Let’s Discuss…Disney Couples!

Happy St. Valentine’s Day, everybody!  Today’s discussion will be about…what else?

Who is your favorite Disney couple?

My personal favorite is Tiana/Naveen (of Maldonia) from The Princess and the Frog.  They have a lot of sweet, heartwarming moments together, like just about every Disney couple from the ’90’s onward.  But aside from good chemistry, Tiana and Naveen also demonstrate throughout the story that the more they come to care for each other, the more willing they are to make some pretty big sacrifices for each other.  Some detractors might complain that it’s not good to send a message to kids that they should be willing to throw away their whole lives for one person.  However, unlike, say, the shenanigans that go on in The Twilight Saga, Tiana and Naveen have a good relationship and neither one of them necessarily demands that the other should give up his/her dreams.  They’re willing to do it because they love each other that much.  Honestly, I think if we were all a little bit more willing to let go of our own desires to help other people, the world would be a nicer place.

Anyways, like Beauty and the Beast and Rapunzel and Flynn, these two characters do not start off on the right foot.  Tiana doesn’t want to date anybody; she’s more focused on finally opening up her own restaurant.  Naveen doesn’t want to really settle down either; he’s more focused on being lazy and having fun.  Once they get turned into frogs, they’re still at odds with each other, but like a lot of today’s Disney couples, they go through some misadventures and learn to appreciate each other more.  I like how they both widen each other’s horizons; Tiana by teaching Naveen how to mince mushrooms for her gumbo recipe, and Naveen by helping her learn to dance.  I also love how Naveen minces the food that he makes for her when he’s about to propose- awwww, the first Disney couple with their own inside joke!  Speaking of his hilarious attempt at a proposal, that’s one of the best scenes in the movie:

But then Naveen finds out that unless he marries a rich girl, he won’t be able to help Tiana by giving her the rest of the money she needs to buy her restaurant.  As for Tiana, she realizes that if Naveen marries someone else, she still won’t be completely happy even if she gets her restaurant.  I love the movie’s message that hard work and love are important, and especially that Naveen is willing to give up a life with Tiana if it would make her happy.  We don’t see that message about love shown very often in movies.  We’re usually told that love is about being with somebody no matter what, not “love is being willing to let go of someone if that’s what she needs/wants.”  Of course, everything gets resolved and cleared up in the typical Disney, happy-ending fashion; nonetheless, I really enjoyed watching them get to that resolution.

So, who’s your favorite couple, and why?  Discuss, and have a happy Valentine’s Day!

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Let’s Discuss: Pixar Movies!

Last week, I got a request to do a discussion about Pixar movies.  So, here we go: what’s your favorite Pixar movie, and why?

Here’s mine:

Picture found on Pixar Wiki

Why?  It has everything I could possibly want in a movie and then some.  It’s got great action sequences.  It has excellent humor that especially appeals to my inner geek.  (“You sly dog!  You got me monologing!”)  It tells an interesting story with great characters and it has a husband-and-wife conflict done so well, that I’m surprised the movie made it out of Hollywood!  Everything about this movie works really well!  The only reason it comes close to getting knocked down from my “favorite movie” slot is because I’ve watched it WAY too many times.

But every Pixar movie has adventure and humor and good character interaction.  For me, what sets The Incredibles apart from the others is just how much it appeals to my inner geek with the superhero genre.  Most importantly, it takes everything I love about the genre and takes it to the next level.  There are people who refuse to take a comic book or a movie about superheroes seriously because they can’t get over the fact that people with special powers and abilities don’t exist.  Some movies ignore that crowd, some address it by inserting lots of cheeky humor, but the best kind, like The Incredibles, The Dark Knight, Spiderman, X-Men: First Class, and most recently, The Avengers, take these fantastical situations and fill them with characters that feel like people we know, or at least people we would expect to encounter in our world.

The Parrs feel like a real family; they deal with daily little conflicts like bad traffic, Dash getting in trouble at school, and Violet struggling with self-confidence issues.  Bob and Helen love each other, but they often disagree on how best to raise their family.  All of these little conflicts are then magnified to reflect a more fantastical, unrealistic problem: hiding their superpowers from the rest of the world.  Bob thinks they should embrace who they are and resents having to live in hiding under government protection.  Helen doesn’t like it either but she decides to adapt in order to keep her family safe.  The kids have never even had the chance to really use their powers without restriction, leaving Violet feeling even more insecure about herself and wishing she didn’t have them at all.  Dash, like his dad, badly wants to embrace his powers and it’s his inability to do so that causes him to misbehave at school.

And then there’s the villain, Syndrome, who represents the frustrated geek in all of us fanboys and fangirls, albeit taken to the extreme.  In this sense, he represents a sizeable portion of The Incredibles‘s audience: who wouldn’t want to fight alongside his/her favorite heroes?  But his sympathetic backstory does not excuse his vicious actions, making him a very formidable villain for the Incredibles to face.  I also love how his dilemma is the polar opposite of the Parr family’s: their society doesn’t want to accept them as superhumans, but Syndrome’s problem is that he cannot accept himself.  In a way, they’re all struggling to suppress their true selves: the Parrs by pretending to be normal citizens, and Syndrome by pretending to be a superhero.

So yeah, this movie rocks.  Every second of every conversation, Omnidroid fight, and gorgeous visuals of Nomanisan Island just rocks.  And it teaches us the importance of always remembering where you put your supersuit:

So, what’s your favorite Pixar movie, and why?  Let’s discuss!

Let’s Discuss: The Black Cauldron

Is The Black Cauldron an underrated masterpiece or a less than satisfactory attempt by the Disney Animation Studio to try something different?

Picture found on Disney Wiki

My brother and I watched The Black Cauldron at a friend’s house when we were kids, and my reaction was a big, passionate, “Um…okay.  What did I just watch again?”  But Sleeping Beauty and Treasure Planet didn’t leave much of an impression with me the first time I watched them either, and I ended up loving both films.  So, years and years later, when I learned via the Internet about Black Cauldron‘s status as a cult classic, I decided to rent the DVD and give it another try.  This time, my reaction was a big, passionate…

“…um…okay…”

Undeterred, I watched it again (and I also read the first two installments of The Chronicles of Prydain, which the movie is loosely based on).  Since then, I’ve found that for some reason, the more I watch The Black Cauldron, the more I enjoy and appreciate it.  It definitely had ambition, being one of the only Disney animated movies that has no songs and coming from a genre known as “high fantasy,” with lots of action and dark landscapes that don’t come to mind when we think of Disney fairytales.  It was also made at a very tumultuous time in the history of Disney animation, admist the changing of executives (Walt’s son-in-law, Ron Miller, was replaced by Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Frank Wells), a strike, and disagreements between the animators that worked for the studio for decades and newcomers itching to make classics of their own.  A better account of the story can be found here: “Cauldron of CHAOS.”  Basically, the fact that Black Cauldron exists and looks as good as it does could probably be considered a miracle on its own.

But, above all else, I think The Black Cauldron and other movies like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet represent a paradox that I see in Disney fans and haters alike.  When the company is making traditional fairytale musicals like Beauty and the Beast or Tangled, we see complaints of, “Okay, that was great, but when are you going to do something different, Disney?”  And then when they do something completely different, like Atlantis or Black Cauldron, those movies just don’t do well at the box office.  Not nearly as well as those traditional fairytale musicals.

Yes, one could definitely argue that the advertising didn’t work or that the story was too weak to be entertaining, but at times, I think it goes beyond that.  (And I definitely don’t think there was anything wrong with Treasure Planet– that movie is 100% pure awesome!!)  I think that nowadays, we all have ingrained in our minds the idea of what a Disney movie “should” be, whether we like it or not.  People like me, who grew up in the ’90’s, are used to coming-of-age musicals with a love story, funny sidekicks, and a memorable scary villain that may or may not want to take over the world.  And while Black Cauldron had the memorable scary villain, it didn’t have most of the elements that we’ve come to expect from Disney.

Except the happy ending, of course! (Picture found on Disney Wiki)

But back to my original question: is The Black Cauldron really a good movie that deserves more love than it gets?  I don’t know…I think Taran, Eilonwy, and their friends are likeable enough, but the movie feels a little short to me.  The set-up is really good, but not a lot happens between the time when they escape from the Horned King to the moment when they find the cauldron that really gave me the sense that they’d become best pals.  There’s a little scene, right after they learn that there quest has been in vain, when Taran gets up and thanks Eilonwy, Fflewddur, and Gurgi for being such amazing, true friends, and I couldn’t help but think, “What did they do?  They just followed him to find Hen Wen and destroy the Cauldron- we still don’t know much about who they are or where they came from.”  They’re really just thrown together in the movie out of a necessity to escape the Horned King and after a brief, rocky start, they decide they need to work together to survive, and then suddenly they’re BFFs.

Speaking of the Horned King, all he really has going for him, as a character, is a terrifying design and a sadistic plan to conquer Prydain via an undead army.  I suppose he’s threatening enough when he appears, and I like how quickly the film establishes that it’s one thing for Taran to fantasize about fighting the Horned King and another to actually face him.  But he’s hardly in the movie at all, except at the beginning and in the climax, so no matter how many times I watch it, I don’t find him all that interesting.

Nonetheless, as I said at the beginning of this post, every time I watch The Black Cauldron, I like it a little more.  I especially love Eilonwy; she’s not as funny as she was in the books, but I like her early chemistry with Taran and how she serves as a bit of a foil to his heroic fantasies immediately after they escape.  I also appreciate what the movie was trying to be, and while it’s not the best that Disney’s ever done, it’s still fairly good.

What do you guys think of The Black Cauldron?  As always, let’s discuss it!

Let’s Discuss: Pocahontas

Can Pocahontas still be considered a good, enjoyable movie even if it’s historically inaccurate?

Pocahontas was the first movie I saw in theaters that didn’t leave me feeling completely terrified.  (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Lion King and Toy Story!)  Just the opposite in fact; I loved it.  Pocahontas was my heroine and all I wanted to do was pretend to live in the forest with my animal friends and fight off that nasty Governor Radcliffe (and I suppose that was completely missing the point of the movie, but oh well…).  Looking back on my childhood, I went through many little “phases” of loving one Disney (or non-Disney) movie more than any other: Snow White, Cinderella, The Lion King, Anastasia (yes, I am fully aware that’s not a Disney movie), Mulan, etc.  But out of all the animated heroines that I loved, Pocahontas was the one who resonated with me the most.  And I didn’t just put her doll on my Christmas list.  I wanted John Smith, Nakoma, Kocum, Chief Powhatan…everybody.  (Guess I was a die-hard fangirl collector before I even knew what that meant!)

I think that, while I loved animals and playing outside as much as Pocahontas did, part of why I loved her so much had to do with her personality.  Those who don’t like her character sometimes complain that she was just like every other strong, independent ’90’s woman at the time and there wasn’t much more to her than her serious agenda.  But to a shy, introverted little girl like me, Pocahontas was amazing.  She paddled her canoe down waterfalls with no fear!  When John Smith unintentionally insulted her family and called her a savage, she gave him a verbal smackdown!  She faced down two angry opposing armies and stood up for what she believed in!  She was loving and kind, but also strong and brave.  She just radiated confidence, while I was getting less and less adept at that sort of thing.  She was just so cool.

And she smiles a lot more than the promotional materials would have you believe! (Picture found on Disney Wiki)

So, as you’ve probably guessed, the whole issue of Disney’s Pocahontas being very historically inaccurate and offensive to descendants of the Powhatan tribe make me feel very uncomfortable.  My initial opinion was, “But it’s a Disney movie.  It might not be authentic history, but it tells a good story.  So what if they changed a few things?”  Then I checked out the page on Wikipedia and started reading about the criticisms to see just what it was that Native Americans were so upset about.  They had a link to the reaction of the Powhatan nation, and it’s pretty harsh: http://www.powhatan.org/pocc.html   And…I can see their point.

Now, I don’t think the Native Americans come off looking bad in the movie at all.  They’re just trying to protect their home.  When the English settlers first arrive, the tribe smells trouble, but the chief advises that they just observe and see what the newcomers are doing.  It’s Radcliffe that flips out and tells his men to start shooting.  Also, unlike the real John Smith’s account of the “clubbing incident,” the Disney Powhatan comes off more justified in his decision, because he believes that Smith killed one of his best warriors and attacked his daughter.  (Which sort of begs the question: why didn’t Pocahontas tell him what really happened?  That might’ve stopped the execution…)

But the movie does alter and trivialize the real story and ultimately, I think the reason why few people care is because these events happened too long ago.  If the Disney company made an animated musical love story about the terrorist attacks on September 11th and twisted many of the facts to suit the story that they wanted to tell, there’d be a huge uproar, and rightly so.  Those who watch The Nostalgia Critic and his reviews of two horrible animated musicals about the Titanic disaster shudder, laugh, and roll their eyes.  We wonder how those people could’ve had the audacity to turn such a tragic event into a cheesy story in the style of a Saturday morning cartoon, and rightly so.  So why is it any different when it’s a story about the mistreatment of Native Americans who lived many centuries ago?  Because they’re not alive anymore, so they can’t complain about what they experienced?

And yet…unlike those Titanic movies, Pocahontas displays stunning, gorgeous animation and beautiful music.  It’s not subtle, nor is it very factual, but its message of peace and understanding between different cultures is important.  This Pocahontas might not be like her real-life counterpart, but she’s still a fantastic role model for young women and a Disney character that will always have a very special place in my heart.

But enough about my opinion.  What do you think of Pocahontas?  Let’s discuss!

Let’s Discuss: Are the Disney Princesses good role models?

Could the Disney Princesses be considered good role models for children?

Welcome back to another discussion topic!

I’ve been around the virtual block a few times, and it seems like people tend to fall into three categories on this subject:

  1. No, of course not!  They’re awful role models!  They teach our girls that the only important things in life are to get married and have a pretty face!  All they do is sit around and sing to their animal friends until their boyfriends come to save them from their pathetic worries and woes!  God help our daughters if they ever think they should rely on a man for anything!
  2. Totally!  They’re sweet and kind and pretty!  Who cares if they all have boyfriends and dance at balls?  Those things are fun!  What are you, anti-love?  Stop attacking my childhood!
  3. Who cares?  Children shouldn’t rely on a bunch of cartoon characters to be their role models anyway!  They should be learning from their parents, teachers, and their peers, not from what they see on TV.  People need to stop blaming the media for their children’s problems.  If they’re letting fictional characters educate their children, then they’re not doing their jobs.

I think, while people in the third camp raise some good points, they’re ultimately failing to understand the world we live in.  It’s not a question of whether or not kids should be learning from Disney Princesses or any other form of media, as opposed to the real people in their lives.  The media is just as much a part of our lives as anything else, so to suggest it wouldn’t have any influence on us at all is just silly.  You can’t expect parents to shield their kids entirely from television, movies, books, games, and the like.  And while it might not have the impact that alarmists like to imagine (i.e. girls eloping with the first rich, cute boys they meet, boys turning to violence to solve their problems after playing one too many rounds of Call of Duty, etc.) the entertainment that we absorb can still help shape the kind of people we grow up to be.

So, back to the Disney Princesses.

Picture found on Disney Wiki

What do you think?  Judging from their prominent place in Disney Stores everywhere, little girls adore them, but is that a good thing?

Honestly, I love the Disney Princesses too.  And while I think there are better role models for girls at the moment (like Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, or, as a Disney example, Mrs. Incredible from The Incredibles), there are many more that could be worse.  (I’m looking at you, Bella Swan.)  And to say that the Princesses only sit around and wait for their men to save them only really describes Snow White and Aurora.  Could anyone honestly say the same for Belle, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, or Rapunzel?  You might even recall that in Pocahontas, the climax centered around her attempt to save John Smith, not the other way around.

On the other hand…it doesn’t seem like the princesses’ stronger qualities get emphasized all that much in the merchandise surrounding them.  We don’t see Pocahontas or Mulan very often, and almost everything about these girls is tea parties and giggles and pink dresses and magical nights with cute boys.  Just look at some of the songs they sing on their official soundtracks.  (Princess Ariel “just loves getting dressed for tea?”  Since when?)  So if you just took what you saw in the Disney Store at face value, it’s not hard to see how people could come away with the impression that the girls act like this in their movies too, rather than getting down to business to defeat the Huns.

Well, I could write term papers on why I love the Princesses, why I think they have potential, whether or not they’re misrepresented by the very company that created them, whether or not the criticisms against them are valid, and whether or not they make good role models for kids.  But this is post is meant to start a discussion.  I’d much rather here what other people think and respond accordingly.  So please, by all means, leave a comment and say whether or not you think these ten ladies deserve all the attention they’ve gotten from Disney and girls everywhere!