Archive for June, 2023


Beauty and the Beast

Last week’s Disney movie was Beauty and the Beast. I remember going to see this at the late showing on opening night, back in the day when I could manage to go out to a movie that started after the time I’m usually in bed now. I wouldn’t even start watching a movie that late at home these days. Ah, youth. It seemed to be a movie specifically made for me. We had a brunette, hazel-eyed Disney princess who liked books! Having moved to something like a “poor provincial town” when I was a teen, I related to her not fitting in. I even went as Belle for Halloween the following year (and was terribly disappointed when no one at the party had any idea who I was supposed to be. Most people thought I was doing Maria’s nun outfit from The Sound of Music, which looks nothing like Belle’s blue dress. Not to mention that I copied Belle’s hair just about perfectly).

But looking at it now, I have some issues with this movie. For one thing, the setup doesn’t entirely work, and that makes me increasingly uncomfortable with the “moral” it teaches. Supposedly, the prince is punished for not letting the old woman in, since he judges her by her exterior, not what’s within — but she goes on to curse not only him, but all the servants in the household, who had absolutely nothing to do with it. So maybe he judged her correctly? Not to mention, it says the last petal on the rose will fall in his 21st year, and later Lumiere says it’s been ten years, so he was 11 when this happened. I think he kind of had a point about turning her away if she’s the kind of person who’d curse a child and his whole household for not letting a stranger in. And this isn’t even in the original fairy tale. I’ve seen a version in which he’s cursed by an evil fairy for refusing to marry her, I’ve seen a version in which it was someone trying to take his estate, and I’ve seen a version in which no reason at all was given, so this was something Disney made up. It doesn’t seem like they thought this through, and they must have realized it, too, since they corrected it in the live-action remake, where the prince is an adult and is more openly obnoxious, and they give a reason why the servants share the blame for him being that way (though I think that one’s a bit of a handwave). I actually think it would have worked even better if the person he rejected really was a poor old person rather than an enchantress in disguise, and then the enchantress showed up in defense of the poor old person. Then there’s no deception going on and you don’t have the issue about her being a pretty mean person while he’s being lectured on judging by appearances. I’ve also always found it amusing that he breaks the curse given to him to teach him to see past appearances by falling in love with the most beautiful girl in town.

As much as I love Belle, there is a whiff of “not like other girls” to her, where the girls who don’t share her interests are treated as being shallow and siding with the bad guy. That’s another thing the live action version fixed by adding her making an effort to tutor the girls in town. Then there’s the bookstore big enough to need that rolling ladder in a town where only one person reads and she borrows the books. The adjustment in the live-action version in which Belle merely borrows books from the local priest’s small collection makes a lot more sense, as does the fact that she’s reading Shakespeare, not just fairy tales.

But once the movie gets going, I forget the nitpicks. The whole sequence from the attack by the wolves where they save each other through the ballroom scene is totally swoonworthy. I remember how stunning the computer-animated ballroom scene was when this movie first came out. I’m not a huge fan of their computer animated character design, and I think this is one of the better uses of the technology, having the more realistic and graceful hand-drawn animation against the vivid computer-animated backdrop. I also loved that, for once, the couple actually got to know each other as people before they fell in love, and they went through a real crisis together. It wasn’t just one dance, and then they were ready for marriage. It’s even left a little vague as to whether they got married right away. There’s no obvious wedding scene.

Although Belle is the one who gets the “I want” song, the Beast is the actual protagonist of this movie. He’s the one with the goal. We learn later that he considered that she might be the one who could break the curse the moment she said she’d take her father’s place, though you can see the realization on his face. So his goal is to get her to fall in love with him and break the curse, though the servants have to remind him that he also has to love her, and he has to behave like someone she could love. Gaston, our villain, is set up as a foil to the Beast, someone who’s vile inside while attractive on the outside. He’s even more of a beast than the Beast is.

They may not do any real traveling in this movie, but it still fits my romantic fantasy road trip pattern. We have the Bargain of Belle agreeing to stay with the Beast in exchange for her father’s freedom. There’s all the Bickering of him demanding she join him for dinner and her refusing. They come under Attack by the wolves and save each other. That leads to Bonding as they get to know each other, culminating in the big Dance. After that, there’s the Departure, in which she returns home to check on her father, and the Return, when she comes back to assist the Beast.

I’ve realized that the Departure/Return doesn’t necessarily have to involve the protagonist. In this case, the way it signals that he’s changed is that he lets her go and accepts his fate. But then she returns to the normal world and realizes she doesn’t belong there (not that she ever did, so this isn’t much of a change).

In my pastor’s sermon on this theme last weekend, he focused on the passage from the Bible about how it’s not the things you take in that defile you, but rather the things that come from within. It’s what’s in your heart that matters, and the condition of your heart also affects the way you see other people. Though he focused on the prologue in using this as an illustration, and that’s the part I don’t think is done very well since she’s actually pretty cruel and he wasn’t entirely wrong.

My personal connection to this one is that I saw the actor who voices Gaston as Lancelot in a production of Camelot — with Robert Goulet as Arthur (so no pressure at all). Just imagine that voice singing “If Ever I Would Leave You.” And he’s quite physically attractive in real life, too. I’ll just assume he doesn’t share Gaston’s personality.

My pastor has ended that sermon series, so now I have to figure out for myself what to watch. I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for. I haven’t seen Pinocchio, Bambi, or Dumbo in a long time, but they’re all a little depressing. Any votes for what movie I should tackle next?


The Road Trip Romance

A couple of years ago, I got somewhat fixated on the subgenre I called “romantic fantasy road trip.” That was a story about people on some kind of journey or quest, and along the way they fall in love. I realized this was a thing I liked when I started watching a cheesy fantasy movie on Amazon and paused it to go make popcorn because I could tell from the setup that this was going to be something I wanted to revel in. The gold standard of this would be Stardust (both movie and book, but they have different structures), but you also find it in Disney movies like Tangled. Frozen fits it pretty well, if you look at Anna’s side of the story. It struck me that a story idea I came up with decades ago fits, too, but I couldn’t find any examples pre-dating me coming up with that idea, so I have no idea where it came from. I looked up some things I thought might fit, but it turns out they didn’t really.

I believe I’ve now figured out what I must have been modeling it on: the road trip rom-com. The gold standard of this, and probably the first example, would be It Happened One Night. These movies follow the same sort of structure I identified, just without the magic.

There’s the Bargain — the hero and heroine agree to travel together, with both of them usually getting something out of the deal. In It Happened One Night, he’s a journalist who needs a story to get his job back and she needs to reach her new husband in New York after running away from her father but is clueless about traveling alone and has lost her bag and her money. So, he agrees to help her in exchange for getting the exclusive on her story. It’s not quite a quest or bringing a fallen star to the woman he loves, but it still fits.

They do a lot of Bickering, with a clash of backgrounds and worldviews. Because this is a Depression-era screwball comedy, she’s an heiress and he’s a down-on-his-luck working man.

Then they come under Attack — detectives hired by her father find them, and they work together to throw the detectives off the trail by pretending to be a low-class long-married couple.

Thanks to the effects of the Attack, they Bond, working together from that point on (though still with lots of banter and personality clashes).

Then there’s an interesting two-part braiding of the Departure and Return sequence — he leaves her sleeping (like Stardust) to go to New York to sell the story after she confesses her love for him, planning to be back with the money they need for the rest of the journey before she wakes, but the landlady at the motel notices the car gone before then and throws her out. Thinking she’s been abandoned and hearing that her father has relented on accepting her marriage, she calls her father to come get her. Meanwhile, our hero sees her motorcade leaving just as he returns and he thinks she was kidding him. But he does another Return when he shows up to ask her father to reimburse him for the travel expenses—but refuses to take the reward money. When she learns about this at the wedding ceremony to formalize her unconsummated courthouse wedding, she flees the ceremony and runs to him. So they both Depart and Return, which is fitting because I think they’re fairly equal protagonists. The story mostly seems to be from his perspective, but we see the setup for her story first.

The one part of the pattern that’s missing is that there’s no dancing. In almost all of these stories, there’s some dancing involved in the Bonding sequence, and that’s when the feelings get romantic. In this movie, they do join a singalong on the bus earlier in the movie, and I guess the part where he takes off his shoes, rolls up his trouser legs, and carries her across the creek while she playfully uses his shoes to kick him in the rear might count.

The more modern (and significantly lesser) take on this kind of story, Leap Year, also fits the pattern. I honestly don’t know how that movie got made. With all the scripts that go nowhere, there have to have been dozens better than this. About the only things that make it work are the cast and the scenery, but on paper it had to have been a stinker. The premise—a woman making a desperate trip to and around Ireland so she can propose to her boyfriend on Leap Day, according to an old Irish custom—might have worked in the 30s or maybe even the 50s, but in the 21st century it’s hard to imagine someone going to that kind of desperate effort and expense when there’s nothing stopping her from just asking him to marry her at any time. Then there’s the fact that both of them need each other’s help, but they’re both unnecessarily obnoxious to each other. And then there are all the dumb slapstick and too stupid to live moments. I utterly adore Amy Adams, and she almost salvages her character, but this woman must have been utterly vile in the script without the subtle depth Adams manages to give her.

Still, this movie hits all the road trip romance beats I identified. There’s just no magic. I’m sure there were a ton of romance novels that fit this pattern, as well, especially the historical romances that included adventures and often involved a couple forced to travel together and falling in love along the way.

Interestingly, even though there’s no travel, the Disney Beauty and the Beast also fits, but I’ll discuss this in my next post.

It makes sense that I would have taken a kind of story I liked and added magic to it, given that this is essentially what I did with the Enchanted, Inc. series, which is a rom-com or chick lit with magic added.

In watching my two example movies last weekend, I’ve added something else to my pattern. I realized that a reason for the Departure/Return sequence, in which one character leaves the other (usually to go back to a significant other/would be significant other) only to realize he/she is in love with the traveling companion, is that this shows how the journey has changed them. They have to try to go back to the old life, then realize they’ve changed enough that they no longer want them same things, before they can finalize the relationship with the traveling companion.

This realization has been a big help in the book I’m revising, since it helps me figure out how to work out a fiddly bit near the end.


The Prince with a Personality

Sleeping Beauty isn’t my favorite fairy tale (although I’ve written an adaptation of it), but Sleeping Beauty is my favorite Disney princess movie of the classic era, and is among the top even for the modern movies. It’s not because of the title character, herself, who does very little in this story. It’s because this is the first “princess” movie in which the prince is an actual character. He gets a name that’s actually used onscreen. He has a personality! We get our first hint of that when they show him as a child meeting the infant Aurora and clearly not being impressed. He gets to do stuff! We actually see his conversation with his father about who he wants to marry instead of hearing it secondhand (as happened in Cinderella). He gets captured by Maleficent and fights a dragon. In short, he gets to be heroic. Prince Philip has been my animated boyfriend for most of my life. I’m a little embarrassed by how many times I saw this movie when it was re-released when I was in my late teens, and most of it was because I was crushing on Philip.

I’m not sure he’s really the hero of the story, though. If you look at it structurally, the fairies appear to be the protagonists. They’re the ones who come up with the plan to save Aurora, then they go rescue Philip and help him battle Maleficent. He does a lot of the work, but they’re the ones who have the goal from the start and have the plan to achieve the goal.

On the other hand, they’re also the ones who almost ruin everything. There’s a lot of Too Stupid To Live going on in this movie, which has the effect of weakening Maleficent. She doesn’t have to be all that clever to get the drop on the good guys when they practically hand it all to her on a silver platter. The biggest error is that they spend 16 years keeping Aurora safe, only to take her back to the place where she’s most in danger at the time she’s most in danger, right before the curse deadline. Would it have killed them to wait until the next day before breaking cover? At least wait until after sunset. Not that Maleficent would have abided by that deadline. There was nothing stopping her from harming Aurora after sunset on her 16th birthday. Still, they didn’t have to hand it to her so easily. And then there’s the mess with the magical wands. First, there’s the problem of how they lived without magic for 16 years and still didn’t know how to cook or sew at all. The discussion I’ve seen mentions that they switched off roles for this occasion, but even if you’d only watched someone else bake you’d know you don’t just fold whole eggs in the shell into the batter or ice the cake and put on the candles before you bake it. Wanting to do something you’ve never done before when it’s a special occasion is rather egotistical. Then they gave away their location to the villain by having a petty spat over what color the dress should be (blue).

This is one I’d like to see a live-action remake of, along the lines of the way they did Cinderella, where it wasn’t a direct remake of the animated movie but rather a new telling of the same story, using some of the same elements. In this case, I wouldn’t mind a closer remake since I’d want to keep the stuff created for this movie like the battle with the dragon. But undo some of the Too Stupid To Live stuff from the fairies and maybe flesh out the relationship between Philip and Aurora. Maybe they’ve been meeting in the woods for some time and have become friends. She’s already living under an assumed name, and maybe he’d make up something because he doesn’t want to be seen as a prince. He’s enjoying just being himself. I wouldn’t even mind skipping the music because the musical numbers aren’t all that memorable. The music itself is, but the “musical” elements in this movie are kind of weak. I would even be okay with losing the Tchaikovsky score and letting Patrick Doyle do his thing (in this movie of my dreams, the whole Cinderella team does it, and if we have Kenneth Branagh, that means we have Patrick Doyle).

I saw the ballet this movie is based on a few years ago, and I was surprised by how out-of-context the music is in the movie. The “Once Upon a Dream” music isn’t a romantic pas de deux in the ballet. It’s just the village girls dancing at a festival.

Some fun trivia: The voice actor for Philip dubbed the singing for Freddie in the movie version of My Fair Lady, so he’s the guy who sings “On the Street Where You Live” on the soundtrack. I grew up hearing both Sleeping Beauty and My Fair Lady and can’t believe it took me that long to make the connection (it was only when I got the My Fair Lady soundtrack on CD that they credited the actual singers). Now, though, it’s really obvious when I hear it.

This week’s sermon is tied to Beauty and the Beast, so that will be this weekend’s movie.


Finding Nemo’s Story Structure

It turns out, last Sunday’s sermon movie was Finding Nemo (they sent out the newsletter late), and that’s a good summer movie because it’s about the ocean, which makes you think of the beach (although I’m not really a beach person).

This is another one of the Pixar adult perspective movies, since it’s mostly about a father and his relationship with his son, though it also has a parallel plotline about the son on his own. Like most Pixar movies, it’s very well-structured, with internal and external goals and lots of internal and external conflict.

At the beginning of the movie, Marlin’s personal goal was to maintain the status quo and keep his son safe. But since the status quo doesn’t make an interesting goal, he has an underlying need to let go so that his son can grow and be strong. Meanwhile, his son’s personal goal at the beginning is independence. He wants to be able to explore, meet new people (fish) and see new things without his father hovering over his every move. These two goals are in direct opposition, and that’s what sets off the story, when Nemo goes a bit too far away to prove his independence and gets scooped up by a diver. Now Marlin has to give up his safety and security to go find his son, while Nemo gets more independence than he ever wanted when he’s on his own in an aquarium full of strangers, and he has to figure out how to escape. There’s so much conflict there between personal goals and story goals and the characters’ clashing agendas that the movie doesn’t really need a villain. The dentist who takes Nemo and his niece are as close as we come, but they mostly just provide the ticking clock. They aren’t evil. The dentist thought he was saving Nemo, since he was a young fish with a bad fin who was far from his normal habitat. His niece doesn’t seem to be evil, just a bit clueless about caring for animals, which is the fault of the adults around her.

Last week I was reading a book on story structure, and this movie provided an interesting illustration. Per this book, in the first half of the story, the hero is trying to do things the easy way, then in the middle of the story events force him to start doing things the hard way. But in this movie, things are hard for Marlin in the first half. He runs up against sharks, nearly loses the goggles, gets chased by the anglerfish and then has to get through the jellyfish. In the second half, he catches a ride on the current with the turtles, gets a ride with the whale to Sydney, then gets a lift from the pelican, so things get easier. Except the “easy” and “hard” here aren’t what’s objectively easier and harder. It’s what’s easy and hard for the character. Maybe a better way to phrase it would be inside the comfort zone, then outside the comfort zone. Marlin has a hard time in the first half because he’s doing things the way he usually does, seeing everyone and everything as a threat, freaking out and overreacting, and not trusting anyone, pushing away anyone who might be able to help. Dory’s his biggest potential asset, and he keeps trying to ditch her. But then in the second half he has to start accepting help and trusting. That makes his journey easier, but it’s so much harder for him to do. He struggles and is uncomfortable the whole time. He’s still freaking out and fights Dory every step of the way as she quickly trusts everyone they meet. Figuring that out gave me some insight into the plot I’m working on.

For my pastor’s sermon on this movie, he tied the “just keep swimming” thing to the verse about running with endurance the race that is set before us, with the reminder that we aren’t running/swimming alone and that even when we’re in a bad place, that’s not our ending. We just have to keep swimming to be able to move on, and we have to be willing to look for and see the help that’s provided to us. There’s also something in that verse about setting aside burdens, the things from the past that hold us back, like Marlin’s grief and guilt about not being able to protect his family, which was interfering with his relationship with his surviving son.

This is a really beautiful movie, both thematically and artistically. The way the sea is depicted is gorgeous, and the emotions the movie evokes are genuine, while there are still some good laughs. They do a good job of making something that’s kid-friendly that children can relate to while still making a movie that makes adults think.


Cinderella Without Cinderella

Cinderella has always been one of my favorite fairy tales, probably because the heroine actually does something instead of lying there and waiting to be awakened. She has a goal that she sets out to achieve. She gets help along the way (the nature of the help and where it happens depends on which version you’re looking at), but she does at least strive toward a goal.

The Disney Cinderella was one of my childhood favorites. I’m pretty sure I saw the actual movie at some point, but I mostly experienced it through the “story and songs” album, and that was one of my favorites. I loved Cinderella’s voice, and I liked singing along with her songs. It was easy to put together Cinderella costumes, both her work clothes and her ballgown, from things in my dress-up clothes box. I’d play the record, dress up, and act out the story. I even went as Cinderella for Halloween one year, in one of those terrible 1970s costumes that involved a plastic mask and a tunic with a picture of the character on it (today’s kids who get actual costumes that look like what the characters wore rather than just having a picture of the character on them are so lucky). I also went to see the movie when they re-released it while I was in high school or college.

But after this rewatch, I’ve got to say that they made some rather odd narrative choices. For one thing, Cinderella isn’t really the main character of her own story. The mice get more screentime than she does. In a way, this movie is several “Tom and Jerry” mice vs. cat cartoon shorts wrapped in a Cinderella framing story. Two of them are at least related to the plot, when the mice steal the supplies for making Cinderella’s dress and when they sneak the key to her, but there’s a 10-minute sequence of the mice trying to sneak past the cat to get the chicken feed and bring the corn back inside that has nothing to do with the plot. You could cut it out and make it its own mice vs. cat cartoon short and it would make total sense, and it wouldn’t change the Cinderella movie’s plot at all. I suppose you could look at it as setting up the mice vs. cat situation for when it does affect the plot, but do you really need to set up a “clever mice, evil cat” scenario?

The emphasis on the mice even takes away some of Cinderella’s agency. She sets the goal of going to the ball, gets out the old dress and plans to remake it, but then her stepfamily keeps her too busy to work on it, so she just gives up on her goal. It’s the mice who make the dress for her. It does pay off her kindness, previously established, but it takes away from her character that she just gives up and does nothing toward achieving her goal. At least she comes up with the idea to call the dog to deal with the cat to lead up toward the resolution, but otherwise they’ve managed to make one of the more active fairytale heroines more passive.

Then there’s the treatment of the prince, who is a total nonentity. They even take away some of the things that the prince usually does in the story and give them to a different character. Not that the prince gets much of a role in the fairy tale, but this version takes away even that. We never get to hear his perspective on why he’s reluctant to marry. We just get scenes of the king and the grand duke talking about that. When Cinderella leaves and drops her shoe, the prince doesn’t get to find it. It’s the grand duke who finds the shoe. I guess they were trying to give a reason the prince couldn’t catch up with the girl in a long dress who was running in glass slippers by having him get caught up in a gaggle of girls, but he could have eventually broken free to find the shoe himself. We don’t get to see the prince declaring his love for the girl at the ball and announcing that he’ll marry the girl the slipper fits. Instead, we see the grand duke telling the king this. The prince doesn’t even get to be present when they find Cinderella and she produces the spare shoe after the first one breaks. It’s the grand duke who kneels in front of her and puts the shoe on her foot in the story’s climactic resolution.

I’m not sure what they were thinking here. There’s been a lot of discussion among writers on Twitter this week about whether or not the “show, don’t tell” rule is valid, but I think that having a scene of the grand duke telling the king that the prince said he was in love instead of a scene of the prince saying he’s in love would be the bad kind of telling. I can’t imagine why they thought it was better to focus so much on the king and the grand duke rather than the prince himself. Pixar may make animated films that work as kids’ movies while also being told from the adult perspective, but this film has a really odd disconnect, with the Cinderella story being overshadowed by a kid-targeted mice vs. cats comedy and two old guys talking about how one of them wants to be a grandfather. It’s ironic that they eventually made the Disney Princess a brand and realized that this was the draw, given that they marginalized the princess in this movie.

I know it’s generally considered blasphemy to say that the live-action version of a Disney animated movie is better, but I do think the live-action Cinderella “fixes” the animated one. It’s not truly a remake, but rather a new telling of the same source material with a lot of references to the original, but it drastically reduces the role of the mice and beefs up the roles of Cinderella and the prince. Cinderella makes her own first attempt at a dress. We see that she’s choosing to stay where she is because she’s trying to protect her home, so she seems like less of a victim. We see the clash between the prince and his father instead of hearing about it, and the prince gets to be present when they find Cinderella.

Not that the animated version is bad. It just doesn’t hold up to a lot of analysis. I do like the music, and I still love Cinderella’s voice. The dress is less of a disappointment than most other Cinderella dresses. It does at least have some magical sparkle to it. The animation of the dog is surprisingly realistic. They get the facial expressions just right, as well as the doggie dreaming. All the ingredients are good enough to make me wish it could have been better.

I don’t know what I’m going to watch this weekend. The church newsletter doesn’t seem to have gone out, so I don’t know what the sermon focus is going to be, and I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for. I don’t know whether to stick with the era and maybe hit Pinocchio or Dumbo or to go with princesses and do Sleeping Beauty.


Superheroes with Mid-Life Crises

It may not be officially part of my Disney animation project, but since I watched The Incredibles this weekend in conjunction with my pastor’s sermon series drawing on animated films, I thought I might as well talk about it.

I love this movie, from the twists on the superhero genre to the cool midcentury modern/space age aesthetic. One thing that occurred to me while watching is how often the Pixar films are told from the adult perspective. They may be kid-friendly, but to a large extent they’re grown-up movies told from the perspective of the adult or parent, and this is one of those.

It’s essentially a movie about a mid-life crisis, about feeling unfulfilled, reaching what should be the peak of adulthood and realizing that there’s something important missing, like you didn’t really reach your goals or achieve your dreams. Even a happy marriage and a family isn’t enough to make up for the drudgery of a job he doesn’t believe in and a life in which he can’t have a job doing the thing he’s good at. This is all cleverly woven into a whiz-bang superhero story full of cool gadgets and with kids who get to help save the day, so the kids in the audience don’t necessarily see it as a story about a midlife crisis. I don’t think this story would work on those two levels in live action. There’s something about animation that makes it larger than life in a way that doesn’t make the midlife crisis story feel like a drudge. It’s some sort of alchemy. Even more realistic animation wouldn’t have worked. Looking so cartoony in a space age world makes it work.

From a structure perspective, it’s interesting that Bob doesn’t really have a specific story goal until nearly the end of the movie. It’s more of a personal goal. He wants his superhero life back, so he takes on the secret mission, then gets himself in shape in preparation for more missions. Only after that, when he learns who he’s really working for, does he develop the goal of stopping that bad guy, and that comes more than halfway through the movie. This one isn’t a musical, but if it had an “I Want” song, it would probably have something to do with wanting to be a hero again or wanting not having to hide that he’s a hero. He’d be dancing around doing feats of strength while singing about how he’s not allowed to do that openly anymore.

Another interesting thing is that the hero doesn’t really save the day. He has to be rescued, and then it takes the teamwork of the whole family to win, which is one of the lessons of the movie, that he can’t just do it alone, and it takes all the various superpowers working together to succeed.

That was the gist of my pastor’s sermon. He used the passage about spiritual gifts and talked about how unfulfilled Bob and his family were when they weren’t using their gifts, and how it took all of them together to prevail. Super strength alone couldn’t get the job done, and each of the gifts ended up being necessary. Ironically, he delivered this sermon while wearing a superhero cape, defying the “No capes!” edict. It was a tie-in to Vacation Bible School, which has a superhero theme, and the capes are part of the VBS gear.

I don’t yet know what next week’s movie will be. As far as I’ve seen, they haven’t put out a schedule for the whole summer. But I also watched Cinderella this weekend, and that will be covered in my next post.


The Lion King: A Movie Without a Middle

Last weekend’s Disney movie was The Lion King (the animated version). I saw this one in the theater — I was in Washington, D.C. and a big storm hit while I was out sightseeing. I made it into Union Station, but even if I took the metro back to my hotel I’d have had to make it from the station to the hotel in the downpour. Since Union Station is also a mall, I figured I could wait out the storm by seeing a movie, and The Lion King was the next thing to start. The storm was bad enough I could hear the thunder even during the movie. I don’t recall having seen it again since then, though I have seen the Broadway version a number of times.

I’ve got to admit, this isn’t one of my favorites. The opening “Circle of Life” scene gives me goosebumps, but the rest of the movie doesn’t do much for me. Simba’s kind of a brat, and he’s as passive a character as any of the old-school princesses. In fact, there are a lot of parallels between this movie and Snow White. We’ve got a usurper who tries to get rid of the heir by sending him/her off to get killed, only the heir manages to escape and ends up getting lost and collapsing in a far-off place, where he/she is then taken in by wacky sidekicks. And then the villain falls off a cliff. Simba does play a role in the final confrontation with the villain instead of sleeping through it, but almost every action he takes through the entire movie is because of someone else telling him something. He gets in trouble with the hyenas because he listens to Scar, then is in the path of the stampede because he listens to Scar. He takes Scar’s word for it that he’s at fault for his father’s death, he takes on the “Hakuna Matata” philosophy because Timon and Pumbaa tell him he should. He decides to go back home because Nala and his father’s spirit tell him to, and he learns that Scar killed his father because Scar tells him. Simba doesn’t ever actually initiate any action.

The instructor of a writing workshop I once went to called this a “movie without a middle,” and now I can’t unsee it. Usually, the middle of a story is a training ground for the hero, where he tries doing things the old way, based on the way he was at the beginning of the story, only to fail because he hasn’t learned the lessons he needs to, or this may be when he gets the thing he needs to achieve his goal, but now he needs to get back home and fix things. It’s when he starts to learn the lesson he needs to learn, so that he’s a changed person at the end at the final confrontation. But Simba just goes away, takes on the no worries way of life and sheds his responsibility, then he gets told he needs to help his people, and he goes home. He doesn’t learn anything along the way that makes him capable of winning. They set up a change he needs to make — he starts out wanting to be king so he can do what he wants — then he goes off and lives a life of doing what he wants, then he goes back home. It’s not as though he learns something in the jungle that he can apply to facing Scar or that he has an experience that tells him “no worries” isn’t a good way of living his life. He’s just told that. And then he doesn’t do anything to figure out what Scar was up to. He doesn’t hear Scar’s lies and realize that he was being gaslit. He doesn’t figure it out based on Scar’s actions or his words not adding up. He only figures it out when Scar tells him. There feels like a big gap because Simba being a big slacker and him coming back to take back his kingdom. The writers don’t show their work.

I felt a bit better about the story after hearing my pastor’s sermon on it. He related it to the story of Peter, who denied Christ on the night Jesus was arrested. Then after the resurrection, he went off on a fishing trip (considering this was how they made their living, I’m not sure it equates to what we think of as “going fishing,” but I can see where my pastor was making a point). Jesus met with him on the shore and gave him the opportunity to affirm him, essentially giving the “remember who you are” speech, then sent him on a mission. And I can kind of see that, with Simba being given a do-over after what he saw as a failure and still being loved and accepted.

Still, I’d feel a lot better about The Lion King if there’d been any kind of process to Simba’s character arc, like if he truly learned that kings can’t just do what they want and learned about real leadership. Or if he figured out that Scar was probably behind it all and he’d been wrongly blaming himself. Or anything active. At all.

Looking at the story structure stuff, our “I Want” song is “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” and what Simba wants is to be in a position where no one can tell him what he can or can’t do. There isn’t really a story goal. This is a story without a protagonist. Scar wants to be king and achieves that and stops trying to do much of anything at the midway point of the movie. Simba stops having any ambitions or goals at all at the midway point of the movie, though I guess at that point he’d achieved not having anyone to tell him what to do. He doesn’t develop the goal to take back his kingdom until the last 20 minutes or so. Nala is the “Disney prince” of this movie, and she gets part of a song and gets to take some initiative, actually being a more active character than Simba. She’s the one who finds him and starts pushing him to take action, and she rallies the lionesses to the fight. I’d forgotten Moira Kelly did the voice, and I kept expecting to hear a “toepick!” from Nala.

My personal connection to this one is James Earl Jones, who was the guest speaker for the grand opening of a new library in my city (he had some kind of tie to a corporation based here that sponsored the event, and apparently literacy is one of his big causes), so I’ve been in the same room with him, both in the auditorium where he spoke and in the library itself. I didn’t try to talk to him, but there was a moment of eye contact, smile, and nod in the library. His normal speaking voice is pretty “Mufasa,” but when he laughs he has a high-pitched giggle that’s quite a contrast.

My pastor’s sermon this week ties to The Incredibles, which I consider outside the bounds of this project, since I’m focusing more on Disney and was planning to do Pixar separately, so I may watch some other Disney, as well. We’ll see what I’m in the mood for. They just added a bunch of movies I want to watch to Amazon Prime. I don’t have that many streaming services, and I already have more content than I have time to watch between Prime and Disney, and now I have PBS Passport because the classical station is part of the public radio/TV group and I donate to it, and then I got three months of Apple TV+ because of the new computer. I may put off activating that until a little later.

New Computer!

I’m typing to you from my new computer! I’d been needing to get a new one for a while. I bought my old one in 2016, and it’s at about the five-year mark when they tend to get glitchy with the kind of heavy use I give mine. I’d reached a point where I couldn’t update my browsers without updating my operating system, and some of my critical websites wouldn’t work with my browsers. But at the same time, I have some tech that wouldn’t work if I updated my operating system. I was having a lot more crashes, so I wasn’t sure updating the operating system would solve my problems — or even work. Then I found a sale on the kind of computer I wanted and took the plunge to buy a new one.

It took me a while to get around to getting the new one set up and all the files transferred. I put it off because I was dreading it. And then I had another crash and knew I needed to deal with it, so I took care of it last weekend. I still don’t have it exactly the way I want it, and for some weird reason my e-mail files didn’t transfer, so I’m going to have to figure all that out. I’m also going to have to buy the new version of one bit of software and eventually get some external drives. But it’s more or less functional now.

The new one is a lot faster. It gets going faster, it loads things faster, and the keyboard is really nice, so I feel like I’m typing faster. Maybe that means I’ll write books faster. Unfortunately, it doesn’t speed up my brain.

One nice thing is that I’ll finally be able to load music onto my new phone. The new phone the phone company made me take a couple of years ago when they changed their network wasn’t compatible with my old operating system, so I’ve been using my old phone as a music player. I may continue doing that (one reason to keep the old computer the way it is), but I can also put music on the new phone so I can have it either way.

I guess this means I have to write a few books to make this computer pay for itself.


Beginning Again: The Little Mermaid

My Disney animated rewatch movie last weekend was The Little Mermaid. I’d been planning to go more or less chronological, but my pastor planned a sermon involving The Little Mermaid last Sunday, so I jumped ahead.

In a way, it made for an interesting contrast, going straight from the start of full-length animated movies to the start of the Disney Renaissance. We definitely see some changes in the way the heroine is presented. Ariel is an actual protagonist who has a personal goal at the beginning of the story, develops a story goal, and takes action to achieve both her personal goal and story goal. Prince Eric gets a name and something of a personality (but no songs), and actually interacts with Ariel before they fall in love. On the other hand, Ariel is just 16 and still gets married at the end, something that didn’t get corrected explicitly in Disney films until Tangled, when they actually said at the end that they wouldn’t get married until much later. Maybe there’s a time gap we don’t see between Ariel returning to Eric with legs and a voice and the wedding. She could have spent a few years living on land and getting to know Eric before they got married.

I saw this one at the theater when it was released, and I know I’ve seen it at least a couple of times since then, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen more than clips, and I’d forgotten what a delightful movie this is. My face hurt at the end because I’d been grinning the whole time. I remember being frustrated by the fact that the movie was about a girl with a beautiful voice, and then she only got one song, with all the rest of the songs coming from the sidekicks, but the sidekick songs are a lot of fun, as well as being truly good music.

One interesting thing about story structure is that there’s a rolling/escalating inciting event. We start the story with Ariel fascinated with humans and longing to be part of the human world. Then she sees the ship, watches Eric, falls for him, then sees him risk his life to save his dog from the shipwreck and saves him. That’s part one — she falls in love with Eric, which ramps up her desire to be part of the human world. Then it escalates further when her father finds out about her obsession with humans and destroys her collection. That drives her further away from the world of the merpeople and makes her feel even more like she doesn’t belong there, and she doesn’t want to be part of them. And then Ursula takes advantage of this by offering the deal to become human, which is what creates the actual story goal: she has to make Eric fall in love with her and kiss her by sunset on the third day. All that other stuff has to happen to motivate her to take the deal and set the plot in motion. If Ursula had offered that deal at the beginning when it was just about collecting stuff, I’m not sure she’d have taken it. I’m not sure she’d have even taken it after meeting Eric. It took the final straw of being mad at her father for her to be willing to make that leap.

There’s a lot of mention in articles about this movie about how it was taking a new approach to the musical Disney movie by using the music the way a Broadway show does, to reveal character and move the plot forward, but I’m not sure I buy that. The older movies used music this way. The “I Want” song may have been codified formally into the formula with this movie, but it goes all the way back to Snow White. And not all the numbers in this film actually move the plot along. “Under the Sea” is a wonderful song, but the movie would still make total sense without it. The movie would lose a lot without “Kiss the Girl,” but, again, it’s not essential for the plot. Not to mention the chef’s song, which could go entirely. I don’t necessarily see any of these songs as being more essential to the story than most of the songs from the older musicals. It was a revival of the way they used to use music, not any kind of change. I actually felt like they were being cautious with the music, like they were afraid to make a full-fledged musical. Ariel’s and Ursula’s songs were true musical theater songs, but the rest of the songs are pretty much what I consider “performance” songs, in which the characters are performing music in the context of the story, not just bursting into song with the backing of an invisible orchestra.

I saw an article about the new live-action remake in which they say one difference from the animated version is that Ariel doesn’t just give up her voice for Eric because she’s already obsessed with the human world, and I have to wonder how recently they’ve seen the animated version because we see her collecting human stuff, visiting her treasure trove, and singing “Part of Your World” before she ever sets eyes on Eric. The whole “she gave up her voice to get a man, how anti-feminist!” argument has never actually fit this movie. She already wanted to be human. Eric mostly came into it because Ursula wrote him into the deal. Ariel didn’t just become human for Eric, but if she wanted to stay human she had to get Eric to fall for her. The analogy that comes to me would be if someone was obsessed with the idea of Paris, collected things from Paris, learned everything she could about Paris, and dreamed of going to Paris someday. Then she fell in love with a man from Paris, and that was what spurred her to sell her house and go to Paris, and then she needed to get him to marry her before her visa ran out so she could stay, knowing she wouldn’t be able to go back home if she failed because she’d already sold her house. The real relationship in this movie is between Ariel and her father. They have conflicting views of humanity, and Eric ends up proving that Ariel is right, that humans can be good, since he takes great risks to help both Ariel and her father, and the resolution of the movie is the reconciliation between Ariel and her father, with him finally understanding her. The romance isn’t the main plot.

I have some fun “six degrees” connections with this movie. I’ve seen Jodi Benson in a number of stage productions, one of which was in a pretty intimate theater in the round, where she was only a few feet away (that was in a touring production of Chess in the summer of 1991). I’ve also seen both the voice actor and the live action model for Eric in stage productions.

For those wondering how my pastor connected a sermon to The Little Mermaid, it was a sermon on Pentecost, getting into how that forced the disciples out of their comfort zones to follow the calling to preach the Gospel, with some of them going into far-off parts of the world, and he connected that to Ariel feeling called to leave her comfort zone of the ocean to go to the human world. But he also got into how this was the start of the Disney Renaissance, with the way the company was going downhill because they were being complacent and cheap, and they decided to make a leap of faith to return to old-school animation in making this film, which he then also tied to John Wesley beginning the Methodist movement, getting out of the comfort zone of the church and going out to where ordinary people were.

Next up for the sermon series is The Lion King. Depending on my mood, I may also do another animated movie this weekend.