Posts Tagged ‘Disney’


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.


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.


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.


The Princess and the Frog

I decided to keep going with the Disney “princess” theme and watched The Princess and the Frog last weekend, and this has to be the great unsung Disney film. I saw it at the theater when it came out, and I think I watched it on the Disney Channel back when I had cable, but I hadn’t thought about it in a while. You almost never hear anything about it, but it really is one of their best. For one thing, it’s utterly gorgeous. They combined the warmth of the hand-drawn characters with the richness and detail of computer-animated backgrounds, so every frame is like a work of art. The music is wonderful, and there’s plenty of it. Tiana is a great heroine. She has a life goal that she’s actually working toward. The movie goes against the usual Disney mantra and states that wishing on a star doesn’t do you any good if you don’t also put in the work. Tiana doesn’t fall in love with the prince at first sight. They only fall in love after going through adventures together. Both Tiana and the prince have growth arcs, things they have to learn from each other. Most of the other fairy tale princess movies don’t involve any real character growth for the princess. She’s already a good person at the beginning and is more or less the same person at the end, but Tiana actually grows and changes.

Tiana also has a female friend, something I’ve realized is lacking in almost all of these movies. The only women other than the heroines are either maternal figures or villains. If the heroines have sidekicks, they’re all male. Cinderella did have a few female mice, but they didn’t get names and weren’t the main sidekicks. It was Jaq and Gus who were Cinderella’s friends. Belle had Mrs. Potts and the wardrobe, but they were more motherly figures. There wasn’t a household object who appeared to be about Belle’s age who could hang out with her as a friend? There are some uncomfortable racial issues with Tiana and Charlotte, but they have a nicely non-toxic friendship, with Charlotte being willing to sacrifice her dream of marrying a prince in order to help her friend.

And that issue of race would be my one quibble with this movie. I’m a little uncomfortable with the way it glosses right past the fact that in 1920s New Orleans, Jim Crow laws and segregation would have been in full force and this was the heyday of the Klan. Someone in Big Daddy’s position probably would have held a high rank in the Klan. But then I remembered something a Black friend once said about how weird Southern racism can be, about how it’s on a societal level, while one-on-one people can be quite nice and friendly to individual Black people. And then I considered what this movie shows. Charlotte might be generous and kind to Tiana and willing to give up her dream to help her friend, but she doesn’t invite Tiana to her party until she needs to hire her to serve beignets. White people go into Black spaces to be served or entertained, but Black people aren’t included in white spaces unless they’re serving or performing. They managed to walk a very fine line here of not making this fairytale movie aimed at children openly address segregation and related issues while still depicting that society fairly accurately in subtle ways. They did sand off the most horrible edges and not depict the truly ugly parts of that world but they also didn’t show it as some kind of color-blind multiracial paradise.

I suppose none of the other films showed the Black Death or the abuse of peasants, or any of the other realism from their time periods, but their settings are all vague. Beauty and the Beast specifically mentions France, but everything else could take place in a secondary fantasy world where it’s possible society worked differently. They give a very specific place and time in the real world for this movie, and it’s a place and time within relatively recent memory. All my grandparents were alive at that time (and mostly living in Louisiana). There are still a few people alive now who were alive when this movie took place.

I hadn’t thought of this movie when I was listing examples of the Romantic Fantasy Road Trip, but it definitely is one. We get the Bargain when she agrees to kiss him to break the spell in exchange for him to help her buy the building for her restaurant. Then there’s Bickering when that doesn’t work and they’re both stuck as frogs. They have totally opposite worldviews, so there’s a lot of clashing. They come under Attack by the frog-hunting Cajuns, then they Bond after working together to save each other from the hunters. They Dance while Ray sings about his love for Evangeline. The Departure/Return sequence is a bit different because the Departure doesn’t involve a temporary return to their old lives before they decide to go back to each other. I guess they’re trying to get back to their old lives before they accept that they can’t and decide to stay together. The more standard approach to this kind of story would involve the spell breaking, but he then realizes he doesn’t enjoy being a prince without her and she doesn’t want to own a restaurant without him, but they did something different that’s actually rather clever.

I may need to get this one on DVD, just in case Disney does something dumb and removes it from streaming. It’s definitely a good happy-place movie that leaves me with a sigh and a bit of a tear in my eye. It’s also weirdly motivating. I feel shamed by comparison by how hard Tiana is willing to work to reach her dreams, which spurs me to get my act together.

Although I’d originally planned to watch these movies in production order, switching back and forth between Classic era and Revival era movies has made some of the differences clearer. One difference is that I think there’s stronger and deeper characterization in the newer movies. The characters have goals and motivations and are more complex. The newer movies are also longer, so they have more time for character development. The older movies were around 75 minutes, while the newer ones are about 110 minutes. Another change in the newer movies is the introduction of the villain song. The Evil Queen, Lady Tremaine, and Malificent don’t get musical numbers, but the villain songs are a staple of the new movies, starting with Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” in The Little Mermaid. Gaston gets his big number, and Dr. Facilier has his song.

Up next, Alice in Wonderland.


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 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.