Monday, August 29, 2011

#1: The One That Started It All

Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, 1937
Watched August 20, 2011

As a lover of the more modern Disney classics, I probably don’t appreciate Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as much as I ought to. It has been probably more than 20 years since I have seen it and therefore this was nearly like watching it for the first time. (On a side note, I watched this movie while drinking beer with my parents. How many people can say they have ever done that?) This recent viewing made me see how much this film really has served as a foundation for all of Disney’s subsequent animated films.

First of all, there is definitely an innocence and simplicity to Snow White. Its heroine has two very important traits: a pure heart and a dream. To my millennial worldview this seems a bit naive (okay, a lot naive). But I can imagine that in 1937 this is the very kind of character that would be seen as ideal and appealing. She is the epitome of beauty and goodness. Present in all Disney films is that belief--that beauty and goodness will and should always win.

But perhaps the most enchanting part of the film is Snow White’s relationship with the dwarfs. Walt Disney was quite brilliant in deciding to name each dwarf and give them personalities and feelings. They instantly become endearing and lovable, both to Snow White and to the audience. Never mind the many questions that arise about their situation (Were they brothers? Where were the other dwarfs in the kingdom? Did they not have wives or children? What did they do with all those sparkly jewels they mined for? You’d think they’d be able to afford separate houses - or at least bedrooms!)

At first I thought Snow White was quite motherly to the dwarfs - which was weird because she is clearly quite young (maybe 15 or so?). And why was she so eager to keep house for them? (Again, this is my 2011 self making observations about the role of a female in a male-dominated 1937 culture.) After doing what any good InterVarsity staff would do (observe, then interpret, then apply!) I eventually came to the conclusion that although some of their interactions seem to imply it, Snow White is neither a mother figure nor a servant to the dwarfs. However you might define their unlikely relationship, it is actually what is at the center of this story. When Snow White is in danger, it is not the prince but the dwarfs who rush to her aid. After Snow White has been poisoned, they are the ones who chase after the Queen, though they are vocally fearful of her. And they are the ones who preserve Snow White in her glass casket even after she has ‘died’. Their courage and devotion is extremely moving.

I found myself particularly drawn to the character of Grumpy, whose cynicism is perhaps the most relatable to our postmodern generation (I pretty much couldn’t relate to Snow White at all, other than the fact that we both have short black hair. Mine doesn't curl in quite so naturally as hers though. Darn it.) Unlike the other 6 dwarfs, he is initially very hesitant to welcome Snow White to their home, and we see that Snow White makes an extra effort to win his affection. When he finally shows his softer side I had to give a little "yay!". I imagine Grumpy has experienced a lot of hurt in his life, and is afraid to open his heart. All along he needed someone with a pure and honest heart like Snow White to bring healing to that pain. I imagine that many of us can resonate with that in our own life. In that sense, Snow White could be like a savior figure to Grumpy, and to the rest of the dwarfs. And mutually, the dwarfs embrace her warmly and openly, unlike the extremely cruel treatment she has received from her stepmother queen all her life. Snow White is a love story, but it’s not between a princess and a prince.

It’s quite astonishing that this was the very first animated feature length film. Ever. At the time that Walt Disney was making it, everyone in Hollywood thought he was crazy and that it would be a big failure. Back then, cartoons were known for just providing silly slapstick humor before the ‘real’ movie at theaters. But Walt Disney brought a realism and humanity to these drawings (while still retaining that charming humor) that truly brings them to life and makes you care for them. This is truly the magic of Disney animation.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Rules for my blog

I work well when there are rules and guidelines to follow, even if I’m the one who sets them. I thought it might be good to start my blog by listing out some general guidelines for myself, just so I have some direction when I write, and so you readers know what to expect. :)

  1. This blog will primarily be about the actual films, not about all of Disney. The reason for this is because it gets a too complicated if I try to incorporate all the other aspects of Disney (the amusement parks, business models, TV channel, etc.) I don’t care as much about that stuff, and frankly, I don’t really feel like doing the research!
  2. I’ve chosen to watch only the animated films listed as the ‘official’ animated motion pictures. While there are many other Disney movies, television shows and other programs, some of which are live-action, it’s really the animated features that are the most well-known and most clearly represent Disney’s brand. Plus, this gives me something to aim for. It would take forever to watch every single movie and show! (Plus, I really have no patience for the more recent shows on The Disney Channel like “Wizards of Waverly Place” - ugh. I suppose I don’t love everything Disney.)
  3. Anything is game within the films: story, characters, music & lyrics, animation and cinematography, voice talent, “easter eggs” (fun facts/trivia that may be hidden in the films), favorite lines or dialogue.
  4. Inevitably, parallels will emerge as I watch more and more of the films. I may use some entries to talk about a set of characters (for example: “villains” or “damsels in distress” or “sidekicks”), or a set of films, songs, etc. I'm particularly looking forward to this once I get to the Renaissance era! 
  5.  It is more than likely you will see an infographic or two pop up now and then. I can't help it, I think in infographics now. Blame it on the day job.
  6. I intend to draw themes from these films that relate to the Gospel. This does not mean that I believe this was the way the films were intended to be interpreted, or that it’s necessarily how they should be interpreted. But I think as a Christian engaging in culture, it is always good to go back to the Gospel, and make that the center of my interpretation and critique of all cultural things.   
  7. It is okay and encouraged to make fun of the movies. Remember, I have impressive sarcastic wit and I’m not afraid to use it.  
  8. This is a personal blog, and I will be expressing my own opinions and thoughts. I’m not claiming to be the expert on any of these movies, and definitely not on their philosophical, theological or spiritual implications. I will be writing from my own personal experiences with these films--how they impacted me when I first saw them, or how they currently impact me as I watch them now.  
  9. I’d love participation on this blog. Even just in the past couple days I have learned that many of you out there have an interest in what I'm doing. Hopefully throughout the blog I will post questions (and maybe trivia questions?) and ask for your thoughts. Perhaps some of you might even like to write a guest post about a particular favorite film of yours. Also, I intend for my viewings to be open to anyone who wants to join me. As of now I plan on watching them on Sunday nights. If you're interested please let me know in the comments or privately and I'll make sure you get wind of when these viewings are happening. Let’s make this fun!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tangled sequel?

So I know this is skipping ahead a bit but I have to share the exciting news! There will be a Tangled sequel (a short, not a full length feature)! Typically I am not really a supporter of Disney's sequels; there are very few that I've actually liked (and some I refuse to even watch) but hey - if this means more Zachary Levi as Flynn Rider then sign me up! :)

Check out the news here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time, I had a mildly popular blog on which I used to write top ten lists with my impressive sarcastic wit (which I may or may not be using right this very minute, HA.) After that, I jumped on the xanga train just as it was leaving, and while I did keep that up for a couple of years, I haven’t regularly blogged for quite a while. And I miss it!

I’ve been contemplating starting a personal blog again for several months now. Those of you who know me know that this is normal - I take forever to make decisions, big or small. (This makes grocery shopping quite a predicament, by the way.) Getting things down on paper (or screen) is ultimately where my most significant reflections happen (I’m a hopeless internal processor). And though I journal daily, there’s something about blogging in a public space that makes me more accountable to what I think about. It drives one to be thoughtful and intentional, and not just babble about what I ate for lunch today. 

So I’ve been toying around with what kinds of topics I should write about. Most other blogs I follow have a fairly specific topic, something that the blogger is passionate about and and in which he/she has some level of expertise. It’s also usually something fairly unique that hasn’t been done a hundred times already. What is that for me?

Disney movies.

Um, Laura, you said you were going to be thoughtful.

I know that blogging about Disney movies may not strike one as the most profound thing ever. And it probably isn’t. But look at it this way - this is my opportunity to provide a glimpse into one of the most influential business empires in modern history. One man’s dream became a time-transcending cultural phenomenon, infiltrating every American home (and that of pretty much every other country as well), first with the motion pictures themselves, then the music, merchandise, and most mysteriously, the magic. (Wow, I totally did not intend for all that alliteration!) Why is it that every child dreams of going to Disney World, every little girl wants to be a princess, and every boy a hero (topics I expect will get much discussion in future posts!)?  How did Mickey Mouse become one of the most well-known icons in pop culture? (According to one list, he ranks 3rd, just after Elvis and MLK Jr.)

When you think about it, Disney storytelling covers a broad range of not only familiar but also significant themes - the battle between good versus evil, what it means to be a hero or a loyal friend, finding true love, the heart’s deepest longings, and of course that final “happily ever after”. Such important themes get at the heart of what all of us as humans truly desire. 

J.R.R. Tolkien put it well when he said, “The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories.” In other words, fairy tales and magical adventures show merely a snapshot of the one Story that is completely real and true, and even more wonderful than anyone’s imagination. That is why we are so drawn to them, and why they have lasted throughout the ages. 

I should also mention, not insignificantly, that I absolutely love Disney animated movies. Call me sappy, cheesy, nerdy or crazy - but I have a special devotion to them (especially certain ones) that goes beyond a nostalgic fondness. Starting this blog is just an extension of years I’ve spent loving these characters, songs and films. “Perhaps you’d like to see how Disnerdy I can be!”  (Extra points if you get the reference I just made.)

As a visual creative person, I also really love the animation and art in these films. Media communication is at its best when it combines visual beauty with a compelling story, and I believe there’s no one that does it better than Disney. I’m looking forward to the feast of masterful artistry that was so lovingly created over the years. 

So, over the course of however long it takes, I will embark on this journey of finding meaning and truth (and hopefully, some laughs) in these Disney animated films. Recently Disney just reached the milestone of releasing their 50th animated feature (Tangled, which is turning into one of my new favorites, by the way.) I’m planning to watch one every week, depending on how things go, starting with the very first, Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, all the way until #50 (by the time I finish I suspect there will be a couple more on the list).
I hope you will join me in revisiting these classic tales, to laugh, cry, learn, muse, discuss, and return to that childlike wonder that we all have known in our favorite Disney tale.