I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!: “Riddick”

Thanks to Meghan-Annette for suggesting this film for “I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!”

After watching “Myra Breckinridge” I found myself explaining to people on social media that I was mentally fine after enduring that film. However, the fact that it’s been more than a month since I wrote a post for “I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!” suggests that watching “Myra Breckinridge” did break me a bit, but any suspicion of that may be backed by how I feel about “Riddick.”

“Riddick” follows interstellar outlaw Riddick (Vin Diesel) who has been stranded on a planet after being asked to go home to the planet Furya. As you can imagine, he is not taken back to Furya. After battling various creatures on the planet, Riddick signals a distress beacon to try to get back to Furya. Two mercenaries arrive, one led by Santana (Jordi Molla) and the other led by Johns (Matthew Nable). Both have reasons for getting Riddick, one for getting a large bounty if he is returned dead, the other for personal reasons.

The main problem with watching “Riddick” on its own is it’s the third film in a trilogy. Even with the plethora of flashbacks, I found myself going, “Wait, what’s going on?” On the other hand, it makes a lot more sense for me to feel lost watching the third film of a trilogy or than the first film of a trilogy or a stand-alone film. That said, “Riddick” largely suffers from being a slog to watch because the pacing is very slow due to flashbacks as the title character remembers how he got where he is now.

If you come for a movie where Vin Diesel is in Tough Guy Vin Diesel mode, blowing shit up, that really doesn’t happen in the movie. There’s a lot of conversation and huge portions of the movie where Vin Diesel is not on screen. Yet somehow it works because once you figure out the premise of the film, it’s fairly straightforward, even if it feels like you are watching three different films, each one of which could be a fantastic film. Tough Guy Vin Diesel surviving on a planet would be a fantastic film. Tough Guy Vin Diesel negotiating with the mercenaries would be a fantastic film. The ending would be a fantastic film. Unfortunately, all three of those concepts are pieced together to create one film, but somehow this is the most enjoyable of all of the films because at least all three of those films are interesting, even though they essentially just exist. It’s different from “Myra Breckinridge” where we have stock footage, combined with a campy take on Gore Vidal’s novel, combined with whatever the hell Mae West is doing because even though it’s also from Vidal’s novel, it feels like a completely different movie. All three of those films are trainwrecks a viewer can’t look away from, creating the greatest cinematic trainwreck to ever exist.

This may be a sign of how my brain is a little worn from watching the last two films in this series. The problem is there’s nothing compelling about this movie. There’s nothing that will make me rush out and tell my co-workers to watch this. It’s a perfectly competent science-fiction movie and that’s really the best I can say about it. The special effects are great and there’s something oddly enjoyable about watching Riddick spend time with an extraterrestrial hyena.

The jarring moment in the film comes in towards the end when Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) is holding Riddick and says something along the lines of, “So when are going to have sex?” (I’m paraphrasing.) This sticks out because the characters keep pointing out Dahl is a lesbian. Earlier in the film characters keep saying Dahl will have sex with Riddick, which comes off as a form of torture by forcing a prisoner who is gay to have sex with another prisoner. But then she is attracted to Riddick, which comes off more as the film asserting to us how masculine Riddick is. There could also be the possibility Dahl is suddenly feeling sexual feelings for someone of the opposite sex, but this unlikely since bisexuals are cinematic unicorn.

Ultimately, a lot of this seems like a way to show how Riddick is an alpha male of science-fiction. He can fight bad guys, be stranded on a planet and play mind games with people who want to kill him, all without blinking an eye. The problem with this movie is it doesn’t succeed at being a great movie or a terrible movie. Fewer things are more disappointing than a bland movie.

I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!: “Catch Hell”

Welcome to “I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!” a new blog post series where I watch movies that sound bad and then write about them, mostly to see if they’re worth watching. The first film is “Catch Hell,” which was written and directed by its star, Ryan Phillippe.

Regan Pierce (Phillippe) is an actor seeking a film to catapult him back to the top. He goes down to Shreveport, Louisiana and stays in the world’s saddest Holiday Inn, preparing to shoot a new film. The day after he arrives, he’s picked up in a van by Michael (Ian Barford) and Junior (Stephen Louis Grush), who are basically the stock terrifying rednecks you find in a movie. They kidnap him, take him to a shack in the middle of the swamp and proceed to torture him over the next few days and leak nude pictures and send anti-Semetic and homophobic tweets from his account as retribution for Pierce sleeping with Michael’s wife, Diane (Joyful Drake).

Oh boy.

The biggest problem is I don’t care about Pierce at all. This is his story, one where he triumphs over his kidnappers and I just don’t care about what happens to him. He, like all of the other characters, feels generic. There are moments in the film where it feels like attempts are made to bring depth to the characters–okay, just Michael and Junior–but it never happens for Pierce. He’s just a generic celebrity. What attempts there are to give the captors depth comes with Junior showing kindness to Pierce and revealing he’s gay and maybe Michael trying to reconcile with his wife. But that’s it.

Another problem with the film is how poorly paced it feels. The first fifteen minutes has moments of trying to feel suspenseful, such as a scene where Pierce is in the fitness center of his hotel, but we just jump to him being kidnapped and then that goes straight to the torturing, which goes straight to 11 in terms of intensity and instead of building gradually. Although this may speak more to Michael being a terrible captor, it doesn’t work dramatically for the film.

The odd thing is the film is somehow entertaining. There are moments meant to be suspenseful that end up being humorous, like Pierce working out in the fitness center as a housekeeper slowly wipes off the window, which does lead to it being an entertaining film. But the film manages to not be unbearably bad because Grush and Barford give fantastic performances in this film. Although they are given rather cartoonish characters to play–Barford more so than Grush–the performances help make the captors a bit human.

The problem is they are not giving transcendent performances in this film that suddenly makes it worth watching. I had already seen Barford and Grush in something and it was “The March” at Steppenwolf, which I enjoyed. The film is ultimately rather dumb in terms of plot points and is supposed to make us rally around someone, but there’s no one worth rallying around. But I have to give it credit for keeping me entertained and not having an entirely baffling premise.

Also, the end credits play over footage of Junior dancing in a gator skin while Pierce laughs. So, that’s amusing and a bizarre note to end on.

Verdict: Skip, but if there’s video of the end credits, watch that because it’s bizarre enough to warrant a watch.

There Are Giants in the Sky

You should see my nectarines. “Into the Woods” is a film people have been anticipating with either glee or dread. On the one hand, it’s an adaptation of a relatively beloved musical–at the very least, one of the most well-known of Stephen Sondheim’s musicals–with an all-star cast that doesn’t leave one largely wondering who thought it was a good idea to cast that actor or actress. On the other hand, it’s produced by Disney and is directed by Rob Marshall, who did the delightful “Chicago”–which along with “Moulin Rouge!” helped resurrect movie musicals–and the bizarre and barely tolerable “Nine,” among other films. (He also did the made for TV movie of “Annie” with Victor Garber, Kathy Bates, Audra McDonald and Alan Cumming, which I truly enjoyed and is the only time I’ve enjoyed “Annie.”)

As “Chicago” is fun, but not astounding, and maybe the best movie he had made, there was a bit of concern, especially after “Nine.” “Into the Woods,” however, is a faithful adaptation although not incredibly inventive. It will at the very least satisfy most musical theater nerds and provide a good introduction to the show for the uninitiated.

“Into the Woods” follows the familiar fairy tale characters of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), who we know from “Jack and the Beanstalk.” We are also introduced to a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), who are childless. They find out from their neighbor, a witch (Meryl Streep), that she placed a curse on the baker’s family that they would not have any children after the baker’s father stole magic beans from the witch’s garden. The witch tells the baker and his wife they can have the curse reversed if they bring her the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slippers as pure as gold and the cow as white as milk. The baker sets off on a quest, with his wife following closely behind, while Cinderella tries to go to the festival, Little Red goes to granny’s house and Jack sets off to sell his cow, Milky White, and the character’s paths cross throughout the film. Eventually Cinderella gets her prince (Chris Pine), the baker and his wife get a child and everyone gets their happy ending…until a giant (Frances de la Tour) begins terrorizing the kingdom in search of Jack, who killed her husband when he chopped down the beanstalk.

I should first say “Into the Woods” is not my favorite Sondheim musical–that would be “Sunday in the Park With George”–although I have found as I get older I enjoy “Into the Woods” more. I do not have as much of an emotional stake in this as some people may, but “Into the Woods” still got a lot of play on my iPod in high school and I had a habit in college of watching the PBS film of the original Broadway production. Ultimately, I enjoyed this film possibly more than the musical and found myself getting choked up in some parts.

There are some numbers that are eliminated from the musical, although I only found myself missing “No More,” whose absence is handled well. The movie also tones down the sexual nature of the interaction between the wolf (Johnny Depp, giving what is one of his more restrained performances in the past decade) and Little Red Riding Hood, the brutality of some of the deaths and completely eliminates another character’s death. These changes work in this adaptation since Little Red Riding Hood is played by a girl rather than a teenage girl, although that doesn’t stop “Hello, Little Girl” from still being creepy. The death of both characters are still tragic, although the elimination of the death of Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) does lower the emotional stakes of the witch a bit. (The witch kidnapped Rapunzel from the baker’s parents as payback for the baker’s father taking her greens.)

The musical also isn’t incredibly inspired with how it’s staged. In a way, this works because it avoids from being too inventive and also acts like the characters just sometimes burst into song rather than that they go off into a fantasy world where they sing on stages, as was the case in “Chicago” and “Nine.” The musical numbers largely occur on set pieces where the characters run into each other and sing in the woods, which works and feels safe. There is little in this musical to offend most musical theater fans–I say most because the most ardent will be upset about something. Moments of cleverness in this film arrive with the staging of “Agony,” a comedic self-pitying number from the prince and his brother (Billy Magnussen); and “On the Steps of the Palace,” where time actually stops as Cinderella contemplates her situation.

However, this film is gorgeous to watch and feels natural. It avoids being too chaotic and has performers who never feel stiff. It may have one of the best casts assembled for a movie musical in years where the weakest performance given by one of the lead actors is from Corden, who still gives a good performance, just not as good as the other leads.

Streep’s performance will either be read as another over-the-top performance given by her or one that works well. She twists and contorts prior to her transformation from an old hag to a glamorous blue-haired woman, which is gone post transformation. Her witch sells that she is to be feared and will have revenge without blinking an eye. Once transformed into her younger self, she spends much of the remainder of her on-screen time walking around looking like she’s sick of everyone’s shit, but when she is left by Rapunzel she shows her heartbreak very subtly. During “Last Midnight” her performance builds from the admonishment of everyone to the ache and fury from a woman who is alone, angrily singing the last half of the song. It helps that a furious storm appears, whipping up the leaves, which swirl around her before she disappears, but she breathes new life into the song, making it hers.

Streep doesn’t even give the the best performance in the film, which is divided between Kendrick and Blunt. Kendrick plays Cinderella as clever and caring providing the character with depth. Blunt fills her character with warmth and nervousness where it’s needed while also having a good singing voice. Both her and Kendrick inhabit their characters fully, bringing them to a new life. Every second they’re on screen is a delight.

Crawford manages to provide great sarcasm when it’s needed without it being forced and Huttlestone brings a fantastic eagerness to his role. Elsewhere, Tracey Ullman keeps Jack’s exasperated mother from being too one-note and Christine Baranski tends to steal every scene she’s in as Cinderella’s stepmother.

The film also has lush orchestrations of Sondheim’s score that never feel canned and generally amazing costume designs, although I’m still not sure what to think of Depp’s zoot suit. The film is well-paced, never lagging at all. It even manages to remove parts in Act One of the musical that I felt always dragged the show down a bit.

It is however not a feel-good family film or really even a movie for the whole family. Even if it is not nearly as bleak as the musical, it is still very dark and not something I would take a young child to. If children are taken to see “Into the Woods” the content and themes of the film are worth discussing.

In the end it is one of the better film adaptations of theater to occur in recent years and Marshall’s best film to date*. Although it has some faults, it is enjoyable and manages to simultaneously have a cast of stars–Corden gets to be a star since he won a Tony and is taking over The Late Late Show now that Craig Ferguson is leaving–and a good cast of stars who do not feel miscast. It does not disservice Sondheim’s work and hopefully introduces a new generation to an excellent introduction to a good musical.

*”Chicago” was fun, but not a great film and “Memoirs of a Geisha” was beautiful to look at, but dull as hell.

The Disney Princess Project: “Frozen”

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

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
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog

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
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
The Little Mermaid
The Princess and the Frog

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.