Tuesday, January 31, 2012

#21: Legend has it...

(c) Disney
Robin Hood, 1973
watched January 22, 2012

It's hard to deny: Robin Hood is pretty awesome. He made thievery cool way before Aladdin and Flynn Rider came along (not that thievery is necessarily supposed to be cool. That's another issue entirely). So what is it about this (in)famous outlaw that has motivated the perpetuation of his folklore for hundreds of years?

It should be noted that Disney's version of the legend portrays certain important characters as comedic relief, giving the movie a more lighthearted tone compared to other adaptations. Prince John, a whiny, childish and greedy brat, has something of an inferiority complex, as most second-in-line-to-the-throne types do. The Sheriff of Nottingham, an overweight wolf (at least I think that's what he is--it was hard to tell), speaks with a  drawl reminiscent of those slow-on-the-uptake sheriffs in Westerns (I can't get American Tale: Fievel Goes West out of my head). Did Disney actually dumb these villains down to offset the seriousness of their crimes?

I'm not fooled.

Maybe it's because Robin Hood is such a familiar story, or maybe it's because I'm bent to think this way after some twenty weeks of blogging. But what I see is much bigger than a bratty prince or a silly sheriff bullying cute little forest animals. It's justice that's at stake here. And if there's anything that is a truly ubiquitous ideal, it's that.

Deep down in all of us, there's an innate sense of right and wrong. When the powerful take advantage of the powerless to satisfy their own desires, we're undeniably incensed. And we should be. We've all come into contact with injustice's grip, and we know that this is not the way it was meant to be.

And that is why Robin Hood is so appealing: he's a symbol of justice, fighting for the poor and oppressed. He won't stand idly by while corruption and greed take over his community; he's courageous and action-oriented. It probably doesn't hurt either that he's clever and quick, and an expert marksman. In most adaptations I've seen, he also happens to be a bit of a flirt. He's the guy that all the guys want to be like, and the guy that all the girls have a secret crush on. No wonder Disney decided to portray him as a fox.

While Robin Hood was known as an outlaw, there's another, more significant symbol of justice who fulfilled the law. We're drawn to Robin Hood because in him we see the ultimate Hero of the True Story, the one who stood up to evil and vanquished it forever. And even a watered-down Disney version of Robin Hood can remind us of the hope we have in Him, the one who fully satisfies the whole world's need for justice.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tune as Old as Song - A perfect Disney soundtrack

So...I had kind of a crappy week. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say it was the perfect time to cheer myself up by spending $12 to watch a movie I already own on DVD. I was excited because this was my first time seeing Beauty and the Beast in a theater!

When I thought about why I love Beauty and the Beast, it struck me that I actually know the music better than the movie itself. As kids, my siblings and I had the soundtrack, but we never owned the VHS tape. And so I have many great memories of belting out the tunes with my sister and brother. They would have been proud, hearing me sing as loudly as Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson while the end credits rolled. I think I sounded pretty good, too, if i say so myself. ;)

Beauty and the Beast contains the perfect formula of song categories, emulated by the best Disney movies to date. Here they are, complete with videos and my favorite lines: 

1. The opening song | "Belle"
A great opening song tells us so much about the story in just a few minutes. And this one also seems to be designed for a large chorus in a Broadway show (which it eventually did become!) Since my first time watching this movie I've always dreamt of gliding across a bookshelf ladder; it looked not only fun but romantic. My favorite line from this song is actually spoken, not sung, but it's hilarious! And it reminds me of my brother, who does the best Gaston impression: "Gee, you didn't miss a shot, Gaston! You're the greatest hunter in the whole world!" "I know."

2. The reprise | "Belle (reprise)"
The best Disney movies contain a reprise of the opening song. At the slower, more dramatic tempo, the reprise embodies the deepest longings of the main character, and sets up the rest of the movie for how she will discover what she was made for."I want adventure in the great wide somewhere / I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand / to have someone understand. I want so much more than they've got planned..." 

3. The villain song | "Gaston"
Only a few Disney films give the villain his own song, because only the most charismatic villain can pull off a song without losing "villain street cred." Gaston has probably the most singing for any villain in a Disney film (featured in 3 songs plus a reprise). It makes sense with his character; he's completely self-involved. He loves hearing people tell him how wonderful he is, as well as hearing himself tell everyone how wonderful he is. "Not a bit of him's scraggly or scrawny..." "That's right! And every last inch of me's covered with hair!" I mean, who says that and gets away with it?

Note: "The Mob Song" could probably also fit into the villain song category. However, it is much more serious and dramatic, and comes at the climax of the film. Villain songs tend to come earlier to set up their character and motive.

4. The sidekick song | "Be Our Guest"
Man, Lumière is so COOL, especially considering he's a candlestick. There are two kinds of sidekick songs: they either sing about how awesome they are, or about how awesome the main character is. (In some cases, as in Aladdin, you've got one of each--"Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali"). Here, Lumière pulls out all the stops to show hospitality to their new guest. It's a visual and musical treat--Disney animation at its best. I love the part in the bridge when Lumière and Cogsworth are under the spotlight and it looks like it's snowing, and you realize there are enchanted saltshakers are above them. Ingenious! "Flabby, fat and lazy, you walked in an oopsie-daisy!"

5. The love song | "Something There"
Sometimes the love song and theme song are one and the same. But in Beauty and the Beast, we get a bonus love song that's lighthearted and cute. And only in a Disney movie will you see characters singing inside their heads! This song has one of my favorite lyrics of all time: "She glanced this way, I thought I saw / And when we touched she didn't shudder at my paw!" I also love when Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts and Lumière sing three-part harmony about how excited they are that "there may be something there that wasn't there before." Hands down adorable.

6. The theme song | "Beauty & the Beast"
Who figured that a teapot could pull off one of the greatest Disney theme songs? The first glimpse of the computer-animated ballroom (which needs no 3D effects to be impressive) never fails to give me goosebumps. My sister always quotes "Off to the cupboard with you now, Chip. It's past your bedtime. Good night, love." after every Disney song with similar resolving notes (which is a lot of them, thanks to Alan Menken). This song is also perfectly within my singing range (hence the belting during the rolling credits.) It's probably my second favorite Disney song of all time. (Can you guess what my #1 might be?)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#20: The Worst One So Far

(c) Disney
 The Aristocats, 1970
watched January 15, 2012

In case you're like me and never bothered to see The Aristocats, you are not missing much. Needless to say, this was one of the worst Disney animated films I've ever watched. We haven't gotten to Home on the Range though. So I am thinking perhaps we haven't hit rock bottom yet. Yikes.

I'm not quite sure what to say about a film that I really didn't like. I've maintained a fairly optimistic voice on this blog, but it's hard not to be critical of this one. Watching this film reminded me of all the reasons I love the other ones, and how this one fell short on so many levels.

An engaging story
One of the strengths of animated films is that the story is established before any drawing happens. This is why the best animated films are so seamless. All the editing happens in advance, and only the crucial, important moments are captured. Aristocats "rambles" on in ways that made me wonder why certain sequences were kept in. The scenes when Edgar the butler is being chased by the two dogs feel especially random and unimportant. I found myself wanting to get back to the main characters, Duchess and Thomas, instead of wasting time on the gags of Edgar crashing into a windmill and repeatedly losing his umbrella. Who cares about that? 

Characters that you can relate to (or, for you grammar snobs, "to which you can relate")
The main character is a Parisian cat (with a mysteriously Hungarian accent) who lives in a mansion with her extremely wealthy mistress. Duchess is pampered, proper and poised, with no experience in the 'real world'. While this bears striking resemblance to Lady and the Tramp, Duchess does not possess the same qualities of Lady's vulnerability and charm, and I felt little sympathy for her. Her character does not seem to have any emotions; she is neither happy nor sad nor frightened enough for me to feel connected to her story. Additionally, Thomas O'Malley, the street-wise alley cat Duchess meets, seems two-dimensional and predictable. Been there, done that.

A threatening and complex villain
Pretty much the entire plot is ruined when we are introduced to the villain. The butler, named Edgar Balthazar, overhears his mistress Adelaide Bonfamille creating her will, indicating that her entire fortune is to go to Duchess and her kittens. The jealous, greedy butler decides to take action so that he can inherit her wealth. Now, if I were in this situation, I would probably just kill the cats and get it over with. End of story, right? He could have easily poisoned them with something more deadly than sleeping pills. So, when Edgar instead "catnaps" them and drops them off into a river (inside a basket, so they wouldn't drown), I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel on the whole film. Why go any further when the whole threat rests on the stupidest villain move in the history of villains?

Memorable melodies
My favorite Disney animated films contain some of the best songs. Their melodies are not only the kind that can get stuck in your head for days, but they also embody the heart of the film's story, express the characters' innermost thoughts, and captivate the audience. In Aristocats, all we get is a jazzy rendition of "Everybody Wants to be a Cat," performed by a gang of racially stereotyped alley cats. Don't get me started on the "Chinese" Siamese cat who plays the piano with a couple pairs of chopsticks, while singing "ching chong" speak. Ugh.

Beautiful animation
After watching films like Bambi and Sleeping Beauty, the artistry in Aristocats is extremely disappointing. There is something compelling about how most Disney films use color, brush strokes, and shapes in a style that can only work with animation. It creates a sense of wonder and fantasy, further pulling the audience into the story. Aristocats is, in a word, sloppy. The lines were rough, the colors rather garish, and the backgrounds were stiff and boring. The characters are portrayed as if the animators were rushing through the drawings. At the end of the day, the medium did nothing to serve the purpose of telling an already uninteresting story any better.

So, ladies and gentlemen, now you know that yes, even a Disnerd such as myself can actually say something negative about a Disney movie. This makes me even more eager to get to the Renaissance movies! Can't wait for March to come!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Year of the Mushu!

Chinese (Lunar) New Year was never a big celebration in my family, probably because of our Filipino cultural heritage (where January 1st is a much bigger deal). But I thought it was fitting to at least celebrate the Year of the Dragon in Disnerd style, because Mushu the dragon comes from the only Disney film that takes place in China! How fortuitous!

In case you can't see the characters in the zodiac I created very well, here's the list:
  • Dragon: Mushu, Mulan
  • Snake: Kaa, The Jungle Book
  • Horse: Maximus, Tangled
  • Sheep/Goat: Djali, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (there aren't any sheep in the Disney films, unless you count the time that Genie transforms into a sheep and tells Aladdin, "Alright you baaaaad boy, but no more freebies!"
  • Monkey: Abu, Aladdin
  • Rooster: Panchos Pistoles, The Three Caballeros
  • Dog: Bolt, Bolt
  • Pig: Pumbaa, The Lion King
  • Rat: Mickey Mouse! (Mickey's not a rat but he's way cuter.)
  • Ox: Maggie, Home on the Range (technically a cow, there are no male ox in any of the Disney movies)
  • Tiger: Rajah, Aladdin
  • Rabbit: Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh
If you're unfamiliar with Chinese zodiac, check here to find out what year you are. I'm year of the dog.

Happy New Year! Xin ni kuai lok! (This is how you would say it in my dialect, Fukien.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What Walt Taught Me

It seems appropriate to pause for reflection after my review of The Jungle Book. As you may know, TJB was the last film to be produced by Walt Disney. I expect that there will be a noticeable difference in the films from here on out.

Since December I've been reading a Walt Disney biography I received as a Secret Santa gift and I finished it just this week. It was surprisingly engaging, albeit a little overly detailed (I got lost sometimes when there was too much talk about business deals and money.) But on the whole, I was very inspired by Walt Disney's life, as told by author Bob Thomas. It would be difficult to summarize the biography in any kind of eloquent way, so I will do what I do best: write a list. Here are eight things about Walt Disney that inspire me.
thanks to Disney wikia for the photo
1. Walt Disney failed.
You've probably never heard of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit because he's overshadowed by the now iconic Mickey Mouse. But Oswald was actually Walt Disney's first animated cartoon character. He was mildly popular in the 1920s, but due to a shady business deal, the rights to Oswald were taken from Disney. In those early years, Walt Disney tried a lot of different things, such as Oswald, and was often unsuccessful. But his failures actually seemed to energize him, spurring him on to try something new. Even after the success of Mickey Mouse and then Snow White (the first animated feature length film), many of his projects didn't work out. It took 30 years for the Disney company to actually start making a profit. Despite that, he never stopped innovating.

2. Walt Disney was not motivated by money or fame. 
Although both came to him over the years, I get the sense that neither ever meant a lot to Walt. At one point he mentioned that having money only meant that he was able to do more and create more. He was extremely driven, but only by his desire to bring entertainment to the masses and to make people happy. He also had a high standard of excellence and quality. He was unfazed by the fame and wealth that came with the success he achieved.

3. Walt Disney cared about his audience.
He spent a great deal of time finding out what 'the public' liked, didn't like, wanted, didn't want. Especially later on as he worked on Disneyland and Disney World (which he did not live to see completed), he made it his business to know how the public was responding. He would base decisions solely on what he knew from this research, no matter the cost or time involved. Walt Disney would often talk about the public as if they were his friends, his confidantes, his partners. It is no wonder that so many people resonate with the world that Disney created through his films and theme parks. 

4. Walt Disney was forward thinking. 
The ability to envision a better future is a common characteristic among the greatest influential figures in history. Walt started out with short humorous cartoons, which led him to feature length animation, portraying characters with lifelike movement and complex emotions. That in itself was a huge step forward in the entertainment industry. But after that, he expanded the company to include live action films, television series, Disneyland, and then Disney World/Epcot (the "City of Tomorrow"). While some people like to find what they're good at and stick with it, Walt Disney thrived on venturing out into what had never been done before. As was mentioned, he was not always successful. But his forward thinking mostly brought him a vast spectrum of creative achievement.

5. Walt Disney was an expert at branding.
The name "Walt Disney" is now so familiar that I sometimes forget he was just a person. The brand has come to represent so much more than just one man who created Mickey Mouse. We now know Walt Disney to mean fun family entertainment, warm fuzzy happy endings, and dreams coming true. How did this happen? It was because Walt Disney, the man, planned it this way. From the get-go, he was adamant that all of their products have his name on it, not because of ego, but to enforce brand recognition in everything the company created. This led to decisions about what to include or not include in story elements of a film, down to how clean and proper the theme parks should be kept. Disney has become one of the most powerful and recognized brands today.

6. Walt Disney was intentional. 
To list his many accomplishments would take a long time. Even the biography couldn't fully describe everything he did. It seems that Walt made the most of every moment in his 65 years of life. While he worked very hard, he also had hobbies, babysat his grandkids, and traveled. He was never idle, and even his leisure time was spent thinking of new ideas for Disneyland rides, or finding out how things worked (he was especially fond of trains). While I'm sure that his busy life contributed to his early death, I also think he was purposeful and intentional with his time. I would love to look back at the end of my life and be able to say I used every moment I had for a purpose. This is surely how Disney lived.

7. Walt Disney was a leader.
I remember that in one of my business classes in college there was book about Walt Disney's leadership model. I don't think I actually read the book. But now I can see why there would be books about his leadership. Walt wasn't particularly adept at business or even drawing and animation. But he knew how to find people who had gifts in those areas, and challenge them to rise to the standard of excellence he sought. With persuasive and compelling words, Walt gave his employees excitement and passion for their work. He knew how to assign artists to various parts of a project based on their strengths. When he wanted to figure out something new, Walt looked for experts in that field to do the job. Everyone who worked with Walt Disney was completely on board with his vision (not without some arguments, of course); they respected him and looked to him to guide the process.Without his ability to lead well, Walt Disney would not have been able to accomplish all that he did.

8. Walt Disney was a storyteller.
What Walt Disney was best known for was his uncanny gift of telling stories. It's true, most of the stories he told were unoriginal; he adapted many fairy tales and other pieces of classic literature. But there is a reason why the Disney versions have become the most recognized. Walt Disney knew how to portray admirable heroes, endearing sidekicks, and dynamic villains. He knew how to incorporate music in a way that gave the story more meaning and feeling. He knew how to include just the right amount of fantasy and magic that took the audience to places only their imagination thought possible. His stories strike at the heart of who we are; they remind us of the good that humanity was meant for. Walt Disney's gift of storytelling has placed him among the most influential people of his generation, and for many generations to come.

Monday, January 16, 2012

#19: Living in the tension

(c) Disney
The Jungle Book, 1967
watched January 8, 2012

There have been pitiful, passive and uninteresting main characters in the Disney films thus far, but this was the first time I actually felt kind of annoyed with one. To be fair, Mowgli is a lonely orphan, literally raised by wolves, and then told he has to leave. So I suppose he has some reason to sulk. But I found his whining and moping quite tiresome. Perhaps I was just in an unsympathetic mood. (Note that he is also not wearing pants, just a red diaper thing. I see a theme emerging here.)

The real star of The Jungle Book, in my opinion, is actually Mowgli's big bear friend, Baloo. His larger-than-life personality seems to outweigh even his hefty physical presence. He reminds us of those people we know who live life to the fullest. We are all drawn to people like Baloo; we can't help but be charmed by their easy-going and warm nature. (If I had to guess, Baloo's Myers-Briggs personality type would probably be ENFP, the exact opposite of mine, hah.) For Mowgli, Baloo's friendship is the only thing that seems to bring cheer to his otherwise self-pitying state of mind.

Furthermore, Baloo's "Bare Necessities" mantra is irresistible. The film's most famous song preaches that one must "forget about your worries and your strife" and enjoy life as it is. (It's the pre-Lion King "Hakuna Matata," basically, complete with a sampling of the insects under the rocks.) As I find myself humming the catchy tune, I can't help but start to think, yeah, life should be simple. Why shouldn't I just forget about my worries and live life at ease? Wouldn't that solve all my problems?

But the façade shatters abruptly when Bagheera, the wise panther, informs Baloo that Mowgli needs to go to the 'man village.' If he stayed in the jungle, he would be much more vulnerable to the man-hating tiger, Shere Khan. Baloo realizes that he can no longer let Mowgli live with him as a bear, and he must tell him the hard truth. Suddenly, life is not so simple; there is pain and sadness. The desire to just be happy and content conflicts with the reality that danger and hatred lurk in the jungle's shadows.

While Mowgli reacts to this truth by running, moping and whining, Baloo is surprisingly brave and honest. He pursues Mowgli and protects him from harm, even coming close to death. Baloo's relationship with the 'man-cub' Mowgli provides the audience a glimpse into the tension in which we all live. There is value in approaching life like Baloo -- not becoming overburdened by things over which we have no control. However, it's naïve to think that no bad thing can touch us, that we are immune to the reality of evil and pain.

Baloo may not have been completely transformed by the time we see him dance off into the sunset at the close of the film, but he has experienced a significant moment of growth. He hasn't lost his joie de vivre, but he now knows what it is like to live in the tension.

Monday, January 9, 2012

#18: A Glimpse of Greatness

Sword in the Stone, 1963
watched December 18, 2011
(c) Disney
As much as I enjoy writing for this blog, I have to say taking 2 1/2 weeks off was wonderful. It was nice spending time with family and friends who know me not as just a Disnerd but as a real whole person with other interests!

But that's over now. Back to the Disnerdy fun!

The story of Sword in the Stone is quite bare (a couple of my friends even fell asleep), but I was quite intrigued by the relationship between the wise, quirky wizard and the awkward cracking-voiced adolescent.

And no, I'm not talking about Dumbledore and Harry.

At present, Wart is clumsy, hesitant, and naive. Others see him as nothing but a dumb kid who will never amount to anything. Even his given nickname indicates how he is perceived: annoying, useless, and unwanted. It seems as if Wart believes this about himself too. Again we see the "Underdog Effect" as is common in Disney movies, but he is so pathetic that even the audience isn't sure if rooting for him is worth it.

Merlin, however, looks into the future (and well, as a powerful wizard I guess it's easier for him to do that than it is for us normal folk) and gets a glimpse of Wart's potential. Despite what he is now, Merlin sees and treats the young boy as the future great king of England, investing all of his time preparing Wart for his royal role. While the film lacks any significant feeling of threat or conflict (sorry, but "villain" Madam Mim was kind of a joke), each scenario that Merlin and Wart find themselves in presents opportunities for Wart to learn important values and overcome difficulties. It is in these moments of teaching and growing where the heart of the story lies.

I have had the privilege to know a couple of "Merlins" in my own life. They were people who saw me not as a quiet, aimless girl, but as someone who had leadership qualities and gifts. They instilled in me the value of training, Bible study, prayer and discernment. They gave me opportunities to lead and grow. I was encouraged to hone my natural strengths and challenged to do things I never realized I could do. I am quite sure I would not be where I am now without their guidance, encouragement and friendship.

In the film, we never see Wart embody the great King Arthur that is described in folklore and legend. In fact even as he is crowned king (sorry for the spoiler, hah), he appears extremely uncomfortable with his new responsibility and power. That's not so dissimilar to us. Maybe we are thrust into situations that seem more challenging than we are prepared to handle. Perhaps somewhere along the way you have felt that you disappointed your mentors or yourself.

But it is not about successes or failures, it's about identity. We are each created with gifts and abilities that were meant to be used for the good of others. And the "Merlins" in our lives are the ones who not only see that but bring it out of us when we don't even know how. They come alongside us to remind us of who we are in Jesus: royal priests, chosen and set apart for something wonderful. I am thankful for the women and men who live as Merlins (many of whom I get to work with), seeing people not as they are but who they are destined to become.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

12 Days of Disnerd Christmas - 12th Day

It's the 12th and final day of Disnerdy Christmas! Again, there weren't exactly 12 of anything so I had to go with sidekicks. Also, I supposed "siding" isn't exactly an action verb, but that's kind of what sidekicks do right? They loyally side with their hero (or villain, though I didn't include any villain sidekicks here).

And since we're on our final day, here are all the other 11 days for review. My goal was to use as many different movies as I could; I think the final count is 28. 

I'll be resuming movie reviews next week, starting with where we left off - Sword in the Stone!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

12 Days of Disnerd Christmas - 11th Day

10 films rebirthing
9 princesses dreaming,
8 mice a-mending,
7 dwarfs heigh ho-ing,
 Six Lost Boys playing,
Five fairies' wings...
Four crooning birds,
Three handsome thieves,
Two hunny pots,
and Rafiki in his big tree!

In all my research, there really wasn't exactly 11 of anything. So I had to cheat a little. I would like to note the interesting observation that most villains are depicted with the colors purple or red, and varying shades thereof. Why is that?

Only one more day to go! Wouldn't it be nice if we actually did celebrate Christmas for 12 days?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

12 Days of Disnerd Christmas - 10th Day

9 princesses dreaming,
8 mice a-mending,
7 dwarfs heigh ho-ing,
 Six Lost Boys playing,
Five fairies' wings...
Four crooning birds,
Three handsome thieves,
Two hunny pots,
and Rafiki in his big tree!

Okay, so "rebirthing" probably isn't really a verb. But you know what I mean. We're about 8 weeks away from the Renaissance films and I am super excited! This is by far the most popular era of Disney animation among my generation. Which Renaissance film is your favorite?

Monday, January 2, 2012

12 Days of Disnerd Christmas - 9th Day

8 mice a-mending,
7 dwarfs heigh ho-ing,
 Six Lost Boys playing,
Five fairies' wings...
Four crooning birds,
Three handsome thieves,
Two hunny pots,
and Rafiki in his big tree!

You might be wondering where Mulan is. I actually took her out of this photo. It's not that I don't like her, it's quite the opposite in fact. First of all, the others pictured here were either born royal or became royal after marriage. (I suppose Pocahontas is also questionable, but she was the chief's daughter, I think that counts). Mulan was neither. She was just a common girl who, ahem, saved China. That's pretty sweet. I feel like the term princess doesn't fit her. I'd rather call her a heroine. :)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

12 Days of Disnerd Christmas - 8th Day

7 dwarfs heigh ho-ing,
 Six Lost Boys playing,
Five fairies' wings...
Four crooning birds,
Three handsome thieves,
Two hunny pots,
and Rafiki in his big tree!

Happy New Year, Disnerds! 
Maybe it means my life is a little sad, but this blog has definitely been a highlight of 2011. I've enjoyed the ways it has built community, inspired creativity, and given me an excuse to write again. I'm looking forward to the rest of the journey that will conclude some time later this year (in approximately 33 weeks).

Thanks to all of  you who have been following this blog thus far!