Monday, February 27, 2012

#25: Calling the cauldron black*

(c) Disney : if you look closely, I think our pantsless friend makes an appearance in this shot!
The Black Cauldron, 1985
watched February 19, 2012

Since I myself had never heard of this movie until I decided to start this blog, I should probably give you readers a little bit of context. If you want to know what this movie's about, think Lord of the Rings, except instead of a ring it's a black cauldron. The main character isn't a hobbit; it's an assistant pig-keeper named Taran. Replace Sauron with a creepy-looking cloaked skeleton dude called the Horned King, complete with green mist and a zombie army. The "fellowship" doesn't include Samwise Gamgee, Legolas or Gimli, but a princess with a name impossible to pronounce, and a goofy minstrel. Instead of Gollum, there's, well, a furry Gollum (he even talks in third person!)

Replace the magic wand with a magic sword and you've got a touch of Harry Potter, too. Oh, and we can't forget the magical pig named Hen Wen. I guess she's sort of like the opposite of a pensieve? When she dips her face in something liquid-y she can tell the future.

Yup, that's The Black Cauldron. In a nutshell.

The similarities it shares with so many other popular stories initially give the film lots of promise. Being based on not one but a series of five books means there's plenty of interesting material to work with. Unfortunately, however, it simply does not stand up as a timeless adventure as do other classics. As a first-time viewer, I found myself feeling confused about who all the characters were and why I should care about them.

Still, I can't completely dismiss The Black Cauldron. There are redemptive qualities about it. While the hero, Taran, is frustratingly slow and whiny, he is undoubtedly trying his best to do the right thing. The lowly pig-keeper loses his magical pig within the first 10 minutes of the film; clearly he's in over his head. Even so, he continues to look for a way to thwart the Horned King's evil plans. His efforts are commendable, even if a little pitiful.

And surprisingly, the most significant moment of the film comes from Gurgi (aka furry Gollum). While he spends most of the film stealing food and running away from trouble, in the end he demonstrates what it means to be a true hero. By throwing himself into the black cauldron, he does the only thing that can destroy its power, knowing his own life will be taken.

And so we see that The Black Cauldron shares similarities with another famous Story. In that one, the power of evil and death also can be overcome only by the sacrifice of life. And despite our meager efforts to fight, our only real power comes from something outside of ourselves. (Funnily enough, it's a sword for us too.) And finally, another person ultimately gives himself up to save the world. In this weird, largely unheard of movie, we actually see one of the clearest examples of the true Gospel story told in a Disney film.

So what's the conclusion? Gurgi comes back to life and all is well. But in our story, the resurrected Savior also becomes King. And that's even better.

Sorry if I just gave away the ending. Some stories are too good not to tell.

*I'm aware that this idiom doesn't quite fit the content of my review. I just really wanted to use this title!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

#24: A star-crossed bromance

(c) Disney
The Fox & the Hound, 1981
watched February 12, 2012

It's not the most glamorous, funny or beautiful film, but there are some pretty unique things about The Fox & the Hound. This is the first of these films built around a friendship between two male characters. While previously seen in Bambi and The Jungle Book, F&H draws much more deeply on this theme of male friendship by bringing together two characters who are not naturally supposed to be friends. It's somewhat refreshing not to see another sugary love-at-first-sight romance, or even a good-thwarting-evil epic. Instead, Disney successfully banks on the emotions that arise in every person as they recall their own childhood friendships, and the ways life and society makes it impossible to maintain them. This simple yet rich tale of friendship connects with a broad audience.

I also think F&H may be the first time Disney addresses the issue of race in a way that is thoughtful and compelling, rather than offensive or confusing. Oddly enough, neither Tod or Copper are "racialized" characters. They are, however, characters set in a context where their roles have been firmly determined by society. Copper's aim in life is to become an effective hunting dog and to loyally assist his owner, Amos Slade. To do anything else would deem him useless and a failure. Tod, an orphaned red fox, lives less clearly within his role as 'the hunted', since he is raised domestically as a pet for the first year of his life. This explains why he is more confused about the change in Copper's attitude towards him as an adult and reluctant to accept what society has served them.

The friendship is ultimately tested in the climax of the film, when the hunter and hunted find themselves at each other's mercy. Tod risks his life to protect Copper from the monstrous bear, nearly dying in the process. In response, Copper stands between his fox friend and his master, who is about to shoot him dead. Without a single word spoken in this moving scene, they demonstrate a courageous love for each other, while also acknowledging that they will never be friends again. It's a surprisingly bittersweet moment for a Disney film.

External definitions of their identities and relationship to one another ultimately win out over what was a strong budding friendship (or as we might like to call it now, bromance). We see a commentary on the divisions society makes between people and groups of people, where there need not be. This applies not only to ethnic segregation but class, gender, and any categories we like to put ourselves in.

While F&H certainly lacks the same polish and timelessness of other classic Disney films, it does make one pause and reflect on human nature. We long to find the two main characters together in the end, laughing and playing. We know, however, that how it really ends is much closer to reality - a reality that is in great need for renewal and change.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Top 10 obscure Disney baby names (GIRLS)

This list comes from one of those ridiculous, yet genius, lunch conversations at work. Two of my coworkers, Matt and Sarah, are having a baby girl later this year. We've all been making guesses and suggestions as to what name this baby should have. I'd like to give my input on some lesser known Disney characters who would make great namesakes for the baby.

1. Cleo, goldfish in Pinocchio
Why it works: It's actually a cute name. Plus with the last name Kirk, it'll be alliterative. 
Suggested nicknames - Clee, O, fishy

2. Katrina von Tassel, love interest in the Ichabod Crane story
Why it works: Well, if you really want her to sound Dutch, this is the name for you. It must have the "von Tassel" in there though... perhaps as a middle name?
Suggested nicknames: Kat, Trina, Tassel, Tassy

3. Adelaide, owner of Duchess & kittens in The Aristocats
Why it works: These southern-sounding old lady names are quite trendy these days.
Suggested nicknames: Addy, Ad, Adsy, Lady

4. Eilonwy, princess in The Black Cauldron
Why it works: Forget Ariel, Tiana or Jasmine. This princess packs a punch. No one will ever be able to pronounce her name. But once they figure it out, they won't forget it!
Suggested nicknames: Ei (pronounced eye), Lon, Lonny, "A Long Way"

5. Hen Wen, magical pig in The Black Cauldron
Why it works: Why wouldn't you want to name your kid after a magical pig? 
Suggested nicknames: Hen, Henny, pig

6. Marahute, giant golden eagle in The Rescuers Down Under
Why it works: It's definitely unique, and quite fun to say aloud. Try it. (pronounced Mara-HOO-tay)
Suggested nicknames: Mara, Mar, Mary, Marie, Hute, Hutie

7. Sarabi, Simba's mother in The Lion King
Why it works: when you're cross with her, you can yell, "SaRAA-BEEEE!" like Scar does in one of the last scenes. Also, it'd be like Sarah the 2nd, Sarah B. Get it?
Suggested nicknames: Sara (pronounced Suh-RAH), Robbie, Bee, Bee-Bee

8. Nakoma, Pocahontas' best (human) friend
Why it works: Hello, multiethnicity!
Suggested nicknames: Kom, Koms, Komie, Koma?

9. Laverne, one of Quasimodo's gargoyle friends, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Why it works: SURELY, this is a classic name.
Suggested nicknames: Lav, Lav-Lav, Verne, Vernie.

10. Arista, Attina, Adella, Aquata, Andrina, OR Alana, Ariel's sisters in The Little Mermaid
Why it works: "A" names are on their way back in, I'm sure of it.
Suggested nicknames: you could call any of these A, or, maybe "that other sister." Perhaps this would work better for a 2nd child. Clearly Aquata is the most timeless of these choices. Quats, Quattie?

Any requests for a boy edition? Anyone you know expecting a boy?

Friday, February 17, 2012


How do we know Linsanity has truly arrived? The fact that even Disnerds are getting in on it! I saw the two examples below, Lin-derella and the Lin King, and was shocked that no one had done Mu-Lin yet! So at the risk of getting some flack for whatever race or gender implications this may have, here you go.

This week, I am a self-professing DisLINerd! Maybe I'll do Ala-Lin and Hercu-Lin next? Tarz-Lin, anyone?

thanks to Glenn for the screencap. you know i'm not quite sure why it's a fan's face here. i suppose because she's asian it's supposed to represent Jeremy Lin? hm.
i don't even recognize the faces on Rafiki, Mufasa, Sarabi and Scar. but it's awesome nonetheless.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

#23: Against all odds

(c) Disney
The Rescuers, 1977
watched February 5, 2012

  • Cute lonely orphan? Check.
  • Cute anthropomorphic mice? Check.
  • Crazy frightening villain? Check.

The Rescuers has all the right ingredients for a classic Disney animated film. Indeed, these elements make up for the premise of a compelling story. As we've seen in the past, underdogs often lie at the heart of these movies. And this one is teeming with them.

First, there's the sad but adorable gap-toothed orphan Penny, whose only friend is a mute teddy bear (that bears a striking resemblance to last week's Winnie the Pooh, come to think of it). Seriously, how could any adoptive parents pass this girl up for some redhead? (I seem to recall someone yelling, "I'll adopt you, Penny!" while we watched this two Sundays ago.) When she's kidnapped and forced into child slave labor, I was practically ready to jump into the screen myself to go find her. Needless to say, we're dealing again with a story about injustice, victims and villains.
But Penny's advocates don't include a big brave superhero, like Robin Hood, whose precision and wit make it seem almost easy for him to overcome the bad guys. There's no large community of "orphan helpers" either, like the network of dogs in 101 Dalmatians. Instead, there are two small mice, part of the Rescue Aid Society, who mean well but are in fact, well, mice. Miss Bianca, a seemingly delicate yet determined and compassionate mouse, makes a surprising choice for her case partner, Bernard, the janitor-turned-rescue agent. Not surprisingly, he's quite nervous about the whole situation (not to mention being paired with a lovely and slightly intimidating female mouse). Their only help is found in a clumsy albatross, a frazzled dragonfly and some swamp muskrats. It's easy to see why one might doubt their likelihood of success.

And let's not forget Medusa, the villain, who is as scary and threatening as they come. Anyone willing to enslave an innocent orphan must really be ruthless. She actually makes Cruella de Vil look like a bit of a pansy (they do share the same reckless driving, however). Also, she really needs a bra. Hmm...I seem to really have a thing about missing clothing.

So the odds are against our small heroes. And that is exactly why this movie is so moving (I'll even forgive the uber-70's music accompanied by pastel watercolor backgrounds). When the obstacles seem insurmountable, these brave rodents teach us that there's no room for passive sympathy. They show us that anyone can, and must, take action to protect the vulnerable. If it's something worth fighting for, then by golly, don't let anything stop you.

But what motivates such brave resolve to fight injustice? While the film's Disney-esque "just have a little faith" ideology is vague at best, fortunately, I know of a real kind of faith. It's not actually the faith itself that achieves us victory; it's the object of faith that matters. And mine is a Person, more powerful than any villain, Disney or otherwise. When I feel small and the world overwhelms, I remember this Person and I know I really can beat the odds.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Will You Be My Disnerd Valentine?

I had grand plans to have a Disnerd Valentine party, but I got sick, and so all my plans went out the window. I was going to include a time for card-making, and I came up with a bunch of snarky and/or cheesy lines to write on the cards. But I didn't even have time to do those on my own. So, I share these with you with the disclaimer that they were done in little time and without the use of Photoshop. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy the humor! Share them with your friends!

Thanks to Disney and the interweb for the images. :) 


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#22: The Original Toy Story

(c) Disney - I suppose my pantless theory has been disproved, because I love Winnie the Pooh.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, 1977
watched January 29, 2012

I was never a Barbie girl. I think I had two, at most. My sister liked to play with their hair more than I did, and at one point my brother accidentally broke off one of their heads. I don't remember being upset. Clearly I did not have much of an attachment to the thing (no pun intended).

But I did have many stuffed animals, and I loved them. My siblings and I spent a lot of our childhood playing with our stuffed animals. They not only had names but also relationships with one another. Each of them had distinct voices and personalities, often based on their species and size. The small white mouse, Christopher, for example, spoke with a lisp and was quite shy.

There was perhaps no better loved, however, than Mousey, my brother's big gray mouse that he got for his 4th birthday. I still remember the day that my dad and I picked him out at Target. Although he was Tim's, all 3 of us spent the most time with Mousey. I recall one evening just a few years ago when Lynnette and I were chatting in her room at home, with Mousey sitting in the middle of us. At one point I remarked, "Doesn't it feel like there's someone else listening to us right now?" She agreed, and so did Mousey.

As I was reminded that night, Mousey and our other stuffed animals were more than just toys. They were our friends--friends that had seen us grow up and witnessed all of our joys and pains. Our imaginations had given them a life of their own. On happy days, Mousey would be jumping and bouncing around, like Tigger. When Tim got injured, Dr. Mousey would comfort him, as I suspect the motherly Kanga would do. But most days, he was just like Winnie the Pooh, possessing the same childlike innocence and love for fun and adventure. He even had an obsessive liking for his favorite food, cheese, as Pooh did for 'hunny'.

It's because of this part of my childhood that Winnie the Pooh is especially meaningful to me. There's something magical about the relationship between a boy and his teddy bear, as my friend Christopher said (similarity in name is merely coincidence!). In those wonderful days of 'doing nothing,' we actually stumble upon something incredibly special. We learn to love, laugh, discover and create alongside toys that become more than toys. They embody a part of ourselves--the best parts, giving us an outlet for our thoughts and emotions that we may not even know we have. Through Eeyore's melancholy demeanor we express pain and sadness in a safe environment. The neurotic and industrious Rabbit helps to release frustration when things don't go as planned. Piglet gives us a way to talk about our fears and worries.

The Winnie the Pooh franchise is one of Disney's most successful, and it's no surprise. In these lovable characters and their charming adventures, we are taken back to the simple days of being a child, full of wonder and endless goodness. And let's face it, we could all use a little more of that, no matter how old we are.