Posts tagged Disney

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Disney Princesses Come of Age

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Guest post written by T. Johnson. T. Johnson is a blogger, au pair, and part-time tutor who has been obsessed with science fiction and comics since roughly first grade. One of her life`s big revelations was discovering Wonder Woman comics-another milestone was starting to read the works of Heinlein and Aldous Huxley. She has always been convinced that girls can be as truly nerdy as any fanboy.

 

Recent re-screenings of several Disney films has got me thinkng about the “Disney princess” phenomenon. As animation fanatics and a majority of parents know, Disney Studios made a bunch of movies with female heroines over a fifty-odd year time span. Most of them were based on fairy or folk tales, so the heroine was usually a “princess,” even if she started out disguised as something else. The “princess” movies remain hugely popular with audiences. They were re-mastered in handsome DVD and Blu-ray box sets, inspired hundreds of Halloween costumes and were responsible for the “princess party,” that staple of little girl birthday celebrations.

The films have their detractors, however. Most of the critical vollies aimed at them have come from feminist thought. Critics complain that Disney has placed images of women in a time capsule, portraying them as passive victims waiting to be rescued, as debutantes dreaming only of their prince. They cite the 1950 film Cinderella as a prime offender: sweet-natured girl is pushed around by her stepsisters, remains sweet despite doing all the housework, then is rewarded for being a doormat by a fairy godmother who enables her to attend a ball and meet a prince.

Admittedly, Cinderella is not big on my list either. I don`t really agree, though, that all of these films present terrible images of women. I think there are some redeeming qualities in the princess film canon. I`ll discuss just a few of the movies in this post, specifically those which present heroines who are fully fleshed out as people. Quick note: I`d love to include the warrior-princess film Mulan here, but I don`t feel justified in talking about it since it`s one of the few Disney animation flicks I have not seen.

Image Courtesy of coloringweb.com

Consider Snow White of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). As she scrubs the palace steps in a tattered dress and wooden shoes, SW sings a song about wishing and hoping for the one she loves. But there`s a lot more to her than waiting around. When her wicked stepmother/queen decides to have her killed, she must fend for herself in a dark forest. She`s obviously scared, but doesn`t give up, pressing onward despite mysterious sounds and logs that resemble alligators. Snow White shows similiar courage when she meets the dwarves. This is a girl who`s never been away from home before, but she readily adapts to a group whose culture she`s totally unfamiliar with.

Instead of judging or mocking the dwarves, she befriends them. And yes, she does the housework. But one should keep in mind that the original Snow White story was told in the 1400s, a time when housework involved a lot of manual labor and the skills needed for tasks like spinning and washing clothing by hand. The dwarf fraternity respects her for pitching in, and she respects and likes them (I remember thinking as a child that they were way more interesting as people than the Prince)! Snow White displays a lot of sense and independent thinking, not to mention a genuine kindness for both animals and people.

Looking at later Disney movies makes one wonder what became of heroines like Snow White. Maybe, like characters played by Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn in the 30s and early 40s, she was shelved due to cultural reasons. After World War 2, real-life women often had to quit the jobs they obtained while men were away, leading to a quasi-Victorian idealization of the home and traditional femininity. Hollywood seemed to reinforce this by producing few films with strong female leads, and during the fifties, Disney followed suit. After the likable but maudlin Cinderella, we got characters like Wendy of Peter Pan (1953-sweet and bright, but hung up on Peter) and Briar Rose of 1959`s Sleeping Beauty (sweet and hard-working, has to be awakened by a prince). This is not to say that fifties Disney cartoons were total fiascos- they were well animated and ahead of their time- but strong heroines were not a huge priority here.

Gradually, times changed and so did the Disney empire. After several financial upheavals in the 70s, animated films began to emerge from the studio again in the mid-80s. “Princess” characters were beginning to be written in a different way, a prime example being Belle of Beauty and the Beast (1991). Belle, the daughter of a small-town inventor, is sweet-natured and hard-working like many a Disney girl. Unlike them, she seeks knowledge through reading and dreams of leaving her home and having adventures. And she`s not afraid of the ferocious-seeming Beast: when he orders her to come to dinner, she refuses until he issues a civil invitation. They gradually come to know each other as equals. The troubling issue here is the whole conceit of the Beast keeping her captive in his castle. This is how the original story went, but I can also see why some commentators read Belle warming to him as a form of Stockholm syndrome.

On the other hand, she does try to escape at one point in order to check on her father, and this makes Beast realize that he can`t merely keep her as a pet. Belle is a fully realized character who is intriguing as well as pretty. She does change clothes more than other Disney princesses, but hey, she is living in a palace with well-equipped closets-why not? And she has the courage to try and rescue her father from the creepy village folk by herself, not waiting for Beast or any of his servants to accompany her.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) has a female lead who is more than able to carry the film. This princess is merely dressed as one for Mardi Gras-she`s actually an industrious waitress named Tiana, a fine cook who is saving money for her own restaurant. She becomes involved with the lazy and conceited Prince Naveen only because he`s been turned into a frog and requests her help. Kissing him turns her into a frog as well, so the pair must hit a Louisiana swamp in search of a voodoo priestess who can transform them back. Tiana is totally uninterested in Naveen at first, considering him hopelessly hedonistic. But the two bond as they journey through the swamp, and the prince is evantually ready to embrace work and give up his player-like ways for Tiana.

Throughout the film, Tiana`s ditzy friend Lottie epitomizes the stereotypical “princess” viewpoint, in contrast to the former`s practical ways. When read the old Frog Prince story as children, Lottie sighs in contentment, while Tiana exclaims, “No way am I kissin` no frog, no matter what!” You`ve got to love a girl who`s that feisty from childhood up. She also has a strong sense of morality. The evil Dr. Facilier offers to make her human again if she surrenders a charm- trouble is, he`ll use the charm to facilitate his takeover of New Orleans. Tiana refuses, vowing to “stay in the swamp forever”, rather than aid the voodoo dark side. All ends well, but with a twist: though Tiana and Naveen become restored to humanity, they achieve her dream of opening a restaurant, instead of looking for a kingdom to luxuriate in. Good film, great heroine-finally, an action princess! Yes, there`s still a prince, but the relationship dynamic is totally different. We see the pair get to know each other as people, not just become infatuated.

Disney cartoon features have become more progressive in terms of female heroes. It`s certainly true that they lagged behind the women and girls of anime for a few decades- compare any pre-eighties Disney heroine to Millenium Actress or Princess Mononoke- but they`re genuinely losing the passive princess mindset. Now that the studio is supposedly still going to do some hand-drawn animation as well as CGI, why not research some girl power-friendly storylines? How about a remake of The Black Cauldron with more emphasis on feisty heroine Eilonwy? Or a retelling of the Artemis or Amazons myths? Future generations of girls are waiting to see their own adventures in animation- they want to protect the castle, not just clean its courtyard.

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Christmas Spirit is Here!

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When I was a kid, the best holiday was Christmas. It meant presents, seeing cousins that lived in D.C., getting together with my family, but most of all, it meant Christmas music. Specifically it meant the Disney Christmas album, on vinyl being played on our hi-fi. Back then the speakers were taller than me! On Christmas Eve, after we had done the family thing with my dad’s family, we would go home, turn off all the lights, turn on the tree and my mom’s Christmas village, then I would get to put the record on the record player and start it. I thought I was hot stuff. 🙂 Then mom, dad and I would sit on the couch, drinking hot chocolate and singing along to the record. My very favorite Christmas song has always been “Christmas Bells” which is the story of Snoopy and the Red Baron at Christmas. Snoopy’s WWII Flying Ace was always my favorite part of any Peanuts special so that song holds a special place in my heart. After we listened to music, we would watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and I would make my parents laugh by imitating the dances during the rehearsal scenes.

These days I’m not as crazy about Christmas as I used to be, I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m an adult now, or what, but this year it had been especially hard for me to get into the Christmas spirit. But then, I heard “Christmas Bells” and now I’ve watched “White Christmas.” Christmas spirit, here I come.

Tangled

"Tangled" up in Disney

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**Warning: This Post Contains Spoilers**

It’s no secret to those that know me that I am a gigantic Disney Nerd. I have several Disney playlists on my iTunes, and most movies I can cialis pills quite with the help of my best friend, (who works at Disney World.) So I had been excited about the new DIsney movie Tangled for a while. It might have helped a little that I’m a fan of Mandy Moore, I saw her when she opened for the Backstreet Boys back in 1999, when she was a young blonde little thing, (like I can talk, I was 11 at the time.) Also, any fan of Chuck will recognize Zachary levi’s voice as Flynn Rider. Like the crazy person that I am, I passed up on Harry Potter to see “Tangled”, and I’m actually pretty satisfied with that decision.

‘Pretty Satisfied’ is an understatement.

This was Disney’s 50th animated movie, and right proper Disney Princess movie, reminiscent of the classics. Alan Menken was once again at the helm of the songs, and score for the movie. One can hear the influence of his earlier classics, such as The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin, and there were no misses this time around, (like there really are any misses for this man.)

“This is the story of how I died?” –Flynn Rider (Anyone else having Doctor Who flashbacks?)

Backstory time! As is with most Disney fairytale movies. Our, er, hero, Flynn Rider narrates. A single drop of sun fell from the sky, and bloomed into a flower, and held great power. The person who found it, of course, used it selfishly to make herself young again, and would continue to do so for hundreds of years, only by singing a song to it, (“Healing Incantaiton”.) Well the pregnant Queen is sick, and needs this miracle flower. Our selfish hag, Mother Gothel, makes a mistake and the flower is found! The queen is alright, and bouncing baby girl, with long blonde hair, is born. They let off a floating lantern to celebrate. This is important. Mother Gothel breaks into the castle and realizes that the baby’s hair is magical and can make her young again, but if you cut the hair it turns brown and loses it’s power. So what can she do now? Kidnap the baby!

This is how Rapunzel comes to live in her tower, with 70 feet of hair. Hair that she can wield as a weapon, or a swing, or a hook to pull Mother Gothel up the tower, or as an Indiana Jones-esque bull whip. But she has a dream, (“When Will My Life Begin”) she wants to leave the tower to see the floating lights that appear once a year on her birthday. The lights that the Kingdom releases every year hoping that it will help bring back the lost Princess.

Enter, Flynn Rider. A thief. He’s stolen a tiara from the castle, with the help of two other thieves, and is now on the run from what could be the entire Royal Army, and their horses. Maximus is part horse, part bloodhound, and all serious about getting Flynn. This chase is what brings Flynn to Rapunzels tower, that he climbs with the help of two arrows. Flynn is Rapunzel’s ticket to getting out of the tower to go see the lights, that her mother has forbidden her from doing, in the form of an entertaining song (“Mother Knows Best”) with a stern warning. (Mother Gothel is the mother you wish you never have.) How does she get Flynn to agree to this? By hiding the tiara he so urgently seeks and says that if he takes her to see the lights and brings her back then he gets it back.

It doesn’t take long for Mother Gothel to realize that something’s up, finds the tiara, and she starts to follow the two after she finds them at the Snuggly Duckling. The Snuggly Duckling full of murderous, sadistic, and fluffy pub thugs. They all have dreams, (“I’ve Got a Dream”) and have been inspired by the young, 18 year old, sheltered girl. As the Royal Guards come, still searching for Flynn, arrive the pub thungs help them escape. And it almost works, until Maximus shows up and discovers the hidden tunnel.

Cut to a dam with an impossible escape. Rapunzel gets to higher ground with her hair, Flynn fights off a sword wielding horse with a frying pan, and the Royal Guard and Flynn’s very upset partners are all there to get Flynn, dead or alive, depending on who you ask. The dam breaks and we find our heroes in a very precarious situation, where we learn that Flynn Rider is not his real name, (Eugene Fitzherbert,… really?), little orphan Eugene got his name from Flynnagan Rider, and that Rapunzel has magical glowing hair that can also heals wounds.

Mother Gothel appears to make Rapunzel think that she’s delusional, why would this thief like her when all he wants is his stolen tiara? She challenges Rapunzel to test Eugene, er Flynn, by giving him the tiara and to see if he’ll actually still take her to the floating lights. Rapunzel hides the tiara instead.

And just when you thought that they had lost Maximus, he’s back! But Rapunzel discovers his soft side and he helps them get the to castle town, without getting Flynn arrested. As comes with any Disney movie, this is where the montage of cute things happens between our two love interests that pull them closer. As night falls Flynn takes Rapunzel out on to the water to have one of the best views of the lanterns as they take to the sky. Here I discover that Zachary Levi has a decent voice, and my new favorite song, “I See The Light”.

Enter, Mother Gothel’s master plan. With Rapunzel so close to finding out that she is the missing princess, she must get her back to the tower, and get rid of Flynn Fitz-, Rider. A plot breaks out! Flynn is set up and set sailing back to the guards to get captured, and Mother Gothel lures Rapunzel in with fake worry, and they travel back ‘home’.

In prison, as he’s being led to his execution, everything comes together for Flynn. He realizes that Rapunzel is the Princess, that Mother Gothel was behind everything for the magical hair, and that he must go help the woman he has fallen in love with! But how will he escape? Maximus and the Pub Thugs to the rescue!

Back at the tower Rapunzel  thinks on everything that she’s seen at the castle town, and what’s she’s learned, and all her paintings, and pieces together that she’s the missing princess, (without any help from any other character!) Mother Gothel transformation: Into evil, selfish hag!

Flynn climbs the tower again to save Rapunzel to find out that he’s stumbled onto a trap. She’s been chained to a wall by Mother Gothel, as the same evil woman then stabs Flynn, letting him slowly die. At this point I thought I was going to have to start writing an angry letter to Disney for not providing a happy ending. I would have done it, too. Rapunzel gives her word to Mother Gothel that she will go with her, into hiding, and never run away if she just lets her save Eugene, (Rapunzel has called him Eugene since finding out it was his real name, luckily never saying Fitzherbert again.) Eugene won’t let this happen though. He cuts off her hair!

This breaks the spell that Mother Gothel has been using and she falls out of the tower, turning into dusts as she starts to age. But it’s too late to save our dear Eugene, and the older woman in front of me*, and I started to cry, (no lies.) Disney saves it though, her tears heal her love as she once again sings the healing song, in vain she thinks. Eugene takes her back to her parents, who have waited 18 years to find their daughter. Eugene takes over narrating and confirming, in a very Flynn Rider way, that everyone was happy again and that he and Rapunzel did in fact, get married.

I would actually pay to go see the movie again, but I’ll bring a friend with me this time, and I recommend this movie to anyone who likes Disney, especially the classic Princess movies. They managed to focus both on the princess Rapunzel, and the, almost, unlikely hero Flynn- Eugene Fitzherbert! It was the second biggest opening movie that weekend, no surprise right behind Harry Potter, with $45.1 million. It’s also Disney’s second biggest Thanksgiving opening movie, right behind Toy Story 2 with $54 million.

*I should state that I went to the movie alone, as did the woman in front of me who was at least ten years older than me. I heard her sniff in that way that one does after crying, and I was slightly relieved to know that I was not alone in crying at (another) Disney movie…. Yes, I cry at Disney movies, it happens.

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