of his other crimes”. Yet this has not deterred his Western sympathisers. In the US, Donald Trump has made no secret of his admiration for the Russian autocrat as a fellow ethnic nationalist and “strongman”. The president-elect’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence is an invitation to Russian expansionism in the Baltic states and eastern Europe.

Mr Trump is far from alone in his admiration for Mr Putin. In France, François Fillon, the socially conservative presidential candidate for the Républicains, favours the repeal of European sanctions against Russia (imposed in response to the annexation of Crimea) and a military alliance in Syria. In return, Mr Putin has praised his French ally as “a great professional” and a “very principled person”.

Perhaps the one certainty of the French election next spring is that Russia will benefit. Marine Le Pen, the Front National leader and Mr Fillon’s likely opponent in the final round, is another devotee of the Russian president. “Putin is looking after the interests of his own country and defending its identity,” she recently declared. Like Mr Trump, Ms Le Pen seems to aspire to create a world in which leaders are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of rebuke.

In Britain, Paul Nuttall, the newly elected leader of the UK Independence Party, has said that Mr Putin is “generally getting it right” in Syria. Mr Nuttall’s predecessor Nigel Farage named the Russian leader as the politician he admired most.

Mr Putin, who aims to defeat the West by dividing it, could not have scripted more favourable publicity. But such lion­isation masks Russia’s profound weaknesses. The country’s economy has been in recession for two years, following the end of the commodities boom, the collapse in the oil price and the imposition of sanctions. Its corrupt and inefficient bureaucratic state now accounts for 70 per cent of its GDP. Its population is ageing rapidly (partly the result of a low ­fertility rate) and is forecast to shrink by 10 per cent over the next 30 years, while life expectancy is now lower than it was in the late 1950s.

Yet this grim context makes Mr Putin an even more dangerous opponent. To maintain his internal standing (and he is popular in Russia), he must pursue external aggression. His rule depends on seeking foreign scapegoats to blame for domestic woes. Not since the Cold War has the threat to Russia’s eastern European neighbours been greater.

How best to respond to Putinism? The United Kingdom, as Europe’s leading military power (along with France), will be forced to devote greater resources to defence. Theresa May has rightly pledged to station more British troops in eastern Europe and to maintain sanctions against Russia until the Minsk agreements, providing for a ceasefire in Ukraine, are implemented. The Prime Minister has also condemned Russia’s “sickening atrocities” in Syria. Germany, where Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term as chancellor, will be another crucial counterweight to a pro-Russian France.

It is neither just nor wise for the West to appease Mr Putin, one of the icons of the illiberal world. The Russian president will exploit any weakness for his own ends. As Tony Blair said in his New Statesman interview last week, “The language that President Putin understands is strength.” Although Russia is economically weak, it aspires to be a great power. We live in the age of Putinism. Donald Trump’s victory has merely empowered this insidious doctrine.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage