Friday, 21 January 2011

Who's Your Daddy?

*edit, 6:09pm* I have moved Mulan from the "one parent" category to the "parent death" category.

Having noticed that I started this blog on a Disney kick, with Disney and Pixar's "Monster's Inc." on Wednesday and a discussion of the Beast's age yesterday, I decided to round off the week with one of my favorite rants - What does Disney have against parents?

To keep this simple, I'm going to limit the discussion to animation, although live-action Disney is not blameless in this rant. (After all, is there anything more screwed up than the family in "The Parent Trap"? What parents decide "I can't stand to be around you anymore, so let's each take a twin and never speak to the other child again"?! But I digress.)

Disney has something major against complete families. To illustrate this point, I found a list of all of Disney's theatrically released animated films and organized them into categories.

Films in which one or both parents die during the movie
The Lion King
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Brother Bear
The Princess and the Frog

Films in which a main character is an orphan
Peter Pan
Lady and the Tramp
The Sword in the Stone
The Jungle Book
The Rescuers
The Fox and the Hound
The Black Cauldron
Oliver & Company
The Emperor's New Groove
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Lilo & Stitch
Meet the Robinsons

Films in which a main character has one parent only
The Aristocats
The Great Mouse Detective
The Little Mermaid
The Rescuers Down Under
Beauty and the Beast
Treasure Planet
Chicken Little

Films in which a main character has a step-parent
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Films in which the parents are conspicuously missing
Alice in Wonderland
Robin Hood
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Fantasia 2000
Home on the Range

Films in which a main character has two parents, but is kidnapped or raised elsewhere
Sleeping Beauty
One Hundred and One Dalmatians

Films in which all main character have two parents who raise them

Not included in these lists are Pixar films, straight-to-video sequels, and a handful of films involving short stories featuring the Mickey Mouse crew...which I'll get to in a minute.

Now I'm certain some of these can (and will) be contested. Certainly there is overlap between categories. I will be happy to defend my categorizations for anybody who desires that. However, it remains clear that Disney films are overwhelmingly occupied by children who were raised without two parents. Now, this could simply be for plot purposes. A character who doesn't face adversity is often a boring one...and what adversity is more accessible to children than the absence of parents? Certainly, some Disney characters support this idea...for example, for Aladdin, Oliver, Hercules and Jim Hawkins their parentage is a primary motivator or catalyst in their stories.

However, that does not account for characters whose parentage is immaterial but still only seem to have one parent at most. Why can't Jasmine, Chicken Little or Pocahontas have mothers? Why remove Cinderella's father and replace her mother's spirit with a Fairy Godmother for that matter? To bring Pixar into it...why does Andy not have a father? It's not important, so why do it.

Further damning is the Mickey Mouse crew itself.

Again, with the classic group we have a huge bias against parents. First of all, over the entire long history of the group, Mickey and Minnie and Donald and Daisy have yet to get married...remaining couples without actual vows. Whatever...all of media is based on that pre-resolution couple's tension. Have Booth and Bones got together yet? I rest my case. More important are the kids.

First there's Maximilian Goof. Max appears in several cartoons, as well as the Goofy Movies. He is Goofy's son. The mother is missing. To my (sketchy) recollection, there was actually a sweet little cartoon featuring Goofy explaining his mother's death to a young, redhead Max, (known as Goofy Jr. at the time). Early cartoons featured a "Mrs. Goofy" but the assumption is that she passed away at some point.

Next are the nephew groups...Morty and Ferdie, Mickey's twin nephews, and Huey, Dewey and Louie, Donald Duck's triplet nephews.

I personally don't remember either group's parents...although further investigation has turned up some transient parental figures. Morty and Ferdie, the few times they appear, visit Mickey but make no mention of their parents. According to my research, Mickey has a sister...usually named "Amelia Fieldmouse" who may have a husband although he's never shown. Other nieces and nephews exist, but Morty and Ferdie are the only ones I remember. My point is that this sister is never mentioned unless Morty and Ferdie are present. Is Mickey's relationship with his sister that bad that he only talks to her when he wants his nephews to visit?

Huey, Dewey and Louie are even worse. They appear frequently in Disney, but never with their parents. (Research reveals a mom whose name changes much like Morty and Ferdie's, and either no father or a father in the hospital depending on the cartoon). They are often visiting their Uncle Donald (who, in the original "Donald's Nephews" is clearly NOT on good terms with his sister, whom he seems to be mad at). They also spend an extended time with their great uncle Scrooge McDuck in the Ducktales series. This says a lot about their mother, who seems to be on bad terms with both her brother and uncle and does not seem to mind spending great periods of time away from her hell-raising children.

All-in-all it paints a very sordid picture of Disney's idea of a family. Suddenly, "Lord of the Flies" doesn't seem so sensational.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


There is something that modern-day consumers of the entertainment industry COMPLETELY overlook 99% of the time - historical context.

We're not completely oblivious, our barely-remembered history classes let us realize when films are being absurdly anachronistic (Think "Knight's Tale".) or are sacrificing realism for sexiness. (Think almost all the costuming in period pieces)

However, you'd be surprised by some of the implications of a story taking place in a different country and/or different time period. Often, unless you really, really, REALLY think hard about it, the historical details will elude you. Usually, they're unimportant to the story as a whole. Why should you care then? BECAUSE THE FACTS, IF YOU REALIZE THEM, WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

There is no better example of this than the age of characters. How often do we actually know the exact age of characters in any given story? It's very rare that it comes up if it's not a relevant plot point. However, even if it's not relevant to the plot, it can be relevant to how you view the message of the story.

In the literary world, my favorite example is Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". It is a perfect example because it is possibly the most well-known and the most poorly-interpreted story of all time.

Here's why: It's not a love story. Not really. Or it is, but the romance isn't the point. It's right there in the first lines.

"Two households, both alike in dignity, 
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, 
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, 
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean."

If the play were a research paper, this would be the thesis. The family feud is clearly the focus. As for the romance…well…

There are two major problems I have with the "romance" in Romeo and Juliet. First, Shakespeare makes it a point to show you that Romeo is fickle. At the beginning of the play, he's talking about how he's completely in love...with a girl named Rosalyn. He has a beautiful speech about how amazing she is, and then completely forgets about her when he meets Juliet. Second, given the time period...Juliet is most likely around 13 years old.

Do you know any 13 year olds? Talked to any Middle Schoolers lately? What would you say if they told you they had fallen in love and they couldn't live without their boyfriend/girlfriend?

Yeah, I'd laugh too.

The point is that it changes the meaning of the story. Drastically.

Ok, enough Shakespeare.

Disney movies are a particular love of mine. I love children's movies. They're bright and happy, full of color and music. Plus, I become amused at how grim tales become happily-ever-after Disney moments. Anyone who's read a real fairy tale has to find amusement in seeing how Disney skims past the less kid-friendly parts.

Historical context can tell us that Jasmine is likely around 13. She's pre-pubescent certainly, given her outfit. Yet she certainly has way more curves than a girl that age should. Disney makes their characters look older to ease the minds of the viewing audience.

Sure, this could just be a case of Disney not really caring for accuracy. One movie, however, makes me think otherwise. One movie has a character whose age is actually stated, although the implications are buried carefully, and is shown to look much older than he should.

The Beast, of "Beauty and the Beast", is 20 years old during the film. We know this. His enchanted rose is supposed to die on his 21st birthday, which is apparently at the end of the film. However, there is one more solid mention of time in the film.

One day, I was looking up the lyrics to "Be Our Guest" when I noticed a line I'd never paid attention to before. Lumiere is talking about how miserable they've been while under the curse and about how bored and how lonely they had been before she arrived.

During his dramatic little monologue, he tells Belle how long they'd been under the curse. "Ten years we have been rusting!" he claims.

Ten years. Ten years?! That would make the Beast ten or eleven when that enchantress cursed him. Ten! EVERYONE is selfish at ten years old. Kinda harsh. I thought maybe he wasn't aging or something, but the rose is set to die on his 21st birthday.

So he was ten. That's for certain. The portrait in his wing and the stained glass prologue don't show a ten year old though. They show him as he appears at the age of 21, when he transforms back from the Beast. Obviously, they couldn't show a ten year old being they show a young man being cursed and hope nobody notices.

And be honest, did you?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

"Avatar" is just a rip-off of "Monster's Inc."

Stop looking at me like that.

No really, stop.

If you've gone to a cinema at all in the past year, you have seen the epic (and I mean epic in the sense of it being FREAKING LONG) CGI wet-dream that is "Avatar". Visually stunning, mechanically uncomfortable, and as ham-handed with the environmentalist propaganda as "Ferngully" but without Tim Curry, Robin Williams, or eighties-era hilarity.

Now, I'm going to make something very clear. I liked Avatar. I saw it in the theaters and thought it was very pretty. As I am a geek, I found the concept of hooking your brain up directly to a giant world-wide super computer very appealing. Besides, I like fantasy…and this had the flavor of every fantasy novel ever written…even if the mechanics of it were a bit shallow in comparison. (Think Eragon to Lord of the Rings).

Besides, I'm not a film snob. I love indie films and dark comedies, but I am just as capable of enjoying a bad film. In fact, I absolutely adore a hilariously terrible film. ("Xanadu" with Olivia Newton John is a particular favorite.) I find movies like "Wedding Crashers" and "Zoolander" just as satisfying as "Amelie" and "Synecdoche, New York" if in completely different ways. So the fact that everything James Cameron does is painfully mainstream and overly-marketed really didn't cut my enjoyment that much.

So yeah, I liked Avatar. Would I see it again? If there was nothing good on TV.

So why do I not worship the ground James Cameron walks on? It has to do with my first rule of Literature.

Any creative work should evoke an emotion, not force one.

So your friend wants to demonstrate to you, through film, that drowning puppies is wrong. You see two films. The first has a very righteous tone. You listen to people argue, vehemently, about the wrongness of drowning puppies. This is accompanied by BAD MEN drowning puppies anyway. The second film is generally happy. You are introduced to one or two very specific puppies. They have names and you are given a solid hour to get to know them and watch them be generally adorable. You grow to love them. At this point, during the climax, they are stuck in a river and are very close to drowning, and you are incredibly relieved that they are ok.

Which one worked better? The one where you are shown and told that puppy drowning is wrong. Or the one where you felt that it would be a terrible thing for a puppy to drown and made the connection on your own? Sure, after each film you probably felt very strong about your anti-puppy-drowning convictions. However, you likely leave the first thinking "Puppy Drowning is Bad because it's Bad." You leave the second thinking "I Love Puppies and Would Feel Awful if Something Happened To Them."

Avatar is definitely in camp #1.

"But Brie" I hear you say in my mind "This rant is all very well-and-good, but what does this have to do with Monster's Inc.?"

I'm so glad you asked, figments of my imagination. (And as this blog is brand new and has no followers as of my writing really are fictional, dear reader.)

Allow me to restate my thesis: Avatar is just a cheap ripoff of Monster's Inc.

Yes. That Monster's Inc. The animated one. By Disney and Pixar. John Goodman, Billy Crystal etc.

No. It's not just because they feature a giant, blue protagonist.

It is because they are LITERALLY the same film plot-wise.

In case you are one of those sad people who don't watch children's films because you feel they are beneath you, allow me to explain the plot of "Monster's Inc."

There is a large corporation dedicated to obtaining a fuel source for the benefit of society. The protagonist works for this company and is in fact a key employee, singled out by the director of the corporation.

The fuel source is in the hand of a strange foreign people of a completely different species. Understanding of this foreign populace is very limited, but it is generally understood that they are DIFFERENT and SCARY. However, they are believed to be inferior, and are capable of being tricked out of their fuel source…especially since they don't really consider it a fuel source. Protagonist is charged with doing just this. However, in the course of performing his duties, he accidentally comes into contact with a girl from this foreign species. As time goes on he grows to understand the girl and have deep feelings for her. He becomes determined to protect her from what he's beginning to understand as the cruel and ignorant treatment of her species by his company. This culminates in an epic conflict with the director of his company. In the end, he stops the company and finds that through understanding and kind treatment of the other species, fuel can be obtained more easily and ethically.

Seriously, the only way this plot differs from Avatar is that in the end, instead of abandoning his own people, the protagonist manages to negotiate peaceful interaction between the two species and STILL get the damn fuel that his own people actually need. Which is a better ending anyway.

Those of you who have seen Monster's Inc. are now going through my synopsis and trying to reconcile it with what you remember of the movie. This is because it wasn't made to shove this moral down your throat. It's carefully hidden under the adorable story-telling and your concern for Boo. It concentrates on creating empathy with the main characters, not on The Message.

Please, tell me I'm wrong. I like telling people my opinion, I LOVE getting to argue it. Besides, I've been rolling this comparison around in my head for weeks and would love to iron out any holes in it if I can. If you see a weak point in this post, comment and let me know. The only thing more fun for an English major than literary analysis is literary discussion.

Also, as this is a new blog, please let me know what I can do to improve. Do I rant too much? Does my writing style annoy you? Do I annoy you? Too long? Too short? Any and all criticism welcome. Until next time, cheers!

You've Been Bit a rabid Literature Major. Symptoms include seeing sexual metaphors everywhere, regular metaphors almost everywhere, and generally over-thinking everything you see. I assume you'd like to know what this blog is about.

As I enter my final year of Liberal Arts College ™ and become ever closer to obtaining my English Literature and Psychology degrees, I realize how much my perspective has been totally, completely, and irreversibly skewed. Forever.

First of all, when you go to a Liberal Arts College ™ you quickly begin to let every field of study bleed into every other field of study. And once that leak has been established, the floodgates open. Suddenly, everywhere you look you see the things you've been learning about. I find that this makes it impossible to interact normally with others.

SCENE - movie theatre, patrons come streaming out chattering happily, finishing off too-large sodas and trailing popcorn in their wake

Friend - "Wow, that was a really good movie!"
Me - "Totally, didn't you just love that dreary ending?"
Friend - "Dreary ending?"
Me - "Yeah! It's refreshing to see a non-hollywood ending. Happily ever after is nice, but having the character die in the end…You're looking at me funny."
Friend - "He didn't die in the end. What are you talking about?"
Me - "You didn't get the way ____ stood as a figurative representation of death?"
Friend - "…"
Me - "Never mind."


SCENE - a car barreling down the highway. Top 40 radio is on.

*California Girls they're unbelievable! Daisy dukes, bikinis on top!*
Me - Ugh. Can't we listen to something else?
Friend - Hush. I like this song.
Me - It's gonna be stuck in my head all day. And I hate this line. (sings along) Sun-drenched skin so hot we'll melt your popsicle!
Friend - Why? What's wrong with that line?
Me - Doesn't it sound like she's saying it will cause his erection to flag?
Friend - ...
Me - Never mind.


And so on and so forth.

If you often hear a "…" in response to your insights…or if you are the one delivering the aforementioned elipses…this may be the blog for you. I intend to share my viewpoint - because isn't that the point of this generation? Blog your opinions, hoping that you're either insightful or entertaining enough that people will flock to see what you have to say next? Me. Me. Me. Each week, I hope to offer you an in-depth, literary analysis. However, I'm not going to be analyzing Gothic poetry or "The Scarlet Letter" or even the works of the Bard. I'm going to be analyzing pop culture. Film, music, popular fiction…even every day interactions with people. Some days I will simply rant. Others, I may offer an in-depth review of a recent film or show. Want to know how the liberal arts mind works? In a world that places an increasing emphasis on college education you are (unfortunately) going to need to. Welcome.