The Disney Princess Project: “Frozen”

I don't have a skull.Previously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog
Brave
Tangled
Mulan

There are certain elements expected in the standard Disney Princess movie. One can expect there to be a love story, usually involving a handsome man, where the woman presumably ends up with the man, as well as a menacing villain. This could be a jealous stepmother, an older woman or a conniving man. The menacing villain is usually made clear early in the film. “Brave” is the only film examined so far that throws these elements out, which might be the result of it being made by Pixar, rather than Walt Disney Animation Studios. “Frozen” is the first film made by Walt Disney Animation Studios to throw these elements out the window.

In the rather Norwegian and Scandinavian feeling kingdom of Arendelle, Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel, Eva Bella and Spencer Lacey Ganus as her younger voices) possesses the ability to create ice and snow, which allows her and her sister, Princess Anna (Kristen Bell, Livvy Stubenrauch as her younger voice), to enjoy winter fun inside of their castle. One night, while playing, Elsa accidentally strikes Anna in the head with her powers, injuring her. The King (Maurice LaMarche) and Queen (Jennifer Lee) take Anna to trolls, who cure her, but also remove any memory of Elsa’s magic from Anna. The King and Queen then isolate Elsa from her sister and try to have her control her powers. The two daughters grow up, separated from each other. When Elsa is a teenager, their parents die in a shipwreck because it’s not a Disney movie unless at least one of the parents is killed. Three years later, Elsa comes of age and is crowned queen of Arendelle.

The coronation results in numerous nobles from across the region descending on Arendelle, including the Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) and Prince Hans (Santino Fontana). Anna, excited to be able to leave the castle, runs into Hans and they hit it off immediately. As the coronation celebration occurs, they spend more time together and Hans proposes to Anna. She accepts the proposal and rushes to get her sister’s blessing, but Elsa refuses to give it because Anna just met him. They argue and eventually Elsa’s powers are revealed, frightening everyone at the celebration. She flees Arendelle, in the process blanketing the area in an eternal winter. Anna decides to go after her sister and try to get her to thaw the region. On the way, she teams up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and a snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), who was animated by Elsa’s powers.

“Frozen” is possibly the best film Disney has made since “Aladdin.” The animation is gorgeous and the film features very complex and interesting characters. All of the problems usually found in Disney films are absent in this movie. There is no annoying sassy sidekick as Olaf is mostly just dim, which seems to largely be the result of him being a snowman. Olaf provides quite a bit of the comic relief in the film, usually at moments when it’s really needed. (He does not appear in the first 30 minutes of the film, which I bawled through most of) “Frozen” could work if it didn’t have him in the film, but his presence actually makes the movie better because he provides a much needed laugh here and there.

The film also expands as to what love means. Love or romantic interest in someone fuels the plot in a lot of Disney Princess films, but Anna’s love of her sister is why she tries to reason with her sister. The film in fact celebrates sisterhood and shows the power of familial love.

Although there is the subplot of Anna being engaged to Hans, everyone surrounding her scoffs at the engagement and suggests she’s not really in love with him. As you might know if you’ve read my posts on Disney Princess films, I’m prone to kvetching about films where the female lead goes to great lengths for a man she just met and insists she’s in love with. For this movie to have multiple characters say, “You can’t marry a man you just met” is very refreshing.

Finally, the songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and recent EGOTer Robert Lopez–yes, the guy who worked on “Avenue Q” and “The Book of Mormon” wrote the songs for a Disney movie–are magnificent and incredibly memorable. Each one is unique and works perfectly in the situation. As I remarked to my mother after seeing the film, I honestly want the duo to write all of the songs for Disney films now. The last Disney movie I can think of to have such great songs is “Mulan” and many of the songs tug at your heart strings even without having the visuals to accompany them. (And, yes, “Let it Go” really is that good of a song. I keep trying to tell myself to stop listening to it so often on my iPod.)

“Frozen” is the great Disney film everyone has been anticipating for years. If they can continue to create great films after this, then Disney films will once again become the must-see films they were in the ’90s.

But are Anna and Elsa Good Role Models for Children? Yes.

Elsa, although terrified of herself and her powers early in the film, does embrace them after she flees Arendelle. She also fears hurting her sister immensely because she still remembers the last time her powers hurt Anna. Elsa is the most complex female character in a Disney film. She can defend herself, she embraces her powers, but she also fears them at the same time. It easy to understand why she would lock herself away after her powers are discovered at her coronation–well, she is viewed as a monster by people for being different–because she does fear hurting her sister again.

Anna, meanwhile, cares very much for her sister and after finding out about the powers, she understands so much about her sister. She could have easily shunned her sister, but it seems that she loves her even more after finding out about Elsa’s powers. And while she does have Kristoff help her get to the mountain Elsa’s ice palace is located in, Anna mainly goes on the mission to unfreeze Arendelle on her own. When it comes to reasoning with Elsa, she does go in, alone, asking Olaf, Sven and Kristoff to sit outside. Anna is also a bit awkward at moments, but you would be too if you had been rather isolated in a castle for most of your life. Both her and Elsa are characters you can relate with, no matter what your age.

And if I were a mother, I would love to have a daughter who saw the love the sisters have for one another.

A List of the Five Best Disney Villain Songs

I decided to actually update my blog and since there is a new Disney film being released this month a Disney-related list felt appropriate.

(Note: I’m still trying to figure out if I want to see “Frozen,” but I’ll probably end up seeing it.)

So now, a list of what in my opinion are the five best songs done by Disney villains.

5). “Gaston”——”Beauty and the Beast”

It’s a list song, which a lot of people don’t enjoy, but it’s so incredibly catchy. It also conveys to the viewers of the film how everyone in the village but Belle adores Gaston. When LeFou tries to pep Gaston up, everyone in the tavern joins in. Plus it’s just a delightful song to listen to.

4). “World’s Greatest Criminal Mind”——”The Great Mouse Detective”

“World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” is essentially an exposition song so we learn why Ratigan is someone Basil is obsessively trying to catch. This is the greatest criminal in the mouse world. He’s drowned orphans and widows! He was the mastermind behind the Big Ben caper! He’s the most evil person in London and this song does an excellent job telling us why without feeling like a slog.

3). “Be Prepared”——”The Lion King”

Here Scar lays out his plans for overthrowing Mufasa and who doesn’t love a musical number where a villain lays out his or her plans? He also berates his Hyena followers/henchmen for being dim, which gives a hint as to what type of a ruler he’ll be since he realizes he needs the Hyenas, even though he starts the song off with “I never thought Hyenas essential.” The music and chorus accompanying the song give a spine tingling quality to the song, which makes it simultaneously invigorating and scary. Plus, Jeremy Irons sells every word of this song.

2). “Poor Unfortunate Souls”——”The Little Mermaid”

In some ways, Ursula is a charming con-woman. She knows the way to get what she wants is to get Ariel in her clutches. She charms the mermaid by letting her know “I do magic, but it’s to help other merpeople get what they want.” It makes her seem like someone to trust, but then it goes on and gains intensity as she continues to tell Ariel she doesn’t need her voice to get Prince Eric, which only continues to help Ursula get to her goal. She’s sly, she’s charming, she’s devious; She’s the perfect villain.

1). “Hellfire”——”The Hunchback of Notre Dame”

Claude Frollo is a horrible, possibly sociopathic human being. He fails to see his own actions as being wrong, except for when the Archdeacon of Notre Dame points it out to him. He goes to great lengths to get what he wants, never seeing his actions as being potentially damaging or harmful. This song captures how evil he is, in case you missed that he kills a mother and almost kills a baby within the first five minutes of the movie.

Here he’s praying to the Virgin Mary and he begins by singing “Beata Maria, you know I am a righteous man/Of my virtue I am justly proud,” because he views himself as the most righteous person in the film. He then continues extolling his virtue before asking why it is he has lustful feelings for Esmeralda if he’s so pure. The feelings and thoughts he’s having of her are consuming him and it troubles him because he knows it’s sinful.

Then we get into him saying it’s not his fault he’s lusting after Esmeralda because she’s a gypsy, therefore it must be witchcraft or the devil. As he’s singing that, the choir is singing “Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa!” which is Latin for, “My sin! My sin! My grievous sin!” It’s as if the choir is saying what is really in Frollo’s head because he doesn’t want to admit this sin is his fault, but he knows it is.

Then Frollo takes the idea of “If I can’t have you, no one can,” to a new level by finishing off the song by going “If I can’t have you, then I’m going to burn you at the stake and have you be consumed by the fires of hell!” The song shows how tortured he is by these thoughts as he quickly progresses from, “I’m so pure, how is it I can feel lust?” to “I will get to have sex with her, or I’m going to kill her!” It shows just how twisted and evil Frollo is while being a terrifyingly brilliant song.

It’s also a magnificently animated song, as I’ve brought up on my Tumblr.

The Disney Princess Project: “Mulan”

You don't meet a girl like that every dynastyPreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog
Brave
Tangled

I am not done writing about this movie.

“Mulan” is possibly the last great animated film Disney made during its “Renaissance.” The film features a unique visual design that works well for the story, like in “Hercules.” The film also features a terrific lead female character and several fascinating characters that enrich the film.

Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) is the daughter of Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh), who has previously served in the Imperial Army in China. Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer) and the Huns have invaded China, meaning that the men in China’s families are being called to serve in the Imperial Army. Mulan, who earlier in the day was called a disgrace by a matchmaker, is horrified by the idea of her father serving in the army. During the night, she decides to disguise herself as a man and take her father’s place in the army. Gong-ringer Mushu (Eddie Murphy) goes to get Mulan in place of the Great Stone Dragon in hopes of becoming a family guardian. When he teams up Mulan, they go to the army camp and meet Yao (Harvey Fierstein), Ling (Gedde Watanabe) and Chien-Po (Jerry Tondo). The troops, under the leadership of Captain Li Shang (BD Wong), prepare to be ready to defeat the Huns.

The most striking aspect of the film is how the characters grow throughout the movie. Yao, Ling and Chien-Po grow to be loyal and competent soldiers over the course of the film. Shang grows to being able to respect Mulan as a woman. Mushu is able to think of other people instead of himself. Mulan grows from a clumsy girl everyone views as a screw-up as the hero of China. In the end of the film, the main characters have grown since they’re introduced and none of them feel like they kill the feeling of the film.

“Mulan” also features great songs by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel. Each of the songs in the film are memorable and work well to reveal a bit of the characters and the world they lived in.

What’s also interesting about the film is how the characters are portrayed. The characters in this film that are human feel much more human than in other movies I’ve looked at in this series of blog posts. Unlike the John Smith or the princes in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty,” Li Shang seems human rather than a hunky, tough Ken doll. Unfortunately, this feels like a bit of progress in the film, although Belle and Jasmine reject the hunky and bland suitors in their films for more flawed love interests.

I really can’t think of anything more to say about “Mulan,” so let’s discuss Mulan the character.

But is Mulan a Good Role Model for Children? Hell yes.

Mulan proves to be a very smart person who by the end of the film is great at creating a plan and fighting. Unlike many of the other characters that are official Disney princesses, Mulan is not motivated to do things in the movie because of a man she just met that she is madly in love with. When she joins the army, it is to protect her father. In the end, her actions end up bringing quite a bit of honor to the Fa family.

What is also interesting is that Mulan and Merida are the two Disney princesses not given a big official love interest. Romantic interest that Mulan has in Shang is implied in “Mulan,” but only confirmed in “Mulan 2,” which we will not get into in this post. Many of Mulan’s actions in the film where she does something to help Shang could be read as her helping her commanding officer or saving the life of her commanding officer rather than someone she is in love with. In the end of the movie, she is only reunited with Shang because he seeks her out to return the Fa family helmet. At that point in the film, the person the most vocal about being interested in Shang is not Mulan, but her grandmother.

However, Mulan is not actually a princess which brings up the question of why she is an official Disney princess.

Mulan is not born into nobility, which means that by birth she is not a princess. She also does not get engaged to someone born into nobility, which is how some of the Disney princesses become princesses. What is also interesting is that there are two princesses in Disney films that are not official princesses. It’s very likely that due to how dark “The Black Cauldron” is and it’s failure at the box office that Princess Eilonwy is not included. As for Princess Kida in “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” she was possibly not included because it would have been difficult to use her in merchandise.

The reason that seems most obvious to me as to why Mulan is an part of the Disney princess court is to defuse some criticism from feminists. This is a character who finally feels comfortable with herself after joining the army. She is never a damsel in distress and spends a good portion of the film not dressed as a woman. She can handle a sword, fire canons and has some great martial arts moves. She is the exact opposite of the characteristics most critics of Disney Princess assign to the princesses overall. It could even be easy to boil the message of the film’s sequel down to “Screw the constraints of a patriarchal society!”

However, Disney does not merchandise Mulan in a way that fits into the explanation I gave. The Mulan costume Disney stores sell is close to her outfit at the matchmaker and features pretty shoes and a fan. The costume is not like the one she wears when disguised as Ping or when she saves the emperor. And unlike with Merida where you can buy a bow and arrow set like the one Merida owns, there isn’t a toy version of the Fa family sword. It almost feels like Disney said “Look! We have a princess who is awesome! But we’re still going to make her really really girly.”

So while I’m conflicted and confused about Disney’s decision to include Mulan as a princess, I have to say she is the best role model in any of the movies so far. It also helps that she is possibly in the best of any of the Disney films I’ve watched for this series.

And now I’ll stop 1,000+ words on “Mulan.”

The Disney Princess Project: “Tangled”

Frying pans. Who knew, right?Previously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog
Brave

For the moment we end The Disney Princess Project with “Tangled,” the 50th animated feature released by Disney. “Tangled” is a retelling of the fairy tale of Rapunzel, but this time with a thief instead of a prince and some lovable rogues thrown in the story.

The film starts off with a prologue where we find out a magical flower was formed by a drop from the sun falling to the earth. An old woman named Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) finds the flower and uses the properties to help her stay youthful forever. Hundreds of years later a king and queen are expecting a child when the queen falls ill. The citizens of the kingdom go searching for help and find the flower, taking it back to the kingdom. The powers of the flower help save the queen and she gives birth to a beautiful daughter with blonde hair. The princess, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), holds the flower’s power inside of her which means Mother Gothel breaks into the castle one night to steal the baby. Mother Gothel then takes the baby to a tall secluded tower in the middle of the forest and raises the princess as her own, never letting Rapunzel go outside.

At the time of Rapunzel’s 18th birthday, Rapunzel asks Mother Gothel if she can see the festival of lanterns that happens every year on her birthday. Unbeknownst to her the lanterns she sees every year are to bring her home, but she sees them every year and wishes to see them up close. Mother Gothel forbids her from doing so as the world is a dangerous place. Shortly after this happens, Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) climbs up Rapunzel’s tower to escape his fellow thieves, the Stabbington Brothers (Ron Perlman and John DiMaggio), and the palace guards. He is knocked unconscious by Rapunzel who questions Flynn before deciding to have him take her to the lanterns. The two leave the tower and head off on a journey through the forest where they grow closer while Mother Gothel schemes to keep the princess to herself.

After the release of “The Princess and the Frog” Disney changed the title of this film as it initially was going to be “Rapunzel.” According to the Los Angeles Times this was because a lot boys shockingly did not want to see a movie with the word “princess” in the title. Disney then decided to amp up the presence of Flynn Rider in the marketing campaign as part of the intention to get more young boys to see the film. Because of how Disney marketed the film, you might be tempted to initially approach the movie as having Flynn as the main character. I advise you to not do this because the film isn’t great if you approach it as him being the main character. If you approach the film as having Rapunzel as the main character, it is a fantastic film.

The main problem with viewing Flynn as the main character is in some parts he feels a bit underdeveloped. As the movie develops we learn more about him which does help give him depth, but for most of the movie he really doesn’t feel like a compelling character. This is also the chief problem with the film as there are numerous characters who steal the light when they’re in a scene with Flynn, including Rapunzel’s pet chameleon Pascal and a horse named Maximilian who is with the royal guard. But Flynn does manage to become an interesting character by the end of the film, which is more than some Disney movies have managed to do.

“Tangled” is the first and so far only non-Pixar film released by Disney that has managed to have realistic computer animation. Not only is it realistic, but it manages to look completely stunning. The film does retain a cartoonish quality to the look, mostly with how large the eyes are for many of the characters, but there’s a distinct feeling some things wouldn’t have looked as good in previous Disney films as they do in “Tangled.” In a traditionally animated film, Pascal blending in or changing color would have never elicited a response of a chuckle while it does in this movie. It manages to go beyond a character trait and become a cute thing to look for in the movie. I also think every minute of seeing Rapunzel’s hair has some of the best hair animation I’ve seen in any animated film.

“Tangled” also manages to use anachronistic humor to a charming degree, particularly in the number “I’ve Got a Dream.” In most animated movies, including “Brave,” these jokes come off as a joke to appeal to the kids. In “I’ve Got a Dream” we have a thug with a hook who sings about wanting to be known for his showtune medley, which comes off as a sweet thing in a toe-tapping number rather than a joke to keep kids awake during the film.

As for the score, by Glenn Slater and Alan Menken, it’s not among the best scores for a Disney film. Menken’s music is very memorable, but some of Slater’s lyrics are a bit lacking. I even find the big love duet in the film, “I See the Light,” to be a bit boring. There are great songs in the film, including “Mother Knows Best” and “I’ve Got a Dream.”

The puzzling aspect of the film is Mother Gothel, who manages to simultaneously be a great villain and a bit of a weaker villain. She is a great villain because of how she manipulates Rapunzel and others for maintaining her vanity and she’s clearly driven to obtain what she wants. At the same time, Mother Gothel feels like a less-menacing version of Frollo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Both take a baby and raise it as their own, hiding it away from the world and telling the person the world outside is cruel and won’t understand them. But Mother Gothel doesn’t take Rapunzel to extract revenge on the king and queen, she only does everything she does because she is an incredibly vain person. Perhaps Mother Gothel shows us what happens when vanity is taken to an extreme as it ultimately results in her downfall.

But is Rapunzel a Good Role Model for Children? Yes.

Rapunzel is the most bad-ass princess in a Disney movie. Although Mother Gothel would like for Rapunzel to think she’s a helpless maiden in a tower, Rapunzel shows on multiple occasions she can fend for herself. Thanks to Rapunzel’s repeated use of a frying pan as a weapon it ends up being the weapon of choice for the entire kingdom as many characters realize it’s actually a great weapon. Rapunzel is the clear hero of the film as she has the smarts to take on numerous dangers facing her in the film. She is evidence the argument that Disney princesses will lead to girls becoming damsels in distress is very weak. If there’s anything parents should be afraid of children doing after seeing this movie it might be children whacking each other in the face with frying pans.

Although “Tangled” as a film isn’t among Disney’s finest it manages to be a great film to watch while having the best actual princess who is part of the Disney Princess line-up. Although “Brave” the biggest award, “Tangled” is a film that is the most enjoyable and worth multiple viewings.

Alternatives: “The Thief and the Cobbler” (Miramax Release)

Title shotThis post, which you are currently reading, is on the Miramax Release of “The Thief and the Cobbler,” which is the one that I imagine most people will leap for since it’s at video stores and streaming on Netflix. Please don’t post comments about how much better the recobbled cut is because I haven’t seen it and I chose to write about the Miramax release for a very specific reason.

“The Thief and the Cobbler” has a very lengthy and sad history. Animator Richard Williams decided to start working on “The Thief and the Cobbler” in 1964, intending to make it his masterpiece. Williams then went on to direct the animation for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and started to work with a studio to release “The Thief and the Cobbler.” He couldn’t complete the film on time and control was taken away from him. In 1995 the film was released by Miramax as “Arabian Knight,” although it was changed back to its original title for the home video release, and the film was derided as a rip-off of “Aladdin.”

In ancient Baghdad, Tack (Matthew Broderick) is apprenticing as a cobbler when he gets messed up with a thief (Jonathan Winters) who has broken into Tack’s home. The two fall onto Zigzag the Grand Vizier (Vincent Price), who accuses Tack of attacking him. To save Tack, Princess Yum-Yum (Jennifer Beals) breaks her shoe and has Tack repair her shoe. Once again, the thief tumbles into Tack, who then tumbles into Zigzag and is thrown in jail. Yum-Yum has Tack released just in time for the three golden orbs to be taken by the thief. According to legend, the golden orbs protect Baghdad and without them, the city is vulnerable to the evil One-Eye (Kevin Dorsey). To take advantage of this, Zigzag travels to One-Eye with his loyal but abused vulture Phido (Eric Bogosian) to work together to take down Baghdad. Meanwhile, Yum-Yum and Tack travel to find One-Eye’s sister to save the city.

Knowing that the version I watched isn’t the one that Williams had planned, it is easy to see where Fred Calvert, who took over the project, added things in to make it a more marketable and mainstream movie. In the initial version, the thief is mute and in this version, he has a lot of thoughts the audience gets to hear. Many of these thoughts are anachronistic jokes and they don’t really fit in the film. But ultimately it isn’t the jokes in the monologues of the thief that grow tiresome, but the fact that he has so many monologues. Hear from the thief gets to be annoying after a certain point.

It’s also clear to the viewers that songs were added to make it more like other children’s movies. Not every children’s movie made by studios other than Disney can have great songs, but “The Thief and the Cobbler” has the least memorable songs in any animated film I’ve watched. Whenever I watch this film, I expect to have a song sung by the brigands in the film stuck in my head the next day. But I finish the film and I can barely remember the tune. I the songs posses a quality which causes the viewer to assume Calvert found Robert Folk, who wrote the songs, and had him half-ass some songs for the film.

These are the two biggest problems with the film. The film is a must watch because of the fantastic design Williams had for this project. It has some of the most fascinating animation I’ve seen in any animated film.

slide!

Magic!

I’d also argue that for being an overtly menacing villain, Zigzag is an excellent villain. He’s voiced by Vincent Price and speaks entirely in rhymes. In a way, Zigzag feels like a very traditional villain, but he has a position that allows him to influence people as well as a great skill at magic. We also see bits of his cruelty throughout the film. He dislikes Tack, abuses Phido and takes advantage of thief to get the gold orbs.

I’d also throw in Princess Yum-Yum as a good role model. She’s is clever and uses that to save Tack from Zigzag early in the film. She’s also very intelligent and a good diplomat as she negotiates in the film with brigands and helps save the city. She cares very much for the future of Baghdad and its safety, but also has a strong relationship with her father. In a way she reminds me a bit of Kida in “Atlantis: The Last Empire,” which came after this movie. This isn’t to accuse “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” of borrowing from this film, but it’s an interesting similarity.

Even with its flaws, “The Thief and the Cobbler” is worth a viewing because of the story and animation. It’s an odd film during this time period as it has an original story, but the story is a fascinating tale that feels like it could have come from an old legend.

The Disney Princess Project and The Films of Pixar: “Brave”

bravePreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog

As time progressed, Pixar received criticism for not having any films with female lead characters. Pixar had strong female characters, such as Helen Parr/Elastigirl and Violet in “The Incredibles,” Sally in “Cars,” EVE in “WALL-E” and Colette in “Ratatouille,” but none of the lead characters had been women. Pixar decided to fix this by making the lead character of “Brave,” the studio’s thirteenth feature, a woman.

The main premise of “Brave” is that Merida (Kelly Macdonald) does not want to get married. Her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), is a little more willing to allow her to be her natural tomboyish self, but her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), is concerned about the future of the kingdom and has been preparing her daughter for marriage since she was little. The lords of the land arrive to present their sons and Merida isn’t impressed and challenges them to an archery match. Through this, Merida shows she can do archery better than any of the potential suitors, humiliating her family and the lords. She then runs off and meets a witch (Julie Walters), who prepares a spell to change Merida’s fate. Merida feeds the spell-laden treat to her mother, turning her into a bear. They then run off to try to figure out how to reverse the spell while tensions brew because Merida needs a suitor.

The movie would be much better if Merida wasn’t so annoying. Even at the end it’s difficult to care about Merida and her problems since she brings most of the upon herself by being confrontational and not willing to understand her mother. Additionally it isn’t until the end that Merida really realizes that she brought her problems upon herself. For most of the film Merida feels like her problems are the result of her mother wanting for her to get married. I would be a little more sympathetic if this wasn’t set in Scotland during the same period the Vikings existed and a girl who wasn’t even in her teens getting engaged wasn’t common place. After all, we’ve already seen a Disney movie during this blog post series that featured a woman being engaged to a prince at the announcement of her birth.

What’s troubling about the movie is the use of anachronistic humor in the film. Humor that uses anachronisms can work, as seen with “Hercules,” but because of the tone of the film it seems very out of place. The two examples seen in the film both come from the witch when Merida and her mother visit the witch. The witch has left an away message in her cauldron that has options where you dump a vial to get a different message. This is reminiscent of menus anyone gets when calling a customer service number. When Merida dumps the vial for the message left for her, the Witch mentions going to the Wicker Man fest, which is either the Dark Age version of Burning Man or a festival where people yell “Not the bees!” at each other. Why either of those things would be mentioned in a children’s movie is beyond me. Wicker men were also part of Druid rituals, but even for a film studio that is prone to make obscure references in their movies, Druid rituals is pretty obscure. Also, most adults watching this movie would hear “Wicker man” and either think of the British horror film or the Nicholas Cage film. No matter how you slice this, I don’t know why the “Wicker Man festival” comment is made.

Some of the jokes made in the film also tend to be a bit lazy. In the film we get a joke about haggis being gross and one of the lords lifts his kilt to insult the other lords. These jokes feel lazy because they’re jokes that have been seen in every movie and TV show that has ever had Scottish characters.

But this is not the biggest problem with “Brave.” What ultimately makes this film problematic is the pacing. The big event in the film–the transformation of Elinor into a bear–doesn’t happen until halfway through the film. Everything before the film just leads up to that event. If you think about it, that’s 45 minutes of events that lead up the transformation which isn’t the slowest I’ve seen in a movie released by Disney, but that ends up feeling very slow. As a result, the quest to reverse the curse feels a bit rushed.

But since this is a Pixar film we have excellent animation, particularly with the animation for Elinor. We have wonderful hair designs, especially with Merida’s red locks that bounce up and down as she rides on her horse. The Scottish landscape is wonderful to look at, such as whenever the characters are near water. The attention to detail is also very evident, such as the fabric in Elinor’s dress at the end of the film or the hairs on the chin of the witch.

But is Merida a Good Role Model for Children?: No.

I can see where some people would argue that because Merida is tomboyish and rides horses and shoots a bow and arrow that she’s a good role model. That doesn’t excuse her behavior in the film. Her behavior is in many ways similar to that of Ariel. In this situation, rather than being told by her father that she can’t marry a human, she’s told by her mother that she has to marry. This results in the same solution of going to a witch and asking for help. A difference is that all Merida knows is that she’ll change her fate with the spell given to her by the witch while Ariel is well aware of what she’s getting herself into with Ursula.

That said, there is a clear transformation the character undergoes during the film. All of the stronger princesses I have examined or will examine feature this characteristic. I will give the filmmakers credit for this, but for most of the film Merida feels a bit annoying and also not a very compelling character. What’s even worse is that the conflict of not wanting to be in an arranged marriage feels better handled in “Mulan 2,” and I should not be able to say that I think a plot is handled better in a direct-to-DVD Disney sequel.

As both a Pixar film and a princess movie, “Brave” fails to live up to previous standards. But you could do much worse with Pixar films and it never manages to fall to the level of “Cars 2.”

The Disney Princess Project: “The Princess and the Frog”

Come! We pucker.Previously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid

Disney released “The Princess and the Frog” in 2009 and it was notable for featuring the first African-American Disney Princess. There would later be some concerns from Disney because they didn’t attract enough boys to a film with the word “Princess” in the title and it didn’t receive the warm welcome that “Tangled” received a year later. It seems to me that “The Princess and the Frog” is actually an underrated film and deserves a place among the great Disney films.

The film follows Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a young woman in New Orleans who wants to open a restaurant, fulfilling the dream of both her and her dad (Terrence Howard). Tiana is a hard worker and finally earns the money, but fails to secure the restaurant after being outbid. At the same time Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) has arrived in New Orleans, completely broke. He is going to stay with the fabulously wealthy “Big Daddy” La Bouff (John Goodman) and his daughter Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), who would love to marry a prince. Naveen ends up tangled up with Dr. Facilier (Keith David, who should really do more animated Disney movies), a voodoo witch doctor who transforms the prince into a frog. Facilier also transforms Naveen’s valet Lawrence (Peter Bartlett) into Naveen, which is part of Facilier’s plan to take over New Orleans.

At the costume ball the La Bouff’s hold, Tiana meets Naveen in frog form and after much cajoling from the prince, she kisses him. This results in Tiana being transformed into a frog and the two are chased off into the Bayou. While there they meet a trumpet-playing alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings) who can help them find Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). The two hope that Mama Odie can transform them back into humans, but they get deeper help from Mama Odie.

“The Princess and the Frog” paints a portrait of New Orleans that isn’t completely whitewashed. The viewers are shown the stark contrast between where the La Bouff’s live and where Tiana and her family live. The La Bouff’s live in a grand New Orleans mansion surrounded by other grand New Orleans mansions. Tiana’s family lives in a tiny run-down bungalow surrounded by similar buildings, all of which are occupied by blacks. The film could have portrayed New Orleans as a place where whites and blacks lived in harmony everywhere, but it shows us a socioeconomic and racial difference in where the characters live.

The film also shows us that Tiana faces difficulties because she’s a black woman. After all of her hard work, Tiana finally makes the down-payment for the restaurant but is outbid. She is then told by the realtors that it’s for the best because a woman of her “background” couldn’t possibly handle the pressures of running a restaurant. Although they don’t explicitly tell it to Tiana, the realtors do dismiss her dreams because she’s a black working-class woman. With the other characters who were servants, they didn’t get dismissed for their dreams because of their race or economic background. And while Tiana does get the prince in the end she doesn’t pick the prince because he will help her realize her dreams–although she realizes her dream will be complete if she shares it with him.

What’s also interesting is how the film portrays voodoo, which isn’t treated like a religion. There’s a very clear difference between good voodoo and bad voodoo in the film and they’re represented by Mama Odie and Dr. Facilier, respectively. Mama Odie uses her voodoo to help all living creatures while Dr. Facilier uses his voodoo to manipulate and control people while also serving his masters. This is a situation where the filmmakers could have shown voodoo as only being a tool for evil, but they chose not to do so and the film is better for that.

The film features terrific lively animation for all of the characters and settings. Even in the murky Bayou or the a dark cemetery it is always a delight to look at the film. Two of the best moments come during musical numbers. In “Almost There” we have a fantasy sequence where Tiana imagines her restaurant in an illustration coming to life, which fits in perfectly for the setting of the film. Later in the film there’s the sequence of “Dig a Little Deeper” there are numerous animals dancing and singing like they’re a gospel choir in a church. The sequence ends with multiple colored bottles hanging from Mama Odie’s tree that creates a look that reminds one of stained glass.

Randy Newman also wrote a terrific score for this film that is the finest Disney had in more than a decade. It does a great job of adding to the film’s setting and is incredibly memorable. “Dig a Little Deeper” is also one of the best songs of any of the Disney Princess songs simply because of how exuberant it manages to be.

But the film is not without fault and the weaknesses come in the form of Louis and Ray. Louis is at some moments a little too over-the-top which distracts from the relationship forming between Naveen and Tiana. Ray on the other hand has a weird plot where he’s in love with the evening star, which although amusing seems to do very little for the film.

But is Tiana a Good Role Model for Children? Yes.

Tiana is a hard-worker and an incredibly kind person. She never seems to dread her work, which might be tied to the fact that she views it as a means to achieve her goal. Additionally, Tiana actually has a dream that is a more substantial than “marry a prince” or “attend a ball.”

I also disagree with the idea that Tiana only ends up with Naveen because she wants him to help her make her restaurant a reality. Tiana makes it very clear at the end of the film she wants to be with Naveen because being around him makes her happy, not because he will make her restaurant magically occur.

Even though it has problems, “The Princess and the Frog” is a great movie to watch because it does present a good role model and is an excellent story with great characters and a terrific setting. So grab a bowl of gumbo and enjoy.

The Disney Princess Project: “The Little Mermaid”

Poor unfortunate souls! In pain, in need. This one longing to be thinner, That one wants to get the girl. And do I help them? Yes, indeed. Those poor unfortunate souls So sad, so true. They come flocking to my cauldron, Crying, Spells, Ursula, please! And I help them! Yes I doPreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules
Atlantis: The Lost Empire

“The Little Mermaid” was the first film in a string of hits Disney would release from 1989 until 1999. It was the rain that relieved a drought for Disney after the dismal performances of “The Great Mouse Detective,” “Oliver and Company” and “The Black Cauldron.” So why did “The Little Mermaid” succeed at the box office?

The film focuses on Ariel (Jodi Benson), a mermaid princess who strays away from activities and dreams of being on the surface. This troubles both her father, King Triton (Kenneth Mars), and the court conductor, Sebastian the Crab (Samuel E. Wright). On one evening, Ariel floats to the surface and sees a celebration on a boat. There she spies Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) and falls in love with him, eventually saving him when his ship burns. But Ariel cannot be with the prince because humans are different and they’re savages. Then Ursula (Pat Carroll) arrives on the scene and offers Ariel a deal: She can be a human and remain a human if she shares true love’s kiss with Eric before the third sunset after the transformation. If she fails to get true love’s kiss, she will return to her mermaid form and become the property of Ursula. Crazy in love, Ariel takes the deal.

The most obvious reason as to why “The Little Mermaid” was essentially an instant classic is that it’s one of the best movies Disney has ever made. The film features fantastic animation, great voice acting and wonderful songs. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken wrote many of the best Disney songs ever done and quite a few of their best songs are in this film, such as “Part of Your World,” “Under the Sea,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and “Kiss the Girl.” The film also does something the three films I mentioned earlier did not do, which is tell a love story. Most people love a love story and this film features a girl meets boy story.

The film also features Ursula, who is possibly Disney’s best villain. Ursula schemes and does everything possible to rule the sea. She also camps it up–although young Meghan-Annette thought Ursula was a guy–while being a delightful character to watch. No, she doesn’t burn down an occupied house because she’s lusting after someone nor does she destroy an entire village to send a message to a ruler, but watching her character is a delight and she does go to great lengths to get what she wants. She also has a motivation for why she does her plan. It’s established that Ursula used to be part of the royal court, but was banished for trying to seize the throne. While it’s not clear why she wanted it in the past, her banishment explains why she wants the throne now.

Although all of the songs in the film are great, I do want to focus on “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” We know “Part of Your World,” which is a classic “I Want” song that is found in musical theater. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” shows how Ursula uses Ariel’s desires and manipulates her into becoming a human. Ursula starts off by explaining how she works as a “businesswoman,” but after explaining the deal tells Ariel that she doesn’t need her voice.

The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber
They think a girl who gossips is a bore!
Yet on land it’s much preferred for ladies not to say a word
And after all dear, what’s idle babble for?
Come on, they’re not all that impressed with idle conversation
True gentlemen avoid it when they can
But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who’s withdrawn
It’s she who holds her tongue who get’s a man.

With that speech it’s easy to understand why Ariel would give up an incredibly prized possession, her voice, to get the guy of her dreams.

Before I get to the main point of my posts, I would like to say that after watching this film I’ve noticed that “Someone different than you is a savage” is a recurring theme in Disney films released during the decade known as the Disney renaissance. In this film, it’s humans to merfolk; in “Beauty and the Beast,” it’s the Beast to the villagers; for “Pocahontas,” the natives to the settlers and reverse; in “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” it’s everyone outside of the cathedral to Quasimodo (as per what Frollo says) and gypsies to Frollo. This certainly creates a lot of dramatic tension in the films, but I find it interesting that it’s a theme Disney kept bringing up during this time period.

But is Ariel a Good Role Model for Children? No.

Sure, she’s a rebellious teenager, but Mulan struggles to meet the expectation of her society and is awesome. The problem here is that Ariel falls head-over-heels for a human and even defends him even though she hasn’t really had time to interact with him at length. (I’ll give “Pocahontas” credit for having Pocahontas defend John Smith and the settlers after she’s gotten to know him.) After her father tells her to stay away from the surface, she trades her voice to get human legs. This could be interpreted by people, and has been interpreted to mean that if you really want a man, change your body and he’ll like you.

I will admit that it’s good that Eric falls in love with her even though she can’t talk, which means that even though she is imperfect, he still likes her. (I don’t interpret that as being the result of men not liking girls who talk, as Ursula suggests.) But Ariel, although strong-willed, does make a deal to get the guy she wants. She also gets her friends into dangerous situations.

So in terms of “Is she a good role model,” I have to say no. But at least Ariel has a strong personality, which more than I can say about Cinderella or Aurora. It also helps that Ariel is placed in a really good movie, so if you haven’t seen “The Little Mermaid,” you have to see this movie.

The Disney Princess Project: “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”

Less talk, more sawPreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas
Hercules

Disney decided in 2001 to try something new by releasing a movie that was darker, explosive-filled, violent movie with no wisecracking sidekicks or musical numbers. That film was “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” which ended up being lost like the titular setting due to it being released the summer of “Shrek”‘s release as well as not being a very good film.

“Atlantis: The Lost Empire” starts off by showing people on hover vehicles avoiding an approaching wave. The wave is approaching Atlantis and as the residents panic, the queen is sucked into a bright light, saving the city, which sinks. Fast-forward to 1914 and Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) is desperately trying to get funding for an expedition to find “The Shepherd’s Journal,” which he believes could lead to Atlantis. He is laughed off because it’s a fairy tale, but then he comes home to find Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian), who is supposed to be a femme fatale character. She leads him to explorer Mr. Whitmore (JOHN MAHONEY) who reveals that the journal has been found and Whitmore is going to finance an expedition to Atlantis where Milo will be an expert in gibberish.

On the expedition, Milo meets his crew mates which includes Sinclair, Commander Rourke (James Garner), Mole (Corey Burton), Dr. Sweet (Phil Morris), Vinny (Don Novello), Audrey (Jacqueline Obradors), Packard (Florence Stanley) and Cookie (Jim Varney). After several mishaps, the crew eventually finds Atlantis and is greeted/cornered by Atlantians, led by Princess Kidagakash (Cree Summer), or Kida. However, the king (Leonard Nimoy) isn’t too pleased that they’re there. After some exploring, Milo finds out that Rourke and the crew wants to find the “Heart of Atlantis” and sell it on the surface, much to Milo’s dismay.

There are many problems with “Atlantis,” the first of which happens to be the plot. First of all, we what could have been a great action movie with a “find this first” doesn’t happen. The plot could have been reminiscent of Indiana Jones movies, but instead we have a quick resolution to the plot of Milo wanting the journal. In addition, there are plot holes such as how an ancient civilization that disappeared thousand of years ago knows how to speak English. While Ramsin Canon, who was my editor at Gapers Block, suggested that this could be magic, it’s still a massive plot hole.

There’s also the problem of the film lacking in interesting characters. Even Milo isn’t a very engaging character despite being the central character. Most of the characters are archetypes, even though some don’t work. Sinclair is introduced as a femme fatale-esque character but is incredibly boxy in design compared to Kida. The only member of the crew who is interesting is Vinny and that’s mostly because of his wisecracking lines.

Finally, the film has hideous character designs. Although they’re influenced by the style of Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, that style works well for comics. In this context it really doesn’t work for any of the characters except for the Atlantians and it might just be the people who were assigned to animate them. What’s worse is that watching the DVD the animation felt like a step back from not only “Tarzan,” which proceeded “Atlantis,” but also “Hercules.” The overall design of Atlantis in shots showing the overall city is quite lovely, but that’s about it.

But is Kida a Good Role Model for Children? Yes.

Kida is a strong, intelligent woman who seems to be very independent as someone who is born into royalty. In fact, when members of the expedition try to capture her, she does a great job of fighting them off. Additionally, Kida is shown to care very much for the condition of her fellow Atlantians as well as her father. She also heals Milo, a stranger to her, somewhat early in the film. Kida is a great role model for children.

However, Kida is not an official Disney Princess even though she is the member of the royal family in the film. So why might this be?

The easy answer would be that “Atlantis” performed very poorly at the box office in America. Another reason might be that the film feels like it’s geared towards young boys rather than what a typical person would think girls would like.

But another thing might be that Kida could have been a difficult character to merchandise. Granted, her main outfit for the film would be a great outfit for going to the beach, but it’s not really something that children would run around in when playing in the backyard. And while Disney has the wedding outfits for Aurora, Rapunzel and Tiana as well as Belle and Cinderella’s ballgowns, I can’t see Kida’s outfit when she’s made queen being a big seller at Disney Stores.

While we may never know why Kida is left out of the Disney Princess line, she is a terrific role model and one of the best characters in the film. Unfortunately she’s not worth sitting through the entire movie to have a good role model.

The Disney Princess Project: “Hercules”

Read our lips, you're in lovePreviously:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Pocahontas

Mulan, the titular character of the film “Mulan,” is part of the official Disney Princess line-up. Although I’ll discuss it more in-depth when I write about “Mulan,” this puzzles me because Mulan is neither born a princess nor does she end up with anyone of nobility. So since Mulan is a princess, I’ve decided to look at Meg, the main female character in “Hercules” since she ends up with a demi-god.

“Hercules” tells the story of Hercules (Tate Donovan/Josh Keaton/Roger Bart), the son of happy, monogamous Zeus (Rip Torn) and not-psychopathic Hera (Samantha Eggar). In order to fulfill a plot for Hades (James Woods) to take over Mount Olympus, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer) kidnap the baby Hercules and try to turn him mortal in order to be able to kill him. Their plan fails and Hercules retains superstrength, but he grows up believing that he is a freak. After finding out that he’s the son of Zeus, he goes to train with Phil (Danny DeVito). Once he’s completed his training, Hercules heads to Thebes and along the way he meets Meg (Susan Egan), a damsel in distress.

Up until this point, all of the character designs in the princess films felt like pretty standard Disney designs. With “Hercules” there are unique character designs that haven’t been seen in any other Disney films. There’s the truly grotesque cyclopes, the hunky Hercules, the varied designs of the muses, and the shapely, beautiful Meg. Watching the film it can be gathered that the animators looked at ancient Greek artwork for inspiration and a guide on the character designs. This helps both establish the settings for the film and give it a unique feel.

“Hercules” is filled with anachronisms, but I find that I have so much fun watching “Hercules” to really care about the anachronisms. While “Pocahontas” is a film that tries to be a Very Important Film, “Hercules” is a film that just wants to be fun, but it ends up helping the film soar rather than tumble. One of the greatest strengths of the film are the gospel-style songs performed by the Muses. In fact, “Hercules” has one of the best Disney songs ever done, which I’ll discuss later.

In terms of critiquing the film, I can’t think of anything I haven’t already said, so we’ll get to the main point.

But is Meg a Good Role Model for Children? Yes, actually.

Meg is the first Disney Princess who is presented as a flawed person. Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are flawless. Ariel is rebellious, but it pays off in the end. Belle reads books and that distances her from the villagers, but it pays off. Pocahontas runs off a lot, but she’s still a great person. Meg actually feels like she sits in a moral grey area as she is presented as a damsel in distress who works for Hades. She shows that she’s one of the good guys as the film continues, but it isn’t immediately clear to us that’s the case.

What’s also unique about Meg is that she’s the second Disney character I can think of who is presented as a sexual being. (Frollo in “Hunchback of Notre Dame” is the first one that comes to my mind because of “Hellfire.”) We see women who swoon over Hercules, but she comes onto him and flirts with him. Even Gaston doesn’t really do that to Belle. There’s also dialogue between Hades and Meg where it’s revealed that Meg sold her soul to Hades to save her significant other’s life, only for him to chase off after some “babe.” So we also are given a character who is hurt because she was left for another woman, something never presented again in a Disney movie, to my knowledge.

What is also astonishing about Meg in the context of the other characters I’ve written about is that we see Meg progressively falling in love with Hercules. While a majority of the characters have instantly seen a guy and declared love for them, Meg slowly falls in love with him. And when it’s clear to the audience that she’s in love with Hercules, there’s then a big number about how she won’t admit that she’s in love with him, which is one of the best songs in a Disney film.

Additionally, rather than having to be rescued at the end of the film, Meg, like Belle, ends up saving the day. But what’s incredible with Meg is that she does save the day by sacrificing herself. (SPOILERS: She lives.) She starts off as a damsel-in-distress, but then becomes one who does the saving by the end of the film. Yes, she’s a pawn for Hades during most of the film, but Meg is one of the strongest female characters in any Disney film and a terrific role model for children.

Just let them know to not sell their souls to the lord of the underworld.