Disney Book Review – 3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance With Snow White

3500: An Autistic Boy's Ten-Year Romance with Snow White3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance with Snow White by Ron Miles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Around the Year Reading Challenge Item #45: A Book Related to a Hobby or Passion You Have

If you are looking for beautiful writing, then you’ll want to pass on this book. It’s not badly written, especially as far as self-published works go. The writing is merely functional, and a little perfunctory — it feels a little as if the author is writing an email or a blog post detailing his and his son’s latest antics, with a reporting style that kind of assumes the reader already knows these people. Out of the whole “cast,” Ben comes across the most clearly, which makes sense since the whole book revolves around him. I had less of a sense of his mother’s or stepmother’s personality (his stepmother seemed like just an occasional footnote), and his father, as the storyteller, makes himself fairly vulnerable but also tells “his side of the story” and says the sorts of things you’d expect a caring father to say.

Still, if writing style isn’t a huge deal and what you want is to learn more about a unique family’s experiences with autism and the lengths they went to to bring their mostly non-verbal son out of his shell, this book will fit the bill. It moves along at a decent pace, and I had to admire the fact that Ben’s parents were willing to uproot their lives to move closer to Disney World, a place where their son seemed to make enough progress on their first visit that they believed it would be a further catalyst for his socialization — and in many ways, it was, although there’s really no way to know how his development would have proceeded had his parents not made this momentous decision. To that end, perhaps what comes across most strongly in this book is the love and devotion these parents feel toward their autistic son — I like Disney World, but visiting multiple times a week, only to ride the same ride dozens of times … it must have been mind-numbingly boring. But these parents soldiered on without much complaining.

If you are not a Disney fan, this book may be a little nauseating to you. The author is a total Disney World fanboy and the book reads so much like an open love letter to Disney that I wouldn’t be surprised if they sell it in their gift shops. I’m totally on board with the magic of Disney, but the total lack of any critique at all, especially considering the fact that his impressionable autistic son was marinating in Disney ideology 24/7, was a little off-putting to me; it felt like a bit of a “sell” at times even though I know it wasn’t.

Still, I mentioned earlier that this is self-published, and in that market, you could do a lot worse. This is cleanly written and formatted and not a slog to get through. And the photos of Ben sprinkled throughout were a very nice touch.

View all my reviews


Week 55: Zootopia

First Theatrical Release: February 17, 2016 (limited); March 4, 2016 (general)

First Home Viewing Release: TBD

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Where I Found It: In a theater!

Bechdel Test Score: Passed. Female characters include Judy Hopps, Bonnie Hopps, Gazelle, Dawn Bellweather, Mrs. Otterton, Fru Fru, and a few other incidental characters (this movie has a very large cast). I can remember a couple conversations between female characters that did not revolve around men, the first of which is the conversation between Judy and her mom about her desire to be a cop when she grows up. Later she has work-related conversations with Dawn Bellweather. (There are probably others I am not remembering off the top of my head.)

So, were it not for my vow when I “ended” my Year in Disney Movies project that I would keep this blog up-to-date, I probably would not have gone to see this movie on its last night in the local theater. If my husband’s mother hadn’t happened to be in town that night and wanting to see it, he also would not have gone. All present ended up glad that we went (I’m going to convert him into a Disney fan yet. ;))

This is one of those movies that has as much good stuff for adults as for kids, especially regarding “work culture,” and it also has a few surprisingly dark moments that justified the PG rating (unlike Frozen). Despite that, it is mostly light and fun with timeless messages about being true to yourself, following your dreams, and seeing past stereotypes — and its focus on the character development of Judy and Nick keeps it from feeling bogged down by its large cast of characters (unlike, say, Atlantis).

Similar to Disney’s earlier “talking animal” movies (Lady & the Tramp, The Lion King), in Zootopia animals are used to skirt around topics that would be taboo in a movie about humans. This is most striking in the humorous visit to a nudist park, where Judy and Nick are shocked by naked animals but the movie can still get away with “showing everything,” but it also comes through in the uphill battle Judy faces to be taken seriously in the workplace as the first rabbit on the police force. I’m going to start (and possibly end) there.

nude yoga

Yup, that’s nude yoga.

Also, unlike all the earlier films that I pretty much assumed people had gotten around to seeing, I realize that this one is not yet “common knowledge.” So, consider yourself forewarned that there be spoilers ahead.

Welcome to Being a Woman in the Workplace

judy uniformJudy’s sex is never mentioned outright as she goes to work for the ZPD, but it should be noted that along with being the only rabbit on the force, she is also the only female cop we ever see in the movie. And any woman whose ever struck out to chase a career — especially one in a male-dominated field — will recognize the plight of women workers in Judy’s story.

Because of all the preconceptions people have of rabbits in Zootopia (they’re easily frightened, “sweet,” innocuous, “cute,” etc.), Judy has to work twice as hard as every other cop in the movie to be taken seriously. She has to study and train harder to graduate from the academy. Then, despite graduating at the top of her Judy meter maidclass, on her first day on the job she plummets from top of her class to the most menial task on the force — she’s assigned as a meter maid. The first time the receptionist sees her, he gushes about how “cute” she is (NOT the way to compliment someone who has worked her butt off to get where she is). The admonishment she gives him rings a bit more true to race than gender relations (it’s OK for one rabbit to call another rabbit cute, but it’s offensive when someone else does it), but the fact that she called him on it at all at least raised the issue of what is and is not appropriate to say in a professional setting.

Then she has to face what is essentially “hazing” from her supervisor, Chief Bogo, who tells her she has to resign if she’s not able to solve a missing animal case within 48 hours — despite the fact that more experienced officers haven’t made any headway in two weeks. Not only that, but because she is a new employee she is shut out of the police department’s computer system and all the resources the other cops have access to, and Bogo doesn’t bother making sure she’s set up before sending her off.

bogoHonestly, I can feel my stress levels rise just writing about this, because it just smacks of the “Old Boys Clubs” that are still rampant in the workplace, where women may not be shut out of work computer systems, but are instead left behind in the office while “the guys” go out for drinks or take the afternoon off for a round of golf. Being excluded from these outings often puts women on the slow track to promotion, where deals are made over drinks and networks are forged outside the office.
Bogo should have been fired for allowing one of his cops to go out on an assignment without the tools she needed to do her job. Heck, Judy should have sued the pants off him. Instead, he’s given a free pass because he has a change of heart after Judy manages to crack the case. Too little, too late, bud — if I were Judy, I’d ask for a transfer to another precinct.

And while Judy’s tenacity in pursuing the case despite the limitations imposed on her is admirable, I was still somewhat uncomfortable that she was essentially willing to “take it” — she went out knowing the odds were stacked against her, and rather than fight for what she deserved so that she could do her job, she accepted that she would be shut out and busted her back for the ZPD, anyway. Make no mistake, this has reverberations for women in the workplace everywhere: many of us KNOW we are being shut out or shut down in various ways, but we’re stuck in that awful double bind: do we go forward crippled in our work by being granted “barely enough,” or do we risk being seen as “whiners” or worse for demanding more? Because let’s not forget that women are seen as “less likable” when they fight for what they need to do their jobs, or for the compensation they deserve, whereas men who do the same are just performing to expectation. Where does this leave women? Either accepting less than they know they deserve, or being labeled as “difficult” and risking their long-term prospects at a company. (Although it’s never mentioned, I’d bet anything that Judy’s paycheck is substantially smaller than the other rookies’.)

So, I can’t really fault Judy for the choice she made to just “make it work” — but I do worry a little about the message it might send to girls who end up facing similar “raw deals” in the workplace.

Eventually, Judy makes a huge personal and professional blunder just as she is beginning to get the respect and recognition she deserves. That mistake is taking the “easy way out” and promoting the idea that the animals in town that have gone “feral” (i.e., giving in to their “wild” natures and attacking others) did so because they were all “predators.” (In the world set up in Zootopia, predator and prey have cohabited peacefully for years.) This alienates Judy from Nick, a fox who has become her unofficial partner on the case.


She has to make amends with him, and this is where things get a little squicky for me. A few times before this point, people have discredited Judy by referring to her as a “dumb bunny” — notably, the same insult that is often used to discredit women, particularly young or attractive women. Now, as Judy is owning up to her wrongs, she sums it up by crying, “I’m just a dumb bunny, all right?”

reconcileThis is apparently just what Nick wanted to hear. He caught it on tape, and he plays it back to her. They are reconciled.

So, yeah, in case you missed it: when you are a woman in the workplace and you have a falling out with your male friend/co-worker, the best way to smooth things over is to embrace the worst thing people are saying about you. Once you’ve been sufficiently taken down a few notches, you’re welcome at the table again.

But It’s Really a Smart Commentary on Racial Profiling, Etc.

With that said, I’m willing to forgive this blunder because this movie really is a very intelligent and timely allegory for racial profiling, as well as the hidden evil of “majority rules.” (Zootopia is 90 percent “prey,” 10 percent “predator.”) Just because you are in the majority does not mean you are entitled to make all the rules/persecute the minority, and man, the sooner we can drum that idea into kids’ heads, the better. Also, the fact that Hanna Rosin recommended the movie on the feminist podcast I listen to also confirms that feminist Disney fans need feel little guilt for enjoying this latest offering.


My Year – Final-ish Thoughts (and Top 10)

sad arielWell, we’re halfway into the first month of 2016, there are no unwatched movies in Disney’s animated canon, and it’s officially time to wrap up my Year in Disney Movies project — for now.

I write this post with a mixture of sadness and relief. Several people have asked me what my “next” movie blogging project will be. A couple people suggested Pixar, and another suggested (non-Disney) classic movies. My answer is: there is no next movie project.

As much as I’ve enjoyed this endeavor, I did not know when I watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on January 1 of 2015 what a massive undertaking this would be. Something I envisioned as a sort of fun, side-blogging project ballooned into at least a 5-hour-a-week commitment (2 hours to watch the movie, 3 hours to prepare the post — and that’s not even counting time spent hunting down and reading source materials.) This project swallowed my writing time so that my fiction projects and other blogs got pushed aside. I posted to my writing blog only sporadically and resigned as a writer for the Young Adult Catholics blog. I took a pass on NaNoWriMo. And I wasn’t even doing everything I WANTED to for my Year in Disney Movies blog. I had ideas posting accompanying “reads” for each movie as well as reviews of the D2V sequels, but those ideas fell by the wayside within the first quarter of the project.

Still, I have now seen every single Disney movie that came out of its main animation studio. Not only that, I have read all the source materials (except for the Big Hero 6 comics because that movie caught me off guard). Even in the most unlikely weeks (on vacation, swamped at work, Christmas), I got my post up by week’s end (Saturday) so that I was free to sink into my next movie on Sunday. I was able to track down even the obscure titles thanks to a well-stocked library. (Support your local libraries, people!) I loved the conversations I had with people about the movies both online and IRL. Perhaps best of all, I had a legitimate “excuse” to deeply revisit the movies that informed my childhood as well as the ones I had “missed” as an adult. Sometimes, I felt like this year consisted of me reliving my childhood on fast-forward, as each movie would bring with it a slew of memories from when I first experienced it. (Middle school dances were SO disappointing after the ballroom scene in Beauty & the Beast!)

I also gained some insight into myself, including why Aladdin was such an important movie to me even though I don’t think it would be my favorite if I viewed it for the first time today. I also wondered whether my obsession with Disney movies as I was growing up lies beneath my inability to sit through movies more than two hours long as an adult, and my ineptitude at following movie plots  that are even moderately complicated (particularly in sci-fi, even though it’s a genre I like). The plots in Disney movies are always so straightforward, even though I think it’s dismissive and incorrect to assume they are “simple” or (my pet peeve) “cute.”


My feelings vacillated between my old enchantment of Disney and a more grown-up resentment for the way it has infiltrated our cultural story. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I would never deny a child the magic of the Disney canon (with the exception, perhaps, of Saludos Amigos.) I remain, at the end of the day (or year, or canon) a Disney fan who will almost always choose an animated classic over any other movie. I also think that much of the “flak” Disney gets is totally unfounded, and based on the Disney Princess line’s marketing machine rather than the source movies themselves (especially as relates to The Little Mermaid.)

Oh, and it should also be noted that 25/55 of Disney’s movies passed the Bechdel test, with the older ones faring just as well as the newer (Dumbo was the first movie to pass in 1941, Frozen the last in 2013). Since three movies were exempt for lack of dialogue, that means only 27 movies failed. Honestly, that’s better than I expected.

So, What’s Next?

With that in mind, I am leaving this blog “active” so that I can return here with future Disney-related thoughts, and I plan to continue reviewing the new animated movies as they are released. (When I found out two animated movies are coming out of the studio in 2016, I invested in the “refillable” popcorn bucket at my local theater!) So, I am officially returning to a habit I abandoned somewhere in the 2000s: I will see the new Disney animated releases even when they don’t particularly interest me so that I can keep my list “current.”

I’m also going to post a few top ten lists here, which I’ve been mentally compiling after watching all the movies in close succession with a mix of an adult’s sensibilities and a child’s devotion.

So, without further ado, here is my official “Top 10” list of my favorite Disney movies.

  1.  Aladdin – While it’s true that this probably wouldn’t be my favorite Disney movie if I saw it for the first time today, I’m old and set in my ways, and it’s just too stressful to think of granting any other movie this place of honor. I’ve got years worth of time spent writing fan-fiction to justify!
  2. The Little Mermaid – No surprise to me that this one held steady at its #2 position. It was also the only movie I gave 5 stars out of the whole year.
  3. Frozen – I thought that my feelings about Frozen might just be about it being new and shiny and re-awakening all those old feelings of magic and devotion Disney used to inspire. But when I watched it again, it held its own against all the old and new faves. It’s the only movie that has come out since Aladdin that has actually awakened in me a desire to write fan-fiction again. I honestly will be surprised if Disney ever manages to top it.
  4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame – This movie was just as daring and beautiful 19 years later as it was when it first shocked and entranced me at age 15. It’s the only movie for which I watched the full director’s commentary this year. I also could not stop talking about/thinking about it the week after I’d watched it. My husband said it “seemed like this was my new favorite.” It’s an old favorite, but did move one position “up” in its placement.
  5. Lilo & Stitch – At the beginning of this year, I didn’t even know this movie would MAKE my top 10. But along with Frozen, it’s the only other movie that gave me that “five-star” feeling of satisfaction as the end credits rolled.
  6. Beauty & the Beast – This is the movie that has fallen furthest from its previous place of honor in the top 3. While I still loved the beautiful animation and was not deterred by arguments that the Beast is an abuser, what DID turn me off was the way Belle’s interactions with both her father and Gaston were so “sweet” and flirty. For a heroine who is often referred to as Disney’s first “feminist” princess, I was frustrated that she prioritized being “nice” over being firm when it came to telling Gaston to bugger off.
  7. Lady & the Tramp – Although I rated this one lower than the three movies that will come after it, it remains my favorite movie from Walt Disney’s lifetime, and it has the “staying power” to rivet me every time I watch it — something that the movies lower on the list have never quite put to the test because I didn’t rewatch them as often as those higher up. It has a sort of restraint and maturity that sets it apart from the other movies of its era, and the other “animal” movies in general.
  8. Mulan – Another one of those movies that gets better with age. Whereas I used to drool over Shang, I can now see that Mulan is the real prize in this movie.
  9.  Tarzan – SUCH a huge improvement over the source material, stunning animation, and, well, JANE.
  10. Atlantis: The Last Empire – Because if you lined all the Disney dudes up for me in a dating game, I would totally go home with Milo.

Week 54: Big Hero 6

First Theatrical Release: October 23, 2014 (Tokyo) and November 7, 2014 (United States)

First Home Viewing Release: February 24, 2015

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Where I Found It: My library’s DVD collection.

Bechdel Test Score: Failed. Female characters include Aunt Cass, GoGo, Honey Lemon, and the cat (which has to be female because she’s calico.) Although the female characters are in group scenes together, they do not ever directly talk to each other.

So, here it is, bonus movie!! The master list I worked from for my Year in Disney Movies was from a DVD site —  Big Hero 6 had not been released on DVD when I snagged the list at the end of 2014, but since it is now, the completist in me had to give it a watch. (Although I didn’t have my act together enough to track down its source materials, again, because it wasn’t on my initial list. That list ruled my life last year!)

I really wanted to love it so that my Year in Disney movies would go out with a bang. Instead, it went out with a bit of a “meh.”

Me and Action Movies: It’s Not You, It’s Me

Tadashi HiroThis movie had so much potential in its opening act. I loved the mostly realistic, easy-to-relate to setting: a nerdy child prodigy and his even nerdier older brother getting into and out of trouble together; the unique geekiness of each robotics student at Tadashi’s university; and of course, Baymax (and the calico cat! But mostly Baymax — best scene ever, the one with Baymax AND the cat!)

(My own “hairy baby” is purring on my lap as I write this.)

baymax suckerThe non-judgmental, literal-minded, unflappable personality of an A.I. is always refreshing, and Baymax, with his “programming” to be helpful, non-threatening, and comforting, is especially a delight. I probably would have been happy if the whole movie was just Hiro and Baymax bumming around town and learning from each other. I also really liked the way his personality was so at odds with the avenging superhero Hiro wanted him to be, so that the only way to bring him on board was to position revenge as a way to improve Hiro’s depression.

In so doing, this movie sets itself up as an interesting reflection on grief. In a world where no one knows the right thing to say after a tragic loss has occurred, Baymax’s straightforward attempts to be helpful, free of all ego or self-consciousness, prove to be just the bridge Hiro needs to pull him through. Although he believes that it’s his drive to get even with the man who caused the fire that killed his brother, it is likely the presence of a loyal friend that heals him more than anything.

superheroesAnd while I really like all of this, I found this movie losing me about halfway in. It may not be the movie’s fault. But when it slips from being about Hiro’s relationship with his brother and Baymax and into the superhero plot, it also shifts in tone from an awkward and warm comedy to a subpar action flick. There’s nothing wrong with Action as a genre, but it’s not the genre for me. Every time I go to a superhero movie, my eyes glaze over during the epic battle scenes; my mind wanders and I check in again ten minutes later to see who won and what the body count was.


I’m afraid that is exactly what happened to me in the middle of this movie. My attention slid away as the team discovered their cool superhero powers and chased some bad guys and flew around, until suddenly I snapped back and the movie was practically over. Can I fairly judge the movie when my resistance to action plots means I pretty much missed the middle? Probably not. But the fact that I pretty much missed the middle is a judgment in and of itself, isn’t it?

My Villain, Myself

What brought me back to the action was the interesting and surprising things this movie does with its themes.


Who you think is the villain

professor C

Who is actually the villain

From the beginning, we assume that the villain who has commandeered Hiro’s microbots is the slimy businessman, Alistair Krei. But then we learn that the real mastermind behind the evil is Professor Callaghan, who is hellbent on vengeance against Krei for his daughter’s disappearance when Krei sent her into a transporter that wasn’t yet safe for use.

evil callaghanIn this way, grief becomes the driving emotional force behind both our hero and our villain; Hiro seeks vengeance for the death of his brother, even as he sees the way Callaghan’s desire for vengeance for his daughter’s disappearance breeds an out-of-control cycle of destruction that ends up hurting innocent people. In this movie we have a hero and a villain who are two sides of the same experience, who are more alike than they are different. In Callaghan, Hiro glimpses where the path he is on will ultimately lead — and as a fourteen-year-old boy who doesn’t have a ton of self-insight (even if he is a genius), that’s not initially enough to turn him away from that path. But Baymax, the antithesis of death and destruction, is. Hiro turns back in the nick of time, but he skirts closer to the edge of darkness than most Disney heroes do, and the movie is richer for it. It was even enough to get me to tune back in .





Week 53: Frozen

First Theatrical Release: November 23, 2013

First Home Viewing Release: February 24, 2014 (digital) and March 18, 2014 (DVD and Blue-Ray)

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Where I Found It: My personal DVD collection. It was the first Disney movie I bought since the 2004 platinum release of Aladdin.

Bechdel Test Score: Passed. Female characters include Elsa and Anna, their mother, and some female trolls. Anna and Elsa’s first conversation is about playtime and Elsa’s magic, and only one of their conversations thereafter is about a man — when Elsa is telling Anna she can’t marry Hans. (I once read that this movie would fail a “reverse Bechdel” test because all the male characters are always talking about Elsa and Anna, which is pretty much true.)

I will be the first to admit it: I am one of the adoring masses who can’t get enough of Frozen. Although I rarely purchase it, I am constantly rubbernecking in stores for Frozen merchandise, from Barbie dolls to cereal boxes, and I not-so-subtly told my mom I’d really like some Elsa slippers in my Christmas stocking this year the last time we went frozen wash ragout shopping together. And when I got tired of laundering the same washrag over and over, I went out and bought myself a set of Frozen washrags — it wasn’t my intention, it just sort of … happened. They were so soft, and cheap. (Honestly, why have I been using one endlessly laundered washrag for four years when I can get 6 branded ones for $3? But I digress.)

Arguments from Frozen’s detractors are often well-founded — there are some glaring plot holes (seriously, WHY did Elsa’s family think locking her up was the best way to cope with her powers right after the trolls had told them that fear would be her enemy? Who ruled the kingdom between the years when Elsa’s parents died and her coronation? How did Kristof survive to age 4 — when the trolls seem to have adopted him — without any parents? Why doesn’t Kristof tell Anna he spied on her first encounter with the trolls when she was a young’un? Etc. etc.). The movie may not be as feminist as we’d like to do the magic.gifbelieve (as endearing as Anna is, she is portrayed as almost hopelessly incompetent next to Kristof on their journey to and from the North Mountain).  But I am willing to forgive all that and more because Frozen was the first movie in over ten years that proved Disney could still “do the magic!”

And ultimately, all those plot holes don’t matter to most viewers because Frozen did not capture our imaginations or our hearts with its rock-solid plotting. Instead, it captured us in the language of metaphor and emotion, tapping into the same primal place from which the canon source material of Disney’s fairy tale retellings came. People loved Frozen because something about their own lives and hearts was playing out onscreen — Elsa’s movement from shame to acceptance, freedom, and joy where her powers are concerned has been convincingly interpreted as a metaphor for feminist awakening, coming out, mental illness, autism, and probably many other experiences that relegate one to “outsider” status.

So, after I just linked to all those really great articles about Frozen, not to mention all the OTHER analyses floating around on the Internet, I come into this post thinking that there probably isn’t much to say about Frozen that hasn’t already been said. But I still have opinions!

Team Anna or Team Elsa

annaelsaBack when Frozen was first released on DVD, I did a Google search to see whether the captivated public preferred Anna or Elsa. To me the choice was clear, but the Internets said the fandom was divided more-or-less down the middle.

Still, I noticed the same conversation taking place independently, at different times, with two different groups of friends: one of whom had little girls, one of whom didn’t.

Both groups wanted to know why all the little girls were seemingly OBSESSED with Elsa, and both groups lamented that little girls weren’t more interested in being “like Anna.”

Well, let’s see. Up until now Disney movies have mostly given little girls two choices when it comes to what kind of woman they could grow up to be: they could be good, or they could be bad. If they choose good, they get (added bonus!) to be beautiful, too. But if they choose bad, they get to be powerful. Yes, even most of the “good” princesses were strong in their own ways, but to a kid watching Ursula rise up out of the ocean while Ariel trembles in Eric’s arms … well, THAT’s what power looks like to a little kid.

elsa powerfulThat’s why, when I was a child, I was more interested in Ursula than Ariel, more interested in the Evil Queen or Maleficent than Snow White or Aurora. With the character of Elsa, for the first time (in forever) girls can FINALLY have it both ways. To imagine themselves as powerful AND to be good … and that is a very, very good option to have. Not to mention, Elsa is the only Disney princess who is promoted to Queen within the first act of the film and doesn’t have to wait to marry a prince to, eventually, ascend to that status at some point in the (off-screen) future.

anna pleaserI’m also somewhat uncomfortable that both these groups of adult women (with kids and sans kids) who mostly identify as feminist want to push little girls toward the character who behaves in more “typical” feminine fashion — Anna is much more of a pleaser than Elsa is, she’s more dependent on others for her happiness, and she’s also the one who “gets the man” in the end.

But don’t worry, I’m not hatin’ on Anna. In fact, what I love so much about Frozen is that it shows girls there is more than one way to be a strong woman, that there are different ways to be vulnerable, and that neither one is inherently better than the other. You don’t have to act tough all the time to be strong, nor do you have to distance yourself from love or the affairs of the heart. Anna and Elsa feel authentic to me in a way that gets lost and muddled when Disney seems to try “too hard” to create a character with the trappings of independence who ultimately ends up following the same script in the end. One of my favorite (non-Elsa) scenes in Frozen is when Anna demands that Kristof take her up the North Mountain after she’s purchased the gear he couldn’t afford. She makes her case without backing down, and right afterward we see her all-but-trembling outside the door of the stable as she awaits his reply.

This scene acknowledges how SCARY it can be for girls to speak their minds in a culture full of mixed messages, where the pressure to be “strong” can sometimes feel just as crushing as the pressure to be “thin” or “beautiful.” Raising the curtain on Anna’s emotional state immediately after she’s made her demands lets girls in on an important secret: It’s OKAY to feel scared when you push yourself outside your comfort zone. You’re not weak just because your voice shakes or you tremble before or after you speak up. You’re strong because you proved you could do it anyway.

But as much as I love this particular scene, I’m Team Elsa all the way.

Why I’m Team Elsa

elsa face.pngAlthough I am not autistic, I’ve experienced IRL all of the other experiences people have been projecting onto Elsa as metaphor. Coming out? I’m bisexual. Mental illness? I’ve struggled with both depression and anxiety and learned what a game-changer anti-depressants can be. And I probably don’t have to disclose my feminist affiliations anymore at this point.

But what I love most about Elsa is that she appears to be Disney’s first openly introverted princess (technically, queen.) Sure, we’ve been given bookish Belle and a handful of other Disney ladies for whom someone could make a solid argument that they were introverts. Aurora spends her time alone in the woods talking to animals. Ariel retreats to her grotto and would rather explore a sunken ship alone than go to a crowded concert.

cold never bothered me.gifStill, with Elsa we see a Disney lady who REVELS in being alone. Indeed, who feels literally transformed once she is freed from the rules and constraints of social interaction. Before she ditches her own coronation party, one could argue that her isolation was involuntary, and I would agree. It’s clear that the growing up years are excruciatingly lonely for both Anna and Elsa — Anna because she is an extrovert and thrives on her interactions with others, and Elsa because she has to keep her authentic self locked inside.

But even in Elsa and Anna’s first scene together, we can see that Elsa is the more reserved of the two — she wants to stay in bed, she talks less than Anna does, and she is pensive rather than ebullient (like Anna) when she experiments with her magic. At movie’s end, there is something tentative in the way she interacts with the crowd before she creates the ice-skating rink, and her pronouncement that they are never shutting the gates again always comes across as a little forced. It is this that convinces me Elsa is an introvert by nature and not just in response to her shame about her magic.

Is Frozen a Feminist Movie?

sister loveIt shouldn’t be so revolutionary when a movie presents children with more than one option for how to be a girl or a woman, but unfortunately, it still is — and that’s why Frozen occupies such an important place in the Disney canon. It’s also the only Disney movie in which the relationship between women is the driving emotional force behind the action. Despite how often we’ve all watched romance provide the primary thrust for the emotional plot of movies, in real life, women are shaped profoundly by their relationships with other women, whether female friends or sisters. To see a Disney movie finally acknowledge the importance of this aspect of a girl’s or woman’s development is incredibly gratifying.

Maybe that’s enough to make Frozen a feminist movie despite its perpetuation of mainstream beauty ideals and its insistence that Elsa run around in heels for the whole second act.

Or maybe it’s just what can happen when you don’t have to wade at least four screens in during the end credits to find your first female name. For the first time (in forever – reprise), a woman’s name appeared on the first page of the end credits — it’s Jennifer Lee, who is both director and screenplay writer — and perhaps that is what made all the difference.

Well, my friends, it is the last day of 2015, which brings my Year in Disney Movies to a close. It’s not the last entry in this blog, though — I still have Big Hero 6 to watch this Sunday. (53 Disney movies in canon, 52 weeks in a year). You can consider it the epilogue. 🙂

For further reading

[And because I couldn’t resist, my favorite “spoof” on “Let it Go”]:

Week 52: Wreck-It Ralph

First Theatrical Release: November 2, 2012

First Home Viewing Release: March 5, 2013

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Where I Found It: My library’s DVD collection

Bechdel Test Score: Passed. Female characters include Vanellope von Schweetz, Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, Taffyta Muttonfudge and a handful of other girl racers, and a girl gamer with glasses. Vanellope talks to the other female racers about racing.

When my husband and I had just finished watching this movie for the first time on DVD a couple years ago, I said, “That had just enough cuteness for me to like it,” and he said, “That had just enough humor for me to like it–despite it having a little too much cuteness.”

Wreck-It Ralph follows the “outsider seeking redemption” motif that Walt Disney loved so well, and it succeeds in what it sets out to do. It has equal amounts humor and heart, enough video game references to keep the geeks really happy, and a universal enough story to satisfy everyone else.

Still, when broken down into its component parts, it’s pretty much standard fare.

Not Breaking Any New Ground Where Gender is Concerned

Ralph may have a talent for destroying everything he touches, but even he could not successfully dismantle the gender stereotypes permeating this movie.

I think Hollywood pats itself on the back every time it decides to put one more chick in a movie. Here, let’s make Ralph’s cohort a cute little girl. Oh, and let’s make the squad leader in Hero’s Duty a lady. The feminists are gonna love us!

gamer girlAnd yeah, representation is a good first step. This movie did pass the Bechdel, after all. But I sort of cringed at everything else (except for that girl gamer with glasses at the beginning of the movie. I liked her.)

So, our main female character is Vanellope, and she’s super cutesy but not altogether “girly.” She outright rejects the game’s attempt to transform her into a princess at the end. She captures my heart because she feels like a REAL GIRL to me, vulnerability, annoying habits and all. But I’ll talk more about her later. What I’m interested in presently is the WORLD in which she exists.

Vanellope lives in what is the only obviously”girl” game in the movie. We know this is a girl game because it is full of pink and glitter and formulaic pop music. And while it may get points for being a racing game (a more typical “boy” interest), it loses points for also being a game that apparently requires no strategy or investment to play (although, to be fair, all the games in Wreck-It Ralph seem a little on the mindless side, particularly Fix-It Felix Jr.) But the message of Sugar Rush is one we have come across in countless girl toy aisles: to grab a girl’s interest, it has to be cute, sparkly, and pink. Shallow is fine, too.

sugar rush

mean girlsAnd while Vanellope may have some additional depth, the other girl racers are all cut from the exact same popular, “mean girl” cloth. Because girl-on-girl aggression, groundbreaking when it was first discovered, has also become just another stereotype.

Sergeant-Calhoun-sexy-bodBut none of that bothers me as much as the character of Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, despite the fact that she is voiced by the awesome Jane Lynch. She may be the fearless leader of a military squadron, but her uniform does little to conceal her teen boy fantasy bod. Sure, you can argue that this is “realistic” to the gaming genre, but it seems worth remembering that kids are watching this movie who are a lot younger than the ones who are playing the games being spoofed here. But hey, let’s feed four-year-old boys the same images hormonal 14-year-olds are drooling over, I’m sure it will be fine.

Tamora is tough, no doubt about it, and it’s refreshing to see a woman in charge in what is clearly a testosterone-driven game. You can tell the directors were excited about the reveal in their first shot of her. “Ha ha, you didn’t expect a lady there, did ya?!?” But similar to Meg in Hercules, her entire “tough girl” personality has seemingly been formed from her past relationship with a man. Regarding her brusque attitude, another soldier tells Felix: “It’s not her fault. She’s programmed with the most tragic backstory ever.

tamara first weddingCue backstory of the sergeant in her wedding gown, where her fiance is snatched right up off the altar and eaten because she forgot to “do a perimeter check” that day. She has a couple flashbacks to this moment during the rest of the movie, making her relationship with her dead fiance the defining event of her entire life. But don’t worry [spoiler alert] — by movie’s end things have come full circle and she’s wearing white again, this time marrying Felix.

Because even strong women can never be fulfilled without a man.

felix wedding

Now, one could argue that this is all a satire on the conventions of the video game genre, and I can concede that point. The problem is that children are not able to understand satire. Children are literal thinkers. They won’t have the larger context of the conventions being poked fun at. THEY are building their world based on what they see, and accepting that this is just the way it is.

To All the Glitches Out There

Vanellope.jpgAlthough the story follows the titular character as he attempts to find acceptance despite the fact that his “role” in life is villainous, it is almost just as much Vanellope’s story, as she also struggles toward acceptance in the world of her own game even though she is a “glitch” that supposedly puts the whole game in danger of being shut-down.

I often find the overly cutesy portrayal of children in animated movies to be a little annoying, but I’m impressed by Disney’s execution of the character of Vanellope. I love her enthusiasm and her resiliency, but her “glitchiness” is what makes her so utterly relateable.

In the characters of Ralph and Vanellope, the movie presents us with two alternate paths to “outsider” status. Ralph is struggling for acceptance despite the role he has been assigned in life and the things that he has done — this reminds me of someone who can never stop living down past alcoholism even after years of sobriety, or someone who the neighborhood will always see as a delinquent because he was busted for stealing in high school, regardless of what he does to redeem himself. This type of arc is certainly relateable to many viewers, I’m sure, but not so much to me (as I have a pretty squeaky-clean past.)

vanellope-glitch.gifVanellope, on the other hand, is not judged for something she does, but for something she IS. Her anxiety over “glitching” at the wrong moment will resonate with anyone who has ever battled a chronic health condition. I’ve suffered from chronic migraines since I was 15, and like Vanellope, I’ve often been riddled with fear that a migraine will “strike” in the wrong place or at the wrong time — on vacation, on your wedding day, the day of an important job interview. I imagine kids with epilepsy have similar fears about when a seizure will strike, or kids with Tourette’s about when they will “twitch,” or anyone with anxiety anticipating the next panic attack. These are all just regular people who occasionally fall prey to the failures of their own body’s chemistry despite even the best efforts to manage it.

Princess VanellopeI didn’t remember exactly how Vanellope’s storyline resolved itself, but I was dreading the moment when she was “cured” of her glitchiness. What message would this send to all the kids who probably won’t find a magic cure but instead need to learn to just manage their conditions and accept themselves? So I was pleased when the reset of the game didn’t actually cure her. Although it didn’t explain why the glitch wasn’t resolved, my husband (who is a software programmer) assures me that if a game’s code was sufficiently butchered, it could be very difficult to restore ALL of it to default, especially “if it’s a really big code base.”

So, Vanellope remaining a little “glitchy” is both emotionally satisfying and not a total plot hole. Which is why this is a 4-star movie for me despite all the gender stuff I ranted about in the first half of this post. Ralph, you better thank Vanellope!