Friday, June 29, 2012

Renaissance Parallels Pt. 2: Songs

It's another edition of RenVenns! Music is arguably the Renaissance's greatest achievement. I know I've spent a lot more time playing this music on long car rides (when I can sing along, it helps me stay awake) than I have actually watching the movies.

I already wrote about the types of songs featured in these movies, as exemplified by the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack. So here, I present some of the lyric and content similarities.

There aren't too many patterns here, at least none that are surprising. The most common theme in songs are the main character's search and longing for meaning, fulfillment, love, etc. (every movie except Tarzan has a song about this). Makes sense--these are clearly emotions and thoughts that can only be expressed in song. Wouldn't it be awesome if life were a Disney musical? Whenever I was feeling sad, happy, excited, confused, I could just burst out into a musical number and it'd be exactly what I need.

The design is a bit messy because I added in samples of some of the song lyrics. I know that not everyone knows these songs by heart, as I do. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

#39: How to become extinct

(c) Disney

Dinosaur, 2000
watched June 17, 2012

Visually and technologically, Dinosaur is pretty impressive: it's the first (and only, I believe) in the Disney animated canon to combine live action background footage with fully computer animated characters. Even viewing it in 2012, the scenes are quite detailed and realistic (as realistic as dinosaurs can be, since no one on earth has seen one in real life. Unless you count Jurassic Park. 'Cause that was totally real life).

But that doesn't quite make up for the film's obvious lack of "Disney magic." The story--centering around the migration of a herd of dinosaurs after an asteroid destroys their homes--feels a bit tortured and Land Before Time-ish. The characters are, ironically, two dimensional, with names hard to pronounce and remember. The dinosaurs' realistic looks (brown, scaly, and huge) communicate an unfortunately limited range of emotions. Additionally, the overly epic orchestral score mismatches the unmoving plot. It was just hard to be invested in the story.

Despite its significant flaws, I think Dinosaur still contains truth we can learn from. Aladar, the main character, is a good-natured iguanadon whose belief in helping older, weaker dinosaurs gets him in trouble with Kron, the herd's self-appointed leader. Kron's survival-of-the-fittest philosophy makes him tough, mean and unforgiving. He has no sympathy for those who struggle and would rather leave them behind.

In contrast, Aladar, raised by a family of lemurs (yep, another adopted orphan story), holds a strong value for thinking of others' needs before his own. Without hesitation, Aladar advocates for the older dinosaurs, but Kron refuses to listen and responds with extreme anger and even threats of violence.

In this conflict I see familiar experiences in church and work communities I've been a part of--leaders more concerned with being in control than actually making space for change. It's true, there are some things that should never change: the Gospel, the Bible, God. But sometimes when leaders lead for a long time, they get into habits or traditions that don't necessarily serve the community or advance its purpose. They're blinded by politics and sin, inevitable in organizational life. They're unable to listen and learn from younger folks who, though also imperfect, can bring fresh ideas about increased effectiveness. Sometimes they can even call out the flaws and sin that weigh down the community. The clash between generations of leaders can result in mass exodus of younger people. This has certainly been evident in the Western church.

In the film, the changing climate results in a dried up watering hole that the herd had previously relied on during their journey. Kron insists that the herd move on and go without water. But Aladar looks at the situation from a different perspective and discovers that there's plenty of water underneath the surface.

What dried up watering holes exist in our communities? What new perspective might show us opportunities that are waiting to burst open and produce new life?

If we aren't wise to ask these questions and empower new leaders to lead the way...well, we know what happened to the dinosaurs don't we?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Brave: Redefining Princess

(c) Disney Pixar

I won't be posting a new Disnerd review here until later this week, because I spent my weekend writing about the new Pixar film Brave for InterVarsity's blog!

Here's an excerpt:

"Brave certainly brings a refreshing “Pixar-ness” to the princess genre by presenting a flawed, messy heroine, whose journey runs entirely without a hint of romance and whose mother is neither dead nor evil. But the film is not merely a 100-minute long two-dimensional feminist mantra either.

Merida isn’t so much an “atypical” princess as she is a woman redefining what it means to be a true princess."

>> Check it out here <<

Thursday, June 21, 2012

#38: Wordless Stories: Beyond the Ashes

Fantasia 2000, 1999
watched June 10, 2012

Disney, I expected better from you.

Because anything with a "2000" at the end of it is doomed to sound a bit ridiculous. I mean... edgy and cool and futuristic! Like Nimbus 2000, Pokemon 2000, Lever 2000... (Really? Soap?)

But, okay. Artistically, this film does mark a transition in the series. The prevalence of computer animation is much more obvious here, and we will see in the next film that Disney moves in a whole new direction, perhaps because of pressure from Pixar's success with Toy Story at the time. Also, this version was much more palatable than the 1940 Fantasia, due to a much shorter running time (75 minutes compared to 125).

Since there's no single story that weaves the whole film together, this review will focus on the last piece, "The Firebird Suite" composed by Igor Stravinsky.

It's fairly evident that there are themes of creation, death and rebirth, a classic story arc that didn't just come from nowhere. In fact, it is the main narrative of the Big Story, the one within which all other stories exist.

A beautiful sprite is awoken by what looks strikingly like Bambi's dad (I think it's an elk, actually). She spreads her magical spring-ness to a wintery forest, soaring through the skies over hills and trees, bringing beauty wherever she goes. But then she discovers a fearsome and violent firebird at the center of the mountain. Suddenly provoked, the firebird comes alive. Its wings of volcanic flames explode out of the mountain and down into the valley that the sprite has so lovingly brought to life. Soon the firebird has destroyed everything, even the sprite herself.

When I observe ongoing suffering, in the world as well as in my own personal slice of it, it's hard for me to see beyond the ashes. For miles and miles, it's only gray, dust, smoke. Like the sprite, no matter how hard I run, it seems there's no escape.

But the story isn't finished. Interestingly, Bambi's dad has not been destroyed. As he breathes into the ashes, the sprite reemerges. Just like a good ol' Disney film, it's her tears that hold the magic. As she sees her tears grow into budding flowers, the sprite's energy to create revives, and the world returns to its original state of beauty, peace and joy.

Destruction can often be the source of renewal. This was true at the Cross, the darkest hour of history. And in the Resurrection, we are reminded that there will come a time when the firebird has used up all its flames. Destruction is pervasive and devastating, but it is not permanent. There is life beyond the ashes.

In my own journey, the most painful times have often led to my most intimate and significant moments with God. It's true, we have not reached the other side of the flames yet. The pain has not vanished completely. But these small triumphs remind me of what is to come. I can look forward to a fully restored valley, complete with tall-as-the-eye-can-see trees, blooming flowers, and green pastures. That day is coming, and I can't wait.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Renaissance Parallels Pt. 1: Main Characters

I'd like to say that I noticed similarities between all the Renaissance films after watching them consecutively for these past 3 months. But in reality, I created a highly extensive spreadsheet several years ago. Yes, I just admitted that here in the public blogosphere. I figure after 9 months of Disnerdy antics, I don't have much face left to save.

SO, I thought it was about time to turn that spreadsheet into some fun Disnographics! Here's my first edition of "Renaissance Parallels." This first set of Venn diagrams (should I call them RenVenns? Haha. Wow.) focuses on main characters.

I find it interesting that 5 of these 8 parallels are family-related, two of which have to do with father-child relationships. Also, Tarzan, the latest of the 9* movies I'm comparing, shows up 5 times as well. I suppose by the time they got to Tarzan, they just grabbed stuff from all the previous stories? In any event, you start to see how similar these movies are to each other when you look at them like this.

Coming up: sidekicks, songs, villains and a couple others if I can muster up the time. There are a LOT of parallels!

*Rescuers Down Under will not appear in this Disnographic series. It has so little of the same structure, which is why I've always said it doesn't count as Renaissance.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Renaissance Ranked

Well, folks, it's the end of an era. The Renaissance movies will forever remain the best of the best, in my Disnerd opinion. I'm sad that we're moving on, but I've really enjoyed the past 10 weeks! Hope you have to.

You can expect the blog to calm down a bit, but I hope you will still tune in. I've got some Renaissance Disnographics in the works, and believe it or not, there are still about 15 more movies to review! (Yup. That's about four more months, people.)

In case you are curious, here's how I personally rank the Renaissance films. Do you agree or disagree?

1. tie: Aladdin (review) & The Lion King (review)
Top question I've been asked in the past 9 months of Disnerding? "What's your all-time favorite Disney movie?" These two tie for first. They both seem to have that perfect blend of compelling characters, an engaging story, beautiful animation, and awesome music. Funnily enough they also typically get labeled as "boy" Disney movies. Like I've said before, I've never really been into the whole princess thing.  

3. Beauty & the Beast (review)
Just trailing those 2 is Beauty & the Beast, which also has the same quality elements I listed above. I also love the development of not one but two central characters. Their transformations are interesting and compelling.

4. Mulan (review)
The main reason this isn't higher on the list is because of the music. I do love the songs that are on the soundtrack, but somehow they leave me wanting. They're not as classic or memorable as some of the Menken/Ashman stuff. Otherwise though, it's a pretty awesome Disney movie. And Mulan is a pretty awesome heroine.

5. The Little Mermaid (review)
Despite my critique of the film's story, it's hard to deny that The Little Mermaid was instrumental in kicking off a magical era of animation. The movie's demonstration of creativity and fun outweighs its more annoying aspects. I dare you to watch "Under the Sea" and NOT sing and dance along!

6. Tarzan (review)
The relationships between the characters are what make me love this film. It's also beautifully animated and the sequences when Tarzan is flying/surfing through the jungle are impressive. Also, it's hard not to love a movie starring a muscular man in a loincloth.

7. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (review)
It's probably the darkest of the Renaissance films, but so interesting and unique for that reason. The Latin choral music-inspired score is pretty epic, and Quasimodo is one of the purest heroes ever.

8. Hercules (review)
As has been said, this film doesn't shine quite as brightly as the others, but it's definitely entertaining, heartwarming and fun. And I will always love Hercules' cinnamon bun ears.
9. Pocahontas (review)
Ehh. I think I've already said enough about this one.

10. Rescuers Down Under (review)
The only reason this falls after Pocahontas is because I've never counted it as an actual Renaissance film.

Stay tuned for more Renaissance wrap-up stuff: Disnographics, a summary of my fashion updates, and maybe some other stuff if I have time. :)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Disney Fathers - Two Types

Have you ever noticed there are really only two types of Disney fathers?

1) Strong, powerful, serious. Not particularly verbose, often has anger issues. Angular face, broad-shouldered. Almost always a king or leader. Undeniably good, but priorities to stay in control or to protect their family/kingdom can be their downfall.

King Triton, Mufasa, Chief Powhatan, Zeus, Fa Zhou, Kerchak

2)  Short, fat, round, bumbling. Overly talkative and often mumbly. Comes off as silly and harmless, yet lovable. Hard to take seriously.

Maurice, Sultan, Archimedes Porter (Jane's dad)

I've always been fascinated by this. Why are there only two kinds of fathers depicted in Disney movies? What does this communicate about the image of a father or a man?

Do these father images resonate with your experience, either as a father yourself or the fathers in your life?

Happy Father's Day! 

To my dad, who took me to my first Disney movie experience when I was 10. I have a vivid memory of him not falling asleep, as he was prone to do during most movies, but laughing and smiling along with my siblings and me. I guess you could say he's a Disnerd too (although recently I had to explain this term to him. That was a hilarious conversation.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Two Worlds. One Loincloth.

Maybe it's because I still have Mulan on the brain, but Tarzan makes me think a lot about being Asian American.

Let me explain.

Caught between "two worlds," Tarzan longs to understand who he truly is. Is he a man? Is he a gorilla? In both contexts he never feels quite at home.

With his gorilla family, he can't climb trees, he has no fur. He has to wear a loincloth. With humans, he'll never get used to standing upright. He prefers swinging and leaping to walking. Also, he wears only a loincloth.

He's significantly an outsider no matter which way he looks at it.

I can relate. When I'm among a predominantly non-Asian (ie: mostly white) group, I never feel quite myself. I feel sheepish when I rave about dim sum and all I get are blank stares. I can never quite explain why the Jeremy Lin phenomenon gave me so much joy. I struggle to express the complexities of my family background. Yes, I'm Chinese, even though my parents were born in the Philippines. No, I'm not part Filipino.

And yet, I often feel very "American" when I'm with my Asian friends. Because of my uncommon background (ethnically Chinese with a significant Filipino cultural influence), I often find it hard to relate to Chinese and other East Asian friends. I don't speak Mandarin or Cantonese. We never used chopsticks growing up. My parents weren't strict about school or grades. My relatives actually kiss and hug each other.

So am I human or gorilla? Am I Asian or American? Why does it sometimes feel like I'm neither?

For Tarzan, he comes to realize that he is ultimately both. Though he finally stays with his gorilla family, it is the very human things about him that enable him to thrive and lead well in that community. He is neither just human or just gorilla.

My Asian identity and American identity sit side by side. Not always in perfect harmony, but together they make up who I am. I will never be just one, and neither could I ever be fully both. Asian American is itself my ethnic identity, in which I straddle two worlds, yet as a whole complete person.

The experiences I've gained through my Chinese-from-the-Philippines family, my immigrant Chinese home church, my Midwest upbringing, my Chinese American Christian college fellowship, and my current life in a predominantly white Madison community... all these worlds come together and make me who I am: me. An Asian American human-gorilla. Who, fortunately, gets to wear more than just a loincloth.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fashion Update #10: Tarzan

It's my final fashion post! It's been a fun 10 weeks. Tarzan was challenging. I mean, the main character is nearly naked! And most of the characters are all gray. Still, I think I did okay. :)

Jane: If you happen to own a yellow dress, as I do, Jane's look is really simple! I wore lavender earrings since I have no lavender ascot.
Tarzan: Well, I really didn't have much to work with here. And I was not about to wear a bathing suit or loincloth or any such thing. The wooden earrings are from Africa, which I think makes this outfit more legit, since the rest of it is kind of a stretch.
Tantor: Got this tunic for $12 at Target. And I dug out this really old pink pendant necklace that I haven't worn since high school! I thought it worked well since the inside of Tantor's ears and trunk are that pink color. The silver earrings were inspired by his tusks.
Clayton: An explanation about the tank top I wore underneath: there are lots of bananas in Tarzan, since it's a story about gorillas. I hate bananas. Clayton hates gorillas (or at least doesn't value them as living beings.) So, I wore my tank top that has a banana on it. If that's not inspired I don't know what is!
Terk: Really I could have been Kala or Kerchak too. But Terk's gray fur seems to match my gray blouse pretty well. I thought about giving myself a faux hawk or some kind of special hairdo, but I ran out of time. Actually I got a lot of compliments on this outfit that day. I guess it's because it's a little dressier.

And...that's the end of my fashion series! I'll do a summary/best-of post some time soon. Let me know your favorite outfits in the comments!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

#37: Like Father Like Mother

Tarzan, 1999
watched June 3, 2012

Well, we've come to the end of the Renaissance Era. It's been a wonderful ten weeks of (mostly) great movies and a lot of fun! But more on that later. Must get on with the task at hand.

Some people dispute the inclusion of Tarzan in the Renaissance, but I think thematically the film fits in just fine. In fact, I fear sounding like a broken record by now. For nearly 10 weeks straight we've been dealing with characters searching for deeper fulfillment, meaning, belonging, and love. Tarzan is no exception.

So what sets Tarzan apart from the others, I find, is the tenuous relationship between Tarzan and Kerchak, the clan's leader and the closest thing Tarzan has to a father. While extremely protective of his family, Kerchak is cold and distant, and refuses to recognize Tarzan as one of them. And though he has a loving mother and good friends, Tarzan is discontent without Kerchak's acceptance. In Tarzan's eyes, Kerchak's disapproval only highlights all the ways he doesn't fit in.

Speaking of not fitting in, I wonder if Tarzan ever got upset that he was the only one who had to wear a loincloth. I can just imagine a belligerent 6-year-old Tarzan during a temper tantrum, refusing to put on his loincloth: "But Mom, it's itchy!"


Tarzan hones the more significant differences--his agility, creativity, and intelligence, to prove that he belongs in the only family he has ever known. But his remarkable skills in tree-surfing, fruit-spearing and vine-swinging impress everyone except Kerchak.

This strained relationship between son and pseudo-father hits a nerve with any of us who have felt the rejection, criticism, or just plain ambivalence from our father (or mother, perhaps). And too often, we believe that our Heavenly Father is also like Kerchak: stern, unforgiving, judgmental. As we are prone to do with our own fathers, we try everything to earn the Father's acceptance and love. But of course, when the Father's character is distorted as such, nothing ever seems good enough, and our failure leads to a lonely and unsatisfying life.

Believe it or not, the film does give us a glimpse of the true Father. But it's not through Kerchak. In fact, the clearest picture of the Father is found in a mother.

Kala is the parent who seeks Tarzan out and saves him from sure death. Without hesitation she adopts him as her own. And in the most sacrificial mother's way, Kala allows him to choose a life in the human world, even though it means that she will never see him again. Her unwavering love reminds Tarzan that no matter where life takes him, he will always belong. And ultimately, it's this love that draws Tarzan back to his true family.

When we are lost and left for dead, we have a Father who rescues us and brings us into his family. When we are feeling dejected and rejected, we have a Father whose heart beats with ours. And here is the best news: When we think we've failed, we have a Father whose acceptance and love can never be earned, because it's already ours.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Lessons in Adolescence

This is the last from my Renaissance guest bloggers. Here's my friend Drew's thoughts on one of his faves, Hercules. Yes, it's out of order, as I covered Hercules two weeks ago. You can blame Drew for turning it in late.

If you’re a Disney animated movie, chances are you belong to a club. The $100 million club.

It’s not particularly exclusive. There’s no velvet rope, no bouncer, no list you have to be on. All you have to do to join is gross $100 million in ticket sales during your theatrical run. Pretty simple, really.

If you do that, you can mingle with your fellow members anytime. You can drop by and talk about books with Belle, watch soccer with the Beast and Aladdin, maybe even have a steak dinner with Simba and Tarzan. In fact, in this club, you can rub shoulders with every Renaissance Disney movie—except one.


Hercules grossed only $99 million dollars domestically. Not 100. 99. Missed it by a measly million dollars.

It’s a fascinating bit of symmetry that Hercules, a movie about a clumsy misfit who just wants to belong, is itself a bit of a misfit in the Disney catalogue, left on the outside of the $100 million club while everyone else parties inside. That symmetry is why, I think, it retains as much charm as it does, even while—objectively speaking—it’s not the classic that its predecessors were.

With few exceptions, Disney heroes and heroines are young adults working through the most readily accessible dimensions of growing up. Think Aladdin learning to be true to himself, Ariel craving new adventure, or Mulan struggling with her identity formation.

Hercules departs from those movies in the specificity with which it approaches young-adulthood. It is, by a marathon length, Disney’s most particularly adolescent movie.

Previous heroes were essentially glorified adults—theoretically 18, but practically adult in their vocabulary, movement and attitude. But Hercules, in his teenaged incarnation, is as gawky, overgrown, uncontrollable and accident-prone as any teenage boy ever was. He decimates an entire market square with his wild strength. Other kids call him ‘Jerk-ules’ and exclude him from their games. If there is a quintessential teenage feeling, it is that sense of “not belonging,” of having nowhere to fit in.

Those are universal feelings. To this day I can summon up, with remarkable clarity, the power of those teenage memories—of being misunderstood, not fitting in, feeling a little bit alone. I suspect you probably can, too. It's not very much fun. 

And it's this, I think, that accounts for some of why Hercules stumbled at the box office in the first place. Other Disney movies draw us back to rose-colored, exclamation-pointed memories of our teenage years: Growing up! Learning to love! Dreaming big! But Hercules firmly grounds us in adolescence’s hard, question-marked reality: Why am I so awkward? What’s my body doing? Do I fit in anywhere?

Hercules doesn't resolve those questions. Yes, it ends with true love winning and Hercules attaining immortality. But he also chooses to stay and live on earth with Meg, not ascend to Mt. Olympus. His choice means that he will always have to live in the in-between, never quite at home among humans and away from the place where his god-hood actually fits.

Sound familiar? The same adolescent tension vibrates through our own lives: not quite at home in a world that doesn't respect our Image-Of-God-ness, yet separated from the fullness of the Living God in whose context we make sense.

Hercules will never get into the $100 million club. It will spend eternity with its nose pressed to the glass, wondering why everyone else gets to go to the party. As Christians, we're lucky—like our physical adolescence, our time outside the party is temporary. And as for life here on earth, we take our cues from Herc—knowing that the tension is real, with no option but to live in it.

Drew Larson is the Editorial/Development Intern at InterVarsity. In the past, he maintained the world's only sports/comedy/theology essay blog, the Casual Footballer. He knows the words to more Disney songs than he will freely admit in mixed company, unless we are talking about A Goofy Movie, in which case, game on.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fashion Update #9.2: Mulan

There were so many Mulan posts I had to push this one to a new week. Here's part 2 of my Mulan outfits!
Mushu: I don't think I'd normally wear a yellow scarf and yellow tank top together. But Mushu only gives me 3 colors to work with here. I like how my blue earrings match his blue horns (or whatever those things are on dragons.)
Shang: He was a challenge. I didn't really have the right color grayish brown, so I just wore gray. Definitely a useful office outfit though. I'm getting a lot of mileage out of my red headband and belt. :)
Cri-kee: Here's a new preppy look that I enjoyed putting together! I wore this to a baby shower over the weekend and it seemed appropriately chic and grown-up for the occasion.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Top 10 Reasons Why Mulan Ain't No Princess

Mulan is unquestionably the best Disney heroine of all time. It seems insufficient to place her alongside the demure, sometimes fragile princesses from the classics, and the whiny, sometimes emo 'modern' princesses of the Renaissance. I've mentioned before that I don't count Mulan as a Disney princess. Here's why:

10. She isn't royal and she doesn't marry anyone royal.
Umm...enough said. Aren't those the requirements of being a princess? But I'll go on, because I can.

9. She isn't the daughter of a single parent and isn't raised by someone other than her real parents.  
She also has no evil stepmother. (Why do so many princesses either have no mother or a stepmother who hates them?) Mulan has loving parents, and a hilarious grandmother to boot!

8. She uses her cleverness to do incredible things.
She destroys the entire Hun army with just one canon. Talk about efficient!

7. She never needs to be rescued by the guy.
In fact, she rescues him. Multiple times. One time she uses her shoe!

6. She single-handedly takes down the bad guy.
...using a Chinese paper fan!
Shoes. Fans. Seriously, she's so resourceful!

5. She cuts her own hair.
And she uses a sword. Automatic awesome points.

4. She doesn't look perfect when she's sleeping.
I don't believe for a second that Sleeping Beauty or Snow White's hair could stay in tact in their sleep. Normal girls don't wake up looking flawless.

3. She doesn't fall in love at first sight.
She gets a crush. And he doesn't notice her at all. Finally. A romance I can relate to. (Granted, I'm pretty sure the reason my crushes didn't like me back was NOT because they thought I was a man. At least I really hope not.)

2. But she doesn't wait around. She invites the guy to dinner!
Hmm...maybe I need to take a cue from her.
1. She plain old just kicks ass. Yup, I said it again.

Mulan is the best!!

(thanks to for all images)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Reflection

I'm excited to share a guest post written by my older sister Lynnette, whom I call "Achs" (pronounced 'Utz'.) Mulan is special to both of us but in very different ways, which I find both fascinating and awesome.

When Mulan opened in movie theatres in 1998, I believed that the film had been created just for me, for all, but not only, the following reasons:
  • It featured the first Chinese heroine - finally a “princess” I could be for Halloween!
  • It utilized the singing talents of Lea Salonga - you may know her simply as the voice of Jasmine from Aladdin, but ask any Asian kid growing up in the 80s and 90s with Broadway dreams, and her eyes will gloss over dreamily at the mention of Salonga’s name
  • It was about a girl hanging with the boys - as a “tomboy who likes wearing makeup” (that’s what my sister called me once), I aspired to the precise blend of guts, wit, and grace that Mulan embodied
  • It premiered the summer I graduated from high school - an obvious sign (to my 18-year-old’s ego) that this film was not only made for me, but also about me!  It came at a time when, like many kids, I was preparing to go off to college, to become the “me” I was supposed to be.  If you think that I didn’t spend hours standing in front of a mirror singing, “When will my reflection show who I am insiiiiiide?” and bursting into tears, then you are sorely mistaken!
At the heart of it, this film resonated so strongly with me because it focuses on two core values of great importance to me: love for my family and authenticity to self. Two values that often felt like they were at odds with one another. When Mulan sings, “now I see that if I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart,” she voices a fear that until then I had not been able to put into words. But despite this fear, she knows that sacrificing her authenticity will not bring her happiness, nor her family honor. One might think Mulan’s greatest display of bravery lies in her fearlessness in fighting off an army of abnormally large, gray-colored villains, but I think it lies in her taking that big scary step toward being “true to her heart.”

I’m not sure that my family has always felt that I have brought “honor to them all.” I know there are “true to my heart” decisions I’ve made in my life: where to live, what to study, and what I believe in – that have instead brought them worry and concern. But whether my parents did it consciously or not, they raised “a girl who’s got a brain, who always speaks her mind.” And in the end, I hope that this brings them pride.

Now in my 30s, I think my ego has calmed down, and while I now recognize that this film was not created as a personal allegory for my life, its story reminds me that there is honor in being authentic.  And these days when I gaze at my reflection in a watery surface, as I often do, I’m no longer brought to tears, because I like the girl I see.

Lynnette is a writer/actor/singer living in L.A. with her husband John, and her cats, Zelda and Billy. She's also Laura's older sister. On a family trip to Disney World, a 19-year-old Lynnette sat at the back of a room full of young children during a character sketching demonstration. When the artist asked, "Does anyone have a favorite character they'd like me draw?" Lynnette yelled "Mulan!" without hesitation. Those kids never had a chance!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dumpling Dinner

I will never make dumplings for twenty people again.

Don't get me wrong, I loved that a record number of people came to watch Mulan. I suppose the homemade dumplings added an extra incentive for people to join me. But I really don't know why I made things so difficult for myself. I was chopping cabbage for an hour and a half, not to mention the several other hours of prep, cooking and cleanup! I was super stressed out that there wouldn't be enough food. When you host a potluck for mostly single people, you can't always count on everyone to actually bring something. Also, how in the world would 20 people even fit in my apartment?

Despite all the stress, I think the party turned out well. I'm glad everyone else enjoyed themselves. I enjoyed all the yummy Asian food people brought. But next time I attempt to host a party like this, I'm asking for help!

Here are some pictures from that night! I wanted to take more, but well, I was a little busy.
Everyone helped wrap the dumplings!
Kylene and Tiffany (my Asian friends) showed everyone how to do it.
Thanks to Tiffany and Kylene for helping with the frying too!
More dumplings & meatballs waiting to be cooked.
And there was plenty of food, even though I was stressed out that there wouldn't be enough! Especially excited about the MUSHU pork Kylene brought, and the ha kao (shrimp dim sum)!
Finally, it's time to eat!
Had to take this photo from the porch to show how many people were in my apartment.
Time to watch Mulan!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fashion Update #9.1: Mulan

I had another 6-outfit fashion week, so I'm splitting Mulan into two parts. :) Stay tuned for Mushu, Shang and Cri-kee!
Mulan: I found this flower pin lying around at home and I knew it would help me complete this outfit. I wore this during my Mulan dumpling party so the sweater didn't stay on very long. That day was hot. Plus I was running around with 20 people in my apartment! Good thing I took these pictures before the party.
Mulan as Ping: For Ping, I wore minimal makeup to look more like a boy, which is why I look so crappy in this picture. Also, I tried to tie my very short hair into a bun and was only mildly successful.
Shan-Yu: Shan-Yu always had his falcon with him, so I wore owl earrings. Owl, falcon - they're both birds of prey right? The striped sweater is mimicking his raccoon tail scarf thing.

Monday, June 4, 2012

#36: A Great Honor

(c) Disney
Mulan, 1998
watched May 28, 2012

I've always thought it was cool that Mulan not only kicks ass (yup, I just said "kicks ass" about a Disney character. I can do that, because this is my blog), but that she's also the first Disney "princess" to resemble the faces I grew up with--my mom's, my aunties', my sister's, my own. And as I've grown in my own ethnic journey as Chinese American woman, I appreciate how significant this is.

Instead of the painful racial stereotypes found in past Disney films, Mulan brings a refreshing humanity to the Chinese people and culture. This adaptation of the ancient legend tells a compelling story about a Chinese woman, a voice not often heard throughout literature and history. Two memorable scenes seem to linger within me as I reflect on the film's connection to the experience of Chinese (and more broadly, Asian) women.

First, when the Emperor appears he's about to rebuke Mulan for her disobedience and recklessness, he instead commends her for saving China, giving her the highest honor: his personal gratitude. She reacts in shock, turning around to see the entire kingdom of China bowing to her.

Then, as Mulan presents Shan-Yu's sword and the Emperor's crest to her father, she hopes she might at last bring honor to the family. Falling to his knees in an uncharacteristically candid manner, Fa Zhou tosses the symbols of honor aside and embraces Mulan. He says,
"The greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter."
Inexplicably, my eyes start to water uncontrollably at these moments. Must be the dust.

At last, Mulan is publicly recognized for her accomplishments. She is called a hero; she is called worthy. As it's culturally frowned upon for Asian women to call attention to our achievements, we constantly look to others for approval. We long for the assurance that we are worth something, that what we do matters. Perhaps I feel this more acutely as someone naturally drawn to behind-the-scenes work. In any case, the praise Mulan receives represents the affirmation that I yearn for as an Asian American woman. Watching the multitudes honor Mulan helps me see that I, too, contribute something valuable to my community, even if it looks very different from what's traditionally accepted.

On the other hand, Asian women also become trapped in a constant cycle of people-pleasing, trying hard to earn a place at the table, to prove themselves good enough. Success always seems out of reach. The last scene with Mulan and her father echoes good news: achieving greatness has nothing to do with the unconditional love my Father has for his daughter.

When I am prone to see myself as unworthy, useless, or unlovable, Mulan reminds me of the truth: I'm a deeply beloved daughter of God, empowered with unique gifts that can change the world. This message isn't just for Asian women, but for all who call him Father. Indeed, it's an honor to us all.