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!)

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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.”

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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.
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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.

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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.

Alistair_Krei_Big_Hero_6

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 .

big-hero-six

 

 

 

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!

 

Urgent Message: Please Don’t Bomb Agrabah!!

So, apparently 1/3 of Republican voters stated that they would be in support of bombing Agrabah in a recent poll. (If I ever needed a reason not to vote Republican …)

The analysts wanted to see how many people would have a knee-jerk response to a name that sounded Middle Eastern.

All I can say, is those people are monsters. What did Aladdin and Jasmine and the gang ever do to them?

We must speak out about this injustice.

Save Agrabah!!!

agrabah

Thousands of innocent cartoon characters will die!!!

Week 51: Winnie the Pooh

First Theatrical Release: April 15, 2011 (UK); and July 15, 2011 (US)

First Home Viewing Release:August 22, 2011 (UK); and October 25, 2011 (US)

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Where I Found It: My library’s DVD collection

Bechdel Test Score: Failed. Female characters include Kanga. That. Is. All.


Wait a minute, didn’t we already do this back in week 22? Apparently, much to my dismay, Disney was not yet done with Pooh in 1977, forcing me to sit through not one, but two feature-length Pooh movies for this project. Luckily, this one was only 63 minutes. (Which is one of the things the critics didn’t like about it.)

Although this movie was made 44 years after the original, it stayed fairly true to the first one in tone and style, even if some of the voices felt a little “off.” But this one did not skimp on the creepy, trippy forays into the characters’ imaginations, much as we all know and love/hate from the first one. (The Heffalumps and Woozels sequence has gotta be one of the scariest in the whole Disney canon.)

Nonetheless, Roger Ebert called THIS movie “a nightmare-proof experience for even the youngest viewers.” He must’ve been watching a different movie than me.

Also, as light-hearted as this movie seems, its two main through-line stories are pretty dark. I felt physically uncomfortable while watching this movie in a way I haven’t in most of the others. Here’s why.

Eeyore, Maimed

So, the movie starts out with Eeyore discovering that he is “incomplete” and that his tail has disappeared. He goes through the whole movie hoping to be reunited to his missing body part, and Christopher Robin bribes his friends with a promise of a honey pot to whoever finds a suitable tail replacement for Eeyore. This motivates them to attempt to affix all sorts of inappropriate objects to his ass, such as cuckoo clocks, balloons, scarves, etc.  Is it significant that Eeyore puts forth absolutely no effort on his own behalf? I mean, aside from the fact that he’s suffering from clinical depression.

WINNIE THE POOH

“WINNIE THE POOH” Film Frame Eeyore ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

tail doorbellIn the end, Pooh finds that Owl is using Eeyore’s tail as a handle for his doorbell, which is also kind of creepy. Also, it’s disturbing that Owl does not even recognize his friend’s body part. Pay more attention to your friends, Owl!

There’s one scene with Eeyore that is especially squirm-inducing. Tigger decides that he is going to transform Eeyore into “Tigger 2,” and he attaches a spring to Eeyore’s rump so that he can bounce with Tigger. He also paints stripes on him. All of this occurs without Eeyore’s consent, and he goes through the whole episode looking bewildered and a little violated. And as I was watching, I kept asking myself, Why is this making me so uncomfortable?

tigger 2

And near the end of the sequence, I was like, “I know what this is! This is an extrovert trying to force an introvert to live in his world and play by his rules.”

eeyore underwaterTigger is short-sighted or self-centered enough that he doesn’t pick up on any of Eeyore’s clues that he is not having a good time. He assumes that since he likes all the stimulation, Eeyore must like it, too. And Eeyore, in typical introvert fashion, takes longer to gather his thoughts (especially while being bombarded with an extrovert’s energy) and also does not enjoy confrontation, so he doesn’t speak up about how draining he finds the Tigger lifestyle to be. Eventually, he manages to escape it by hiding at the bottom of a river, and that’s when everything really “clicked” for me — as I have found myself hiding in many a bathroom rather than pretend to enjoy something I do not, or show that I’m NOT enjoying it and be branded as a poor sport, overly negative, etc.

So, yeah, Eeyore, I’m right down at the bottom of that river with ya.

Pooh, Starved

The other through-line that is even MORE disturbing because it is so visceral is Pooh’s hunger.

He awakes, as many of us do, with his tummy grumbling. But then he finds that his honey pots are all empty (been there), and he goes out into the world, letting his tummy lead the way, searching for something to eat. But he runs into Eeyore and gets involved in the whole tail debacle before he finds anything to eat, and because he is hungry, he becomes especially fixated on being the one to locate a new tail so he can win the honey pot prize and GET SOMETHING TO EAT.

pooh pitIt’s kind of a running gag throughout the movie that Pooh keeps coming into close contact with honey but never eating more than a little bit. He gets a honey pot given to him when he finds a substitute tail for Eeyore, only to have it taken away when the tail doesn’t work out. He tries to get a honey pot down from on top of a bookshelf at Owl’s house, but Owl pulls out the stack of books he is standing on so he can no longer reach it. He finds a honey pot left out for the “Backson” but remembers that it’s only bait and thus, empty. And through this all, the plot continues — the gang tries to hunt a creature that doesn’t actually exist, they fall into a hole, they do all sorts of silly things. AND POOH IS STILL HUNGRY.

At least a full day goes by in the course of this movie, and my stomach was aching with sympathy the longer it went on. Sure, none of the other characters ate much during the course of the movie, either, but they probably had breakfast. And all of them INSIST that Pooh just keep going along with the present adventures, absolutely indifferent to the fact that THEIR FRIEND IS WEAK WITH HUNGER.

Pooh, you’ve got some really bad friends.

I related to Pooh because I often feel acutely at the mercy of my body just as he is in this movie. Whereas my husband can eat lunch and then “forget” to eat again until nine at night, my body insists that I feed it at least every four hours, regardless of whether it’s convenient or not. And when my body makes such insistences, I cannot concentrate on work, I snap at friends and family, and pretty much just feel like life is a big pile of suck until I finally get my hands on a protein bar. Hopefully I haven’t developed a migraine in the meantime.

What’s interesting about Pooh’s hunger in this movie is that it’s the only time we see a Disney character who is totally driven by a corporal need. Usually our main characters have loftier end goals. Aladdin wants to live in the palace. Ariel wants to be human. Pongo and Perdita want to find their puppies. Lady wants to endear herself to Jim Dear and Darling after the baby’s birth. Belle wants adventure. The fact that all these characters must also have physical needs is glossed over as unseemly. But not with Pooh. Pooh JUST WANTS TO EAT. And really, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.

honey

So, to all Pooh’s friends: food does not need to be EARNED. It should not be given out as a “prize.” It’s a human right, and the next time your friend is hungry, invite him inside and give him a sandwich, for God’s sake, and have your adventures after.

 

 

 

 

Week 50: Tangled

First Theatrical Release: November 14, 2010

First Home Viewing Release: March 29, 2011

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Where I Found ItMy Big Box o’ Disney Love

Bechdel Test Score: Passed. Female characters are limited to Rapunzel, Mother Goethel, and the Queen. But within the first few minutes of the movie, Rapunzel and Mother Goethel talk about Rapunzel’s birthday and her desire to leave the tower.


 

Tangled was the movie I wanted to see ever since I realized that Disney wasn’t comin’ up with all these movie ideas on their own. Once I knew that Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty existed independently of Disney’s renditions, I started thinking of other fairy tales that I’d like to see get the Disney treatment. “Rapunzel” was at the top of my list.

I may have had to wait till I was 29, but Disney finally came through.

I’m not sure that it was everything I dreamed it would be, but it’s still a nice, feel-good movie, with just enough depth to keep it from feeling like total fluff.

Mother Knows Best

gothel and rapunzel

A couple years ago, I debated with one of my friends about whether Mother Goethel as presented in Tangled really loves Rapunzel or not. It had been a few years since I’d seen the movie (this week was only my second viewing of it), and I remembered getting the impression that Gothel did love Rapunzel. My friend argued that she didn’t, that she was just using Rapunzel and taking advantage of her innocence to make her think she loved her.

On this week’s watching, I was surprised and a little appalled by the way Mother Gothel treats Rapunzel. Out of all the snarky things she says to her and all the ways she belittles her, there is only one interaction that seems loving and not manipulative.

gothel and rapunzel hugStrangely, this was the only interaction from my first viewing of the movie that I remembered.

It is Mother Goethel’s agreement to take a three-day trip to bring Rapunzel back a certain white paint that she wants for her birthday.

Now, this trip is crucial to the plot, because it is during this time that Rapunzel first encounters Flynn and subsequently plots her escape with him. But what motivates Mother Gothel to leave? Traveling three days to get something that’s not important to you is much more taxing than empty words about how much you love your adopted daughter. If Gothel does not love Rapunzel, then does she make the trip simply to appease her and make her stop asking to leave? (Also, I wondered how Rapunzel even KNEW what day her birthday was — doesn’t this imply that Goethel must have taught her to mark the years, and done so in a celebratory enough manner that Rapunzel felt she could ask for something special?)

Determining whether Gothel loves Rapunzel or not mostly comes down to your definition of love. If you think love means putting the needs of the beloved before your own, then Gothel certainly does not love Rapunzel. But if love means not being able to imagine your life without a certain person in it, then I think one could argue that Gothel does love Rapunzel in her own way.

But this question becomes mostly irrelevant in the context of the movie, because whether she loves her adopted daughter or not, Gothel is an abuser.

Watching the Disney movies in such quick succession, I was struck by how similar Goethel’s treatment of Rapunzel is to Frollo’s treatment of Quasimodo. (Now I understand all the fan-art that shows Frollo and Goethel hooking up!) But more than The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is mostly about learning to see beyond assumptions about people, Tangled, for all its fun song-and-dance numbers and laugh-out-loud moments, is also a movie about healing from abuse.

Before Rapunzel leaves the tower, we see how nervously she petitions Goethel for indulgences, and how quickly she backpedals when Goethel refuses (and makes her feel guilty for asking in the first place.) Although the scene where Rapunzel vacillates between her joy at being free and her overwhelming guilt about disobeying her mother is mostly humorous, there is some real pain there, too. And although exaggerated, it also rings true to the complicated emotions of someone breaking free of abuse.


When Flynn and Rapunzel are later trapped in the flooding cave, Rapunzel breaks down and blames herself for the whole situation, even though they are being pursued because of Flynn’s thieving, NOT her decision to leave the tower. And just as she is beginning to regain her confidence after a day spent in the city and a romantic boat ride with Flynn, Gothel returns to undermine her once more, essentially telling her that she can’t ever come back home (“Don’t come crying”) if Flynn ends up betraying her.

Still, Rapunzel does exactly that, rushing into her mother’s arms in tears when she thinks Flynn has abandoned her and allowing herself to be led meekly back into captivity. Soon after, she will confront Gothel and call her on her lies in a scene that is incredibly reminiscent of Quasimodo’s final dressing down of Frollo.

Disney is often criticized for bastardizing the symbolism in the original tales with their tweaks and sanitization, but despite the many changes made to the story of Rapunzel, the archetypal message of a girl struggling to attain independence from her mother remains remarkably intact. Indeed, Disney takes it a step further and allows Rapunzel to heal her mother-wound in a way not offered in the original.

baby rapunzel and motherIn the language of fairy tales, “wicked stepmothers” and “witches” are often symbolic of the dark side of the child’s real mother. These figures emerge in the story when the child has reached that age when she  begins to realize that the parents are not the perfect, godlike figures she believed them to be. Recasting the parent in the role of villain gives the child the courage to separate and become independent while preserving the memory of the “perfect parent” from childhood.

Rapunzel new familyThis happens in real families all the time as teenagers and mothers butt heads. But what the fairy tales often don’t acknowledge is that on the other side of these struggles is the opportunity for mother and daughter to come back together as adults to forge a new, different but just-as-enduring bond. In the Grimm version of the tale, Rapunzel is exiled from the tower by Gothel and wanders in the wilderness until she is eventually reunited with her prince. In Disney’s version, she is restored to the mother she lost as a child, soothed with the return of the “good mother” after she has completed her separation and attained independence from the “bad mother.” This approximates the mature relationship many daughters come to enjoy with their own mothers — but often only after leaving home.

Boyfriend Knows Best

I’ll be frank: I’m not a big fan of Flynn. I don’t go for the “cad” type, and I don’t like that his relationship with Rapunzel begins with him basically trying to dupe her out of the deal they made by first agreeing with her that it’s better if she just stays, and then bringing her to a tavern that he thinks will scare her off. In his own way, he’s as manipulative as Gothel is in the beginning.

Of course, he changes course rather quickly around the time that he realizes Rapunzel’s got this dope glowing hair and healing powers, and soon her innocence and enthusiasm win his heart. In a story that is about Rapunzel breaking free of her abusive mother and attaining autonomy, I don’t take issue with the fact that she finds some of her redemption in a man. After all, many people find that the first steps toward healing from abuse happen through a relationship with someone who sees them through new eyes.

But it does make me uncomfortable that, after Rapunzel finally confronts her mother near the end of the movie, just a few minutes later she is promising herself back into a life of confinement and virtual slavery just for the chance to heal Flynn (or Eugene, by this point.) After all those years of subjecting her needs to her mother’s, now she’s back to putting herself second. Not only that, but she doesn’t even know where she stands with Eugene when she agrees to make this sacrifice — even though he came back for her, she never got an explanation for why he seemingly abandoned her after getting the crown earlier in the movie.

haircutEugene, to his credit, is not willing to see Rapunzel returned to her role as a prisoner now that she’s tasted freedom. So even though he’s dying, with his last breaths he cuts off Rapunzel’s hair, effectively robbing Gothel of Rapunzel’s power and forcing her to rapidly age and die.

By cutting off her hair, Eugene frees Rapunzel from Gothel’s clutches, but he also robs her of her power — all without her consent. HE’s the one who sets her free, HE’s the one who saves her, even though the entire emotional journey of the movie rests on Rapunzel attaining her independence. This final rescue left me feeling dissatisfied, as if that much-needed independence still had not been achieved.

And sure, Rapunzel ends up saving Eugene’s life shortly thereafter — but while Eugene’s act of saving Rapunzel is fully intentional, Rapunzel’s subsequent saving of Eugene is almost accidental. She simply succumbs to emotion and weeps, and then — surprise! Her lover is brought back to life.

healing flynn

So after Eugene saves Rapunzel and Rapunzel saves Eugene we’re even-steven, right? Time to go off and enjoy an egalitarian relationship?

flynn wantedOne can hope. Except that Eugene is the one who gets to tell this story. Even though he admits up front that it’s not really “his story,” we see it through his lens nonetheless. He also gets the last word, and he uses it to assure viewers that gender roles remain intact — he proposed to Rapunzel, not the other way around.

There’s so much I like about Tangled. The fact that it’s based on one of my favorite fairy tales EVER. The gorgeous animation. The attention given to the complicated dynamics of Gothel’s and Rapunzel’s relationship. The musical numbers. A heroine that is both innocent and bold and not overly sexualized, who mostly looks and acts like an 18-year-old. But then there is Flynn/Eugene. And that, my friends, cost the movie a whole half star point. Sorry, Rapunzel.

rapunzel upset