Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I Hate Tinkerbell

(c) Disney
As far as Disney sidekicks go, Tinkerbell is definitely one of the most famous. She appears at the beginning of nearly every Disney movie (yup, that's her arching over Cinderella's castle at :21-24 seconds in the clip below), and is featured in the grand finale fireworks display at Disney World. More recently, she's had a series of spinoff straight-to-DVD movies. She has become her very own brand. How many other sidekicks can claim that?

You'd think such a popular Disney icon would embody beauty, goodness, loyalty, magic, etc. You'd think he or she would be a representation of Disney values.

But no. Not Tink.

Okay, I guess maybe she's got a couple of those things. She is quite pretty, I'll give her that. Definitely one of the, ahem, curviest female characters thus far. And she does possess an unending share of magic. Just a little bit of the pixie dust that emanates from her body launches people, and ships, into flight.

But good or loyal? Very questionable, in my opinion. There's no doubt that she loves Peter Pan. But this same emotion drives her completely out of control in every other way. She's possessive, violent and moody when it comes to anyone or anything that comes between her and Peter. Without thinking she encourages the Lost Boys to attack and kill Wendy. She even betrays Peter to Captain Hook, hoping that Wendy might suffer as a result. In the end, yes, she saves Peter's life, but don't forget that she was the one who put him in danger in the first place.

On top of it all, and most importantly, she doesn't have any pants. I have very little tolerance for women who don't wear pants (or skirts/dresses, you know what I mean). I'm pretty sure there's a scene when you catch a little butt crack on her. Um, what?! She's a FAIRY for goodness sake.

I am unconvinced that Tinkerbell should be allowed to grace the beginning of every single Disney film or be admired as a Disney symbol. Basically I just don't like her. Maybe I'm losing some fans here by writing this post, but I don't care! Bring on the critics! Tink stinks!

Note: please refer to Rule #7 in the "Rules for my Blog" post.

Monday, November 28, 2011

#14: I dreamt, I flewed.

I'm excited to introduce my very first guest blogger, Abi Christian. I feel very honored that she voluntarily submitted this piece for my blog. Enjoy!
(c) Disney
Peter Pan, 1953
watched November 20, 2011

In my living room, there's an old steamer trunk-turned-coffee table, of which I have many memories. As a child, it served as a doctor's table when I - the patient – was sick and my sister used her toy stethoscopes and thermometers to heal me. And it served as the ice rink on which we figure skated during every Winter Olympics.

But most frequently, it served as the launching pad for my first attempts at flight. Encouraged by Peter Pan's advice to “think happy thoughts” and the catchy song, “You Can Fly,” my little sister and I jumped off the edge countless times in reach of the sky, the second star to the right, and Never Never Land.

There was something in that moment of jumping. It's a common trope for animated movies to prolong the instance when the character - hanging in mid-air – suddenly realizes they are no longer standing on solid ground. This realization happens much faster in reality. But it still happens. For a brief space in time, you truly believe you are hung. Suspended. Flying. 

And then the fall.

(c) Disney, thanks
But that's the power of stories, isn't it? To gift you with possibility. The whole point of Peter Pan is that your dreams can be real. The choice is clear: you grow up and become practical like the bumbling father or stay a child and story-believer. The movie definitely implies the latter as more appealing.

But I think we're mistaken in assuming that practicality and dreaming are mutually exclusive. The dreamers aren't always admirable characters. Peter is self-absorbed and lacks focus. Wendy is needy; she can't go anywhere by herself (though I admit, flying is hard. I've tried).

So what makes me love these characters is not their dreaming; it's their moments of growing up - the actions they take when just dreaming isn't enough: Wendy's decision to walk the plank rather than join the scalawag band of pirates, even when it means the end. Peter's choice to fight Captain Hook “man to man” on solid ground. His refusal to fly away when left weaponless and at swordpoint because he gave his honorable word. These are heart-wrenching and thrilling scenes in the movie. They moved me as a child as I realized that loss was a possibility even when you dream, and they move me now as I still need the courage to keep dreaming.

The gift of stories is not that dreams come true; it’s that there is something worth dreaming about. That in the midst of difficult circumstances, you still hope. For something Greater. For something Beautiful. That’s growing up as a dreamer. Having the courage to dream when it’s stupid to and the actions to follow through when it gets tough. Even when the next second brings the hard crashing against earth, for a brief moment, you fly.

Abi is a dreamer, a writer, and a sucker for good fairy tales and sassy heroines. She blogs on art and good people at Her favorite movie, not surprisingly, is Finding Neverland. Tissue, anyone?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wondering about the Wonderland

In my extensive research (and you know what I mean by extensive, coughwikipediacough!) I learned that the children's books off of which Alice in Wonderland was based were a collection of stories originally told to a family of three young sisters by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a clergyman at Christ Church in Oxford. (My friend Kylene says this is the same church where many of the Harry Potter films were shot. How cool is that?) The middle sister, Alice, was Dodgson's favorite, which is why she had the honor of bearing the name of the main character in the books.

I also learned that Dodgson (pen name Lewis Carroll) claimed that he did not intend any deeper interpretation for the characters or events in the books. Some of them were inspired by real life people or stories, but they are not meant to represent a larger truth or anything like that. The books fall under a genre actually called "literary nonsense." Like that's even a real genre.

Still, many people have tried to make meaning out of them. I suppose people like doing that to stuff written by people no longer living. They're not around to correct or affirm their theories, so they can say whatever they want. Isn't that what English majors do? Just kidding! Please. I have the utmost respect for people who read and write well. I try to be like you, but alas, I am just a humble Disnerd.

So here are some of my own musings on a few of elements of the story I found interesting. Take it or leave it; these are just my opinions and there is no correct answer!

(c) Disney
White Rabbit
The White Rabbit is one of the only characters other than Alice who appears in multiple scenes. His famous exclamation, "I'm late! I'm late!" cleverly produces in audiences a feeling of anticipation throughout the film. Although the White Rabbit is not particularly friendly or warm, he does seem the most sane out of everyone in the story, which makes his presence somewhat comforting. And perhaps not on purpose, he acts as a guide to Alice as she wanders through the Wonderland.

is it me or does the mushroom look an awful lot like pie? yumm, pie. (c) Disney
Potion, Mushrooms & Cookies
Correct me if I'm wrong, but everything Alice ingests during the whole movie either makes her grow or shrink. You'd think she would have learned after the second time. The thought of this happening in real life is both amusing and frightening. The scene where she grows big and is bursting out of the White Rabbit's house is particularly scary to me. I am not really sure what is meant by all of the shrinking and growing. Perhaps there could be a comparison to the influence of drugs and 'heightened' awareness?
Queen of Hearts - scary or ridiculous? (c) Disney
Queen of Hearts
I can't not comment on the villain. While her screen time is brief, the Queen of Hearts certainly makes a lasting impression. In contrast with the controlled and quiet anger of the last villain (Cinderella's wicked Stepmother), the Queen is an unabashed tyrant. I get the impression though, that she's not very bright. I find her less threatening than villains who have more cunning wit than she does. The Queen appears angry and violent, but with no real plan of world domination, like many other villains. During Alice's "trial", the Queen goes along with whatever the King says, and is easily swayed by the Cheshire Cat's prodding. I suppose there is something dangerous about someone who is so easily unwound. Still, I find myself mostly bemused when it comes to the Queen of Hearts.

Giving oneself good advice and seldom following it
Alice says a few times in the movie that she often gives herself good advice, but seldom follows it. Hah. I think she's supposed to be like 10 years old, but she acts more like a teenager when she mopes about how horrible her life is, both at the beginning before entering the wonderland, and later on when she realizes the wonderland pretty much sucks. I guess I'm reminded of myself too, and the human race. Someone else said it pretty well:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Yup, that's from the Bible, people. Romans 7, in fact.

So there you have it. I guess I was in a loopy mood for this post. Ah well, a loopy post for a loopy movie!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Disnographic of the Month - Villains & Gender

Well, I wasn't able to create a Disnographic in October, but I'm back on schedule now! I created this Disnographic because I was curious to see what the breakdown of gender was among Disney villains. I was quite surprised that male villains outnumber female villains, more than 2:1. Also interesting is how prominent female villains are in the first 20-30 years of Disney movies compared to the later years. What does this mean?! I don't know, but it's fascinating isn't it? :)

*Note: There were some villains I did not include in here because their characters were either too ambiguous or too minor to really count as a full-fledged "villain". If there was more than one villain in a film I only counted the 'main' villain. Some films also didn't really have any villains at all. Therefore, only 36 of the 51 films are represented here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

#13: Dream On

Alice in Wonderland, 1951
watched November 14, 2011
"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?"
Although I think Alice in Wonderland is one of the weirdest movies in the Disney canon, I was very intrigued by this quote from the opening scene. As a young girl with a wild imagination, Alice is dissatisfied and bored with her life. She longs for adventure and escape: "Cats and rabbits / Would reside in fancy little houses / And be dressed in shoes and hats and trousers / In a world of my own..."

So what happens when Alice gets to dream up her own world? At first, it's merely 'curious': fun, intriguing, and seemingly harmless. As the audience discovers the world along with Alice, every character and place is unique while also somehow familiar, as if we ourselves once dreamt about bread-and-butterflies, umbrella vultures or mushrooms that make us grow bigger or smaller. I can see why Disney would be inspired by Lewis Carroll's book; it's full of whimsical and crazy creatures that lend themselves perfectly to animation.

But as the story progresses, each character Alice interacts with appears 'curiouser and curiouser,' revealing themselves to be not just mad (as in crazy) but creepy and disturbing. The Cheshire cat's floating grin was especially haunting when I was a kid. Slowly, Alice learns that this world of nonsense is not her cup of tea (haha, get it?), and she is eager to find her way home.

And who can't relate to Alice? The message today is so often, "Do what makes you happy. Do what you think is best."  The world encourages a very self-focused way of life. Especially in this postmodern culture, the thought of abiding to another's rules seems offensive. Like Alice, doing what we want seems much more appealing. But when we're actually given over to our own impulses, we end up with a chaotic world that makes no sense... where bad things happen to good people. Where sickness and death pervade. Where life is full of disappointment. The things that should be aren't, and what it is, shouldn't be.

I learn from Alice's Wonderland that a world made up with my own rules is not a wonderland at all. It's crazy and disturbing and all wrong. I need to leave the world-running to Someone Else who knows a lot more about how it should be done.

Fortunately for Alice, it was all a dream, and she was able to wake up to a reality where things made sense again. The question for us is, are we awake, or are we still dreaming?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cinderella's supporting cast

Cinderella has some well-developed lovable (and love-to-hateable) characters! If you watch closely, Cinderella herself has a fairly small role in her own movie. It is all the surrounding characters which move the story forward. Here's my analysis.

The sidekicks 
There is a large amount of screen time devoted to the mice, led by Jac, the capable one, and Gus, the round cute one (there is always a round cute one, in case you didn't know.) In fact it almost seems like the story is more about them than it is about Cinderella. Most of these scenes involve the mice trying to get past the evil Lucifer (great name for a cat huh?), which provides both humor and tension. While Cinderella attends to endless chores, they are busy making her a dress that she can wear to the ball. How adorable is The Work Song? I love that they call her "Cinderelly".

Their shining moment, however, comes when they risk everything to retrieve the key in Stepmother's pocket so they can get Cinderella out of the attic. Even though I know how it ends, I can't help but nervously bite my nails during this scene. At the end of the day, it's clear why Gus and Jac are on Entertainment Weekly's list of "Most Valuable Pets."

The villain
Lady Tremaine (did anyone else know this was her name? For a long time I thought her name was just Stepmother) is one of the best worst villains. She is quiet and controlled, but just one glare is enough to know exactly how she feels. It's her subtlety that makes her so cruel. Though her motive may be to advance her own daughters' status, she also seems to use her daughters as pawns in abusing Cinderella. Notice that when the two stepsisters destroy Cinderella's dress, Anastasia and Drizella appear to be the vicious ones. But in reality the Stepmother provokes them, thereby continuing to oppress Cinderella without lifting a finger.

The most chilling moment of animation in the film is when the Stepmother realizes that Cinderella was the mysterious girl that the Prince danced with last night. The camera zooms in on her face as the whole scene darkens to a shade nearly black. Somehow we can feel her wrath just from the shadow that comes across her face. It's a genius moment in the film.

The magical/wise character
And what about the Fairy Godmother? There is no explanation of where she came from or why she up until now has been absent from Cinderella's life (or why after that night she is nowhere to be found). However, there is something connected with Cinderella's ability to believe and the appearance of the Fairy Godmother. Note that she says to Cinderella, "If you'd lost all your faith, I couldn't be here. And here I am." Hmmmm. In any event, the Fairy Godmother is a stark contrast from the Stepmother as far as mother figures go. While the latter is cold and distant, the Fairy Godmother is warm and kind. She's just the kind of person you would want to give you a big hug when you're feeling like crap.

I think it's interesting that her magic has limitations:
  1. She uses existing items to conjure up the things that would take Cinderella to the ball. (I notice that the Genie in Aladdin also does this to a certain degree when he uses Abu as Aladdin's 'mode of transportation'. I guess it makes for a humorous/charming scene to have the sidekick turn into something different?)
  2. The magic only lasts until midnight. It seems like this plot device is used just so there is some tension in the story. Otherwise there would be no threat. Still though, there's no explanation and we just take it at face value that no magic could be completely all powerful. I suppose this is where the parallels end when calling the Fairy Godmother a type of savior figure.
It's a breath of fresh air to have so many great supporting characters in Cinderella. I'm impressed that in an 80-minute film they're able to develop such rich and complex characters. I'm still waiting for a better developed love story though. We'll have to wait for the next princess story to find out (Sleeping Beauty, if I'm not mistaken. Though I suppose Lady & the Tramp has a love story as well.).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

If the shoe fits - Cinderella adaptations

I haven't done the research but I would venture to guess that Cinderella has been adapted more often than any other fairy tale in the world, including plays, opera, ballets, novels, films, song lyrics and even jump rope rhymes! I think someone on the DVD featurette claimed there are over 90,000. Beat that.

I certainly have not examined the whole breadth of adaptations out there, but I thought since it is such a popular story, I'd mention a couple favorites.

Ella Enchanted, 1997 young adult novel by Gail Carson Levine

The main difference in this story is that Ella is cursed as a baby, and so she is forced to obey any command given to her (for example, if someone told her "Go jump off a cliff" she would have to do it). Her struggle to overcome this highly dangerous curse paired with the friendship she develops with Prince Charmont (nicknamed "Char") makes this story unique and touching. I highly recommend the book! (Movie starring Anne Hathaway, not so much, though it does have some fun musical numbers.)

Ever After, 1999 film starring Drew Barrymore

Of course, a Cinderella story made in the 90s has to have a strong-willed fiery character as its heroine. Drew Barrymore, despite her weird British/French/generic-olden-days accent, fits the bill pretty well. I really like this version and have probably seen this movie more times than I've seen the Disney version! The romantic storyline is drawn out much more heavily, and I like that Danielle (the name they give Cinderella) draws Prince Henry out from being a whiny spoiled brat, to a motivated leader. There is less of a Gospel theme here, but I am quite the sucker for romantic comedies. (I guess it's not a full-on comedy but there are a lot of funny moments.)


Cinderella, 1974 Disney's Wonderful World of Reading children's book

So, this isn't really its own version, but I wanted to mention it because this book holds special meaning to me. This is the very book from which I learned how to read as a three-year-old! While I was home at my parents' this week I found the two copies we own. Both have my named crayoned proudly across the cover and one has crayon on nearly every page. The books are both taped up at the spine and on other pages from being read so often. When I think of Disney Cinderella, this is what I think of, more than the movie itself. It is a cherished part of my childhood, counting for several bedtime stories read to me by my mom, and eventually read by myself as I basically memorized the entire book, learning to read along the way.
Apparently I thought Cinderella's dresses needed some embellishments.
Although nearly every country has its own classic version of Cinderella, somehow Disney's version has become the most recognized and iconic. I'm not sure if it's the infectious songs like Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, the adorably hilarious mice, the stepsisters that give ugly a whole new meaning, or the magical moment when Cinderella and the Prince dance through the palace. Perhaps it is all of them combined. Or, maybe it's simply the magic of Disney.

What's your favorite Cinderella story?

Monday, November 14, 2011

#12: Transformed

Cinderella, 1950
watched November 6, 2011
(c) Disney
As a classic Disney underdog protagonist, Cinderella lives in very sad and cruel circumstances. Yet, she is beautiful, kind, loving, diligent, optimistic, and a little bit sassy (which I didn't actually notice until this viewing). Hence, there are endless reasons we have to love this character. I mean, c'mon, she makes adorable little outfits for the mice she rescues! How can you not wish for all her dreams to come true?

But beyond just really liking Cindy, all of us probably also connect with her on some level. I know I feel that same deep longing she feels when she so beautifully sings, " matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep believing, the dream that you wish will come true." Amidst deep sadness and pain, her hope and resilience astounds me.

Cinderella reminds us that transformation is possible, that we don't have to settle for loneliness, loss, oppression or injustice. And in a world where these things are the norm, it's no wonder that her story has transcended time and culture.
thought this was a funny moment. she looks so surprised!
But where does transformation come from? In the past, I have been critical that Cinderella is so passive about her situation. Perhaps I've watched too many modern adaptations of Cinderella and have become used to the independent, wily versions of her character (think Drew Barrymore in Ever After). Why doesn't she run away and escape life with her evil stepmother? Surely her birth parents had relatives or other friends that could have cared for her. When she cannot go to the ball, why does she sit crying, instead of finding some way to get there on her own? When she gets locked in the attic, why doesn't she try to climb out the window or break out?

I guess I'm willing to look at it differently this time around. Perhaps Cindy could have tried to break free from her oppression, but there are many situations in real life where this is not an option. The Fairy Godmother grants Cinderella her deepest wishes when she is at her lowest point. I see a faint glimpse of the One who grants us true transformation when we were completely powerless to do it on our own. Jac and Gus painstakingly haul the key to the attic up the stairs so Cindy can claim her identity as the wearer of the glass slipper (and the one whom the Prince loves). I hear echoes of the One who endured pain and suffering so that we could claim our identity as the bride of Christ.

The Cinderella story is a fairy tale of oppression, transformation, rescue and a happy ending. But it's merely a small sliver of a true story, the one about the God who rescues us from sin and slavery so that we can live in freedom and joy.

Stay tuned for more Cindy posts!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

This is Disney, Man.

Since beginning this blog I've received a lot of Disney-related articles and random tidbits from friends. I wish I could comment and respond to all of them here but I simply don't have enough time. I will try to post the things I find funny, entertaining or thought-provoking. Let's start with a video essay on the portrayal of masculinity in Disney films, sent to me by Glenn. It isn't a new video but resurfaced on a blog that he reads.

I thought this essay was particularly interesting because we see plenty of critique on the messages Disney communicates to young girls. The 'princess thing' has become a both popular as well as controversial (seems like those words are basically synonyms these days). But it's fairly rare that anyone talks about what messages are being sent to boys. The essayist raises some legitimate issues, but I have to say I don't quite agree with everything he says.

Watch it here first before reading my analysis:

The essay begins with this quote:
"Images [in media] shape what we know & understand about the world."
I believe this has truth to it - but as a follower of Jesus, I know that what ultimately shapes my knowledge of the world is what God reveals through His Word. Images in film or other media may influence us, but as Christians we need to figure out when we're being lied to (it's pretty often). We need to hold these images against what we know is true in Scripture.

Mr. Newton has 3 main points in his essay, regarding sexism, strength and dominance. I'd like to look at each one briefly. I'll comment on the examples he gives as well as give some of my own. He seems to use mainly Renaissance films as examples, so I will too.

Sexism - Women as objects
"Often, the message to boys, both implicitly and explicitly, is that men should view women as objects of pleasure, or as servants to please them."
Gaston's attitude toward women is definitely seen as barbaric. While he appears to be physically ideal and manly, his arrogance and selfishness makes him unattractive. I doubt that Gaston would be seen by boys as someone to look up to - he is clearly the villain. It is his very barbaric way of thinking that drives him to madness, jealousy and rage.

"A Girl Worth Fighting For", Mulan
It's true that some of the lyrics in this song can come across as quite chauvinistic: "I couldn't care less what she wears or what she looks like / it all depends on what she cooks like: beef, pork, chicken, mmmm."

On the other hand,when Mulan suggests, "How 'bout a girl who's got a brain / who always speaks her mind?" their unison response, "Nahhh!" is clearly ironic. Including this line in the song communicates that this old-fashioned view of women (which, I must point out, has existed in Chinese culture for many centuries, way before Mulan was released) is just that - old-fashioned. A smart audience will catch onto that and not take the song too seriously.

In Aladdin, there is another example where Disney men are talking about women as objects. The Sultan, Jafar and Aladdin are found discussing Jasmine's future without her (known) presence. She storms in and angrily exclaims, "I am not a prize to be won!" In this moment we see all of them respond sheepishly. Aladdin is especially ashamed, and learns that he must pursue Jasmine not as a prize but as a person.

So, I'd like to argue that while there are male characters who may view women in this way, they are the very characters that are seen negatively or need to undergo a change of heart. Therefore, the message here is not that men should view women as objects or servants, but that men who do are either villains, or need to change how they think.

Strength - Physical prowess 
Body image is definitely a topic which I hope to cover in future posts. After all, cartoon drawings provide an opportunity to say a lot with shape and size, to stretch beyond physical reality and create images that could not exist in real life. How they depict human figures provide a strong message about ideal body image.

Again, I don't really think Gaston is the best example that Mr. Newton could have used. Although he is unquestionably physically built, his character is never seen as exemplary and therefore even his outer physique is unattractive.

Hercules' muscular physique and good looks does garner definite praise in that film ("Honey, you mean HUNK-ules!" "When he smiled the girls went wild with oohs and aahs!"). As the story progresses, though, he realizes that all of the hard work he puts in to becoming physically strong doesn't qualify him to become a "real hero." He only achieves that goal when he learns the meaning of self sacrifice, giving up his own immortality for the woman that he loves. I think that the message here is: physical strength may be nice, but true courage comes when you've learned to be selfless. This has much more to do with inner character than outer beauty.

One of my favorite heroes of Disney movies is a male character who is not physically attractive - Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. What we see in his character is that even someone cast out from society due to his physical deformities has worth. Through his courage, he brings justice to a corrupt city. It's true, he doesn't get the girl at the end (the more good-looking Phoebus does). But what he does get is restoration to the community, which I think is a far more powerful end to the story.

Dominance & Violence
Mr. Newton argues that Disney films support the masculinity of dominance and violence, both in being "man enough" to fight, and in the climactic scenes featuring male characters fighting each other.

Gaston vs. Beast
I really wish Mr. Newton didn't keep using Gaston as an example. I'm beginning to sound repetitive here. Yes, Gaston ridicules the Beast for not wanting to fight back. But during this scene, the audience is sympathetic towards Beast. He has just lost Belle (or he thinks he has) and therefore he doesn't engage in a fight because he doesn't think he has anything left to live for. No one is going to be thinking, "Yeah that Beast, what a wimp." Instead I'm thinking, "Stupid Gaston. Why are you trying to prove yourself? Belle is never going to love you!"

Simba vs. Scar
The battle between Simba and his uncle is not merely about dominance. Simba had run away from his past for years. He had been afraid to step into his role as king. Returning to Pride Rock to challenge Scar meant that he was choosing to own up to his responsibilities, and that although he feels guilty about his past, he knows that something is more important. It should also be noted that Simba does not actually initiate a physical fight. When given the chance to kill Scar, he actually tells Scar to leave Pride Rock. He tries to end the conflict without violence. Scar, the villain, is the one who attacks. Engaging in violence is seen as something only a villain would do.

Tarzan vs. Clayton
I don't actually think most Disney films end with a battle between two men. There are many films that feature a female villain, for example. And in Mulan, well, we all know she totally kicks butt all on her own. But, using an example along the lines of this argument, let's talk about the battle scene in Tarzan. Tarzan returns to his gorilla family when he realizes that Clayton means to capture and kill them. I think the message here is much more about protecting and caring for your family than it is about engaging in violence. What this says to us about manliness is that a man protects the vulnerable.

Another example is Jafar. He is one of the most power-hungry characters in these films. But it is that very thirst for power than becomes his downfall. Aladdin uses Jafar's ambition against him when he tricks him into becoming a genie. The lesson learned? Power isn't the answer.

Concluding thoughts
Maybe these messages are less overt than the ones this guy is talking about, but they're still there. There is definitely stuff on the surface that could lead one to make conclusions like Mr. Newton. But on a deeper level, Disney films have more to say. At least when it comes to the newer films (the one he uses in his video), I don't think the message to boys is about treating women poorly, having physical strength, or dominating power over others at all costs. In these examples, valuing women is encouraged, strength beyond just the physical is praised, and power can be used to protect, love and care for others. Moreover, characters who treat women as objects, pride themselves in their physique, or hunger for too much power, are the same ones who are unquestionably villainous or foolish.

I expect that how male characters are portrayed in older films such as The Jungle Book, Robin Hood or Peter Pan, will provide some interesting insights into how Disney has evolved. The question is, was Disney merely responding to cultural shifts or are they the ones setting the standard?

As always, your thoughts are welcome! I'd especially like to hear from the men out there - how have Disney movies influenced you and your view of masculinity?

Monday, November 7, 2011

#11: Lessons learned, sort of.

The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad, 1949
watched October 30, 2011

Suffice it to say, war sucks. I am so glad the war is over and that we're moving on to movies with real stories! This is the last of the 6 "package" films, hooray!

Both of the main characters in this movie have major flaws. In fact, I'm not sure either was actually likeable. This is a stark contrast from the exceedingly loveable main character archetype that I have formed in my mind. Typically, we never doubt that the main character has good intentions. Even Pinocchio, who gets himself into a lot of trouble, at least seems to try to be good. But both J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq. and Ichabod Crane have some real problems and are quite unapologetic about them. And although they do experience some lesson-learning, we're never quite sure if they've experienced a true change of heart.

I'll start with Mr. Toad.
(c) Disney - anyone think it's strange that Mr. Toad is pink?
J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq., a wealthy adventurous fellow (if toads can be fellows... I suppose they can if they have a British accent and the title "Esquire"), suffers from what the narrator calls "manias". In other words, he's a complete sucker for the latest fads. The bulk of the story revolves around his obsession to get himself a new "motorcar," which, not surprisingly, lands him in a lot of trouble. He is arrested for stealing a car and winds up in jail, but then breaks out with the help of Cyril, his horse. His friends then try to help him recover his home, Toad Hall - which he had traded for the motorcar (we find out that the car had been stolen by the evil Mr. Winky and his henchmen weasels, so therefore they do not rightfully own Toad Hall). Although all is set right, the segment ends with Mr. Toad flying a new airplane, suggesting that perhaps after all of that hullabaloo, nothing has really changed.

The message here is fairly obvious. Mr. Toad represents those who aren't quite satisfied with what they have, longing for the next, newest, bigger, better, faster, shinier ____. <-- You can fill in the blank.

All of us have a vice, or a mania, if you will. If it's not the latest iPhone, it could be a promotion or raise at work, a cute new coat we saw at our favorite store (I know I've got my eye on one at the moment), or maybe an upgrade to some part of our house or car. Whether or not we admit it, we are all Mr. Toads with some kind of current "mania". We blame advertising companies or peer pressure, but really it's because we're simply human. From the very beginning, humanity has been searching for something just out of our reach, and as a result, well... it makes Mr. Toad's episode seem like not such a big deal.

Rather than having Mr. Toad reform as in the original story (The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame), Disney chose to leave Mr. Toad's outcome a bit open-ended. While we feel glad that his home is recovered and that the "bad guys" are brought to justice, it's not quite clear if we should be glad that Mr. Toad is still up to his old tricks, gallivanting around with the next craze. Could any of this have to do with the fact that the world was just emerging from a history-altering war? Perhaps they were feeling a little bit ambivalent about the goodness of humanity. This is just speculation, but either way, I find myself puzzled at the end of Mr. Toad's adventure. I suppose this is my yearning for happy endings, not just in circumstance but in character arcs. But perhaps Mr. Toad's story represents a lot of our own experiences. We learn lessons over and over again, and yet change does not necessarily take place. Is this just the human condition?

Let me move on to Ichabod Crane.
(c) Disney

Ichabod Crane is basically an ugly, tall, lanky version of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. At least that's what the opening scene made me think of. (He's walking through town while reading a book, as the townspeople sing about how strange he is. Sound familiar?) There are a few distinctions, however. We learn that Mr. Crane, while a bit eccentric, is quite fond of food and women. Inexplicably he has a charming way about him that makes Sleepy Hollow's ladies swoon. When he meets Katrina Van Tassel, he is motivated both by her beauty as well as her father's deep pockets, and sets out to win her affections. 

Things seem to be going well, but at a Halloween party, his competitor, Brom Bones (who oddly enough bears some resemblance to Gaston, hah!) discovers that Ichabod is extremely superstitious. Brom then tells a spooky tale of the legendary Headless Horseman who comes out on Halloween night searching for his head (or something like that. I couldn't quite understand all the lyrics. Because yes, this was all done in song of course.) On his way home, Ichabod can't shake the feeling that the Headless Horseman is nearby. After several false alarms, the Headless Horseman actually does appear, chasing Ichabod and his horse all the way to the bridge. The scene is quite frightening, and we're left not really sure if he escaped, or if Ichabod Crane was killed by the Headless Horseman. 
(c) Disney - scary, right?

Ichabod Crane's "adventure" is based on Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I was unfamiliar with the story, so of course I looked it up on wikipedia. :) Apparently, in the original, the implication is that the Headless Horseman was actually a disguised Brom Bones, who later marries Katrina. I totally guessed that while we were watching this version, but we are never actually told by the filmmakers one way or another. How annoying. I need closure, people!

As the protagonist, I expect Ichabod to experience the happy ending. But since he is kind of a creepy dude, I feel a little bit ambivalent about his eerie disappearance. It's not like I was rooting for the Headless Horseman and/or Brom Bones though, so really, it was a confusing way to end the tale.

Ichabod's experience is even less understandable than Mr. Toad's, by way of values or lessons we learn from him. I want to be able to say, "So...therefore, we've learned, don't be superstitious!" But, I guess not all literature is meant to have a neat and tidy "moral of the story."

So my analysis here leaves me a bit baffled. I'd love to hear other thoughts on what we can learn from Mr. Toad and/or Ichabod Crane. Anyone?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Alan Menken is awesome. And so is Darren Criss.

This is pretty awesome. I just had to share it. Seriously just watched it 3 times in a row.

Even if you don't know the name Alan Menken, you've most likely been impacted by his music. Just listen to this medley, sung by Darren Criss (of Glee) and a special guest at the end!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Disnerd Halloween Adventure

I've made an executive decision (and since I'm the only one running this blog it was pretty easy to get a unanimous agreement) that this year I am going to make all of my holidays Disney-themed. Why? It gives me a reason to post more fun stuff on here, as well as make this blog a community experience, getting other people involved in the Disnerdy-ness. And what better holiday is there to do this to than one where you're supposed to dress in costumes?

It was sort of a big deal that I decided to do something for Halloween because I haven't actually dressed up in a costume for Halloween since I was 6. That was around the time my family moved; the new neighborhood didn't have sidewalks, the houses were much more spread out and it would have been hard to go trick-or-treating. And we lived off a big/busy road so we didn't get any trick-or-treaters either. I didn't actually mind so much, because our mom still bought as candy and that was really the main draw for me as a kid.

So anyway, this year I broke my 23-year-long refrain from wearing a costume and hosted a Disney Halloween costume party! It was actually just my normal Sunday night Disney movie viewing (and as fate would have it, we watched The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad - the most Halloween-ish movie on the list!), but it was a great reason to get creative and have fun.

I'm sure you just want to see the pictures fact you probably scrolled past all of what I just wrote and skipped right to this part of the post. If that's the case, I will forgive you, but only because the costumes are so awesome.

Me: Snow White
    The breakdown of my outfit: 
  • short black hair & brown eyes - got it. probably the only Disney princess I wouldn't need a wig for. (Even Mulan's boy-cut hair is longer than mine!)
  • yellow dress - already owned this
  • blue velvet jacket with puffed sleeves - already owned this
  • red shoes - so, Snow White actually has yellow flats with bows on them. I was tempted to buy a pair but decided my red ones would work just fine. 
  • red ribbon - $2.50 at Michaels
  • safety pins - $3 at Michaels - used these to pin the red ribbon to my jacket.
  • red headband - $1 at the Dollar Store (it actually came in a 6 pack so I also have pink, blue, dark blue, purple, red sparkly, and yellow headbands that I will probably never wear.) 
  • white flexible foam - $.89 at Michaels - I tried to make a white collar using the foam but ended up not wearing it cuz it just wasn't working.
  • shiny red apple - approx. $.50 at Copp's grocery store, I actually forgot to take this out during my party!
Total Cost: $8! I was super proud of myself for pulling off this look at such a low cost.

Mimi: Muse, Hercules
Mimi was the first to arrive - here she is looking all fabulous as a Muse from Hercules. Notice that she went conservative and did not decide to put a huge slit up the side of her costume. haha. Good thinking, Mimi. I also want to give her points for dressing as an animated character as requested (she was initially planning to come as Jack Sparrow, her favorite Disney character ever.)
Becky: Minnie Mouse 
Becky came as classic Minnie Mouse. Apparently she based her entire costume on this pair of yellow shoes she found at a thrift store. Nice job!

Christopher & Tiana: Mickey & Minnie, The Brave Little Tailor
Christopher and Tiana were Mickey and Minnie from fa Disney short called The Brave Little Tailor. (Actually none of us had even seen it so we all watched it after the main movie - it's super cute, I recommend it!) Their outfits were completely homemade and totally spot on - complete with 4-fingered gloves, as well as a needle and thread in Mickey's brown pouch!

Kylene & Vicki: Aces, Alice in Wonderland
Kylene and Vicki were aces! Ace of Hearts and Ace of Spades, that is. :) Their costumes totally cracked me up! Apparently they had to hand-sew the felt fabric because the iron-on glue stuff they bought didn't work. I'm so impressed! We all decided their costumes were the most Trick-or-Treating friendly - very warm and comfortable!
Grete: Lumière, Beauty & the Beast
Grete's costume was possibly the cleverest of them all! Of course for her, finding gold clothing was not a problem - she already had it all in her wardrobe. I loved the cream-colored legwarmers that she used around her wrists as the wax candles, and gold-spray painted styrofoam bowls around her wrists and neck. 
One of the reasons I decided to have this party was because I knew I could pull off a Snow White costume fairly easily. But I was totally blown away by how everyone else went all out for the occasion -- each and every costume was homemade and super creative! It genuinely warmed my heart to see my friends voluntarily dressed up as Disney characters in costumes that they spent so much time making. And having everyone keep it a secret until I opened the door was pretty awesome (not my idea but it was perfect)!

To top it off, I added a few extra touches to make this an actual party. From the Disney family website, I found instructions to make Mickey Mouse bat decorations, and Mickey Mouse mummy cupcakes. It was a scramble getting them finished before the party (I was in Chicago all weekend and got home just 2 hrs. before the party started) - but totally worth it!

I dunno, this was so much fun I may have to make this an annual tradition.We've already started talking about costume ideas for next year. :)

group pic! shout-out to Abi who did not come in a costume but came to join the fun anyway! :)
some of us wore our costumes to work the following day. i got to carry my apple around since i forgot to take it out at the party. we paraded around the office and some people gave us candy (as well as earplugs and nuts). haha

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Disnerd Pumpkin Adventure

A couple weekends ago I went to a corn maze and pumpkin patch with some friends. It was absolutely the perfect fall day - warm and sunny and wonderful! Fall is seriously one of the best things about living in the Midwest. I know seasons happen in other areas too - but nowhere else do you get that perfect combination of beautiful fall colors, crisp air, freshly pressed apple cider and donuts, corn mazes, hayrides and pumpkin patches. Seriously, those of you on the coasts or in the south, you are missing out!

Anyway, as any good Disnerd would do, I took the opportunity to have some Disnerd-y fun. Here's my pumpkin adventure!
I already knew what I was planning to carve, so I picked my pumpkin according to size and flatness.

I printed out this template from this Disney family website. They had a bunch of options but I thought classic Mickey would be best. Kylene wanted me to try to carve Flynn Rider - but I think that would be too hard. How do you communicate "smolder" on a big ol' pumpkin? I thought later that it would have been fun and appropriate to carve Cinderella's stagecoach on there - but again, too complicated! Maybe next year.

I used a nail to poke holes all along all the lines. You wouldn't think it would take that long but I was nearly the last one to finish my pumpkin!
Here's how it looked freshly carved! Not bad for my second carved pumpkin ever! (My first time was just last year!)
Ta da! Here it is all lit up! People kept saying it was vampire Mickey but those are just the indents around his tongue. Oh well, I suppose he can be a vampire since it's Halloween.

I saved the pumpkin for my Halloween party (blog post coming soon!) but alas, it got a bit moldy. I would have kept it outside but I was warned that it would get eaten by bugs. Oh well. It was fun!