“But with Faith and Understanding, You Will Journey from Boy to Man”

Tarzan

Based on the Tarzan of the Apes novels (which I have never read), it is considered the last movie of the Disney Renaissance. The film features Glenn Close as Kala, Brian Blessed (a famous British actor who I am not as familiar as some of my compatriots) as Clayton, and Rosie O’Donnell as Terk. Music was done by Phil Collins, who I was unaware until years after the film, already had a successful music career in the eighties.

An overarching theme of the movie is the notion of two families; it’s even mentioned in the opening song; “two worlds, one family/trust your heart, let fate decide, to guide these lives we see.” The film opens on two families; Kerchak and Kala and their son, happy. Then we see Tarzan’s parents bravely escape a burning ship. They make a life in the jungle. But both stories end in tragedy; the leopard Sabor first kills Kala and Kerchak’s child. As Kala mourns the loss of her son, she hears a strange cry. She’s led to the human’s tree house [which that whole bit reminds me of The Swiss Family Robinson; I know the old Disney version] and discovers the bodies of Tarzan’s parents (never realized we actually saw the bodies until recently, though it’s probable that I didn’t notice them as a kid). She then discovers an adorable baby Tarzan, but looks up to startlingly find Sabor lying in wait. The leopard attacks and Tarzan’s giggles distract kids from realizing that Kala and the baby are in danger. Gorilla and child manage to escape and Kala goes to introduce her find to her troop. However, Kerchak argues that the baby is “not our kind;” but Kala persists and he reluctantly agrees that she may keep the child, but warns that it “doesn’t make him my son.”

baby Tarzan (2)
Isn’t he so sweet and adorable?

 

Kala soothes baby Tarzan that evening with a lullaby, You’ll Be in My Heart, “this bond between us/can’t be broken.” “From this day on/now and forevermore.” As Tarzan grows, he struggles to find his own place in his world. Kala encourages him to find his own sound; which is how his famous yell comes to be. He doesn’t quite fit in with the gorillas, but he’s brave…and reckless. He causes an elephant stampede that crashes through the gorilla troop. Kerchak takes him to task, stating to Kala he will “never be one of us.” Tarzan splashes mud on himself in an effort to look like a gorilla, but Kala patiently points out he has two eyes, like her. And a nose, like her. Their hands are similar, but there are distinct differences. The most important thing is that they both have a heartbeat. During Son of Man, Tarzan uses his own flair to accomplish what other animals do, “someday you talk with pride/son of man, a man in time you’ll be.” We Tarzan tree surfingwitness Tarzan transform into an adult man. He figures out a spear – Kerchak doesn’t quite approve. His typical vine swinging comes about since he can’t keep up with gorillas on the ground; and new for this interpretation, Tarzan uses the moss-covered trees to glide on [I remember watching some clip on Disney channel of one of the artists being inspired by his own son’s skateboarding and that was how that bit was created].

An old enemy makes an appearance: Sabor attacks near the gorilla troop. Kerchak first tries to fight the leopard, but he stumbles after some swipes. Tarzan grabs his spear and jumps into the fray. Both combatants land strikes on each other. Tarzan loses the top of his spear and it seems like Sabor will be victorious; they fall into a pit and leopard is the first thing the gorillas see emerge. It’s followed by Tarzan, who holds the body aloft and lets out his cry. He then lays his defeated enemy before Kerchak and we can see that Kerchak is starting to respect Tarzan and he almost speaks, when a strange sound fills the air.

Kerchak leads his troop away, but Tarzan is curious. He investigates and comes across a shell, sniffing and tasting it (kids, do not try that at home; it’s also not the first time we the audience have seen a shell casing; there was a discarded rifle and shell in the treehouse when Kala discovers Tarzan and we even heard the muted echo of a gunshot). He eventually comes upon Jane, who got separated from her group: her professor father and Clayton, their hired protection (who seems too pleased with destroying the jungle). Jane had stopped to draw a picture of a baby baboon, but wouldn’t let the little monkey keep the picture. His cries bring his whole family of baboons who chase Jane. Tarzan swings to the rescue! Jane’s not terribly pleased at first, screeching several times. They eventually take shelter in a tree branch, the dispute with the baboons settled thanks to Tarzan. Tarzan is even more curious now; this creature in front of him resembles him. Jane, being a properly brought up British woman is appalled at her invasion of personal space, but becomes excited once Tarzan mimics her speech. Introductions are simple: Jane…Tarzan [brings back a memory of my dear French teacher who would harangue us to learn proper sentence structure because “you cannot always go around ‘You Tarzan, Me Jane.'”]

Meanwhile, Terk, Tantor, and their other gorilla friends stumble into the humans’ camp while looking for Tarzan and are utterly fascinated by all the sounds the strange things in camp (the teapot set is reminiscent of Mrs. Potts) and begin Trashin’ the Camp (the pop version is Phil Collins and N*SYNC; again, it was the nineties, we liked our boy bands). Tarzan and Jane arrive, breaking up the party. Jane’s amazed at Tarzan’s interaction with the gorillas. But Kerchak has found them and the animals leave. Leaving Jane to describe her rescue to her father and Clayton as: “I was saved by a flying wild man in a loincloth.”

Kerchak orders the gorillas to stay away from the strangers; Tarzan argues that they’re not dangerous, demanding why Kerchak is threatened by anything different. The leader’s final word on the matter is to “protect this family.” When Kala approaches her son, all he can do is dispiritedly ask “why didn’t you tell me there were creatures that look like me?” He begins sneaking off to the human camp to learn more about these Strangers Like Me. “I just know there is something bigger out there/I wanna know/ can you show me?/I wanna know about these strangers like me/tell me more/please show me/something’s familiar about these strangers like me.” Jane is thrilled to teach Tarzan, hoping it will foster a link to the gorillas she and her father are studying.

But the time comes that the boat has arrived to take them back to England. Jane wants Tarzan to come with them to London; he should be with his own kind. Clayton puts the idea in Tarzan’s head that if Jane sees the gorillas, she’ll stay. So Tarzan arranges for Terk and Tantor to distract Kerchak and introduces the Brits to his mother and the troop. Clayton marks the spot on his map and Kerchak thunders back into the nest. Tarzan holds off the leader to let the other humans run. Afterwards, he’s mortified of what he did, holding off Kerchak and the troop leader claims that the young man has betrayed them all.

Kala determines it is time to show Tarzan the truth, where she found him. Tarzan discovers his baby blanket, and a picture of his father, and mother. He comes out of the overgrown treehouse in presumably one of his father’s suits. All Kala has ever wanted for her son is for him to be happy. He bids her a tearful farewell, “no matter where I go, you will always be my mother;” Kala replies “and you will always be in my heart” and Tarzan proceeds to the beach and boards the ship for London. He walks into a trap. Clayton has staged a mutiny and he and his men are taking cages into the forest to capture Tarzan’s gorilla family “at 300 pounds sterling a head.” Terk is upset at Tarzan’s leaving, but Tantor hears Tarzan’s shout and drags the gorilla to rescue their friend. Clayton has locked Tarzan, Jane, and the others in the hold where Tarzan is frantically trying to escape; but he can’t climb metal in his shoes. Jane gets him to stop, stating that Clayton betrayed them. No, Tarzan betrayed his family, he responds. The ship rocks as Tantor heaves aboard, a well placed foot breaks through the hold and Tarzan is out and leaping overboard.

At the gorilla’s nest, Clayton and his men net and cage the gorillas, capturing Kala. Kerchak fights to protect his family and Clayton announces “I think this one will be better off stuffed!” As Clayton cocks his shotgun, Tarzan’s yell echoes, followed by a stampede of animals (they gathered as Tarzan ran through them, removing his human clothes). Tarzan kicks Clayton down and cuts Kerchak’s bonds. “You came back,” the leader remarks. “I came home,” the man corrects. He sets about freeing the rest of the gorillas, but Kala is already caged and on her way back to the boat. Jane spots her and swings to her rescue, her old baboon friends help, Tarzan arriving just in time to knock the last man out. A shot rings out, grazing Tarzan’s arm; Clayton has declared “I have some hunting to do.” Enraged, Kerchak charges the man; another shot, Kerchak drops. Tarzan checks on his leader and he too charges at Clayton. He dodges the bullets and leads Clayton higher into the trees. The gun is dropped at one point; Tarzan gets a hold of it and levels it at the hunter. “Go ahead, shoot…be a man,” the hunter dares. He flinches at Tarzan’s imitation of a gunshot, then Tarzan smashes the gun, declaring “not a man like you.” Incensed, Clayton starts hacking at Tarzan with his machete, Tarzan backs away, but starts flinging the vines at Clayton, tangling him. A short standoff, then Clayton is back, hacking at the vines, but not paying attention to the order. He creates his own noose, ignoring Tarzan’s warning, and drops. In the flickering shadows of the coming rainstorm, we see the outline of a now dead Clayton, his machete sticking up from the ground.

Tarzan checks on Kerchak, the other gorillas of the troop gathered around their leader. The man begs forgiveness; “no, forgive me,” the dying gorilla breathes, “for not understanding that you have always been one of us. Our family will look to you now….Take care of them, my son,” placing his larger hand on Tarzan’s shoulder. It falls as Kerchak closes his eyes; Tarzan gathers the large gorilla in his bulky arms, embracing the only father he ever knew. Looking to the rest of the troop, he takes his place, striking an intimidating gorilla pose, thumping his chest, and the rest of the gorillas follow him from Kerchak.

Jane and her father attempt to leave again, bidding farewell to Tarzan. Jane argues with her father that she belongs in London. “But you love him,” her father retorts. Her glove blows away and she makes up her mind, swimming back to shore. Her father soon follows and politely ignores his daughter kissing Tarzan. Two Worlds reprises, showing Tarzan’s new family, which includes Jane and Kala; Jane now in less obtrusive clothing. The movie closes on the echo of Tarzan’s yell.

While Tarzan is not a favorite of mine, I enjoy the characterizations and the music. It’s a fun soundtrack to listen to. Tarzan is a very good hero; he has both brains and brawn. I would argue that his mistakes that bring about the climax of the story are made out of innocence; he has never dealt with someone who is manipulative and deceitful. Who hasn’t gotten excited about something new and ignore the old for a while? While Kerchak was harsh, he was a leader of a troop of gorillas and saw Tarzan as an outsider and thus dangerous. (Though really, a baby? He was adorable and blew spit bubbles. It’s a bit like Jungle Book; even though Mowgli is young, he’ll grow into a man and man is dangerous…then one could get into the whole ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate…and I won’t).

Kala was a sweet mother and what would be gained from telling Tarzan that there were other creatures like him when they were dead and she was unaware new ones had come to the area. She had a little boy who was insecure enough as it was; she focused on what was similar, not what was different (a very good lesson, and not beaten over our heads like some other Disney parables). Jane…not my favorite Disney female, a little stuffy at first and a bit pompous, not letting the baby baboon have the drawing. But she’s smart and not afraid of hard work. She and Tarzan do make a good pair and I was happy that Tarzan chose to stay with his original family, and pleased that Jane chose to stay with him (because after the adventure she had, what else would compare? You are already fascinated with gorillas, now is your chance to study them full time).

Tarzan ending

There was a sequel in 2002, Tarzan and Jane, and a prequel, Tarzan II: The Legend Begins in 2005, along with a TV series, The Legend of Tarzan [and apparently a Broadway musical…no idea that existed]. I have not seen any of those films and I don’t recall the cartoon. Out of curiosity’s sake, I did watch the 2016 film The Legend of Tarzan, which involves the characters going back to Africa after being in England for several years. Being unfamiliar with the original book material, I was a bit confused by the film and it seemed to focus heavily on big action sequences. Though, the villain was stupid: he knows what Tarzan is like, so let’s piss him off.

As always, let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Next Time: The Emperor’s New Groove

“Did They Send Me Daughters, When I Asked For Sons?”

Mulan

Another film I can vividly recall seeing in theatres, Mulan is based on a Chinese legend. The art, especially in the opening, is beautiful. From there, we begin at the Great Wall of China, closing in on a guard. A falcon swoops by and puts him on edge. His feeling is proven when a slew of grappling hooks fly up and catch on the wall. He rushes to light the fire and sees the falcon land on someone; the legendary Shan Yu, leader of the Hun army. In defiance, the solider lights the brazier, “now all of China knows you’re here.” “Perfect,” Shan Yu replies.

A general sweeps into the emperor’s chambers, announcing that Shan Yu has invaded China. The general immediately offers to have his troops surround the palace. The emperor insists that the troops are needed elsewhere, “send your troops to protect my people.” In addition to the general’s troops, the emperor orders reserves be brought into action, and conscription notices sent out, recruiting new troops. A wise ruler, the emperor does enjoy speaking in metaphors.

Then we meet Mulan, running late to her meeting with the matchmaker and making notes on her arm. Her family pray to their ancestors that Mulan will make a successful match and Bring Honor to Us All. I cannot speak as to the validity or importance of what Mulan goes through, but it was fascinating as a child to watch, and comparing to what I knew of European culture. I agree with the grandmother that the matchmaker is a horrible woman. The women preparing Mulan said that men desired a tiny waist, and yet the matchmaker claims she’s too skinny, “not good for bearing sons.” She finds fault with everything and throws Mulan out after an incident with a cricket. “You may look like a bride, but you will never bring your family honor,” the woman shouts.

Her family is concerned by the news and Mulan blames herself, and who she is. She feelsmulan reflection like she is not the “perfect daughter.” “Can it be/I’m not meant to play this part? Now I see/that if I were truly/to be myself/I would break my family’s heart.” “Somehow I cannot hide/who I am/though I’ve tried/when will my reflection show/who I am inside?” Every girl has felt like this; I have felt like this off and on my entire life. Not fitting in, not being like people around you. Luckily, Mulan teaches us different. The imagery of Mulan wiping away her make-up, pausing when she splits her face between the painted bride and her natural look, highlighting how her Reflection doesn’t truly show her. Her father attempts to cheer her up, by offering that the last blossoms to bloom are the most beautiful.

Their talk is interrupted by the arrival of the emperor’s advisor, ordering one man from every family to serve in the army. Mulan’s father is injured from already fighting in one war and there is no son to take his place. Mulan begs Chi Fu to spare her father, but is dismissed and ordered not to speak in a man’s presence. At dinner, she attempts to talk sense into her father, concerned that he will “die for honor.” She’s already witnessed that her father cannot wield a sword any longer; his leg gives out. She understands that if he fights, he will die. But her father is determined to uphold the family’s honor, he knows his place, he angrily shouts, it’s time Mulan learns hers.

She seeks solace under the dragon statue, rain matching her despair, witnessing that her father can’t even comfort her mother. The change in music signals Mulan’s decision. A brief prayer to the ancestors, then she takes the notice and leaves her comb in its place. She cuts her hair and dons her father’s armor. She takes her horse and rides away. Her grandmother senses something is wrong and wakes to realize Mulan is gone. Mulan’s mother begs her husband to go after Mulan; she could be killed in battle. Her father reveals to the audience, that if he exposes Mulan to be a woman, she’d be killed for certain. The ancestors awaken and send tiny dragon Mushu to waken the Great Stone Dragon. The Great Stone Dragon does not waken, so Mushu decides to take the job of protecting Mulan (lying to the ancestors and pretending that the Great Stone Dragon did wake).

Mushu finds Mulan practicing how she’ll approach the men in the camp and blend in; she’s not very good and Mushu puts on a show to introduce himself. He earns a slap when he makes the crack “I can see straight through your armor;” the slap prompts him to declare “Dishonor on you. Dishonor on your cow,” (not a cow, Mushu, Kahn is a horse, but a hilarious line nonetheless that I think everyone who grew up with the movie knows.) Mulan apologizes and the pair attempt to work together. Meanwhile, in camp, the general directs his new captain on his duties to train the new recruits and meet with the main army when finished. The new captain is his son, Shang. And he’s got a lot to cover with the new soldiers; Mulan has already managed to knock everyone over. She clumsily announces her name is “Ping,” and the trio of men she first meets (Yao, Ling, Chin Po) attempt to sabotage her training.

She shows a slight interest in Shang when he removes his shirt and lays out his plan to Make a Man Out of You. [Fun Note: the singing voice of Shang is Donny Osmond]. Qualities of a man include: “tranquil as a forest/but a fire within…you must be swift as a coursing river/with all of the force of a great typhoon/with all of the strength of a raging fire/mysterious as the dark side of the moon.” (Except I thought females were typically attributed to the moon) I still don’t get why they had to climb to the top of a pole wearingmake a man out of you weights, but it was funny to see how bad they all were at the beginning. Shang tells Mulan “you’re unsuited for the rage of war/so pack up, go home, you’re through.” Mulan wants to prove herself and gets an idea. She wraps the weights around each other and uses them to pull herself up. After that, she excels at training, demonstrating that brains is better than brawn; one needs to outwit their opponent.

We’ve already seen that Shan Yu is merciless. When he captures two imperial scouts, he informs them that his invasion is a response to China’s unwritten challenge by building the Wall. He lets them go to deliver the message, but then asks his troops how many are needed to deliver a message. The one drawing an arrow replies “one.” (Did not get that reference as a kid). Later, his falcon brings him a doll from a village in the pass, giving him clues that the Imperial Army is waiting for him. As a naive child, I thought he was being nice, wanting to return the little girl’s doll. Nope. He’s really a psychopath.

Mushu and Cricket fake orders so Mulan will see combat. The troops are excited at first, cheerfully singing about A Girl Worth Fighting For. They dismiss “Ping’s” suggestion of “a girl whose got a brain/who always speaks her mind.” The mood changes when they come to the village and find it decimated and in flames. The army is slaughtered, including Shang’s father; we even see the doll, without an owner. Shang takes one moment to remember his father, then instructs his troops that they are the only hope for the Emperor now. Their trek continues. Mushu, goofing around, sets off a rocket, giving away the troops’ position. A single arrow manages to hit Shang, which he immediately removes, no harm done (not factual). The Hun army impressively lines up on the top of the ridge, then rides down amidst canon fire (a CGI masterpiece). Shang reserves the last canon for Shan Yu, but Mulan gets an idea again. She takes the canon and stops right in front of the Hun leader, but fires at the mountain behind him. Starting an avalanche. The Hun realizes what the Chinese solider has done (love Mulan’s sassy smirk) and swipes with his sword (again, why are you using a jagged sword? That cannot be the most efficient weapon!)

hun_armyShang has raced forward to help “Ping” but she dashes back and pulls him away from the onrushing snow. Kahn gets free to rescue them. Shang is pulled away and once Mulan has fought back to the surface, she grabs his unconscious body. Being resourceful, she manages to get both of them to safety. Once Shang has caught his breath, his thanks “Ping” for his bravery; calling him “the craziest man I’ve ever met,” and “from now on, you have my trust.” Mulan realizes she’s injured and the troops get her aid. She’s revealed as a woman. Chi Fu is a jerk and refers to her as a “treacherous snake.” Her friends, Yao, Ling, and Chin Po try to save her; Shang spares her life; “a life for a life, my debt is repaid.” They leave her supplies, but move on to the city.

There is a heartfelt scene between Mushu and Mulan on the mountainside. While Mulan did join the army to save her father, she also wanted to prove that she could so something right. So when she looked in the mirror, she’d see someone worthwhile. But she was wrong, she sees nothing. Mulan does not get long to dwell; figures are popping out of the snow; Shan Yu and five of his men survived. Demonstrating her bravery, Mulan rides to the city and attempts to warn Shang and the troops that Shan Yu is still alive. No one listens to her, now that she looks like a woman again; Mulan retorts to Shang “you trusted Ping, why is Mulan any different.” Yet, we can tell that the trio are intrigued. They readily follow her when she has a plan after Shan Yu breaks out of the dragon and kidnaps the Emperor. There’s a reprise of Make a Man Out of You as the men dress as concubines to break into the palace. Shang joins them as they climb the pillars, like Mulan did back at camp.

The trio are the distraction and Shang and Mulan rescue the Emperor. Mulan has the mulan on roofidea to use the lanterns as a zip line, but cuts off her own escape to stay with Shang when Shan Yu violently headbutts the captain. She reveals herself as “the solider from the mountains” who stole away Shan Yu’s victory. Shan Yu chases her, ending up on the roof. All Mulan has left on her is her fan and (totally awesome!) spins it around Shan Yu’s sword, then pins him to the roof as Mushu lights a giant firework. As Shan Yu is carried away, Mulan mutters “get off the roof, get off the roof!” tackling Shang as she escapes the explosion.

Chi Fu once again goes after Mulan, but now Shang and the others stand in front of her, calling her a “hero” when Chi Fu insists she’s a woman, she’s not worth protecting. The Emperor descends and has his say. “You stole your father’s armor, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived your commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese army, destroyed my palace, and…you have saved us all.” He bows to her. The crowd follows his lead so soon, everyone is bowing to Mulan. He offers her a position on his staff, but she politely declines; “I’ve been away from home long enough.” He gifts her his medal, “so your family will know what you have done for me”, and Shan Yu’s sword, “so the world will know what you have done for China.” Mulan hugs the Emperor…she can get away with that because she just saved China. Her friends hug her as well and Shang awkwardly compliments her…”you fight good.” The Emperor gives Shang some advice once Mulan has gone: “the flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” Which translates to “you don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty.”

Mulan’s father is sitting beneath the cherry blossom tree and Mulan presents her gifts to him, they’re to honor the Fa family. He sets them aside and embraces his daughter; “the greatest gift is having you for a daughter.” Just as the grandmother is making a crack about Mulan should have brought home a man, Shang shows up and again awkwardly compliments Mulan. She saves him by inviting him to dinner. Grandma shouts “would you like to stay forever!” A happy ending.

As a girl growing up in the nineties, I like Mulan for not being a typical princess movie. Mulan is the hero of the film and shows that girls can kick butt too, that girls are just as good as boys. The romance between her and Shang is almost an after-thought, which is okay. They’re also a more modern couple, equal in their relationship. Disney tried to expand that idea with a sequel that is definitely not as good as the first. They threw in problems, which happens in real life, but managed to exaggerate reactions, and Mushu was really annoying.

I enjoy this soundtrack, and really need to get a copy of it.  The song over the credits, True To Your Heart was performed by Stevie Wonder and 98˚ (again, it was the nineties and boy bands were all the rage, lol).  I also remember an ice show of the film, starring Michelle Kwan and she thus became my favorite figure skater.

As always, I welcome questions or comments.

Up Next: Tarzan

“I Know Every Mile, Will Be Worth My While”

First, let me apologize for the delay; working retail at this time of year occupies more of my time, and with the Thanksgiving holiday last week, I decided to forego posting.  I’ll probably only post once a week until the new year, and most likely will not post the week of Christmas.  I hope everyone has a good holiday season and find moments for peace and quiet.  Now, on with the show!

Hercules

Based on the Greek mythological tale, it features Tate Donovan as the voice of adult Hercules (and my mind has just been blown because I figured out he plays [Spoiler Alert!] Mac’s father aka the Oversight of Phoenix in the rebooted MacGyver series. I just kept repeating “What!” when I read that.) Danny DeVito is his trainer, Phil, and Susan Egen is Megara.

baby hercules and pegasus
They’re adorable as babies

The film opens with a dusty narrator, but he’s interrupted by the Muses who spice up the prologue of Zeus trapping the Titans and give a gospel flair. Years and years later, Zeus and his wife Hera are having a party for their baby boy, Hercules. Their gift to their son is baby Pegasus. Zeus’s brother, Hades, ruler of the Underworld, stops by for a moment, but returns to his domain for a meeting with the Fates (three [ugly] women who control the lifelines of mortals). He has a plan to release the Titans and take down Zeus, so he can rule, but wants to know from the Fates if Hercules will spoil everything. Short answer, yes. So, for his plan to be a success, he sends his stooges, Pain and Panic (little demons? I don’t know what they are; I thought they were funny as a kid) to kidnap Hercules, feed him a potion to make him mortal, and kill him. They fail at giving baby Hercules every drop of the potion, so he retains his god-like strength, and even ties the shape shifting demons into a knot, laughing all the while. Fearing Hades’s wrath at their failure, Pain and Panic decide not to mention it to the god. An older couple take Hercules in and raise him.

Eighteen years later, we check back in with Hercules, a gangly teenager who can’t control his strength, causing accidents and damage, and is thus deemed a freak by everyone else. Taking pity on their son, his parents reveal that he was adopted and he wore an insignia of the gods around his neck when they found him. He will Go the Distance [Cross Country runners have adopted this as an anthem] and find out where he belongs. The answers lie at the temple for Zeus, which springs to life for Hercules. The statue informs Hercules of his true heritage, but he cannot join the gods on Mount Olympus as a mortal; he must perform an act of true heroism for his god status to be reinstated. To aid his son on his journey, Zeus reunites him with Pegasus and sends him to Phil, a trainer of heroes. Hercules vows “I won’t let you down, father!”

Unfortunately, Phil’s island is a mess and he’s retired. A little bolt of lightning persuades Phil to take on Hercules, who is his One Last Hope. He’s dreamed of training a hero so great, the gods will put a constellation of him in the sky and everyone can say, “that’s Phil’s boy.” Hercules starts clumsy, but he bulks up over the years and soon passes the courses with ease. To prove his mettle, Phil takes him to Thebes. Along the way, they hear a damsel in distress. A centaur (which I thought centaurs were good?) has a damsel in his clutches. Megara, Meg by her friends, if she had any, is sassy and spunky. “I’m a damsel. I’m in distress. I can handle this, have a nice day.” Hercules does defeat the centaur, but he gets tongue-tied around Meg (understandable considering his interaction with females prior to this would have been minimal) Phil and Pegasus drag him away and Meg meets with Hades. She works for the god of the Underworld and he is not pleased with Pain and Panic when he discovers Hercules is still alive. He has a new plan to get the strong man out of his way so he can reorganize the cosmos.

Thebes is a city in chaos; constant natural disasters and monster attacks. According to Phil, a good place to test out Hercules as a hero. He gets his first chance from Meg, who comes running up to him, spouting a story of two boys trapped under a rock. Hercules saves the kids easily, but moving the rock uncovered a hydra. He quickly learns, after being eaten and slicing his way out, that cutting one head off just makes three more grow in its place, so he soon has a mass of heads ready to chomp him. He finally defeats the hydra by causing a rock slide. He’s buried for a moment and Hades is gleeful, but Hercules prevails. After that, he turns Zero to Hero [my favorite song from the movie]; he defeats any monster Hades throws at him and racks up crowds of adoring fans. However, while Hercules reenacts his tales for his father, he’s disappointed to find out he still hasn’t become a true hero and cannot join Zeus on Olympus.

Hades is desperate. He wants Meg to discover whether “wonder boy” has any weaknesses. He owns her; she sold her soul to him to save her boyfriend, but the boyfriend was scum and ran off with another woman. If Meg does this task for Hades, the god will grant her her freedom. She persuades Hercules to play hooky for a day with her (the lion skin Hercules is wearing at the beginning of the scene is Scar from Lion King). The couple has a lovely date, interrupted at the end by Pegasus and Phil. Meg Won’t Say I’m in Love, completely different from most heroines in a Disney movie. Hades appears and doesn’t buy that Hercules doesn’t have a weakness, then realizes, Meg is the man’s weakness. Phil overhears Meg and Hades talking and has to break the news to Hercules. The young man is so in love, he won’t hear it and Phil quits.

Pain and Panic distract and tie up Pegasus so Hades has the man alone. He offers a deal; Hercules gives up his strength for the next twenty-four hours, and Hades will set Meg free (he has the woman bound and gagged). Hercules agrees upon the condition that Meg will be safe. His heart is broken when Hades reveals that Phil spoke the truth. Hades is off to free the Titans, Hercules and Meg are both crying over their heartbreak (Meg’s upset that she’s caused Hercules pain).

While the Titans attack Olympus, Hades sends a Cyclops to take care of Hercules. Even without his strength, he still faces the monster. Meg frees Pegasus and they retrieve Phil to help Hercules. A bit of a pep talk from his trainer, and Hercules defeats the Cyclops, but Meg pushes him out of the way from a falling pillar. Hercules’s strength returns, since Hades’s deal was broken. He rushes to Olympus to save the gods; the Titans are defeated, but Hades gets one last gloat in about Meg. The hero arrives just after Meg’s life line is cut by the Fates. He ventures to the Underworld to save her, making a new deal. A trade; his soul for Meg’s. Hades agrees, but knows there’s a loophole; Hercules won’t survive the swim in the River of Souls; Hades will have both of their souls. As the Fates go to cut his life line, the scissors won’t cut, the line turns gold. Meaning, Hercules is a god. He strides out of the river, pushes Hades in, and returns Meg’s soul to her body.

Hercules-Meg

The pair are whisked to Olympus, where the gods are ready to welcome Hercules to their ranks. His willing sacrifice of his life for Meg’s was the act of a true hero. He gives up god hood to remain with Meg; they finally share a kiss. A final chorus cheers and declare A Star is Born. A constellation of Hercules is flung among the stars and Phil gets his hero.

Since my interests center primarily on British myths, I am not as familiar with Greek myths (I have a friend who has more of an interest and according to her, Disney tamed down the story; but what do we expect from Disney?) The movie has a good message about what a true hero is and Hercules doesn’t let the fame go to his head, which I appreciate; the writers ensured the Hercules remained a truly “good guy.” I remember there was a cartoon that ran for a while on Disney Channel. For me, Hercules wouldn’t rank as high as say, Lion King, but I do appreciate now how sassy Meg is. She is a more modern woman and I love how she is able to take care of herself. She won’t fall into the stereotypical role of being helpless. Yes, she falls for Hercules, but because he is genuinely caring and nice. The Muses are fun. So, overall, an enjoyable watch, but not one I’m going to rush to add to my DVD collection.

I welcome questions or comments.  What’s your opinion on Meg and Hercules?

Next Time: Mulan

“We’ll Stand in the Sun, in that Bright Afternoon”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Based on the Victor Hugo novel, it too has a star-studded cast and amazing music. Tom Hulce (Amadeus from the movie Amadeus, never saw the movie until I was in college) leads as Quasimodo, Demi Moore voices Esmeralda the gypsy, David Ogden Stiers returns as the Archdeacon, Tony Jay (previously the man from the asylum in Beauty and the Beast) voices Frollo (no wonder he’s creepy), and Kevin Kline (who later is Maurice in the live action Beauty and the Beast, among a bunch of movies I’ve never seen) rounds out as Phoebus.

We open on the gypsy leader Clopin telling the children of Paris a story, accompanied by a phenomenal choir interjecting Latin with The Bells of Notre Dame echoing in the background. A few gypsies are attempting to sneak into Paris under the regime of Judge Claude Frollo. He “longed to purge the world of vice and sin/and saw corruption everywhere/except, within.” A guard questions a bundle in the gypsy woman’s arms and Frollo instructs his man to take it. In terror, the woman bolts. Frollo pursues her to the steps of Notre Dame, ignoring her pleads of “Sanctuary!” and rips the bundle from her, kicking her onto the steps and killing her. Instead of the “stolen goods” he assumed, the bundle was a baby, regrettably deformed. “A monster,” he hisses and the judge plans to drop the baby into a well. The Archdeacon of Notre Dame has come out and halts the judge; he already has one person’s innocent blood on his hands, don’t add another, the eyes of Notre Dame see all. With a bit of fear, Frollo agrees to take the child as his ward, naming him “Quasimodo,” meaning half-formed, and the boy will stay locked away high in the bell tower, where no one can see him, until he is of use to Frollo.

Notre_Dame
The artists did capture the details and intricacies of Notre Dame well

The next scene dawns on the annual Feast of Fools. Quasimodo has three friends (Lavern, Victor, and Hugo [the last two are a nod to the author]), gargoyles who come to life for him alone; they urge their human friend to sneak to the festival and enjoy life for once. “No one wants to be cooped up here forever.” Quasi has himself talked into it, until his master, Frollo arrives and disparages the festival. “I am your only friend,” he tells Quasimodo saying that the people outside the cathedral will view am a monster. “The world is cruel…and wicked/it is I alone whom you can trust.” Quasi is only safe in the tower of Notre Dame. Quasimodo begs forgiveness. But once Frollo has gone, he continues to dream of “living in the sun/give me one day out there.” He’s spent his whole life watching the people of Paris, they’re “heedless of the gift it is to be them.” He’d take just one day, “to hold forever” Out There. So, he goes. [In the crowd, you can just see Belle meandering with a book]

In the meantime, a soldier has just returned (probably from the Crusades) and is to report to Frollo. While Phoebus is looking for the Palace of Justice, turned about because the city has changed in a few decades, he comes across a dancing gypsy, Esmeralda. When guards attempt to arrest her, Phoebus artfully gets in the way (and makes his horse, Achilles, “sit”). He “persuades” the guards to help him and on their way, tosses loose gold coins into disguised Esmeralda’s hat. At the Palace, Frollo informs him that his job is to help eradicate the gypsy vermin of Paris (those are the words he uses, in a film meant for kids).

The Festival of Fools is the one day everything is Topsy Turvy in Paris; “it’s the day for breaking rules.” They have a contest where they crown “the King of Fools;” men wear masks, then make an ugly face, the ugliest wins. Quasimodo is amazed by everything and at one point, stumbles into Esmeralda’s dressing room. She’s kind to him. A few moments later, she’s featured in a dance (very provocative for a kids’ movie) and she takes the opportunity to mock Frollo. The contest follows, which Quasi wins. The crowd is a bit shocked at first; it’s not a mask, it’s his face. Clopin urges them to not be frightened, they asked for the ugliest man in all of Paris (watching it as an adult…not the nicest thing to say). Frollo is appalled. The crowd is on Quasimodo’s side, at first. Then a guard makes a snide remark and throws a tomato. The crowd joins in. They’re no longer laughing with Quasi, now they’re laughing at him. Esmeralda once again shows kindness and frees Quasimodo, despite Frollo’s protests. She speaks out against Frollo; the ones who need justice the most are the ones who are persecuted. Frollo orders his men, led by Phoebus to capture her. Phoebus wanted to stop the mocking earlier, but was ordered to stand down. Phoebus does not actively chase Esmeralda, sending the goons; he’s actually impressed by her evasion skills. The gypsy “disappears” and Frollo is steaming.

Esmeralda sneaks into Notre Dame, followed by Phoebus. Interesting introductions: candlelight, combat, banter; essentially, the pair are already flirting. Frollo sneaks in, but Phoebus says that Esmeralda has claimed “sanctuary,” acting the opposite from other soldiers. He’s still kicked out for his troubles. The gypsy is safe, as long as she stays in the church. She uses the time to reflect, adding her prayer with the rest. “I’m just an outcast/I shouldn’t speak to you/still I see your face and wonder/were you once an outcast too?” While the rest of the parishioners ask for wealth, fame, and glory, Esmeralda asks “God Help the Outcasts/or nobody will.” [This is one Disney song I have had the opportunity to sing; I know another song, Someday from the movie through the Celtic Woman arrangement and have sung that as well.] Quasimodo has snuck downstairs to watch the gypsy, but runs off when he’s spotted. Esmeralda follows and their friendship blossoms. Esmeralda is the first person outside of Frollo who has shown any emotion other than fear to the young man. Both young people yearn to be free; sanctuary is not freedom for a gypsy. Esmeralda (and the audience) wonders how a man as cruel as Frollo managed to raise a kind man like Quasi; she disagrees that the hunchback is a monster, reading his hand to prove her point. In return for her kindness, and saving him at the festival, Quasimodo helps Esmeralda escape Notre Dame, not using a door. No, they swing down the architecture [not quite adventurous enough as a child to want to do that]. As Quasi heads back up the stairs, he briefly meets Phoebus and they jockey over the gypsy’s affection.

The gargoyles call Quasi a “lover boy,” but Quasi still feels unworthy of affection from someone as kind and compassionate as Esmeralda. Heaven’s Light is a sweet song, but I tend to forget about it in comparison to Hellfire. The song terrified me a bit as a child (and luckily a good portion of the subtext went over my head.) Frollo continues to be a hypocrite, claiming to be a “righteous man,” and proud of his virtue, but blames everyone and everything else for his troubles. Esmeralda haunts him; he desires her and knows he shouldn’t. Well, he claims, he shouldn’t, but by the end of the song, he will gladly take her if she chooses him over the fire. At the end, Frollo falls to the floor in the shape of a crucifix. (I will leave analyzing the religious undertones to someone better educated. And I have no desire to open that can of worms. I’ll simply leave with the note that the song was overall…ominous, made even more so backed by a choir chanting a Confiteor and Kyrie Eleison.)

The judge keeps his word that he is willing to burn down all of Paris to find Esmeralda after her miraculous escape from Notre Dame. The track in the score encapsulates the drama of the events, once again incorporating . He interrogates peasants and chains countless gypsies, offering silver in exchange for information. He eventually comes to a family on the outskirts, who compassionately harbor any weary traveler. In exchange for their benevolence, Frollo orders Phoebus to burn down their house. The captain refuses. Frollo takes a torch himself and sets the thatch roof alight. Phoebus jumps into the house to save the family. Right after he hands the baby off to its mother, another soldier knocks him out and they prepare to behead him. Esmeralda, who has been watching to proceedings, causes a distraction, allowing Phoebus to take Frollo’s horse and makes a getaway. Out of the rain of arrows, one gets lucky and hits him in the back of the shoulder (must be a really lucky shot, considering he’s wearing armor. And how did he manage to get out of the armor while he’s underwater?) He falls into the river and is rescued by Esmeralda again. The gypsy takes him to Quasimodo to hide. He allows Phoebus to hide and regrettably witnesses Esmeralda and the captain kiss. Frollo stops by, suspicious that Quasimodo is hiding something again. He catches sight of Quasi’s carved figure of Esmeralda and blames him for the state of Paris. Gypsies aren’t capable of real love, the proof is that Quasimodo’s mother abandoned him as an infant (lie), Esmeralda now has him under a spell. But no matter, he knows where she’s hiding and will attack at dawn.

Phoebus and Quasimodo have to warn the gypsies and have to work together. They manage to find the Court of Miracles, which is not as pleasant as it sounds. Disney, after spending most of the movie portraying gypsies as misunderstood and innocent, revealing them as cutthroats and liars does not help your argument. Not giving the two men a chance to explain, the gypsies jump to the conclusion that they are spies for Frollo. Esmeralda sets them straight, preventing a double hanging. With a cringe, we find out Frollo followed Quasimodo and Phoebus. His soldiers round up the gypsies.

The next morning, Quasimodo is chained in the tower, depressed over failing his friends; Phoebus is locked up; and Esmeralda is tied to a stake. Frollo offers her one last chance, be his or burn. She knows exactly what Frollo wants (little kids don’t) and spits her refusal. The gargoyles talk sense into Quasi in time for him to break the chains and swing to Esmeralda’s rescue. He shouts “Sanctuary!” from the top of the cathedral, and after making sure Esmeralda is safe, prepares for battle. Frollo declares war. The crowd is incensed (remember, he’s attacking a church), and rallied by Phoebus, they fight back. Frollo makes his way to Quasi and for a moment, we all believe Esmeralda’s dead. Quasimodo won’t have too long to mourn her, for Frollo intends to stab him in the back. Quasi catches the shadow and dodges, managing to get the dagger.

It’s Frollo’s turn to listen. “All my life you’ve taught me that the world is a dark and cruel place, but the only thing dark and cruel about it are people like you.” He tosses the dagger aside and they hear Esmeralda get up. Quasi flees with her, Frollo pursues, punctuated by a score that heightens our anxiety. The crowd looks up in horror as Frollo tries to chop the hunchback and gypsy’s heads off. Frollo growls, “I should have known you’d risk your life to save that gypsy witch; just as your own mother died trying to save you.” He and Quasimodo tumble over the edge and Quasi has the chance to simply let the evil man fall, but doesn’t. Frollo swings to a stylized spout and Esmeralda desperately holds onto Quasimodo. Frollo raises his sword, eyes a demonic yellow, and pronounces “And He shall smite the wicked and cast them into the fiery pits!” (no, not an exact quote of the Bible, but pretty close to Isaiah Chapter 11). The gargoyle comes to life, cracks, and drops Frollo into the raging fire below (Quasi had poured something molten out of the spouts earlier). Esmeralda can’t hold Quasimodo and he drops as well, to be caught by Phoebus.

Esmeralda gives Quasimodo a happy hug, then he places her hand with Phoebus, giving his blessing I assume, and the couple share a kiss. The trio makes their way outside (everything got cleaned up fast), though Quasi pauses at the door. Esmeralda silently encourages him, and a little girl comes up to him, touching his face, then giving the hunchback a hug. Clopin finishes his tale of “what makes a monster/and what makes a man” as the Bells of Notre Dame ring out again.

While it’s not necessarily a favorite of mine, I do enjoy parts of Hunchback. The music is fantastic (there was a short run musical), the action is engaging.  The scores for Paris Burning and Sanctuary are helpful when writing fight scenes, or imagining danger that I put my characters in. It has a good lesson about not judging people.  I never really connected to any of the characters; Esmeralda was fun, Phoebus seemed stuffy (though more believable as an adult), I certainly felt sorry for Quasimodo and rooted for him, but still, no connection like the lions from Lion King. But it is certainly one of Disney’s darkest films; though what should we expect when it’s based off of a novel written by the man who wrote Les Miserablés (translates to “the miserable people”). And it’s also supposed to be lighter than the original book.  There was an absolutely horrible sequel to the movie that I have seen exactly once, because it was so bad.

As always, let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Next Time: Hercules

“How High Does the Sycamore Grow?”

Pocahontas

Disney once again won an Oscar for Best Original Score (Alan Menken once again, he was assisted by Stephen Schwartz, who would go on to write lyrics for Hunchback of Notre Dame, Prince of Egypt, and Broadway smash hit Wicked) and Best Original Song for Colors of the Wind, another one of my favorite Disney soundtracks. This was also the first movie I can remember seeing in the theatre; I would have been about six when it came out. It has another all-star cast, Mel Gibson (before he said stupid things) voices John Smith, Christian Bale (yep, Batman) voices Thomas, Billy Connolly voices Ben (the dark-haired friend of John Smith), Linda Hunt (Hetty from NCIS: Los Angeles, I’ll admit, I just figured this one out) voices Grandmother Willow, and Disney alum David Ogden Stiers is back, voicing Governor Ratcliffe and his companion Wiggins. Disney considers Pocahontas a princess, since her father is chief of the Powhatan tribe of Indians (I’m glad she’s recognized, but she’s not really a princess.)

The film is based on the founding of Jamestown and opens on London, seeing the Susan Constant off. Virginia Company is the reason I remember that Jamestown was founded in 1607 and that they were searching for “glory, gold, and God,” though mainly gold (surprising a teacher in eighth grade). John Smith is portrayed as an adventurer and helps rescue Thomas when the lad is swept overboard in a storm [btw, amazing soundtrack]. He’s apparently been other “New Worlds” and is skilled with pushing back the “savages” or “Injuns” as the English sometimes refer (we cringe at that now; in Disney’s defense, the rest of the movie is devoted to proving that concept wrong). He has no reason to think that this trip will be any different (just you wait). Governor Ratcliffe shows us shades of his true nature early, admitting to Wiggins he needs the men cheerful so they’ll “dig up my gold.”

Next we meet the Powhatan Indian village, giving insight into Native culture and extolling the virtues of living off the Earth, promoting “walk in balance all our days.” The titular character does not view life as steady. No, Pocahontas rather jump off a cliff (accompanied by her animal friends Flit and Meeko [a hummingbird and raccon]) instead of taking the meandering course down. Definitely more fun to a kid. When she meets up with her father, he informs her that the bravest warrior, Kocoum wishes to marry her. It would be a good match, Powhatan believes; “he is loyal and strong and will build you a good house…with him, you will be safe from harm.” Pocahontas, on the other hand, sees the warrior as stern and serious and not the excitement she thought her dream means. Pocahontas wants to be able to choose her own path; her father cautions that the wisest way is to become Steady as the Beating Drum, like the river. She is the daughter of the chief, her people expect her to take her place. To aid her decision, Powhatan gifts his daughter her mother’s necklace, which was worn on her wedding day.

just around the riverbendBut the river is not steady; there are always new things Just Around the Riverbend, waiting to be discovered, including a waterfall and exhilarating rapids; another favorite scene of mine. [I loved to sing this song on the bus; I got looks.] Pocahontas comments that in exchange for being safe, we lose our sense of adventure. “For a handsome sturdy husband/who builds handsome study walls/and never dreams that something might be coming/just around the riverbend.” “Should I choose the smoothest course/steady as the beating drum…is all my dreaming at an end?” The river leads the young woman to Grandmother Willow, a wise spirit with a bit of spunk. There, she explains her dream of a spinning arrow. Grandmother Willow instructs her to Listen with Your Heart to determine what her dream means and the path she should follow. The wind tells her that there are strange clouds coming. Indeed there are; the sails of the Susan Constant.

Pocahontas hides and observes the settlers landing and declaring the area now belongs to King James I of England [hence, Jamestown, in the colony of Virginia, for Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen]. Ratcliffe orders a few men to unload the ship, a few to build the fort, and the rest to break out the shovels. After all, they came for gold; it’s time to Mine, Mine, Mine (a play on mining for gold, and Ratcliffe being greedy; this is his last chance for glory). The Spanish found gold in South America and the English presume they will easily find mountains of it in Virginia. Smith, on the other hand, is investigating the territory, excited by “hundreds of dangers await/and I don’t plan to miss one!” He sees Virginia as “a land I can claim/a land I can tame!” I sided with Smith’s idea of adventure compared to digging for gold and as a kid, I wanted to swing around mountains. Or jump off them, like Pocahontas. Or white water canoeing.

first_meeting

In his explorations, Smith comes to a quiet waterfall and sees a figure in his periphery. He does as he’s trained and leaps out [ok, yeah, can’t jump through a waterfall with that kind of gun], but pauses when he discovers the Indian happens to be a stunning woman. The art in this scene is breathtaking, glimpses of Pocahontas through the mists, wind whipping her hair elegantly across her face; broken when Pocahontas rushes off. Smith stops her and (through magic, I suppose, or “listening with your heart”) the brightly colored leaves [I like those leaves] aid the couple in understanding the other’s language. By this time, a party from the village has come to investigate their new neighbors. The settlers startle and start firing. Ratcliffe manages to hit one of the warriors and they retreat. Powhatan warns his people not to go near the white people. He instructs Kocoum to send for reinforcements from their allies.

Meanwhile, Pocahontas and John Smith have been getting to know one another better, demonstrating an array of aspects from their different cultures. They trade salutations and Smith starts going on about how the settlers will teach the Natives “how to use this land properly;” they’re current methods are substandard because they “don’t know any better.” He puts his foot in his mouth and calls Pocahontas a “savage.” That word she does not need explained. Smith muddles through backtracking and Pocahontas firmly grasps his meaning; uncivilized means “not like you.” “You think you own whatever land you land on/the Earth is just a dead thing you can claim…You think the only people who are people/are the people who look and think like you/but if you walk the footsteps of a stranger/you’ll learn things you never knew.” For all that the settlers spout themselves as advanced, they have missed wonders to marvel at. There are Colors of the Wind and voices in the mountain. “And we are all connected to each other/in a circle, in a hoop that never ends (reminds us of The Circle of Life),” whether one is white or copper skinned. A truly wonderful message and worthy of the Oscar it won. It’s beautifully drawn, almost mixing techniques at times. [Like the Lion King preceding it, Pocahontas is filled with utterly amazing artwork.]

colors of the wind

Several days later, at the fort, Ratcliffe bemoans their lack of gold and assumes that the Indian “attack” was due to the “insolent heathens” having their gold “and they don’t want to us to take it from them.” And the logical response is to “take it by force.” (Um, no, I think Wiggins got that one right: you “invaded their land, cut down their trees, and dug up their Earth.”) Ratcliffe goes to search for John Smith, but Smith has wandered off again…to meet Pocahontas, scaring her friend, Nakoma in the process. Pocahontas introduces Smith to Grandmother Willow and Smith explains that the settlers came for gold. There is no gold, Pocahontas informs him. Most of the settlers would probably leave, but Smith has never belonged anywhere. There’s hope that he may stay with Pocahontas. Ben and Lon stumble through the forest, noisily looking for Smith. Grandmother Willow is able to scare them off, but Smith needs to report to the fort. The couple makes plans to meet again that evening. Pocahontas admits to Grandmother Willow she thinks that Smith might be the man her dream refers to.

Back at the fort, Smith finds out that Ratcliffe is planning a battle to retrieve “their” gold. Smith refuses. “There is no gold,” he relays to the men, admitting that he’s been speaking to an Indian. The Natives are not savages, they could help, he argues. “Lies!” Ratcliffe states; declaring he is the law and if anyone so much as looks at a savage without killing it, they will be tried for treason and hanged. Smith still sneaks out that night, desperate to prevent the battle. Unbeknownst to Smith, Thomas and Ratcliffe have seen him; the governor sends Thomas after his friend (and a few added insults so Thomas feels pressured to prove himself). Pocahontas has also been speaking to her father, begging that if one white man was willing to talk, would Powhatan listen? He concedes, but doesn’t believe it. Nakoma tries to talk Pocahontas out of sneaking out again, but Pocahontas insists “I’m trying to help my people.” Worried about her friend, Nakoma goes to Kocoum.

The couple meets at Grandmother Willow. Each side is preparing for battle. Pocahontas pleads for Smith to accompany her back to her village to speak with her father. Smith at first says it won’t work, using Percy and Meeko as an example; they’ve been chasing each other constantly. The wise willow points out that “sometimes, the right path is not the easiest;” the only way he and Pocahontas can be together is if the fighting stops. “Alright,” he gives in. Happy, they share a kiss. Looked on by Thomas and Kocoum. Kocoum is understandably upset, here’s the woman he’s attempting to court, sneaking off with the enemy and now they’re kissing. He lets out a war cry and attacks. Thomas rushes in (and thanks to lessons from Smith…nice job, hero) shoots his gun and kills Kocoum. Smith sends Thomas away and allows himself to be captured.

Powhatan is furious at his daughter; she has shamed her father by disobeying him. The chief announces that the white man will be the first to die in the morning. Nakoma sees the despair in her friend’s eyes and persuades the guards to let Pocahontas have a few moments with Smith. She tells her love that it would have been better if they had never met. He refutes her claim, “I’d rather die tomorrow, than live a hundred years without knowing you.” (Aww! This is why we love this John Smith; the real one was not as sweet). They part, believing they will never see each other again. The 10th Anniversary Edition includes If I Never Knew You, a love song originally written for the film, and you can hear the instrumental theme throughout the score, but the duet was cut from the original movie due to pacing and children being uninterested [this was when I first discovered that I loved learning “behind the scenes” tidbits about movies; I shared this trivia with a class during a project in high school…I got blank stares, but I had fun]. The first time I heard it was on Michael Crawford’s Disney album (in case you’re unaware, Michael Crawford is most famous as the original Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera), and I love that version. I’m actually not terribly fond of it in the movie and it might be that I don’t like Mel Gibson singing it; he doesn’t really have the voice for a love song.

At the fort, Thomas has explained that Smith has been captured. Ratcliffe uses it as proof that Smith was wrong, and he was right. At dawn, they will attack. Savages is a powerful scene, each side preparing for war, claiming the others are “barely even human” and equating them to demons. Ratcliffe asserts “they’re only good when dead…they’re not like you and me/which means they must be evil.” (Also, Ratcliffe, they’re not your shores, the Natives were there first) In the village, Powhatan says that white men are killers at the core. Fires from each side crash together, drums of war underpinning the preparations.

Still in despair, Pocahontas seeks Grandmother Willow’s guidance. Meeko brings down John Smith’s compass, which Pocahontas and Grandmother Willow realize is a spinning arrow. She makes her decision to follow her heart and save John Smith. Savages is reprised as she rushes to the cliff as the sun rises and flings herself overtop John. She won’t stand back, she loves him; she insists as she defies her father’s order. The crowd is shocked. She argues that “this is where the path of hatred has brought us.” Her path is with Smith. Powhatan realizes the wisdom his daughter is demonstrating and backs down from the conflict. He has Smith released and the couple hug for a moment. Both sides lower their weapons. Ratcliffe takes the opportunity, despite his men’s protests, to fire on Powhatan. Smith hears the commotion and jumps in front of the chief [oddly, this is one of my favorite scenes; probably because I like my heroes to bleed a little, makes them a little more heroic]. The English settlers are angry and turn on Ratcliffe. Thomas takes charge and has the governor chained.
Pocahontas_saving_John

Smith must return to England or he’ll die (wouldn’t traveling for four months aboard a ship be just as dangerous?) Pocahontas and the villagers come to see him off and Smith asks Pocahontas to come with him. She looks to her father for advice, but he tells her she must choose her own path, which she realizes is with her people; she must foster the feldging peace between the natives and settlers. Smith wants to stay with her, but she won’t let him die. One last kiss and the couple poignantly parts, Smith aboard the ship and Pocahontas waving goodbye from her cliff, the colorful leaves speeding the ship on its way.

There was a terrible sequel to the movie, Brave New World, where Pocahontas accompanies John Rolfe back to England to plead her case to King James to prevent a massacre. Ratcliffe is back; everyone thinks John Smith is dead; he’s not, but she chooses Rolfe. The only things they got historically correct are that Pocahontas did marry John Rolfe and she did got to England. That’s it. As for the story, Disney, you spent an entire movie making us fall in love with John Smith and Pocahontas as a couple, and then destroy that pairing with flimsy excuses.

I loved this movie as a kid because it was “historical.” Then I actually studied the true history and visited Jamestown twice (and thank you Adam Conover, for further ruining it)…and I feel a bit betrayed. First, the geography is off; there are no mountains that close to the shoreline in Virginia. Second, if the English had asked the Spanish who had explored the region decades prior, they would have known there was no gold and the site they built their fort was poor planning; the nearest freshwater source was miles inland, where the Powhatan village was. Third, Pocahontas was about ten during the events and not in a romantic relationship with Smith (there was a YA novel I read in junior high that took that line of thinking…it was odd.) Most historians now believe, (no thanks to Smith’s written accounts, which were highly skewed and inaccurate) that there may have been some ceremony in the Powhatan village that Smith and Pocahontas were involved in, but she did not “save his life.” [Btw, learned all of this on my own, or from Jamestown. Sadly, this was not covered in school, beyond: “Jamestown was founded in 1607 as a result of the Virginia Company.” Again, learned all of that from the first line of the song.]

I still love the story, despite knowing the historical inaccuracies. To me, it is a tale of two people overcoming the mistrust of their people.  I like these characterizations as a couple; they’re both adventurous and Pocahontas changes John Smith’s views and make him a better person. Would I have liked this to have happened, yes. Did it, no. The Disney movie is good for kids, if a little mature in some areas: Ratcliffe wants to commit genocide after all. Again, the music is great, the art is great. And it did get me interested in history and when I was graduating college, I considered moving to the Jamestown area due to its connection to British history. There is a lot of colonial history in the area, specifically Williamsburg and I have enjoyed both of my visits and highly recommend the trip.

I welcome questions or comments (sorry, couldn’t help including my little rant at the end; I have to admit, this was a harder post for me to write, warring between “I loved this movie as a kid!” and “they got the history so wrong!”)

Up Next: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

“But the Sun Rollin’ High, Through the Sapphire Sky”

The Lion King

One of the top grossing animated films of all time, it won Best Original Score and Best Original Song for Can You Feel the Love Tonight at the Academy Awards; and was scored by legend Hans Zimmer (he’d later score Pirates of the Caribbean) and lyrics were by Tim Rice (who has worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber) and songs by Elton John [I most strongly connect Elton John to this movie, even though I’m sure I listened to his music growing up.] It ranks pretty high on my list of Disney favorites. The artistry is beautiful, the songs are fun, it’s a complex story (inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet [I am a bad English major and not terribly familiar with Hamlet; I saw one updated version performed by David Tenannt]) and a wonderful cast of voice actors. Highlights include James Earl Jones (most iconic as Darth Vader) as Mufasa, Jeremy Irons (a marvelous thespian who plays Henry IV in BBC’s Hollow Crown productions) appropriate for the Shakespearean role of Scar. Jonathan Taylor Thomas (from Home Improvement) is young Simba; adult Simba is voiced by Matthew Broderick. Whoopi Goldberg (I mainly know her from this film and Sister Act and didn’t realize she was a stand-up comedian until I was a teenager) is one of the hyenas, and Broadway star Nathan Lane (he would later team up with Matthew Broderick for The Producers film) is Timon.

the-lion-king-original
(Too many pictures to choose from!)

The opening of The Lion King is iconic; I think most people know the movie from that scene alone. Young Simba is presented to the animal kingdom (Emma Swan jokes about the scene in Season 3 of Once Upon a Time) as we learn “there’s more to see/than ever be seen/more to do/than ever be done” and are all connected to the great Circle of Life. All of the animals bow to the little prince, a sunbeam highlighting the scene. We next meet Scar, the king’s younger brother who was next in line for the throne, until Simba was born. He doesn’t hide his disdain and refusal to show for the presentation. Unfortunately, Mufasa doesn’t know what to do with his troublesome kinsman and Scar is free to plot. An image that come back a few times in the movie is Rafiki’s drawing of Simba in his tree.

A few years pass and Simba wakes his father early (with a typical argument between the parents on whose son he is at that time of morning) so Mufasa can show him the kingdom. “Everything the light touches,” Mufasa explains, is their kingdom. The Outlands are beyond their borders and young Simba must never go there. Mufasa further prepares his son that the time will come when Mufasa will no longer be king, it will be Simba’s turn, and cautions that there is more to being a king than doing whatever one wants. There is a balance to life that the king must watch over. Of course, this lesson is interrupted by a brief pouncing practice, much to Zazu’s chagrin (another song, The Morning Report, was added in the Special Edition and appears on the corresponding soundtrack).

Mufasa must attend to royal duties so Simba visits his “weird” uncle and the meddling Scar puts the idea purposefully in young Simba’s head to explore the forbidden Elephant Graveyard. Of course, who should accompany Simba on his adventure is his best friend, Nala. Zazu lets slip that the two are betrothed (a human custom) and will one day be married (they protest now…just wait). As children are wont to do, Simba focuses on the fun of being “free to do it all my way” and merrily describes his rule and why I Just Can’t Wait to Be King. “Everywhere you look/I’m standing spotlight!”

The Elephant Graveyard is not as fun as Simba planned; after his claim to “laugh in the face of danger!”they run into three hyenas, Shanzi, Banzai, and Ed. Luckily, Mufasa arrives and scares off the three hyenas before they really hurt Simba or Nala. Mufasa is understandably very disappointed in his son and reiterates his earlier lesson that one day he will die, though he’ll look on from the stars above. A king is brave when he has to be and despite Simba’s thought that his dad isn’t scared of anything, Mufasa admits he was scared of losing Simba. There is a lovely wrestling match, putting worries aside.
Pals

That evening, Scar visits the hyenas, and confesses that he sent Simba and Nala to thescar be prepared Graveyard for the hyenas to “take care of.” He’s “surrounded by idiots” who can’t even do their job. What needs to happen is that Mufasa needs to die; without daddy dearest around, Simba will be simple prey. And then “in justice deliciously squared,” without those two in the way, Scar can assume the throne “I’ll be king undisputed/respected, saluted/and seen for the wonder I am!” and promises the hyenas a new life. A lot of the imagery from Be Prepared is influenced by Nazi propaganda: most explicitly, their march. Be Prepared is a fantastic villain song as well and Jeremy Irons is deliciously hammy [Jim Cummings (voice of Ed) had to finish the song for Jeremy Irons when the latter threw out his voice].

Scar promises Simba a surprise for he and his father the next day and leaves the cub in a gorge. The “surprise” is a wildebeest stampede (a scene equal to any action scene today and full of drama and tension). Scar acts suitably worried and runs alongside Mufasa as Zazu flies ahead to find Simba. But once Mufasa enters the gorge, Scar prowls around the top, knocking Zazu out to prevent the royal majordomo from getting further help. Mufasa finds his son and tosses him to safety, but is carried away by the pressing wildebeests. He jumps to the cliff a moment later and begs his brother for help. Scar sinks his claws into his brother’s legs and murmurs “Long live the king!” before flinging him into the mass. Simba witnesses his father’s fall and in the dusty aftermath, searches for him. He finds Mufasa’s still body (I cry every time, even as an adult) and pleads that “we’ve got to go.” The young cub realizes his dad is dead and tears streak his fur and he curls next to his protector one last time. Scar emerges and reinforces Simba’s thoughts that if it hadn’t been for him, his father would still be alive. He then directs his grief-shocked nephew to “run away and never return.” A moment later, he commands the hyena trio to “kill him.” Simba willingly falls into a bramble bush at the bottom of a cliff and gets away. After Banzai falls in, neither Shenzi nor Ed want to come out looking like “cactus butt,” and they determine if Simba was ever to return, they’d kill him then, shouting the warning to the departing cub. Scar, “with heavy heart” assumes the throne and “ushers in a new era” of living alongside hyenas. Rafiki wipes away the drawing of Simba in sorrow.

death_of_mufasa
(Sorry if it makes you tear up, but it’s such a poignant moment)

Buzzards float about a stretched out Simba; he’s providentially rescued by a warthog and meerkat, Pumba and Timon. At first, Timon suggests leaving him since he’s a lion, but Pumba ponders that he could grow up to be on their side. Timon’s advice to the depressed cub once he awakens is to put his past behind him; “when the world turns it back on you, you turn your back on da world.” They’re outcasts too and they teach him about Hakuna Matata, their “no worry” lifestyle, and how to eat bugs [that grossed me out as a kid. And yeah, Disney, we knew you meant “farted” even as kids. That was actually our favorite part of the song to sing-along to.]

There’s a fun montage showing the progression of time as the new trio crosses a bridge, repeating “Hakuna Matata.” All grown-up now, Timon, Pumba, and Simba discuss what “stars” truly are. Timon claims they’re “fireflies that got stuck up in that big bluish-black thing.” Pumba is scientifically correct stating they are balls of gas burning billions of miles away. And Simba shares what his father told him about the kings of the past looking down on them. He’s laughed at by Timon and Pumba and leaves to ponder the tragedy of his life. His scent drifts in the breeze to old Rafiki, who recognizes it and joyfully realizes Simba is alive. “It is time,” the monkey declares, now drawing a mane on Simba.

simba and nalaThe following morning, Timon and Pumba are out searching for grubs, singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight [this is how I know that song, despite it being older than the movie]. Pumba wanders off, to be chased by a grown lioness. Simba to the rescue! Until he’s pinned in a very familiar manner and recognizes a grown up Nala. Nala is understandably surprised to discover that Simba is alive and urges him to return with her to the Pride Lands and claim his throne. Simba decides that he and Nala need to have a talk, alone. Timon bemoans the two old friends’ romantic Can You Feel the Love Tonight [probably my second favorite Disney love song.  Elton John’s solo version is the only “pop” version of Disney songs that I liked growing up]. As an adult, some of their actions take on more meaning, like the looks between them while Nala is lying down. But I still think it’s sweet; they’re simple gestures between two beings that care about each other. And Simba looks a lot like his dad at times. Yet, at the end, the couple continues to argue over Simba’s return. He refuses; he can’t face his past. Nala wonders “why won’t he be the king I know he is/the king I see inside?” She tells him she’s disappointed that he’s not the same Simba she remembers. Simba in turns accuses her of sounding like his father. “Good, at least one of us does.” They fight further; Simba refuses to tell her the truth of why he ran away, deeming that to tell her now and return to the Pride Lands won’t change anything, and stalks off. He shouts his despair to the stars, reproving his father, “You said you’d always be there for me!” Quieter, “but you’re not. And it’s all my fault.”

A little chant echoes on the wind. Rafiki is dancing in a tree and comes down to impart wisdom on Simba. Simba can’t answer his question, “who are you?” Rafiki knows; he’s Mufasa’s boy. When Simba says that Mufasa has been dead for a while, Rafiki states “wrong again! He’s alive! And I’ll show him to you!” The crazy monkey leads Simba through vines and trees and roots [How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a scene that echoes this one] to a pool. Rafiki urges Simba to “look harder” at his reflection. The lion sees Mufasa, as Rafiki states, “he lives in you” (becomes a song title in the sequel). Mufasa’s bass voice rumbles and the clouds part, forming his silhouette. Mufasa chides his son that he has forgotten him; by forgetting who Simba truly is, he has forgotten Mufasa. Simba must take his place in the circle of life; he is Mufasa’s son and the one true king. He fades away, urging Simba to “remember.” Simba begs his father, “please, don’t leave me,” still the scared lion cub. Rafiki picks up the lesson and a whack from his stick knocks some sense into Simba, that while change is not easy, it is good. One can either run from their past, or learn from it. Hans Zimmer’s theme plays over a wonderful superimposed shot of Simba running back to the Pride Lands. Nala, Timon, and Pumba soon catch up and agree to help Simba reclaim his home. When he cautions that it will be dangerous, Nala echoes his childish claim “I laugh in the face of danger!” Timon and Pumba act as live bait, dressing in drag and doing the hula, a little bit of comedic relief before we delve into the drama.

We witness the devastation that Scar’s rule had wrought. The land is barren and we find out from Sarabi, Mufasa’s widow that the herds have moved on. She advises that they leave Pride Rock. Scar refuses. “Then you have sentenced us to death!” “I am the king,” he replies, “I can do whatever I want!” He swipes at the lioness, but Simba leaps to her defense. Both she and Scar first assume he’s Mufasa. Sarabi is pleased to see her grown son; Scar is annoyed to discover that the hyena trio failed at their mission. Simba growls at his uncle, “give me one good reason why I shouldn’t rip you apart.” Scar states that the hyenas think he’s king, but then sinisterly turns the conversation back on Simba, dragging up how Mufasa died, pressuring Simba to admit that he killed his father. “Murderer!” he instantly declares and further pushes, all the while circling his nephew, stating that it was Simba’s fault, even if it was an accident. A very confused Simba slips on the edge of Pride Rock, lightning from the gathering storm lighting a fire beneath. Scar recalls a similar scene, and digs his claws into Simba’s paws the same way he had Mufasa’s. He whispers his little secret: “I killed Mufasa!” Simba leaps onto Scar, now declaring him the murderer. A paw on Scar’s throat compels Scar to admit the truth out loud. The hyenas are on Simba and lionesses attack the hyenas.

War breaks out (with a brief comedic interlude with monkey kung-fu and a bit about “Mr. Pig.” I still don’t get that reference, but I thought it was hilarious as a kid). Scar attempts to slink away, but Simba is on him, growling that Scar doesn’t deserve to live. Scar pleads that the hyenas are the real enemy (Ed, Banazi, and Shenzi can hear this) and Simba decides he won’t be like Scar; he won’t kill him. Instead, he instructs him to “run away and never return.” Scar plays dirty and swipes ash into Simba’s eyes. There is a violent showdown between the two before Simba flips Scar over and down to a ledge below. Scar thinks he’s in the clear when the hyenas come to him, but they turn on him since he claimed they were the enemy. Shadows play on the rock behind, not giving us a direct view at what happens. It rains harder, putting out the fire and washing away the stain of Scar. To music that gives me goosebumps, Simba at first hesitates to approach the edge of Pride Rock; he had run and hidden from this responsibility, scared he was unsuited, but one last echo of “Remember” from Mufasa and Simba proudly takes his place at the edge of Pride Rock and releases a mighty roar. It’s echoed by the lionesses and greenry springs into the Pride Lands.

simba roar

The movie ends with a triumphant reprise of Circle of Life, which continues with the presentation of Simba and Nala’s cub.

There was a direct-to-video sequel, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (a play on both a lion belonging to a “pride,” and his daughter being his pride, and maybe even Simba’s own pride and how it affects his own decisions…though that’s a little deep for the movie and not as evident) that came out four years after the original. A tale about Simba and Nala’s daughter, Kiara. Her story mimics her father’s at time, having to go out and experience life on her own before she understands what her father taught her. There are elements of Romeo and Juliet in the plot; two warring families, their children falling in love. Except, the couple does not die at the end! Some of the songs are good and overall a good story; I consider it one of Disney’s better sequels (especially compared to most of their other animated sequels). In addition to a cartoon series in the 90s, Timon and Pumba’s story, Lion King 11/2 came out in 2004; there are funny parts, but it definitely doesn’t live up to the original. Now on Disney Junior, there is a new cartoon series about Simba’s son (I see plot hole regarding the sequel), called Lion Guard.

The original film was transformed into a Broadway production in 1997, and is still running (meaning it recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary…wow). It was nominated for Best Musical and Best Original Score at the Tony’s and did win in several other categories. Next summer, a live-action/CGI adaptation is due out, with an all-star cast; most notably, James Earl Jones will reprise his role as Mufasa (no teaser out yet, but I am excited to see it).

Overall, this is a great family film. It’s about family, responsibility; the characters are deliciously complex and I feel it has stood the test of time. Even though I have seen the movie several times, I still get apprehensive during the stampede and Scar and Simba’s showdown, and sad at Mufasa’s death. Timon and Pumba were my favorite characters as a kid, because they were funny. Now, I enjoy Scar as a villain, and I wish we could have seen more of Mufasa since he is a very wise king and very loving of his son. I can feel a connection to Simba as a young adult facing responsibilities. The artwork is phenomenal; the emotions they are able to put into the faces and still have them look like lion’s; just look at Simba’s face right before he roars at the end. Re-watching the movie has awakened my love of the film; it ranks towards the top of my list.

As always, I welcome questions or comments. Do you like any of the pop versions of Disney songs?

Next Time: Pocahontas

“You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me!”

Aladdin

What I remember most of this movie is the great soundtrack and Robin Williams’ humor; Genie is probably my favorite character from the movie. The movie is based off of the compilation The Book of One Thousand and One Nights and set somewhere vaguely Middle-East (I kept thinking Persia while watching the film). Nevertheless, it is nice to see something other than a European fairytale. The overarching theme of the film is “it’s what is inside that counts,” looking for the “diamond in the ruff.”

We’re first introduced to the villain of the film, Jafar, as he uses a petty crook (who just killed someone, it sounds like), to enter “the Cave of Wonders,” in search of a mysterious lamp. The cave opening, a talking sand tiger, warns that the only one who can enter is “one whose worth lies far within.” Which is apparently not the crook, because he’s eaten. Jafar’s stooge is a talking parrot, Iago (voiced by Gilbert Godfrey) who alternates between calm and agitated.

Aladdin is not our typical Disney hero. He’s an orphaned “street rat” that steals on a daily basis to survive, staying One Jump ahead of the guards. We also get glimpses at a different culture; the sword eater, fire walker, and more. The characters are also dressed differently; Aladdin does not have a shirt, the women’s midriffs are showing. Once Aladdin has won his prize, he feasts with his monkey friend, Abu. Yet, when he sees two small children searching for scraps, he shares what little he has. They hear a parade and investigate, finding another suitor has arrived for the princess. The children get in the way and the snooty prince attempts to whip them, but Aladdin once again steps in. He’s insulted by the condescending man, though gets the dig in about a horse having two rear-ends (that bit goes over kids heads). When he and Abu reach their “home,” there’s a brief reprise of Aladdin wishing one day to live in the palace, where all of their problems will be solved.

[Fun fact: Aladdin’s voice actor, Scott Weinger played Steve, DJ Tanner’s boyfriend, in Full House; there’s even a joke in the episode where the cast goes to Disneyland.]

For one resident of the palace, it’s a cage. The princess Jasmine desires freedom outside the palace walls. She’s never had friends; everything has been taken care of for her. She hates the law that states she must marry a prince by her birthday (in three days’ time) and has sent away every suitor. Bluntly put, she does not want to be a princess. That evening, she runs away and come morning, wanders the marketplace, catching Aladdin’s eye. He jumps to her rescue while she stumbles over the notion of “paying.” They run into, and away from the guards and Jasmine keeps up with Aladdin; demonstrating she trusts him. Amongst their talk, the couple finds out that they both feel trapped by their lives and station. The pair is eventually caught and Aladdin is taken to the palace dungeon, despite Jasmine’s protests and revelation that she is the princess.

aladdin cast

The Sultan is a bit childish at times and is regularly hypnotized by Jafar so the royal vizier can get his way. Jafar covets the title of Sultan and will use his sorcery to gain it. He cons the Sultan into giving up his blue diamond [yes, diamonds come in almost every shade of the rainbow, including blue] so he can “divine” the proper suitor for Jasmine. Instead, Jafar uses it to conjure who the Cave meant could enter. He sees Aladdin and plots a way to get the boy. When confronted by Jasmine for his treatment of Aladdin, he tells her that the street rat was beheaded for kidnapping her. Jasmine is devastated.

That evening, Jafar disguises himself as an old, crippled prisoner and convinces Aladdin to help him retrieve the lamp from the Cave of Wonders, promising the boy the rest of the treasure. Aladdin is allowed to enter the Cave and he and Abu meet Carpet, a helpful magic carpet who leads them past the glittering heaps of gold to the lamp. Abu is tempted by a forbidden gem and just as Aladdin has the lamp in his grasp, Abu grabs the gem, causing the whole Cave to start collapsing. They manage to reach the opening (in an early CG sequence that reminds me a bit of a video game [not that I’ve played many], nevertheless, very thrilling), but Jafar insists on the lamp first and before turning back to help Aladdin, he pulls out a dagger (why are bad guy daggers always crooked? Do they not pay the extra for quality craftsmanship?). Abu saves Aladdin, but they are swallowed up by the Cave.

Abu was also a sneaky monkey and stole back the lamp. Aladdin takes a closer look at the lamp and rubs at some smudging. Out pops Genie! Aladdin is his new master and is allowed three wishes. Genie elucidates Aladdin to the possibilities, telling the lad that he’s never had a Friend Like Me (my favorite song of the movie) and highlighting Robin Williams’ comedic range. What kid didn’t wish they had a genie after that? Aladdin demonstrates that while poor, he is not stupid and tricks Genie into getting them out of the cave, without using any of his wishes. He even asks Genie what he would wish for and Genie reveals that while he has “phenomenal mystical powers,” he’s bound to the lamp and his master. He’d wish for freedom, but only his master can do so. Aladdin promises he’ll reserve his third wish for that and his first proper wish is to become a prince, so he can see Jasmine again, stating that she’s smart, fun, and beautiful (glad they added the “smart” and “fun” qualities). (Sebastian is briefly glimpsed as Genie ponders the wish)

Back in Agrabah (a fictional city), Jasmine has told her father of Jafar executing Aladdin and the Sultan reprimands his vizier. Jasmine also states that one benefit to being forced to marry; “when I am queen, I will have the power to get rid of you.” Jafar is even more desperate to become Sultan and Iago suggests that Jafar marries Jasmine to gain the throne and afterwards, they drop Jasmine and her father off a cliff. The pair manically laughs. Jafar returns to the throne room and attempts to hypnotize the Sultan to obey his plan. The Sultan breaks at one point, declaring Jafar too old, but Jafar continues to pressure. His spell is broken a second time by a loud commotion.

Prince Ali has arrived. Genie (disguised as…a whole bunch of people throughout the song, even mimicking parade announcers) extols his virtues, claiming he’s generous, strong as ten men, and his servants are all “lousy with loyalty.” People who never spared Aladdin a thought or viewed him as worthless, now view Ali as attractive and worthy of respect. The Sultan’s excited by Ali’s arrival and is eager to introduce his daughter to a fine, upstanding gentleman like Ali, claiming he is “an excellent judge of character” [and we all say “Not!]. Of course, Aladdin has to act like every other arrogant suitor Jasmine has seen when he asks permission to court her. She dismisses him, stating “I am not a prize to be won!” Genie urges Al to “tell the truth” on who he really is, but Al (Genie’s nickname for Aladdin) feels like Jasmine wouldn’t have time for him if he wasn’t a prince. Aladdin flies up to see Jasmine again and when he fumbles around, he reminds Jasmine of someone she met in the marketplace. Ali scoffs, but when Jasmine tells him off again, he agrees that she “should be free to make her own choice,” and offers to leave. Startling everyone when he steps off the balcony, we are relieved to find out Carpet caught him. He offers the princess a ride, holding out his hand and once again asking “do you trust me?”

a whole new world

The couple takes a romantic flight, Aladdin showing the princess A Whole New World [I know both parts to this song, not really caring to differentiate when learning as a child. Further fun note: Jasmine’s singing voice is the same as Mulan’s, Lea Salonga, who has played Kim in Miss Saigon, and both Éponine and Fantine in Les Misérables]. The pair is thrilled at the prospect that their new world holds, “no one to tell us no/or where to go/or say we’re only dreaming.” It’s a “thrilling place, for you and me.” They fly by the Sphinx in Egypt (and are the reason the nose is broken), through Greece, and end in China. Jasmine tricks Ali into admitting he was the one she met in the marketplace, but he still doesn’t reveal that he’s not a prince. When he drops Jasmine back off at her balcony, Carpet helps them share their first kiss.

But Jafar has gotten his way with the Sultan, and Jasmine is told she will marry the vizier. At the same time, Aladdin is captured, chained, and dropped off a cliff into the sea. His hand manages to rub the lamp, sending Genie out and Aladdin’s second wish is used to save his life. Genie was happy to do it; he’s getting fond of Al. Aladdin confronts Jafar and smashes his staff, releasing the Sultan from its spell. Jafar uses sorcery to disappear, but has realized that Prince Ali (or Abooboo, as he refers to him) is Aladdin and has the lamp. Iago gets the lamp the next day, after Genie and Al have had a fight. Jasmine has chosen Ali to marry and Aladdin wants to keep Genie around just in case, and won’t be able to free him. Without the Genie, he’s just Aladdin and the only reason anyone thinks he’s worth anything is because of Genie.

With the lamp in his possession, Jafar quickly uses his first wish to become Sultan. But Jasmine and her father refuse to bow to him. So be it, they will cower before a sorcerer, Jafar’s second wish is to become the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Jafar mocks Aladdin when he comes to rescue the former Sultan and princess and reveals who he really is to Jasmine, before sending him to a snowy mountaintop. Aladdin survives and once again flies back to Agrabah to put things to right.

Jafar has changed everything around; Jasmine’s pet tiger, Raja is now a kitten, the former Sultan is a puppet and Iago is shoving crackers in his mouth (the Sultan had previously fed Iago lots of crackers, but it was done in kindness), and Jasmine now wears red and is chained, feeding Jafar. Jafar still wants to marry her and at first she refuses. Jafar attempts to use his third wish to force her to love him, but that is against the rules (as is bringing back someone from the dead and killing someone). When she catches sight of Aladdin sneaking into the palace, she turns the charm on and seduces Jafar as a distraction. The lad is caught and calls Jafar a “cowardly snake” for not fighting him himself. Jafar’s answer is to turn into a giant snake (and you wonder why so many kids don’t like snakes) and traps Jasmine in a giant hourglass of sand. Aladdin tricks Jafar into using his third wish to become a genie. Meaning, that while Jafar will gain immense power, he will also be trapped in his own lamp. With Jafar gone, Aladdin can smash the glass and all of Jafar’s magic is undone.

The couple face the truth, that Aladdin is not a prince, but Jasmine still loves him. As the Sultan says, “am I Sultan, or am I Sultan;” he has the power to change the law and allows his daughter to choose whomever she’d like to marry. She of course chooses Aladdin. Al uses his last wish to set Genie free and he flies off to explore the world, donning a Goofy hat.

There was a cartoon series and two direct-to-video sequels. Neither sequel lives up to the original film; the quality more in line with the series, though the third movie does include Aladdin and Jasmine finally getting married and Aladdin meeting his long-thought-dead father (voiced by John Rhys-Davis, and Lumiere’s Jerry Orbach is back as the villain). There is a Broadway production currently running and a live-action adaptation due out next year. The teaser doesn’t reveal much, so I’m not sure how excited I am to see the movie yet.

Aladdin truly is a hero, protecting those weaker than him and never asking for anything in return. He’s impressed by Jasmine’s spunk, as well as her beauty. He bodily puts himself in harm’s way to save the world from Jafar. Jasmine is the first princess that has pointed out that being a princess is not always fun and is not entirely glamorous. I did go as Jasmine one year for Halloween; my mother made my costume and my older brother was Peter Pan.  The  couple are good role models, loving each other for what’s on the inside.

Questions? Comments? What’s your favorite Disney love song?

Next Time: The Lion King