Last weekend’s Disney movie was The Rescuers. This one was a weird experience for me because it was both strange and familiar. I remember going to the theater to see it but didn’t remember anything about it, other than that it involved mice and that Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart were the voices, but then once I started watching, I would have these weird flashes of memory in which I not only knew what the next line would be, I knew exactly what it would sound like. I could sing along with the Rescue Aid Society theme song. I didn’t have this record, but it’s possible that my younger brother did. When I saw it, I was 8, almost 9, and I’d see Star Wars a couple of months later, so I was at a point when I was suddenly no longer interested in Disney movies. I became obsessed with Star Wars and left behind the Disney stuff for a while.

But if my little brother had the record for this, that might explain why some of the lines were so familiar but the story wasn’t that familiar. I might have overheard enough to recognize bits of the movie without knowing the story as a whole. With the earlier ones, I listened to them myself and acted them out. This might have been one I overheard through the wall, so I picked up on and memorized bits of dialogue without getting the context.

Anyway, it’s a rather cute movie, though maybe not as memorable as some of the classics. It’s not a musical, like the earlier films. The characters only sing that group anthem, which is sung as part of the story. The rest of the songs are just part of the soundtrack, playing in the background during scenes. But some of the artwork is lovely, there’s some imaginative use of objects to create the world of the mice, and the treatment of women is better than in a lot of these films. They actually acknowledge the sexism, as the male mice try to keep Miss Bianca from doing things, but she goes right ahead and proves to be more competent than the men. She doesn’t really have to be rescued. She does the rescuing. Since they’re helping a child, they use a similar trick to that the Aristocats used, with the leading lady avoiding having to be the damsel in distress because there’s a child (or kitten) involved. And here, even the child plays an active role in her rescue. She’s the one who gets out the distress call, and then she comes up with a lot of the plan for her escape. She’s even the one who drives the getaway vehicle.

The villains’ plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, so little wonder that I didn’t remember it (and was guessing at something a lot more elaborate than it turned out to be).

I’m still trying to figure out who, exactly, the protagonist is. It’s mostly told from Bernard’s perspective and he’s the one whose life is upended and who has a growth arc. His ordinary world is just being the janitor, then he gets the call to adventure when Miss Bianca drafts him to join her on the rescue mission, and he ends up becoming a real agent instead of just a janitor. But it’s Penny and Bianca who drive a lot of the action and who make the actual decisions. Bernard is mostly swept up in the wake of Bianca, who is a force of nature. But Bianca is mostly a catalyst. She doesn’t change, but she makes things happen.

I guess now I need to watch The Rescuers Down Under, which I never saw.

My Books

New Book!

That book of short fiction in the Enchanted, Inc. universe is now available for pre-order in e-book. There will be a paperback, but they don’t allow pre-orders on those, so that will be available just before release day (I’ll try to get it up so that it can be received around release day, but it’s hard to judge just how quickly they’ll be able to move).

Tales of Enchantment book cover, showing magical smoke and stars coming out of an open book.

There are three new stories in this book, and they’re all longer than short stories. Two are novelettes (longer than a short story, shorter than a novella, so more than 7,500 words). One of these is about Owen and Rod when they were in college. The other happens after Enchanted Ever After and involves Katie’s Granny dealing with a crisis before Katie’s hometown wedding reception. Then there’s a novella (more than 20,000 words) about Merlin’s return, about a year before Enchanted, Inc.

The book also includes the two previously published short stories.

I’ve also included several essays about where I got the ideas for various things in the series and my view of the magical system. All the stories have new author’s notes about the inspiration behind them and any other details about the creative process. I’ve tried to make this book a treat for the fans.

Pre-orders are now available at most of the major online retailers, and I’ve put the links on the book’s page on the website.

Since my birthday is Monday, buying the book would be a really nice gift to me.


Disney Silliness

I doubled up on the Disney last weekend, hitting movies that make me laugh. First, Robin Hood. I’ve read commentaries that refer to this as one of Disney’s weaker movies, but it’s still one of my favorites because it’s just so much fun. Yeah, there are some logical leaps and the music is so specific to the movie that there weren’t any breakout pop hits, but it’s highly entertaining, to the point that my face hurts at the end from smiling so much.

I actually saw this one at the theater in first run, so I experienced it first from the movie and then later got the record album, but since I grew up in the days before home video, I still mostly knew it from the album, and I have the sound from a lot of the scenes permanently etched on my brain. If you’re looking for some kind of coherent worldbuilding, you’re out of luck, since we have an Old West sheriff and his deputies in medieval England and we have a fox and a hen being best friends, but I find a lot of that to be part of the movie’s charm. Weirdly, I’m not sure this movie would have worked so well if it had been a more straightforward telling using human characters, like they did with the fairy tale movies.

It’s a somewhat different experience watching as an adult with some knowledge of history, since “good King Richard” wasn’t all that great and had little to do with England, and he was the reason they had to raise taxes to pay for his crusades and the ransom when he got himself taken prisoner. John taxed the nobles rather than the peasants (though the nobles probably did pass it on to the peasants). But the more you know about Eleanor of Aquitaine, the funnier the “Mommy!” bit is.

You know, so many of the Robin Hood films end with good King Richard showing up to get Prince John back in line. I want one that has Eleanor showing up and dragging him off by the ear. Historically, that’s somewhat more likely.

Brian Bedford as Robin Hood has to be the MVP of this movie, given that he plays essentially multiple roles. He’s Robin, but then he’s also Robin as the lady fortuneteller, Robin as the old beggar, Robin as the stork archer, and Robin imitating the deputy, and all of them are distinctly different voices with very different accents, but with just enough Robin in them to make it clear that it’s Robin in disguise (this was clear even on the record album). The deputy is particularly good because it’s a dead-on impression with only the slightest hint that they didn’t just fake it with the actor who played the deputy providing the voice of Robin-as-deputy.

There are a lot of jokes online about how girls of my generation got their definition of sexy from a cartoon fox. He is one sexy fox, but I think a lot of the appeal is in how expressive they manage to make his face. He’s mostly got that sly, cheeky look, but when he’s trapped in the burning castle, there’s a raw vulnerability on his face that makes him even more appealing. My DVD (I loaded up on the classics at the used bookstore when people unloaded their collections after Disney+ launched) includes an alternate ending in which Robin is wounded during his escape and is threatened by Prince John as Marian tends to him. That would have been a massive tonal shift, plus seeing the sexy hero that vulnerable might have been a total overload of “sexy fox.”

I was in need of a smile Saturday night, and I’d recently done a Norwegian unit on tools that included the sentences “Pull the lever!” and “Wrong lever!” so I ended up watching The Emperor’s New Groove for the third time in the past couple of years. (If you’ve seen the movie, you know why that made me think of the movie, and if you haven’t, it’s a running gag. And given the degree of nerdiness in the Duolingo Norwegian course, I’m certain it was meant as a reference.)

That movie is just so very satisfying. We have a good transformation arc, a good villain comeuppance, and the day is saved due to the innate goodness of a couple of people. The story is about a selfish young Incan emperor who gets turned into a llama by his evil advisor who’s trying to do away with him, and he finds himself dependent on the peasant whose home he planned to destroy in order to build a summer palace. It’s a delightful burst of pure silliness wound around a sweet heart, and it just makes me happy. I should probably find a DVD because I don’t want to risk it getting pulled from streaming. It’s become one of my go-to happy place movies.

Since I’m doing this for fun, I’ve decided not to worry about Dumbo, Bambi and Pinocchio. I don’t have any kind of assignment making me watch these, so if I don’t want to, I don’t have to. I’m thinking of trying The Rescuers next. I remember seeing it at the theater when it came out, but I was a little beyond the Disney record album stage then so I didn’t have anything to allow me to relive it away from the movie, and I don’t remember it at all. Also, I saw Star Wars not long after I saw it, so my interests shifted entirely away from that sort of thing. I never saw The Rescuers Down Under because it came out when I was an adult, and since I didn’t remember much about the first movie, I didn’t care all that much about the second. There are actually a lot of Disney movies from the 90s that I missed. I saw the major ones like The Lion King, Mulan, and Aladdin, but missed most of the others. I may focus now on the ones I don’t remember or haven’t seen.


Swinging with The Jungle Book

Last weekend’s Disney fun was The Jungle Book. This one was a favorite when I was a kid, mostly because of the music. It might even be partially responsible for my love of jazz. There’s also a lot of humor and heart, with lovable characters (even if you love to hate them) as Mowgli makes his way through the jungle. I actually saw this as a kid, but I’m still mostly familiar with it from the story and songs album. They included a lot of actual scenes from the movie, so there’s still a lot I can quote from memory. I even remember how the voices sounded, so I had a few moments of realizing why the voice sounded a certain way at a certain time in the movie — on the record, there would be a time when a voice suddenly changed, and then in the movie you see that the person speaking had something happen to him in that moment. I remembered the sound but didn’t remember what had happened.

I’m not sure which of the main songs is my favorite. “The Bear Necessities” is a lot of fun. “I Wanna Be Like You” is a great swing number that gives us a scat-off between Phil Harris and Louis Prima and that makes you want to dance. But I also love the vultures’ song, “That’s What Friends Are For.” You can tell by the character design that the vultures were meant to be the Beatles, and apparently that was the original plan, with their song being a Beatles-style number. But the Beatles pulled out, and they rewrote the song to be the bouncy barbershop quartet number, which I think actually works better.

The whole vulture scene is pretty much seared into my memory since the whole “What do you want to do? I dunno, what do you want to do?” routine became a recurring family joke. Anytime someone said something about being bored and someone asked what they wanted to do, it would trigger this whole scene getting played out.

In analyzing the structure, I realized that, for a change, we actually have a protagonist! Bagheera is the one telling the story, but I think Mowgli is the protagonist. He’s the one who learns about a change in his life, and he reacts to it, which drives the rest of the story, as he first ditches Bagheera, then decides to stay with Baloo, and then ditches everyone before having to confront the villain himself, rescuing himself, then making the decision of what to do with his life. Bagheera does have the goal of getting Mowgli to the man village, but nothing much of what he does actually has any effect on what happens.

Fun trivia note: the actor who voiced Mowgli also voiced Christopher Robin in the Winnie the Pooh movies being made around the time this movie was made, and the actor who voiced Kaa the snake voiced Winnie the Pooh. That gives a whole new sense to the scenes between them here. It might be fun to switch the animation and have Pooh talking to Christopher Robin like that.

I don’t know what I’ll watch this weekend. Maybe Robin Hood while I’m in this era. I guess eventually I should go back and look at some of the other early films, but I’m not particularly eager to watch Dumbo, Bambi or Pinocchio. I recall liking Pinocchio as a kid, but I wasn’t a big fan of the others.


Barbie Mania

I haven’t yet seen the Barbie movie — I’ll wait until theaters are a lot less crowded — but all the talk about it has brought up a lot of nostalgia for me and what Barbie meant to me when I was growing up.

I get irked by the people who talk about Barbie dolls as being bad for girls because it falls into some of the same traps of faux feminism as those who complain about romance novels. There’s the “not like other girls” thing in which anything considered traditionally feminine is “bad.” If other girls like it, it’s frowned upon. And there’s the “unrealistic expectations” thing that infantilizes women and girls, treating us like we’re too dumb to know that romance novels or a doll with a ridiculous figure might be pure fantasy.

I don’t remember ever wanting or expecting to have Barbie’s figure. I wanted her wardrobe and her life — the life I gave her when I was using her to explore possible ways of having an adult life.

I got my first Barbie for either my 5th or 6th birthday. That must have been before they started branding heavily in pink because there was no pink in my first Barbie and her accessories. That first doll was a Malibu Barbie who came wearing a blue one-piece swimsuit. At the same time, I also got her car, which was a yellow Corvette, and a pop-up camper (a trailer that unfolded to be a tent), which was also mostly yellow. Later, I got a horse. Somewhere along the way, I got a Malibu Ken. My Barbie spent a lot of time camping and horseback riding. Sometimes, she acted out musicals while I played the cast album or my Disney story and songs albums.

Barbie’s wardrobe grew so that she had more options than that swimsuit. My mom made some clothes for her, including a wedding dress made from scraps from her wedding dress. Barbie clothes also made for an easy gift. A Barbie outfit was the go-to birthday party gift at that time. As I got older, I made a lot of Barbie clothes, myself. I had fun designing things based on some simple patterns I had.

My Barbie collection grew when I was 7. I got the Dream House, and I got a “Francie” doll. I think she was a friend or cousin of Barbie’s, but she quickly became my favorite. The one I got was “quick curl” so she had hair that could be curled, which meant it was kind of stiff and wiry, a lot like my hair, and she was a brunette. She also had slightly flatter feet and wasn’t quite as boobalicious as Barbie. She quickly became my favorite and my “avatar,” while the actual Barbie tended to be the villain. Francie later had a “spa day” and returned as a Fashion Photo PJ after she started falling apart and got increasingly gross and I got a new doll to replace her. She was still brunette, but had some work done. Alas, the original Francie didn’t make it back from Germany when we moved.

Two Barbie dolls, a brunette in a very late-70s floral dress and a blonde in a strapless blue jumpsuit.
The brunette PJ who replaced the Francie who represented me and the original Malibu Barbie. You can tell by their clothes that I last played with them in 1980.

The fun thing about Barbies was that this was something you could play by yourself or you could play with others. You could do parallel play, where you were both playing out your own thing near each other, or you could come up with a group story. Barbies were essentially a vehicle for roleplaying games and collaborative storytelling. Some of it was reality-based, with Barbie having whatever job I thought I wanted to have when I grew up, going on dates with Ken, and hanging out in her townhouse. Some of it was pure fantasy, with Barbie being a princess or witch. After Star Wars, the simple, high-necked wedding dress I had became Princess Leia’s white dress.

I did a lot of what they’re now calling jukebox musicals with my dolls. I’d make up stories around the songs on a record album and assign them to different dolls, then act out the story with the dolls (and many costume changes). I did a lot of remodeling on the Dream House. I didn’t like the printed backdrop that showed the rooms, which made no sense to me. Why would you essentially have a mural of your living room on your living room wall? So I got rid of the backdrop and put up something different. I made a fireplace and a balcony out of cardboard.

It struck me a few years ago that I’m essentially living the kind of life I often gave my Barbie dolls. I don’t have a Corvette, but I do have a car and I live in a townhouse (though with stairs instead of an elevator). I have a pretty big wardrobe, thanks to not really changing sizes in the past 30 years and being bad about not getting rid of things.

I think that playing with Barbies had a lot to do with me becoming a writer because it was a way I played with storytelling and being creative. That’s really what Barbies were all about: creativity. It was a way to make things up and explore, and if you think it was all about shopping, dating, and getting married, you’ve never watched girls play with Barbies.

I still have a couple of my dolls and the more sentimental pieces of clothing in my Barbie case that’s in my closet. Maybe I should use that for story brainstorming.

writing life

Online Conferences

One good thing to come out of the pandemic has been the rise in online events and conferences. In the first year or so, everyone had to quickly pivot to online events or cancel them entirely, but then a lot of groups figured out that having online events opened them up to a whole new group of attendees. People who didn’t have the time or budget to travel to a conference could attend an online conference. You could go to conference sessions in your pajamas or sweatpants, and a lot of these conferences had the sessions recorded, so you could watch them whenever you wanted to. A few got good at doing interactive events, using programs like Zoom to create roundtables and networking sessions so you could talk to other attendees.

I’ve been to a lot more conferences since the pandemic started than I’d been to in years before it. I tend to get drained by being around crowds, so while I enjoy conferences, I’ll end up collapsing in my hotel room between sessions, and I’m left drained at the end. I lose about two weeks of writing time for a conference that covers a long weekend. There’s the preparation and travel before, then the travel and recovery afterward. With an online conference, I manage to get writing done during the conference, and while I might be a little tired after an intense weekend of sessions, I’m not so drained that I lose days of work.

I’m about to attend another online writing conference that starts this weekend. With this one, all the workshops are pre-recorded, and I can watch them whenever I want in the next few years. Then there are live events on the next three weekends, with live Q&A sessions and roundtable sessions. During the conference, I focus on the workshops connected to live events and the live events like networking and roundtable sessions. Then I can spread the other workshops out over the rest of the year.

I’ve learned that there are some preparations I have to make. Mostly, I need easy meals so I don’t have to spend a lot of time cooking, and I need snacks. Snacks aren’t necessarily a big thing at writing conferences, but there’s usually a hospitality suite at science fiction conventions, where you can get snacks and hang out. That seems to have created an expectation in my brain that if I’m at a conference, there will be snacks of the sort that I usually only let myself eat at conferences, so I’ll end up craving those things. I didn’t go nuts, but I have a few things to munch on while I watch workshops and presentations.

I got some spiral notebooks and pens for taking notes. Fortunately, it’s back-to-school time, so it’s all on sale. Like I need an excuse to buy school supplies.

Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of an online course, so I might be overloading myself a bit. The real trick is reminding myself that no one thing I learn is going to change everything. I may learn new things that will allow incremental improvement, but I’m not going to discover the magical secret that launches my career in a new direction.


Fun with The Aristocats

Since last Friday was Bastille Day, I decided to go for something French for my Disney animated movie. Now that I think about it, The Aristocats might not have been an appropriate choice, but then it is a fantasy about the wealthy ending up meeting the needs of the poor, so I guess it kind of works. Anyway, I needed something fun, and this one is fun.

The Aristocats was one of my favorites when I was a child. It was released when I was a toddler, so I don’t remember if I saw it in the original theatrical run, but I did see it during my childhood because I related the story and songs album to the movie itself instead of the other way around. I identified with the kitten Marie since Marie is my middle name, and I loved the dogs. Watching as an adult, I still enjoyed it. I laughed out loud a number of times, especially during the parts with the dogs, and I could barely sit still during the “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” musical number. Supposedly, this was during the “cheap” era for Disney, and there is some sketchiness to the artwork, but it works as an artistic choice. The images look like they’ve come off a sketchbook. Possibly because there are so few songs, the story and songs album contained a lot of clips of scenes from the movie, and I can still recite some of the dialogue from memory, right down to inflection.

There’s an oddly timeless quality to the movie because of all its anachronisms. About the only clue that this movie was from 1970 is the fact that a lot of the cast were from fairly recent sitcoms. They cast from The Odd Couple, Green Acres, the Andy Griffith universe and The Beverly Hillbillies, and this movie seems to have formed something of a Disney repertory company because most of the cast also ended up in Robin Hood. Otherwise, we’ve got early 50s beatniks and be-bop type jazz, some 30s-40s swing performed by someone who was a star of that era, and some late 60s psychedelic imagery in a movie set in Belle Epoque Paris. And yet it all works.

I wonder if the music and the inclusion of Phil Harris were that era’s equivalent of Pixar making movies on two levels, with stuff to appeal to kids and broader themes that speak to adults, but he was really even from before the time of the parents of that generation. It would kind of be like making an animated movie now and getting Boy George to voice one of the characters and do the singing, with the animated character being based on his early 80s persona. Harris was a 1930s radio and movie star as a big band singer, and then he had a career revival as a popular Disney voice.

One thing I found fun is that the cats are drawn and animated differently depending on whether or not humans are present. When humans are there, they’re drawn more “realistically” (for cartoon drawing values of “realistic”) and move and behave a lot like real cats. Then when humans aren’t around and they’re talking, they’re more like anthropomorphic cartoon cats. You get the impression that the humans can’t hear the animals talking to each other. But then at the end, the humans apparently can hear the cats playing musical instruments, so that illusion of reality shatters a bit. I’m not sure if the evil butler could understand the dogs when they were talking to each other while he was trying to retrieve his belongings from them.

This movie does a little better with gender representation than a lot of the Disney films I’ve been watching, from either the “Classic” or “Revival” era. We have Duchess, Madame, Marie, the horse, and the geese as female characters. Having Marie around means Duchess doesn’t have to be the damsel in distress so O’Malley can show his valor by rescuing her. He gets to rescue the kitten instead, and then he gets rescued by the geese. I guess you could even say Duchess has a female friend in Madame.

Fun trivia note: the scene in Rebel Mechanics in which Henry has to go to the Rebel headquarters to warn them and they’re hostile to him because of who he is was largely inspired by the scene in which the mouse has to go to the alley cats to ask them to come to the aid of Duchess and the kittens. It was mostly just the idea of someone having to go among people who would see him as an enemy, but this scene was definitely in my mind.

I did notice a few things as an adult that would have flown over my head when I was a kid. For one, who was the father of Duchess’s kittens? They’re not that old, maybe a few months, so it’s been maybe six months at most since she was with another cat. She’s a pampered pet with no knowledge of the outside world and no survival skills, so it wasn’t as though Madame took in a pregnant street cat. Duchess clearly wasn’t allowed to roam, so how did she get pregnant? Did Madame breed her? The idea of that gets a bit icky when you’re looking at Duchess as an anthropomorphic sentient, talking character. Either this was nonconsensual or she developed a relationship, only to be taken away from her lover after the deed was done. Marie looks just like Duchess, so it doesn’t seem like Madame took in some kittens and Duchess adopted them.

The other thing that I picked up on was a reference to Madame having been some kind of opera performer, so either a singer or a ballet dancer. Basically, she was Christine from Phantom of the Opera — and probably would have been performing around that time. But it also means she’s not actually an aristocrat. An aristocrat wouldn’t have become an opera performer. She also might not have obtained that much wealth just from her success as a performer. There’s a pretty good chance she was a mistress to an aristocrat, and she got some of her wealth that way. She might have moved in those circles in companionship to her patron, but not in her own right. It’s her pets who become the aristocrats because they were born into wealth and status and were going to inherit money.

From a story structure standpoint, this one gets a little odd. It’s mostly a villain-driven story. It’s the butler who has a goal, comes up with a plan to achieve that goal, and faces conflict in attempting to reach that goal (before failing). But as with many villain-driven stories, there’s no real character arc for him and he doesn’t learn anything or change. Duchess has the goal of getting back home, but she isn’t all that active in going after it. She just accepts the help that comes up and doesn’t really initiate anything (though she does make decisions about who to accept help from). She also doesn’t really learn anything, aside from developing an appreciation for jazz. The character with the growth arc is O’Malley, who starts out not wanting to get involved with a lady with kids but ends up becoming a protective father figure to the kittens and giving up his alley cat life. But he doesn’t really have any goal. He’s helping them get home, but that doesn’t matter that much to him, and he even discourages them from going home when they get to Paris. He’s not keen on getting involved with someone with kids until later in the story and only comes along on the journey more or less by accident, so he doesn’t seem to have the goal of winning Duchess. So, who’s the protagonist?

The fact that so many of these movies don’t have some of the key story ingredients suggests that maybe all those writing gurus don’t know everything. I doubt you’d sell a screenplay in today’s Hollywood without having the key structural elements, but you clearly can have a successful, entertaining story without ticking all the boxes, as long as it works. If your audience is saying, “But what do they want?” you’ve got a problem, but if they’re having too much fun to notice, then it works.

I’m afraid the line “That’s just a little ol’ cricket bug” is going to work its way back into my regular vocabulary. I’d forgotten this was where that came from, but it used to come up a lot, along with “I’m the leader.”

I may stick with the “jazzy” theme this week and watch The Jungle Book. For that one, I may not even set up my lounger. I’ll need room to dance around the living room.

Status Update

I’m in the middle of rewriting the book I wrote earlier this year, and I’ve reached the part that’s going to take some pretty serious rewriting, not just revising. I changed my mind about what should happen in the middle of the book. I think this version is going to be a lot more fun, but it’s going to take work. I’ve been super diligent all week, spending a lot of time on writing work, both on this project and another one (one mostly in the morning, the other in the afternoon). I figure I might as well buckle down now, since it’s super hot outside, so there’s not much else to do. I may as well sit in the air conditioning and write, and then in the fall I can go outdoors and enjoy myself some.

This is another reason I don’t try to do National Novel Writing Month in November. That’s prime outdoors time around here. Our weather will be what other places consider early fall weather.

Meanwhile, my ever-cooperative brain has come up with yet another new story idea. There’s a genre I’ve been wanting to play in, but I didn’t have any ideas for actual stories in it. Then one struck me. I’m doing a little brainstorming every day to work out the characters and plot, so maybe it’ll be ready to write when I get done with the current projects.

That should keep me busy until about November, so it’ll all work out, I guess.

I should have news in the next couple of weeks about one of these projects.

Also, I keep forgetting to post about the Smashwords July sale. My books in the Smashwords store are half off in July. There are also a lot of other deals, in case you already have all my books. You can find the discounted books at


The Problem of Peter Pan

My Disney movie for last weekend was Peter Pan. This is another one I don’t have a lot of memories of. I thought I had the record album, but most of the music wasn’t familiar. I didn’t remember that the “We’re following the leader” song came from this movie, and I didn’t realize that they didn’t use the lyrics for “Never Smile at a Crocodile” in the actual film. That’s just the theme from the score that plays when the crocodile is present. My mom said she didn’t recall taking me to see it as a kid. I tried to watch it when it came on the Disney Channel when I had cable, and I noped out while the mermaids were mean girling Wendy. I think I’ve seen some clips because there were scenes that were somewhat familiar, but I may not have seen it all the way through. I’m a lot more familiar with the Broadway show, which is unrelated to the Disney version.

This is another film in which the title character isn’t really the protagonist. Peter Pan is essentially a secondary character. It’s Wendy who mostly drives the story. She’s the one who has the goal of going to Neverland, and she has the plan to save Peter’s shadow so he’ll have to come back. Then she’s the one who urges the others to action throughout. She’s also the one who has the growth arc of realizing that growing up isn’t entirely a bad thing and that not growing up has had some negative effects on Peter Pan. The movie doesn’t shy away from showing that Peter’s a bit of a sociopath. He’s entirely selfish, has to be constantly reminded of the needs or even peril of others, and the only time he seems to care at all what happens to anyone is when he thinks Tinkerbelle has been killed while saving him from a bomb. He does get a bit better after that, and that’s when he comes to the rescue of Wendy and the others, but he’s still not ready to grow up and return to the real world, while Wendy is.

Though I have to say that in a movie that involves flying with the aid of pixie dust and being able to crawl unscathed out of a crocodile’s stomach, the most unbelievable thing is the idea that a tween girl at an age when she’s crushing on boys would resist moving to her own room instead of sharing a nursery with her younger brothers. But they treat that like it’s a kind of death.

The ending leaves it a bit ambiguous as to whether the whole adventure was just a dream. If it was a dream, then there’s some interesting stuff going on in Wendy’s head that she made her crush object turn out to be a disappointing sociopath. The fact that her father seemed to have some memories of Neverland does hint that it might have been real, though it’s an odd flip on the way the book ends, with Peter Pan coming to find an adult Wendy and taking Wendy’s daughter with him.

The actress who voiced Alice in Alice in Wonderland also voiced Wendy, and it sounds like she did a lot of voice training in between, since she’s a much more polished singer and manages to stay on pitch. My memory of my Alice album is hazy, but I think from hearing her singing in Peter Pan that she might actually have been the vocalist on the Alice album. She did continue voicing Alice in other Disney projects for decades (while working as a school teacher!), so she might have done studio re-recordings of the songs for the album. I think she also narrated the story on the album. Sadly, the kid who voiced Peter Pan got fired by Disney before the movie came out, after having been one of their big child stars (he was Jim in their live-action Treasure Island), and he came to a pretty bad end.

The elephant in the room in discussing this movie is the pretty obnoxious racism. They run a disclaimer about it on Disney+. The thing about the original play/book is that it was basically full of the pop culture references of the day, all the things that would have said “adventure!” to kids of that time. The Robert Louis Stevenson pirate books were popular, and there were pulp novels about the wild west. The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show came to London. The “Indians” in Neverland were essentially the pop culture figures from pulp novels and Wild West shows, not any kind of real representation of real Native Americans, just as Captain Hook and his crew bear little resemblance to real pirates. If you were to write something similar for kids of our time, they’d be traveling to a land full of Marvel villains, Imperial Stormtroopers, and maybe some videogame characters. That makes the depiction of the “Indians” tricky. Even presenting them as more authentic versions is still demeaning because their role in the story is to be pop culture villains who are fun for kids to fight. Various adaptations have tried different things, from getting Native American consultants to make the representation more accurate to just making them some made-up culture with no parallel in the real world, and I don’t think anything’s worked too well. Maybe the best way would be to make it that cast members from a Wild West show got transported to Neverland, so they live authentically on their own, but put on their roles when dealing with Pan and the boys. At any rate, Disney somehow managed to take something that was already pretty racist and make it even more offensive. The “Indians” get the “freaky” character design, aside from Tiger Lily, who gets the more normal human character design, and that song is just plain awful.

Between the sexism of all the female characters other than Wendy and Tiger Lily being mean girls and Tiger Lily not getting to speak at all and the racism, the movie is pretty cringeworthy. But after the scene with the “Indians” the movie gets a bit more fun. I think the best parts are the antics of Hook and the crocodile. Those bits are genuinely funny, and they give the crocodile a lot of personality. I even laughed out loud a few times.

Perhaps because of the problematic elements that are baked into the story, I’ve enjoyed retellings of Peter Pan more than direct adaptations. There was an interesting one on the Sci Fi Channel about a decade ago, in which Neverland was another planet and the various groups got brought there by some kind of wormhole portal. The fairies were the native life form. There have been a number of “Pan is actually the villain” novels, with a subset of those in the “and Hook is hot” category.

Altogether, this isn’t the most successful of the Disney animated films. I may do Pinocchio this weekend. That was a favorite of mine when I was little, and I’m curious what I’d think about it now.


Alice in Wonderland

I needed something short to watch Saturday night, so I doubled up on the Disney last weekend and watched Alice in Wonderland. This is another one I experienced mostly through the “story and songs” record album, and this is definitely one that didn’t use the actual movie soundtrack for the songs. The record is very different from the movie. I’m not entirely sure I’d seen the whole movie before. It looks like it was rereleased when I was a small child, but I was shocked by how different what I remembered of the record was from the actual movie when I saw bits of it on the Disney Channel, back when I still had cable, and while I still knew most of the songs by heart watching it this weekend, there was a lot of it that was totally unfamiliar, so it’s possible I’d never seen the whole movie before.

On the album, the songs are a lot more polished. Alice’s songs are done almost as torch songs, like you’d sing them in a cabaret. I used to love to sing along with them, and “Very Good Advice” was one of my favorites. In the movie, they’re done more in character and in the context of what’s going on in the story. Alice is frequently off-pitch, so she sounds authentic for a little girl singing (the actress was 13 when she recorded the movie soundtrack, and she apparently had a lot of trouble with the singing). Then she sobs her way through “Very Good Advice,” so it’s not even singing. I wish I could find a good recording of the version on the record. There’s also a full version of the “Twas Brillig” song the Cheshire Cat sings bits of, done as a full-on big band jazz number.

Like most of the “classic” era films, there’s a whole segment in the middle that’s essentially a standalone cartoon short dropped into the movie, the Walrus and the Carpenter story. I haven’t seen anything to indicate that these pieces were ever shown on their own (though I haven’t done extensive research). I wonder if it’s just that in the early years of the studio, the cartoon shorts were what they were familiar and comfortable with, so they started there and built movies around them, or maybe they thought the audience would get bored with the whole movie and threw in something that could stand alone in the middle. In Snow White, there’s the whole bit about the dwarfs washing up for dinner. In Cinderella, there’s the mice trying to get past the cat to get corn from the yard. The bit with the cake and dress in Sleeping Beauty is a little more integral to the plot, so you couldn’t just cut it out the way you could those other segments, but you might be able to show it on its own as a funny cartoon short. And then here’s the Walrus and the Carpenter, which is an entirely separate story that has nothing to do with Alice. It’s just a story someone tells her.

Needless to say, Disney got a lot more rigid about story structure in the revival era. There’s no three-act structure, hero’s journey, or anything else like that going on in these older films.

I’ve got to say, this movie is kind of boring. It has some fun moments, like the tea party (which makes me want to set out tables under the trees and have a fancy outdoor tea party) and the croquet game, but it doesn’t all hold together. Apparently, Walt Disney himself was afraid it lacked heart. The book itself doesn’t have a lot of structure. It’s a bunch of incidents strung together, so there wasn’t much to work with. I think the idea of Alice and Wonderland is more interesting than the actual story, so you’re almost better off not trying to follow the book and just making something up. That seems to be a lot of what Tim Burton did with his version, and I quite liked the Wonderland spinoff of Once Upon a Time, which follows an adult Alice who went back to Wonderland to get proof that she’d actually gone there.

I may try Peter Pan this weekend. I turned it off midway through the last time I tried to watch it on the Disney Channel because the sexism of “all the girls hate each other because they’re jealous of each other over Peter” got to be a bit much, but as I recall, it has some fun music.