Monday, July 30, 2012

Renaissance Parallels Pt. 5: Love

It's the last of my Renaissance Venn diagrams! I promise. :)

In this final set I focused on love, unquestionably the central theme to almost all Disney movies. But love doesn't necessarily mean romantic love (though 9 out of 10 times it does). I would like to point out the two fathers featured here: Mufasa and King Triton, both of whom give their lives for their child. Mufasa's death is one of the most emotional moments in the entire Renaissance.

It's also notable that Pocahontas shows up the most often, whereas it had very few appearances in the previous sets. This is probably because the love story in Pocahontas is the most overwhelming and dominating (ie: that movie doesn't have much else going on). It's probably not a coincidence that it's my least favorite Renaissance film. I love a good love story, but not when it becomes the whole story, which is kind of Pocahontas' downfall, in my opinion.

So, what did you think? Did I miss any major similarities? What was most surprising/interesting? Leave your comments!

And check out the other sets here:  main characters  |  songs |  villains  |  sidekicks

Thursday, July 26, 2012

#43: Drawing Lines

(c) Disney

Treasure Planet, 2002
watched July 15, 2012

"Is that even a real movie?" Yup, it is. You may recognize the novel from which it was adapted: Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Turns out we get most of our pirate stereotypes from Mr. Stevenson (e.g.: wooden legs, parrot on the shoulder, X marks the spot, etc.). Treasure Planet takes the pirate theme in Island and puts it in outer space. Think steam punk meets Star Trek. Brilliant, eh? Well, sorta.

As a troubled teen who has never quite recovered from his dad's abandonment, Jim Hawkins longs for adventure in outer space. And so, we follow him on his journey to find meaning in life. In addition to this feeling really familiar, I am bewildered at how a ship travels through space where there is no atmosphere. It's worse than Pocahontas' language "miracle." Almost.

Jim develops a friendship with the ship's cook, John Silver, a cyborg to whom he has been assigned to work as a cabin boy. Over time, Jim begins to see him as something of a father figure. However, complications arise when the audience discovers Silver is planning a mutiny with the rest of the crew, who are actually pirates.

In Disney films, we like to draw a solid line between the good guys and bad guys. It helps us order our emotions about the characters. We like to root for heroes and root against the villains. You're a misunderstood teenager whose dad left you? I'm on your side, buddy. Oh, you're a one-legged cyborg? You must be bad.

But Silver, the so-called villain, experiences the most significant transformation of any character in this story--something that usually happens to the hero. As he grows more fond of Jim, he realizes that his pursuit of Captain Flint's lost treasure is no longer his sole priority. When faced with the choice of saving Jim's life or collecting the treasure, Silver acts in a way that surprises even himself. Not your typical villain's story arc.

In real life, we, too, have people pegged (no pun intended) as one thing or another. What? You're gay? You're straight? You're an atheist? You're a Christian? That must mean you're _____. We have all sorts of ideas about what people should be like based on some category, the way they look, who they associate with.

It's significant that the audience remains undecided about Silver throughout the film, even up until the last moment. I found myself wanting to just put him in a category. Are you a villain? Are you a father figure? Should I care about you or not?

Animated characters are portrayed by simple, defined strokes, just like the lines we draw around each other. But in reality, the edges are much blurrier. People are designed for good but have potential for evil as well. Like Silver, no one fits into just one category.

Perhaps instead of drawing lines between people, what we should do is see them for their capacity for change. When we do that, we see them the way that Jesus did, enabling us to love and care indiscriminately. The results are always quite surprising, no matter what side of the line you're on.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Top 10 obscure Disney baby names (BOYS)

Well, I guess Matt and Sarah decided not to go for any of my suggestions in naming their daughter.

Whatever. I'm over it.

I'm making a new list, of boy names. Maybe someone else will appreciate my brilliant advice! Actually, I don't know anyone who is having a boy. My sister is preggers, but they're waiting to find out the gender. If it is a boy, I think they have some great options here. Seriously.

1. Ichabod, main character in The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad
Why it works: Despite what the name might connote (socially awkward guy with a big nose - that's what I think of, at least), Disney's Ichabod Crane was quite the ladies' man. Until he was driven mad by the Headless Hunter, that is.
Suggested nicknames - Ick, Icky, Ickers

2. Mowgli, main character in The Jungle Book
Why it works: Ten bucks your kid will be the only one with this name in his class. Just make sure he wears more than red underwear.
Suggested nicknames - Mo, Mowgs, Glee-meister

3. Basil, main character in The Great Mouse Detective
Why it works: British names are automatically cool. Plus, he'd be named after an herb. Yum.
Suggested nicknames - Baz, Bazzie, Sherlock

4. Phoebus, love interest in The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Why it works: If you give him this name, your son will most likely grow some awesome facial hair one day.
Suggested nicknames - Pheebs, Pheebers, Bus

5. Clayton, villain in Tarzan
Why it works: When he's not busy hunting apes, he'll be playing tennis at the country club and wearing lots of argyle sweaters.
Suggested nicknames: Clay, Clay-boy

6. Kronk, villain's sidekick in Emperor's New Groove
Why it works: Um, because he's AWESOME.
Suggested nicknames: Kronkie, Kronkers, K

7. Milo, main character in Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Why it works: I think this is a legitimately cute name.
Suggested nicknames: Miles, Lo-Lo, Michael J. Fox

8. Koda, younger bear in Brother Bear
Why it works: Doesn't the name just sound cuddly and cute?
Suggested nicknames: Kody, Kodes, Kody-Bear

9. Pascal, chameleon in Tangled
Why it works: Have you seen Tangled?
Suggested nicknames: Pascie, Cal

10. Maximus, horse in Tangled
Why it works: Have you seen Tangled?
Suggested nicknames: Max, horsie

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Renaissance Parallels Pt. 4: Sidekicks

So you wanna be a sidekick.

Sidekickery is a vital job in the Renaissance. Your first order of business is to tell your hero why you're so awesome. You should do this with great panache - song and dance is a must. After you've gotten the gig, your next task is to tell your hero why he's so awesome. (Heroes tend to have identity crises. They're high maintenance like that.) After that, finding some other talent or way to help out is a good idea. If you can fly, you're pretty much set. Otherwise, you should try to work on bossing other sidekicks around. That way you establish some authority. It also helps if you have a great sense of humor, know how to train your hero for battle, or hold a position as the king's right hand man.

If all else fails, being chubby and cute works just fine.

Monday, July 16, 2012

#42: Reaching Ohana

Lilo & Stitch, 2002
watched July 8, 2012

Despite the intergalactic setting, Lilo & Stitch is actually the first animated film set in modern day whose main characters are human. (Previous modern day films in our series feature mostly anthropomorphic animals--101 Dalmatians, both Rescuers films, and Oliver & Company).

The humanness of Lilo & Stitch made it one of the first films in this blog project that I related to. I'm pretty sure I'll never ride on a magic carpet, or be raised by wild apes in the jungles of Africa. I'll never become a princess, or get taken away to an enchanted castle. But I do have a sister, and an imperfect family. I've experienced both joy and pain, love and loathing. 

The loss of Lilo and Nani's parents puts them in an unwanted situation: Nani is suddenly forced to be not just sister but also mother and father, grappling with young romance, trying to hold a steady job, and dealing with an intimidating social worker. Lonely and misunderstood, Lilo needs not only guidance but someone to love and accept her. Though they need each other desperately, both the older and younger sister act out in frustration with their circumstances.

But as Stitch enters their world, his destructive, chaotic presence shows that this native Hawaiian family is "small, but still good." The strength of their bond, however messy and flawed somehow transforms Stitch. His instinct to destroy leaves him feeling empty and alone. He realizes that this family who has let him in has something that he does not. And that changes him.

We, too, belong to a broken Family. Sometimes we feel obligation and duty rather than love and commitment. We say things that are hurtful. We mess up each others' plans and dreams. We neglect each other. It kind of sucks.

But just like Lilo and Stitch, we belong to each other. I think we would rather stay and fight than be separated and miss each other terribly. That's the irony of family. Because even though we are a family that screws up, we're also a family where "nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten." There's nothing quite like us.

While Stitch does so much to hurt Lilo, she is ever forgiving and compassionate towards him. Ultimately, this is what changes Stitch. And this is what transforms anyone who comes into contact with our Family, no matter how much they have destroyed and terrorized us. When we have ohana, everyone is included, accepted and loved. It's something we all need, whether we're Lilo, Nani or Stitch.

It's an interesting set up we have, this flawed but beautiful Family. There are days when my faith in the Family falters, but my faith in the One who holds this Family together does not change. And that's ultimately what keeps me striving for ohana.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

#41: Passion Over Glory

Atlantis: the Lost Empire, 2001
watched July 1, 2012

Atlantis, like Emperor's New Groove, stands apart from Disney's typical fare, delving into new genres: action and science fiction. It's probably also the darkest film we've seen since The Black Cauldron. Within the first half hour, the majority of a 200-person crew aboard the ship are killed en route, leaving only a handful of them to brave the rest of the journey.

Also, there are a lot of caves. Dark ones.

While the numerous action sequences are quite a contrast from the colorful musical numbers of past films, the story still retains some familiar "Disney-esque" elements, such as the quirky main character who doesn't fit in. Add the orphan factor and aspirations to discover "a whole new world" (aka lost civilization), and Milo Thatch comfortably takes his seat at the Disney hero table. (There were times during the movie that I wanted to burst out singing "Go the Distance" or "Reflection". But I guess that's kind of all the time.)

And it's the nerdy linguist's path to self discovery that carries an otherwise convoluted story along. There's a reason why Disney keeps coming back to these characters who search for meaning in life. It's undoubtedly the main question at large among all of humankind.

In Milo's case, he isn't so much seeking his calling; he already knows what he's passionate about. Perhaps this comes from already being an adult (an anomaly among a mostly teenaged hero list.) But he still has yet to reach the ultimate goal of finding the mysterious island of Atlantis.

Milo experiences both ridicule and loneliness as he pursues his passion. Spending his days in a hot, dusty boiler room, he lives a fairly unglamorous life in order to research, study and (unsuccessfully) persuade others to support his mission. Even when a crew is assembled and they begin the journey under the sea, the others on the team mostly laugh at his enthusiasm. Some even have impure motives and are only in it for financial gain.

When all of his work pays off and they reach Atlantis, it is the moment we think Milo will at last be recompensed. The naysayers will finally be proven wrong. He will become famous for discovering the ancient thought-to-be-myth civilization. Glory and prestige will be guaranteed.

Here we expect the moral of the story: Don't give up on your dreams, one day you will be a star! And that's certainly the resounding message we hear elsewhere in culture.

But Milo demonstrates another alternative. He realizes that his dream to find Atlantis also includes a deep commitment to the Atlanteans themselves. So he chooses to give up the glory, fame and success that would certainly be his upon return to the world above water. Instead, he stays in Atlantis, in order to help preserve their dying civilization. (I suppose the beautiful Kida may have also motivated that decision. But still.)

Passion requires sacrifice. It leads to loneliness, ridicule, and leaving behind your desire for comfort, respect, or glory. It means giving up everything in order to save a dying people. When we choose passion over glory, we follow the One made the ultimate sacrifice, and whose passion saved us all.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Renaissance Parallels Pt. 3: Villains

It's time to talk about villains! There are actually a lot of similarities between them.

A good (and by good I mean bad) villain is a key component to a quality Disney movie. The Renaissance has some great ones, but also some ehhh ones (namely Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas. Man, does he annoy me).

  • No Shan-Yu (Mulan)! I suppose he could be considered a 'jealous of the king' villain, sort of. Not quite. He's definitely pretty different from all the others. One of the scariest, that's for sure.
  • There's only one appearance by the first Renaissance villain, Ursula, who, not insignificantly, is the only female villain of the series.
  • Most frequent appearance: Judge Frollo from Hunchback.  
  • I'm not actually sure if Hades is the brother of Zeus. I'm forgetting my Greek mythology at the moment. Anyone want to correct/confirm? 
  • My favorite parallel is the hilariously similar way that Frollo and Scar confront the main character (Quasimodo, Simba), atop a high place that's on fire (Notre Dame, Pride Rock) and confess the truth that they killed his parent. Villains always seem to want to confess the truth at the climax of the film as they think they are about to triumph. But it never turns out well because shortly after the confession, the hero has a resurgence of energy and defeats them, and they fall to their demise. 
  • I also love how villains can never seem to do anything by themselves. They always have their henchmen do the work, only to get frustrated when they inevitably screw it up. If you were a villain, why would you entrust the most important task (killing your arch nemesis) to your stupid sidekicks? This is highlighted in the satirical Emperor's New Groove, but it actually happens in both The Lion King and Hercules. Seriously. Scar and Hades were smart villains. That was their biggest mistake.
Did I miss any parallels between villains?

Monday, July 2, 2012

#40: A Spitting (Llama) Image

(c) Disney
The Emperor's New Groove, 2000
watched June 23, 2012

You may be surprised to learn that I don't really care for this movie.

Most people I've talked to who are not Disney fans like I am, tell me that they actually enjoy Emperor's New Groove, that it's one of their favorites. It makes sense. Both self-referential and satirical, the film has a sort of breaking-down-the-fourth-wall tone, not often seen in Disney's work. Thus, those who don't typically like Disney movies will probably enjoy Groove.

One of the primary reasons I'm not a huge fan of the film is its main character, Emperor Kuzco. He's unlike the brave, honest and selfless heroes and heroines typically featured in Disney films. In fact, he's pretty much the opposite. He's so unlikable that it's funny. Well, it's supposed to be.

And I know--that's the point of the whole movie. And for the most part, I do laugh and enjoy myself when I watch it. But I have a really hard time getting behind a main character who thinks the universe revolves around him, that he can do whatever he wants at the expense of other people, that whenever something bad happens it's obviously someone else's fault.

But I also get annoyed with Pacha, the good-natured peasant who goes out of his way to help Kuzco after he's been turned into a llama. I don't understand why he's so determined to find some good in Kuzco, even after he's manipulated and lied to Pacha. There's no good reason why he should do anything for him, especially when returning him to the palace means that Kuzco will move forward with plans to destroy his home.

But here's where I realize the truth about this film. Kuzco is so unlikable because he reminds me of someone I know a little too well.


Looking at that ugly, whiny, annoying llama is like looking into a mirror. I see a self-centered, uncaring, heartless person who thinks their own problems are the biggest deal ever. I see someone who promises to be better, to help others, to use their power for good, and yet never actually does it. While I may not go around flaunting my fabulousness as Kuzco does, I can be just as prideful.

That's when the film isn't so funny anymore.

When I look at Pacha, whose unrelenting goodness I still can't comprehend, I see someone who is foolishly loyal to one who totally doesn't deserve it. It makes no sense whatsoever.

And then I realize. That's the Gospel. When I see it through this llama-shaped mirror, the ridiculousness of it all becomes apparent. Why would anyone risk their life to save such a pathetic, unlikable, annoying character?

But Someone did do that for me. When I, the unlovable empress of my own world, was lost, alone, and at the edge of the cliff, Someone rescued me and brought me home. Even when I lied to him and gave him empty promises, He loved me. And ultimately, He transformed me back to the person I was created to be. 

Perhaps the Gospel is foolish, ridiculous, and unbelievable. But I'm so thankful it's true.

Otherwise, I'd still be stuck as a llama.