Posts Tagged ‘Disney’



My second weekend movie was Frozen II, which I was revisiting after rewatching the first one. I realized why it feels more like a fantasy movie to me than a Disney princess movie: It’s basically a Norwegian fantasy film. Not that I have a large sample size, but it’s a lot like the ones I’ve seen. Part of it is the scenery and costumes and the use of Norwegian folklore elements. The stone giants look a lot like the mountain trolls in the Norwegian movies (the ones we see when they play “Hall of the Mountain King” on the soundtrack). Plus, the movies all seem to have the ordinary guy who ends up on an adventure with a spunky princess. All it’s missing are the Denmark vs. Norway jokes.

Structurally, they do something interesting, with a kind of protagonist hand-off. Elsa gets to be the protagonist in this one. She gets the “I Want” song with “Into the Unknown,” and then has the story goal of setting things right with the elemental spirits. But late in the movie, she essentially passes the baton to her sister to do the final push, so we’re back to Anna having to do the hard part to set things right, but then Elsa gets to step in for the very final thing to save the day.

I think one reason this one feels more like a fantasy movie than a Disney princess movie is the way the romance is handled. Kristoff’s proposal plans are part of the story, but the story isn’t really a romance. The first one fit my romantic journey structure, but this one doesn’t, and Anna and Kristoff are separated for much of the movie. The story is mostly about the journeys Elsa and Anna are on.

The autumn setting may be one reason I like the sequel better than the original, but I also get emotional at the part where Anna essentially loses all hope but makes herself keep going and “do the next right thing.” Plus, Kristoff gets a song (It was insane in the first one to cast Jonathan Groff and have him just sing a couple of lines, most of them in a funny reindeer voice). On the whole, though, I think the music is a bit weaker in the sequel. The songs are okay in context, but there’s nothing that really stands alone. The only musical bit I remember is the line “into the unknooooown.”

I don’t know what I’m going to watch this weekend. I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for. I’ll need to relax after a busy day of packing.

I found out this morning that I’m moving in a week and a half (yikes!), so posting will be somewhat on hiatus for a week or so. I’d been thinking about moving, but then it all fell together really fast when I found and got an apartment, and now the movers are available earlier than I expected. I’m going to be frantically sorting and packing, and then I’ll be in transit, and I don’t know how long it will be until I get in the new place and have Internet access again.



Thanks to one of those mental rabbit trails in which something I saw reminded me of something else, which reminded me of something else, and so forth, I ended up rewatching Frozen a couple of weekends ago. I saw it at the theater and thought it was good, but I didn’t fall into the utter obsession that this movie inspired. I was teaching kindergarten choir at the time, and the kids couldn’t get enough of it. The girls all wanted to be Elsa and the boys were all in love with Elsa (or, as one kid put it, “She’s bootiful. I want her to be my mommy.”). I think some of the ubiquity of it may have soured my view on the movie. I actually like the sequel better. But it actually is a nicely structured movie that has a lot going for it.

Spoilers ahead in case you managed to avoid the mania.

One interesting thing I found was that although Elsa seemed to be the focus of all the hype and was the favorite character, she’s not the protagonist. She doesn’t really have a story goal and doesn’t do a lot. She’s more of a catalyst who sets off the story. Anna is the protagonist (and I feel like the only person who identifies with and likes Anna more than Elsa. Team Anna here!). She’s the one with the story goal and with the story arc. She’s also the one with the more clearly articulated internal or personal goals.

We see that when she’s the one who gets the “I Want” song. In fact, she gets two. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is about her desire to reconnect with her sister, and then “For the First Time in Forever” is about her desire to make connections with other people after having been locked away for so long. Much of her internal tension in the story is because her desire to reconnect with her sister is often in conflict with her desire to connect with other people, since it’s difficult for her to have both. She gets a lot of criticism from her sister and later Kristoff for getting engaged to a man she just met, but it comes out in her song that she believes the coronation day is the one day the gates will be open and she’ll be allowed to have contact with the outside world. Because of that, she has to get engaged that day. She can’t take it slow if she’s going to be shut away after that day. If he doesn’t stay with her or she doesn’t go with him, something unlikely to happen without an engagement, she’ll never see him again. Not that I think she’s making the right choice, especially given how he turned out, but under those circumstances, she doesn’t have a lot of options if she doesn’t want to be utterly alone.

I do have to question the decision-making by their parents. Even if Elsa needed to be isolated to keep the secret of her powers and Anna couldn’t be around her lest she remember and it set off the freezing thing in her head again, why did Anna have to be isolated, too? Couldn’t she have been allowed to interact with other kids and leave the castle? Or would that have risked the people rallying around Anna rather than Elsa as the future queen? I feel like the treatment of Anna came close to child abuse. Elsa’s treatment was also pretty cruel, but at least she knew what was going on and understood why. Anna got no explanation why suddenly she was shut away and her sister refused to have anything to do with her.

Anna’s the one who gets the story goal, which dovetails with her personal goals, when Elsa’s powers go haywire and she freezes the kingdom. Anna’s story goal becomes to get through to Elsa and get her to thaw things — which, in turn, would reconcile Anna to Elsa and reconnect the kingdom. This is what makes her the protagonist. Elsa doesn’t really want anything other than to be left alone. She’s not trying to do or get anything, and she doesn’t really take any action.

Meanwhile, the story also fits my “fantasy road trip” structure. We get the Bargain between Kristoff and Anna in which she convinces him to help her get to Elsa by paying for his supplies and by reminding him that he won’t be able to sell ice until the kingdom thaws. There’s bickering over his manners and her impulsive engagement. They face attack from the wolves and then later from Elsa and her snowman, which leads to them bonding after they have to work together to survive. After that, there’s the “Fixer Upper” number, which serves as a Dance scene, although they don’t dance together (I’m thinking of renaming that stage “the Moment” because the dancing is usually about the pair having a Moment in which they start to be aware of their feelings toward each other, and it doesn’t always involve dancing). There’s the Departure when she goes to Hans for the True Love’s Kiss that will save her and Kristoff leaves her behind. But then there’s the Return in which Kristoff comes back and Anna, having learned what Hans is really up to, sees that Kristoff has come back and goes to him. This part of my outline is always a bit tricky. You’d think that it would be the protagonist departing because of making the wrong choice, then realizing the error of their ways and returning, but often the roles switch and it’s the other character who has to make the decision. Here, it seems to be mutual, since Anna goes to be with Hans and Kristoff lets her go, then they both realize their feelings and are going back to be with each other—but then the resolution here isn’t romantic because she has to go to Elsa’s rescue before she can reach Kristoff.

I’m still not entirely sure what about this story struck such a strong nerve with kids. I think a lot of it had to do with Elsa’s ice princess outfit and her big power ballad that was all about independence and freedom. I think kids also react to that feeling like everyone’s out to get you and no one understands you, which is what Elsa’s story is all about. She’s simultaneously powerful and a victim, so she represents something you might aspire to while also being someone you can relate to. I seem to react strongly to stories about isolation and abandonment, so I sympathize more with Anna, and I would rather wear her more Norwegian-type outfits than Elsa’s slinky dress. There’s just enough romance in the story to give it a spark, but it’s more about the relationship between the sisters, which is probably more relatable to little kids. That makes it less “yucky” to boys who don’t want romance in their stories.

I may have to rewatch the second one this weekend and see if I can analyze it for structure. It strikes me as being more of an animated fantasy movie than a “Disney Princess” movie.

I will say that I get some cognitive dissonance from hearing “King George” after having seen the Hamilton movie a few times and from having watched The Good Place (I keep waiting for Anna to say something like “holy forking shirtballs.”).


When You Wish

Last weekend, I watched the new (ish — it just came to Disney+ but was in theaters last year) Disney movie, Wish, and I’m sad to say that it was rather meh. It wasn’t bad, but the story had the feel of something written by the marketing team to promote the studio’s anniversary. It was like they were trying to check off boxes as they paid tribute to their history, and they wrote a story that loosely linked together everything they wanted to do, leading up to the punchline of the post-credits scene. It looks gorgeous and the cast is great, but I actually forgot that I’d seen it a day later.

I think a big part of the problem is that the basis for the story doesn’t make a lot of sense. There’s a wizard king who’s created some kind of utopia by having citizens hand over their wishes to him when they turn 18, and he’s to keep them safe, then he grants a few wishes every year, making them come true. I have so many questions here, most of which are asked when the townspeople start asking questions to stall for time. The big one is why anyone would do this in the first place. Once they hand over their wish, they don’t even remember having it, which means that they aren’t discontented from wanting something they don’t have or disappointed from trying and failing, but it also leaves them a bit empty. Then there’s the fact that wishes change. What I wished for when I was 18 has nothing to do with what I want now. I could have handed that wish over without missing it even just a few years later, and then I’d have had an entirely new wish.

Anyway, when a young woman who’s applying to be the king’s intern questions this system and asks for her grandfather’s wish to be granted, that freaks out the king. Then she wishes really hard on a star and the star comes down and starts making magic happen, which makes the king feel threatened, so he tries to stamp out this other magic. Seriously, I didn’t get what was going on here at all. In spite of a really talented cast giving it their all (Chris Pine was having way too much fun), the songs are pretty weak. I was thinking during the movie that Lin-Manuel Miranda was having a really off day, but it turns out someone else did the music, so I guess they were trying for Lin-Manuel and missing.

One thing I really liked was that our heroine had a whole group of friends, something we don’t usually see in Disney movies. The more typical Disney heroine maybe hangs around with a couple of cute animals, but she doesn’t have a peer group. Some of that is baked into the fairy tales the movies are based on. Aurora is in hiding, Belle and Rapunzel are captives (and Belle is a weirdo outsider even before she finds the Beast), Mulan is Not Like Other Girls, and the Cinderella story wouldn’t work if her squad of kids of other wealthy merchants and minor gentry got their parents involved on her behalf. But even in the “original” stories, the heroines are rather isolated. Frozen is a story about isolation and Mirabel in Encanto has her sisters and cousins, but the local kids who hang around her are all little kids, not a peer group.

I’m curious if this is a deliberate choice or just something that happened without anyone thinking about it. Most writers tend to be the weirdo outsider type, so it’s natural for them to write that kind of character. It’s also a lot easier to write a loner than to try to juggle all the characters you get in a friend group. Plus, it’s easier to get your characters in trouble if they don’t have backup.

But this movie has the heroine as part of a group of friends, and they all team up to support her when she’s in trouble, which has a lot to do with saving the day, and even though I’m definitely part of the Weirdo Outsider demographic, it was nice to see that.

Chris Pine and Ariana DeBose deserved a lot better, so I hope they get another chance at doing voices for animation. Alan Tudyk seems to be required by law to do voices for all Disney movies (though in this one he actually got to talk instead of just squawking or making animal sounds, and he got parts of a song) so I’m less worried about him getting another chance.


Remaking Sleeping Beauty

Because my brain is a funny place, I found myself lying awake during the night last weekend, planning a live-action Disney remake of Sleeping Beauty.

Mind you, I currently have no connection to Disney. I’m not a screenwriter. I would have zero chance of doing anything with this. But my brain wouldn’t let go of this as a problem that needs to be solved. I’ve found that one of the best ways to get something out of my brain is to write it out, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

First, I would make it more like the Disney live-action Cinderella than like their other live-action remakes, in that it’s not a direct remake of the animated version, but rather a new telling of the same story, but with some references to the original. Cinderella had a lot of the same pieces as the animated version, but they were executed in different ways. The animals were just pets, not talking animal sidekicks. Some of the same characters were there, but they were different than in the animated version, etc. Also, I think it would be more of a straightforward fantasy film, not a musical. The Sleeping Beauty score was lovely, since it was essentially the Tchaikovsky ballet score (though with the music used in different contexts), but the songs they made from it weren’t all that memorable. I don’t think you’d lose anything from not having the characters singing (and I’m a big musical theater fan).

The next tricky thing would be to make Aurora an actual character rather than merely an object. In the animated version, she’s basically something to be obtained, used, or guarded. She doesn’t really exist as a person. Someone calculated that she had something like 28 lines in the whole film, for which she’s the title character. But it’s a major part of the plot that she’s unconscious for a big chunk of it. How do you give a character whose main role is to sleep more to do?

I think step one for me would be to give her a goal other than finding her dream lover. Let her have learned to do something as a peasant girl who lives in the woods that’s on the way to becoming a viable career that she couldn’t continue to do as a princess. It would have to be something that doesn’t involve a lot of human interaction, since she’s in hiding, so that rules out becoming some kind of herbalist/healer, where she’d have to see patients. She could be a seamstress or baker (which might explain why the fairies didn’t know how to sew or bake without magic in spite of living without magic for 16 years, if we’re still going to have their last-minute use of magic be how they’re found), weave baskets, or do some other kind of craft they were able to sell to supplement whatever nest egg the king gave them to live on while in hiding. Just something for her to have some ambition and feel like she’s losing something other than a man when she finds out she’s a princess.

Prince Phillip from Disney's Sleeping BeautyStep two would be to develop her relationship with Phillip. It needs to be more than one meeting on that last day so that they aren’t both going “but I don’t want to marry the prince/princess because I’m in love with someone else I just met today.” Maybe they’ve been meeting up secretly over years, ever since he was old enough to go riding on his own. In the animated version, he’s four when she’s born, so when he’s 14 she’d be 10, and that means they’d have to start as friends. He’s a lonely kid who’s tired of being trained to be a prince and who doesn’t have any real friends, and she doesn’t know anyone other than her guardians. He runs into her while he’s riding in the woods and they talk. He teaches her swordfighting using sticks, maybe brings bows and arrows and teaches her archery. She’s kind of like a little sister. But then over the years as they get older, it gradually starts developing into something more. This could be shown in montage until not long before her 16th birthday, when something happens to make them see each other in a new light, and they realize they’ve fallen in love.

Though I might tinker with the ages. I know 16 is part of the fairy tale, but if she’s not sleeping for a hundred years and knew the guy who kisses her (and if we’re going to the Grimm version, if she’s not awakened by one of the twin babies she’s given birth to sucking the sliver from the spindle out of her finger), we’re already changing the fairy tale. Sixteen seems so young. Maybe make her 18 and decrease the age gap, so if he’s hanging out with her at 16, then she’s 14 and that seems less creepy.

The next issue is figuring out what to do with her during the main action, since her main role in the story is “sleeping.” The ballet offers one possible solution. The first act is the stuff leading to her falling under a curse, then act two is the prince showing up, finding her, and waking her, with act three being the wedding celebration. During act two, when she’s unconscious until the very end, the prince dreams about the maiden in the tower and there’s this big dream pas de deux. So maybe Phillip could have a dream about unconscious Aurora in which she gives him a pep talk or lets him know what happened.

Another possibility is to change the order in which things happen. In the animated version, the big, climactic scene is Phillip fighting the Malificent dragon, and then him kissing and waking Aurora is sort of an afterthought in the aftermath. Maybe he could manage to wake her first, everything seems okay, and then they have to face Malificent together.

But then we need to look at the fairies’ role. I’ve seen an analysis of the animated movie that the fairies are the actual heroes, and it’s the rare story that centers older women. I like that idea, and structurally, the fairies are the protagonists. They’re the ones with the goal and the plan. They’re the ones who make it possible for Phillip to defeat Malificent. Would it take away from their role if it’s Aurora snapping Phillip out of things when he’s captured by Malificent by meeting with him in a dream and if she’s fighting by his side? I think they’d still need the magical help from the fairies, and Aurora and the fairies can work out their issues about her independence when she insists on facing Malificent.

I probably would find another reason for the fairies to use magic in a way that provides a clue that Malificent tracks. As I mentioned above, it makes no sense that the fairies don’t know how to sew clothes or bake a cake without magic when they’ve been living for 16 years without magic.

I do want to keep the three fairies. I think I want them played by Emma Thompson, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. I want to keep this separate from the Malificent movies, so no Angelina Jolie in that role here. I had a wacky thought of Gwendoline Christie. She’s physically very different from the animated version, but she would be very intimidating and she has an amazing voice. I have no idea who would play Aurora and Phillip since it would be people who are late teens/early 20s now and I’m not up on young actors. I want to keep Phillip’s snarky sense of humor. He’s my favorite Disney prince.

My obsession with this may mean they’re actually in the process of working on the project. A long time ago, when I was obsessed with the animated Sleeping Beauty after a recent re-release, I started amusing myself by figuring out how Disney might do Beauty and the Beast, and it turned out that was when Disney was in the process of creating their animated version, so maybe I have some kind of psychic direct link to them and I pick up on what they’re doing. I’ve already written my Sleeping Beauty book, so it’s not as though I can capitalize on whatever Disney might be cooking up by writing a book now and having it ready to go by the time they release it. They haven’t announced anything, that I know of.

Really, I just want to see Phillip in live action, and they’d better get him right.


Focusing on Family

I don’t know if I’d say that I’m done with my Disney animation project, as there’s still a lot more to go, but I am branching out to other things, especially now that the sun is setting early enough that I can watch longer movies after dark.

Some patterns I noticed:

  • The movies definitely got longer over time. Early movies were in the 70-75 minute range, later ones closer to 2 hours.
  • The earlier “fairytale” movies stuck closer to the stories, though sometimes with added cute sidekicks, while they started really adapting and creating their own stories as they went along.
  • The heroines didn’t actually do much in the earlier movies. Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty has maybe ten lines in the whole movie. Their roles are much more fleshed out in later films.
  • The villains didn’t get songs until the Renaissance era.

The main pattern I’ve noticed about what I guess you could call the “next generation” films, the ones that came along in the computer animation era, is an emphasis on family over romance. I wonder how much of that is from the Pixar influence. We did still have the fairytale romance in Tangled (though with it made clear they weren’t getting married anytime soon), but after that, the stories have been more about family than about romance.

Frozen deconstructed the typical Disney romance by making it look just like those love-at-first-sight, let’s sing a duet and get engaged relationships, only to throw a huge monkey wrench in it. The important relationship in both of the Frozen movies was between the sisters. Then in Encanto we had a whole movie that was about family, with no romance for the main character. Moana was largely about the heroine trying to save her family and home. Raya and the Last Dragon was about trying to reunite a family and involved a “found family” coming together before they were all able to find their original families again. I haven’t yet watched Strange World, but it’s apparently about a family having adventures.

It’s not that I have anything against romance, but the romances as presented in a lot of the Disney films weren’t exactly healthy. Teenage girls were falling in love with and marrying guys they’d barely interacted with after falling in love at first sight. It’s nice seeing a bit more variety, with other relationships, especially when the characters are really too young to be getting engaged or married. In the Frozen films, the emphasis on the sisters allowed the romance to develop more organically in the background.

There was some precedent for this, since Lilo and Stitch was all about family. They also got into the found family theme in The Jungle Book. Mulan was fighting to save her father (though she also ended up with a romance). What’s new is putting that in the “princess” movies, as well as them having different kinds of princesses who do more than fall in love.

And now that I’ve mentioned Encanto, I have “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” running through my head again.


Animated Adventures

My movie theme last weekend turned out to be Animated Adventures. I guess I was in a certain mood.

First up, Disney’s Treasure Planet. It’s basically the Treasure Island story, but in a steampunky space setting, with ships flying through the aether on solar sails, cyborgs, robots, and aliens, but still with a late Georgian/early Victorian aesthetic. This one was an interesting combination of hand-drawn characters in a lush computer-animated setting that allows us to fly along with the characters. Rebellious young Jim Hawkins is getting in trouble for riding his rocket hoverboard around the spaceport where his mother runs an inn, but then he gets a mysterious map from an old spacer and sets off with a scientist who hires a ship and crew to find the legendary Treasure Planet. The voice cast is excellent, with Emma Thompson as a prim ship’s captain as possibly my favorite (of course, she’s my favorite in just about everything). The relationship between Jim and a cyborg Long John Silver is quite touching. There’s a good mix of tense action and comic relief.

I’m not sure how I missed this one at the theater. I understand it was a bit of a flop and one of the nails in the coffin of the traditional style of animation at Disney. There were apparently sequels that didn’t get made. While they’re remaking everything in “live action,” this might be an interesting one for them to tackle. The effects would probably be expensive, but they could do a lot with the story and make it into a legit action film.

Then I watched The Road to El Dorado on Prime. It’s leaving this month, so I figured I’d watch it, and I needed something short. Also, I like the voice cast. The very idea of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh doing a buddy adventure movie fills me with glee. They made for a fun pair in this movie that takes the old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “Road” films and puts it in Mesoamerica, during the Spanish conquest. A couple of con men get a map to the mythical city of El Dorado, then through a chain of misadventures end up on a Spanish ship sailing to the New World and then eventually shipwrecked, where they spot some landmarks from the map. El Dorado isn’t quite what they expected, and they have to up their con game when the natives hail them as gods — and then they have to make some tough decisions.

Like the “Road” movies, any cultural accuracy pretty much flies out the window. The native people who’ve never seen white men can communicate perfectly with them (in modern English, but since our heroes are Spaniards, maybe we can assume it’s Spanish being translated into English for us). There are lots of comic anachronisms. It’s basically up there with The Emperor’s New Groove for accuracy, but that’s a lot of the point. It’s all about the wacky adventures of these two guys and how their different approaches to the situation threaten their friendship.

It’s a Dreamworks Animation movie, but they seem to be trying to do Disney. It’s not quite a musical, though there is one musical number the two leads perform. Otherwise, it’s more narration songs in the background, sung by Elton John. I found it to be a lot of fun and enjoyed the character arc, but the ending was rather unsatisfying. Yes, we resolved the big issue and the characters completed their growth arcs, but the final resolution struck me as more “now how do we get out of this?” than “whew, now everything’s okay.” They were very obviously setting up a sequel that ended up not getting made, and I’d probably feel different about the ending if we picked up on where the characters went next in a sequel. With no sequel, it felt a little unresolved to me.

Mostly, it’s worth it just to enjoy Branagh and Kline having fun. It seems they worked together in that Wild, Wild West remake, but I’d love to see them working together in something else in live action because it’s like a battle of the hams.

I like the animated adventure movies because there’s all the fun of an adventure story, but since kids are the primary audience, they’re a bit less intense. I’m not really up for super intense stuff right now, so it’s nice to have a little, but not too much, excitement without having to worry about truly bad things happening to the characters.


Recent (ish) Disney

I picked up on the Disney animation again, hitting a couple of the somewhat more recent films that I missed at the theater.

First, Moana. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it at the theater, since I’m usually all about the musicals. I think the Thanksgiving release date may have been the challenge, since it came at a busy time of year, and Rogue One came out not long afterward, so I would have been distracted. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It’s another one of those “no villains” movies. There isn’t really anyone truly evil who’s working to thwart our heroes, other than maybe the crab, but he’s not a movie-long villain, just a minor obstacle. Otherwise, there’s conflict between Moana and Maui and Maui has to get over himself, but he’s not a villain.

The animation is beautiful and vivid and makes the islands and ocean look inviting, even though I’m very much not a beach person. As a bonus for me, a tiny bit from this movie sparked an idea that was the answer to a problem I was having with the book I’m working on, so watching it counted as work. The music is catchy, with a few songs I’ve caught myself singing around the house.

There’s a trend in some of the modern-era Disney movies that I think I’m picking up on, so I’ll have to watch more and see if my theory holds together.

Then I was in the mood for an adventure story, so I went with Atlantis: The Lost Empire. This should have been right up my alley, with an adorkable hero and a steampunky aesthetic, but I didn’t find it very engaging. I may have just been tired. This was a last-second selection when I was planning to watch the live-action Little Mermaid but found out that it was two hours and twenty minutes long, and I wanted something a lot shorter. It was a sharp contrast to the no-villain Moana, with a very obvious mustache-twirling evil villain who had to be defeated.

I couldn’t tell you what about it didn’t fully engage me, but I kept drifting off and thinking about other things, then I’d snap out of a daydream and realize I’d missed a chunk of the movie. Lots of stuff happened and it had a lot of action, so maybe it was just the frame of mind I was in. I think perhaps it was just uninspired and I didn’t connect with any of the characters. It did have an impressive voice cast and it looked great.

I’m not sure what I’ll watch this weekend. I spotted something I’d never heard of that looks interesting, so I may try that. But then they’ve also added a lot of the DC superhero movies to Prime Video and I never saw the second Wonder Woman film. I’ll have to see what mood I’m in and what my focus level is. I had my flu shot this morning, so I probably won’t be at my best this weekend.


Disney Girls

One thing that struck me in my recent viewing of Disney animated films was the role of female characters. Even though most of these movies are targeted toward a female audience and many of the main characters are female, there actually aren’t a lot of girls or women in these movies.

Most of the female roles come down to three categories, the heroine (or love interest, if the main character is male), the mother figure, and the villain. Very few of the female characters have female friends. For the heroines, the only women in their lives are either mother figures or villains. These movies don’t pass the Bechdel Test. This is a very low-bar test for female representation in movies that merely requires that there are two female characters who have names and who talk to each other about something other than a man.

For the fairy tale movies, some of this is baked into the stories, especially before they started going beyond the basics of the tales and fleshing them out with characters and details. The only female characters in Snow White are the evil queen and Snow White, and I guess there’s not a lot of room to add female characters unless some of the dwarfs are women. This one might even sort of pass the Bechdel Test, given that Snow White and the queen in disguise have a conversation about the apple, but the queen doesn’t get an onscreen name, so I’m giving it a fail.

In Cinderella, we have female villains and the mother figure of the fairy godmother. Cinderella sort of has conversations with her stepfamily, so I guess it passes the Bechdel Test, but it’s interesting that her animal friends who get names are all male. The female mice are more in the background and don’t interact directly with Cinderella. If they were going to make up characters to add to the story, it seems like it would have made more sense for her confidants to be female.

Sleeping Beauty still has the heroine/mother figures/villain triad, and about the only conversation Aurora/Briar Rose has with the fairies is about the prince, though this is one of the few of the fairy tale movies that is full of active female characters.

Jumping ahead to more modern Disney princesses, all of Ariel’s fishy friends are male, as are most of the enchanted objects Belle interacts with, with the exception of Mrs. Potts (mother figure) and the Wardrobe. But all their conversations are about the Beast. All of Rapunzel’s friends are male. We finally get an actual female friendship with Tiana and Charlotte in The Princess and the Frog, but Charlotte spends most of the movie offscreen, and most of the other characters are male. Frozen has dual female heroines, but the only other female character is a female-coded troll (the sequel does a bit better).

Maybe the secondary characters in the female-led movies are male to balance it out. Except the male-led movies are also male-dominated. The Lion King has the mother, who’s offscreen most of the movie, Nala, and a secondary villain. So, about the same number of women as the female-led movies, only less screen time. In Peter Pan, Wendy, her mother, and the mermaids are the only women who get any dialogue. Tinkerbell just chimes, while Tiger Lily never speaks. The mermaids only talk about Peter. We get two mother figures in The Jungle Book, the wolf at the beginning and the elephant. Then the girl shows up at the end and sings her song but otherwise doesn’t talk. At least Lady Cluck and Marian are friends in Robin Hood, though I think they mostly talk about Robin, and then there’s a female bunny child and a couple of mothers among the villagers. Cluck is a rare character who doesn’t fit the heroine/love interest, villain, or mother figure mold. In Aladdin, Jasmine is the only female character (unless there’s a cameo moment I forgot). We don’t even have a mother figure or female villain there.

I could go on because almost all of them are like this. But this isn’t unique to Disney. When I was helping with the church youth musicals, we ran up against this in trying to find a show. The audience for musical theater is predominantly female. Most of the people interested in participating in musical theater are female. And yet most of the roles in most shows are male. I suppose they don’t have a hard time casting male roles for pro productions in New York (though I’d bet they have a smaller pool to choose from than they do for female roles), but for amateur productions, especially those for teens, it’s nearly impossible to fill all the male roles while there are dozens of girls trying out for each female part. For our musicals, they ended up gender flipping every role that didn’t absolutely have to be male and bringing in adult men to fill some of the male roles, so that they only needed maybe three or four teen guys, and even then there might be two who were actual theater kids (often the ones from the performing arts high school in another city who couldn’t get lead roles in school productions and wanted to beef up their resumes) and a couple who could manage to walk on stage and say a line or two. Meanwhile, the chorus would be packed with girls who had voice and dance training (in these shows, everyone who tried out got some kind of role). The lead female actress would be Broadway-caliber. About the only “girly” show that actually has mostly female roles is the Broadway version of Cinderella.

Or look at the Star Wars saga (other than the TV series, which are a lot more balanced). Even when the main character is female, they keep the girl and two guys combination for the main trio. Rogue One had a female lead, but only two women with speaking parts.

I guess I can partially thank this tendency for my writing career because the fact that just about every work of popular culture when I was a kid, aside from Charlie’s Angels, had only one female character meant that I had to make up my own characters to play when we were playing whatever TV show or movie as we ran around the neighborhood. I had to make up another nurse or doctor when we played M*A*S*H, another Enterprise crew member when we played Star Trek, a female cop when we played CHiPS, a female X-wing pilot when we played Star Wars, etc., if I didn’t win the argument about who got to play the one female character in the show or movie.

By the way, the post title is a reference to a Beach Boys song later also recorded by the Captain & Tennille (which is how I know it), though I think it was more about the live-action movies Disney did in the 50s and their TV shows (like the Mickey Mouse Club) than about the animated princesses.


Rescuers Down Under

My Disney movie last weekend was The Rescuers Down Under. I had never seen this one. It looks like it came out around the time I was starting my first job out of college, so I’d just moved, and I was dating someone, so any movies I went to around that time were more “date” kind of movies. I have to say that I wasn’t fond of this one. The flying sequences were lovely, but the story just didn’t work for me.

This may fall into the category of “overanalyzing an animated movie for kids,” but I had a hard time getting past the fact that they did that whole relay thing to signal from Australia to New York for them to send someone to rescue the kid, when all the mice along the way were a lot closer to go to the kid’s rescue, and then they had a local mouse/rat helping them once they got to Australia. It seems like an unnecessary delay to wait for someone to go from New York to Australia when there was a kid in need of help. It takes at least 24 hours to fly from the US to Australia by airplane, probably longer when part of the journey is via albatross. Surely there are adventurous creatures in Australia, in addition to the one who helped them. It struck me as rather American-centric, as though the rest of the world has to wait for the Americans to show up and take care of things for them (yes, Miss Bianca was Hungarian, but she was based in New York). I know they were trying to bring in the recurring characters, but maybe they could have been in Australia for another reason and joined the rescue effort. And then both the kid and the villain had American accents. In Australia. The kid was living in Australia and had a mother with an Australian accent, but sounded American (apparently, the actor was actually Norwegian?).

Then I thought the story was lacking the heart of the first one and had a mean streak to it. There was whatever torture the doctor was setting up for the albatross who threw his back out. That whole segment seemed unnecessary. Then there was the way the local rat kept “accidentally” letting Bernard get into danger, like he was trying to get rid of a rival, and Bianca was utterly oblivious or even accused Bernard of not being friendly. I hate that trope in romances, where the rival is clearly out to get the guy and the girl doesn’t seem to care what’s happening to her friend. Whether or not she’s interested in the rival, she should care that her friend is being put in danger.

And then there was the kid. It was nice that he had his own rescue aid thing going on, but he kept getting in trouble because he didn’t listen when someone was trying to warn him that he was walking into a trap. You’d think he’d have learned the first time not to talk over the person (mouse) trying to warn him and blunder on.

Spoilers for the ending here
Finally, it was left weirdly unresolved. Yes, they rescued the eagle and the kid and Bernard proposed to Bianca, but we didn’t get to see the eagle seeing her chicks and we didn’t find out whether they rescued all the other captive animals. I was surprised when the movie just sort of ended without wrapping up the loose ends. It would have been nice to see the other animals freed and the kid reunited with his mother and the eagle getting to see her chicks. At least in the first film, they had the TV news story to show us what happened with Penny. Here, they escaped, but we don’t know what happens to some of the characters. It felt like the movie just ran out of steam, or maybe ran out of budget and they just left off where they were.

It was all pretty dissatisfying. I think part of the problem was that this was made-for-video quality that got a big-screen release, possibly because they were playing with the computer animation technology. Also, they’d forgotten a lot of what makes the Disney films work. The primary audience may be kids, but they’re enjoyable for adults. I didn’t feel like this one had any of the adult appeal or hidden depth.

Incidentally, my mom found the “story and songs” record of the first movie in the collection of Disney records, which explains why I remembered bits of dialogue and the songs in spite of only having seen the movie once.



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.