“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

Tale as Old as Time

Beauty and the Beast

My all-time favorite Disney movie. Belle is my favorite princess. The movie is a beloved classic and was the first animated film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. It did not win that title, but did win Best Original Song, Beauty and the Beast and Best Original Score. Angela Landsbury will always be Mrs. Potts, even though I enjoyed her in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (I’ll come around to that movie when I do musicals) and Murder, She Wrote. I learned of David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth long before I realized he was Major Charles Winchester on M*A*S*H. He went on to voice several other Disney characters (and sadly passed away in March of this year). Never made the connection between Jerry Orbach (you all probably know him from Law and Order, or maybe as Baby’s father in Dirty Dancing) and Lumiere until the 25th Anniversary disc and my parents made a comment.

The opening music to the 1991 animated film is very similar to Aquarium by Camille Saint-Saëns; the eerie runs of the piano, though they seem to differ slightly in key. Beauty and the Beast also has strings backing and changing the tone; not quite so haunted and nightmarish but still setting the stage for something magical. Instead of a storybook introduction, the narrator (David Ogden Stiers) is accompanied by a stained-glass depiction. A spoiled prince is faced with a beggar woman wishing to come in from the cold; for such kindness, she offers a rose. But the prince refuses, twice, even when cautioned that “true beauty is found within.” Upon the second refusal, the beggar transforms into a beautiful enchantress (“enchantresses” are good, “witches” are evil). The enchantress then casts a spell/curse (depending on how you want to look at it) on the prince, transforming him into a beast and all who dwell in the castle into objects as punishment (why punish the servants who most likely had nothing to do with it and are already dealing with a horrible prince?) In order to break the spell/curse, the prince must fall in love with a woman and the woman must love him in return. In the animated version, the deadline is his twenty-first birthday. If not, then the prince is doomed to remain a beast for all time.

opening stained glass
Opening stained glass window

Years go by and we are next introduced to Belle, who dreams of excitement and adventure opposed to the “quiet village” with “every day like the one before.” “There must be more than this provincial life!” she dreams.  The villagers, while remarking on her beauty, also consider her a “funny girl,” “strange,” “rather odd;” simply put, “she’s different from the rest of us.” They also claim that “it’s a pity and a sin, she doesn’t quite fit in.” Belle visits the bookshop [oddly, not listed in French, like the rest of the village] where she is gifted her favorite book. As many bookworms are wont, she eagerly shares the story with anyone near, including a passing flock of sheep (yes, that book foreshadows the tale to come). Local star hunter and overly-muscled man, Gaston claims that since she’s the most beautiful girl, that makes her the best and worthy of him, since he is the most handsome man. The silly trio of matching young women call him a “strong and handsome brute.” (That should be a clue). After the song, when Gaston approaches Belle, he informs her that it’s not right for girls to read. They start thinking and getting ideas, to which Belle retorts “Gaston, you are positively primeval.” (The dunce thanks her, not knowing she insulted him).

Belle’s father, Maurice, being an inventor, is not the best judge of what is “odd.” I’ve always thought his wood-chopping invention was unnecessarily complicated. But he leaves the next day for a fair and gets lost (despite having gone to the fair several times previous). Those woods do not look friendly and Phillipe is smart and wants to leave. Until they’re set upon by wolves and are separated. Maurice finds the beast’s enchanted castle and enters in search of help and safety. Inside, he hears strange voices coming from nowhere (Lumiere and Cogsworth talking, but, a candlestick and mantle clock shouldn’t be talking). Maurice eventually picks them up and discovers they are enchanted and he’s…perfectly fine. They let him sit by the fire and bring him tea, which displeases their master. The Beast is angry that this man has entered his domain and throws him in prison (harsh, but we already know he’s unreasonable).

belle and gastonBack in the village, Gaston has set up his wedding and still has to propose to the girl. He claims that he will make all of Belle’s dreams come true. She rightly points out he knows nothing about her dreams; and they certainly do not include massaging his stinky feet, bearing six sons, and keeping track of dogs. Attempting to remain polite, Belle tells Gaston, “I don’t deserve you,” while opening the door and letting him fall into a mud puddle. Gaston vows, “I’ll have Belle as my wife, make no mistake of that.” Very ominous. Once he’s gone, Belle emerges and reprises why she does not want to be “boorish, brainless” Gaston’s “little wife,” and she desires to live great adventures. “And for once, it might be grand/to have someone understand.”

Phillipe appears and leads Belle to the castle (which he was never at). Lumiere secretly guides Belle to her father (after exclaiming to Cogsworth “It’s a girl! She’s come to break the spell!” [let’s not rush to conclusions, Lumiere]). She offers to take Maurice’s place, but doesn’t agree until she sees exactly who she is dealing with. The Beast [he’s never named; common consensus amongst the fandom is Adam] remains heartless and ushers Maurice out before he can even bid farewell to his daughter. Lumiere does get the Beast to agree to giving Belle her own room, since she would be with them for some time (aka, forever). The Beast informs Belle that she may go anywhere in the castle, it is her home now, except the West Wing. His parting words are “You will join me for dinner. That’s not a request.”

Back in town, Gaston is moping. “Disgraced, publically humiliated” because someone actually said no to him. LeFou, Gaston’s little stooge and punching bag, riles the town up into singing Gaston’s praises (boiling down to Gaston being the manliest of men). Gotta say, not impressed by someone whose every inch is covered in hair, nor by someone as large as a barge. Maurice stumbles in at the end, pleading for help to rescue Belle. Everyone laughs at him and his claims of a “horrible, monstrous beast!” Even Gaston throws him out, declaring him to be crazy and old, yet leading the muscular man to “thinking.” *Gasp!* “A dangerous pastime.” Since Maurice is Belle’s father, he can manipulate the man and essentially blackmail Belle into marrying him. And the villagers see absolutely no harm in this. (We discover a little later that Gaston’s plan involves locking Maurice up in an asylum. The film hints that this is bad, and historically it was. When Maurice wasn’t home, Gaston leaves LeFou to watch the house…in the snow.)

At the castle, Lumiere is sure that Belle and the Beast will be in love by midnight, breaking the spell. Mrs. Potts cautions that such things take time. And not aided by Belle refusing to come to dinner. Beast loses his temper, as he is wont, but Belle stands up to him (through the safety of her door). He thunders, “if she doesn’t eat with me, she doesn’t eat at all.” Well, when Belle emerges later, Mrs. Potts is not about to let the girl starve. After all, she is their guest. The kitchen whips up the production Be Our Guest (for what would dinner in France be without a little music?), which gives us a glimpse at their life. [This is also where some incongruity comes in. Lumiere at one point states “ten years, we’ve been rusting.” Meaning, if the rose is wilting and almost dead, that the Beast is now twenty-one, thus, making him only eleven when the curse was cast. What enchantress curses an eleven-year-old? And where are the parents? This is solved in the live action version] I loved this sequence as a child; all the flashing lights, the singing, the dancing. (I’m sure it was a delight to adapt to Broadway.)

be_our_guest

Afterwards, Lumiere and Cogsworth take Belle on a tour of the castle. Unfortunately, they point out the West Wing. They realize their error at her interest and attempt to distract her with a library. While they dance off, Belle stays and moves on. It is a foreboding part of the castle, gargoyles at every corner, eventually coming to the Beast’s destroyed chambers. There’s a slashed portrait on the wall. There’s a pause on the eyes (hint hint), but then the glowing rose catches Belle’s attention. She removes the glass cloche and is about to touch it when the Beast leaps out, screaming to “Get Out!” Belle flees the castle, but is set upon the wolves. (This part frightened me as a child.) Beast, realizing that his temper has gotten the best of him again, goes after her and rescues her. She makes a good stand, arming herself with a stick, but there are too many wolves. The Beast does incur some wounds and Belle takes him back to the castle (hesitating for a moment; this could be her only chance to escape). Inside, Belle tends to his wounds amidst verbal sparring. She shouldn’t have run off. She wouldn’t have if he hadn’t frightened her. She should have stayed away from an area termed “forbidden” (though really, what can you expect? It’s human nature to want what we can’t have. Tell us “don’t go somewhere,” and what do we want to do? Go there.) Well, he should learn to control his temper. Belle’s got him there. She still quietly thanks him for saving her life.

Over the course of the next few days/weeks (not entirely sure how long…might be days because we later see Maurice still in the woods. Can’t imagine it taking weeks to find the castle. And this is why people claim “Stockholm Syndrome.” My argument…at least she’s not instantly falling in love with him, unlike some princesses.) Beast and Belle slowly fall in love, realizing there’s Something There. They both admit that once they get to know one another, they see the kinder parts (hitting on the “true beauty is found within” from the prologue). Beast admits to Lumiere and Cogsworth “I’ve never felt this way about anyone.” Cogsworth throws in a joke about giving Belle “promises you don’t intend to keep.” [This was thrown in by David Ogden Stiers]. But soon they agree upon gifting Belle Beast’s enormous library. I. Want. That. Library. It’s massive; I can only wonder at how many books. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall, you need a ladder to reach a good portion. I love Belle because she reads.
1991 library

The 25th Anniversary brought us another song that had been originally written for the film, but had been cut due to time. The Broadway production showcased Human Again, and the anniversary disc brought to life the full animated number. The objects are looking forward to being human again and returning to their lives. Cogsworth wants to retire to get away from Lumiere. At the end, Belle is reading to Beast, Romeo and Juliet (I think in some versions it is a tale about Guinevere and Arthur), encouraging Beast to read again. While they sing, the castle is cleaning itself up in preparation for that evening.

Beauty_and_the_Beast danceThe iconic section of the film, and my favorite part, the ballroom follows. Mrs. Potts lovingly sings their tale, “barely even friends/then somebody bends, unexpectedly. Just a little change/small to say the least/both a little scared/ neither one prepared/Beauty and the Beast.” This is my favorite Disney love song. The dance is the most complicatedly choreographed of the princesses, and it was a technical masterpiece for its time, being the first time to use CGI (the background). [I discovered this in Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast, by Charles Solomon; a behind-the-scenes history of making the classic film with some input on the 2017 live-action remake. I splurged because it’s my favorite.] I was fascinated by the little cherubs moving on the ceiling to watch the dance as a child.

After their dance, Beast leads Belle out onto the balcony and asks if she is happy at the castle, with him. She replies “yes,” but she also misses her father. Beast then shows her his magic mirror, which allows him to see anything he wants (he’s used it previously to see her in his castle, when he was sure she could never love him). Belle sees her father in trouble and Beast releases her from her promise to stay at the castle. He gifts her the mirror, so she can look back on him. She rides off after her father and the enchanted objects wonder aloud “why?” Mrs. Potts realizes that Beast has finally learned to love. But Belle hasn’t openly returned his love, so they are not free of the curse.

LeFou witnesses Belle and Maurice’s return and informs Gaston. The hunter comes knocking with the man from the asylum in tow. The crowd once again laughs at Maurice’s claims, and Belle actually begs Gaston for help. He’ll help, for a price: her hand in marriage. She refuses again and decides to prove her father’s story, showing everyone the Beast in the mirror. This just frightens the villagers and further turn them against Belle and Maurice. Gaston locks them in their cellar and agitates the mob into a frenzy. The Mob Song extols their fears and how they’ll kill the Beast. “We don’t like/what we don’t understand/and it scares us/and this monster is mysterious at least.”

Throughout, Belle realizes she has to warn the Beast. Once the mob reaches the castle, the enchanted objects band together to fight off the encroachers. What is a bit more terrifying as an adult is realizing that the mob is stating “here we come, we’re fifty strong/and fifty Frenchmen can’t be wrong.” Beast is so morose, he allows the invaders to simply come, it doesn’t matter anymore. In the animated version, Chip snuck away in Belle’s bag and is able to start Maurice’s invention, chopping down the door to the cellar, freeing them.

The objects surprise the invading villagers and fight them off soundly; except for Gaston, who sneaks up into the castle. He eventually comes across the Beast (who at this point, just wishes for death). Gaston taunts Beast, “did you honestly think she’d want you, when she had someone like me?” Frankly, the man is a maniac, laughing manically as he causes another being pain. He enjoys hunting the Beast. Beast refuses to fight back until he hears Belle below. Then he turns his strength against Gaston. Gaston, free for a moment declares “Belle is mine!” In response, Beast picks Gaston up by his neck and dangles him over the edge. Gaston begs for his life, “I’ll do anything!” Beast’s reply: “Get out.” Beast turns his back on Gaston to reach Belle. Gaston uses it as an opportunity to stab Beast in the back. Belle manages to pull Beast to safety while Gaston falls and plummets to his death. The damage has been done to Beast. He’s happy to see Belle, one last time, then closes his eyes as the last petal falls. Belle cries “please don’t leave me. I love you.” The last three words break the curse. Lights shoot down and Beast rises in his cape, transforming back into a prince. [I also love the music that plays here, the trumpet fanfare and the deliberate march, the strings simply holding notes so the straight beat is emphasized].

Beauty_and_the_Beast_stained_glass_ending
Finale stained glass

Belle doesn’t recognize the prince at first, but the eyes are her clue. We get our kiss and the castle transforms back, the rain turning to gold glitter. We see Lumiere, Cogsworth, Plumette, Mrs. Potts, and Chip as humans. A reprise of the ball and Beauty and the Beast signify a happy ending. The closing shot is a new stained glass window, Belle and the prince happily dancing.

I adore Josh Groban singing If I Can’t Love Her from the Broadway production. Well, I tend to love Josh Groban singing anything. I don’t really remember the song from the versions of the show I’ve seen. The year after I graduated high school, they did Beauty and the Beast and one of my friends was cast as Belle, so I went to see it. I also went to a neighboring school while I was in school to see their version. And found out recently that a work friend was in the production; we’ve found that our paths crossed years before we worked together. (We went to see the new movie together).

The blu-ray copy of the 2017 live action remake offers the option of watching the movie with an overture; like a traditional Broadway musical that weaves all the themes together to give a taste. And unlike the live action update to Cinderella, Disney kept Beauty and the Beast as the full musical. This film features Emma Watson (Hermione Granger from Harry Potter) as Belle, Dan Stevens (Matthew Crowley from Downton Abbey) as the Beast, supported by Luke Evans (Bard from The Hobbit) as Gaston, Josh Gad (the voice of Olaf from Frozen) as LeFou, Emma Thompson (Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter) as Mrs. Potts, Ian McKellan (Gandalf from both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) as Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars prequels), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman from The Hunger Games) as new character Maestro Cadenza, and Tony award winning Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe. (Do you think they could get any more A-list actors and actresses in the movie? But I love all of them in their roles.)

I like the touch of Disney changing the castle to match the movie. The prologue, narrated by Emma Thompson, has been updated and fills in some plot holes. The enchantress erased the memory of the castle and its inhabitants from the village (because, wouldn’t the village [named Villeneuve this time around] have remembered their rulers at some point?) and by this point, both of the prince’s parents have passed on and he’s a grown adult. The rose will bloom, but there’s no end age given. We don’t get a full glimpse of any of the servants yet (Spoiler: they’re fully revealed at the end of the movie.) Audra McDonald’s soprano voice lends an overall realism to the film. The terms of the curse are the same.

Personally, I think casting Emma Watson as Belle was genius; it combines my two favorite bookworms: Hermione Granger and Belle. And I think she sounds wonderful, again bringing a realistic sound to the movie (not that I have anything against the original’s Paige O’Hara). New characters have been added and major characters have been expanded. The bookseller is now Pére Robert, which makes it more historically accurate, since the priest would have been the most educated and most likely to have books. The book Belle is reading is Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, again lending authenticity to the story. I liked the touch of Pére Robert telling Belle “bon voyage!” as she leaves, since Belle uses it as an escape and feels like she’s visiting other places.

2017 belle and gaston
Emma Watson as Belle and Luke Evans as Gaston in the opening crowd scene

I was also surprised by Luke Evans’ performance. I was unaware that he gotten his start on stage, and his voice had me almost swooning in my seat the first time I watched the movie. I actually enjoy this version of LeFou (despite finding Josh Gad as Olaf annoying). I laughed at LeFou pointing out to Gaston that Belle is so well read and he’s so…athletically inclined [read: not well read]. He focuses more on how Belle is unlike everyone else. I like this version of Gaston at times, till his true colors start showing. Tee hee, the silly girls are splashed with mud. As for the chorus, it’s nice to hear a fuller mixture of tones; again, more realistic.

Belle is more blunt with Gaston. She is not busy, she just doesn’t want to have dinner with Gaston. As Gaston remarks to LeFou, she has…dignity. How outrageously attractive. Yes it is. But you still should not refer to the woman you wish to court as “prey.”

Maurice creates music boxes in this iteration and his home is filled with paintings and sketches. A new song was written for the movie, How Does a Moment Last Forever. We get glimpses of Belle’s mother (someone not even mentioned in the animation). She too was different from other people, but they learned to admire her. She was incredibly fearless. Maurice takes his creations to sell at a market and will bring Belle home a rose, like the one in his painting. Belle is the inventor, creating a new way to do laundry because she isn’t content with how things are. It also allows her time to read, or more importantly, teach another young girl how to read. The village’s headmaster sneers that one girl reading is enough. Another old woman remarks that something must be done about Belle. They dump her laundry and Pére Robert is the only one to help Belle clean it up. LeFou calls Gaston to the rescue. The hunter’s advice to Belle is that the simple folk of the village don’t trust change, and if Belle is not careful, she’ll end up like the hag, Agathe; a spinster once her father passes. He encourages her instead to consider a future with a certain man from the village. However, Belle has met all the men of the village and she has no desire to start a family with any of them. This may be Gaston’s world, but it’s not hers. She firmly tells Gaston “I am never going to marry you,” closing the door (literally) on their conversation. Once he’s gone, we get an imitation of The Sound of Music hill scene; Belle escaping the village, yearning for someone who understands.

Maurice’s path is blocked with lightning strikes a tree, though he’s aware enough to notice it snowing, in June. Wolves slink out of the trees and give chase to he and Phillipe. They once again find the castle for shelter. This Maurice is more perplexed by the enchanted objects and starts to leave. However, he catches sight of a rose garden and picks one for Belle. There’s a shadowy creature that stops him and Phillipe runs off. The horse finds Belle the next morning and she rides off (in far more sensible clothing).

This Belle also arms herself (admittedly, it’s a stick, but it’s better than nothing) before entering the castle. Her father cautions her that the castle is alive. A deep voice proclaims Maurice a thief, for taking a rose. Belle rebuts that the rose was for her, she should be punished. Maurice warns the punishment is life in prison. The voice retorts he “received eternal damnation for one,” he’s only locking this man up. Belle once again offers herself in Maurice’s place, casting light onto the captor, revealing the Beast. She even argues that “forever can spare a minute,” so she can say good-bye to her father. She’s clever and pushes Maurice out of the cell, locking herself in so her father can be free, promising to escape.

It is Lumiere who frees Belle, and continuing to show spunk, she arms herself with a stool, uneasy hearing a disembodied voice. She even uses it, and re-arms with a pitcher at Cogsworth’s appearance. They are the ones to show Belle to a suite and explain a bit about the castle, including the off limits West Wing. As Belle enters her room, which is exquisite, if a little dusty the tune Home from the Broadway show can be heard (I love this song too and grinned when I heard it in theatre). Plumette’s role is expanded in the live action version, beyond Lumiere’s fling. The hideous gown that Madame de Garderobe puts Belle in supplies materials for Belle to make a rope with which to escape.

I also honestly prefer the new version of Gaston; I read in a magazine or book or somewhere that LeFou’s character was updated a bit; the violent humor not appropriate for live action (very true). He’s fleshed out and not simply a stooge. Still over the top, but I think that suits Josh Gad’s personality. The friendship is still skewed in Gaston’s favor and LeFou still hangs on his every word but this Gaston at least attempts to be a friend, complimenting LeFou at the end of the scene. I also enjoyed the added dancing element and wish they would have made it longer. Gaston’s character now has a backstory (not entirely made clear in the movie, but in the additional material), he’s a war hero; Maurice calls him “Captain” at one point. Gaston does not care about being fair in hunting (not good news for the woman he refers to as “prey.”) LeFou remarks on his own illiteracy at the end (proving the importance of education and reading). When Maurice enters the tavern, Gaston stands up for him, instead of laughing at him. His ulterior motive, which LeFou quickly guesses is that helping Maurice will earn him points with Belle.

Come suppertime at the castle, the Beast enters his dining room to discover that his servants have set a place for his prisoner. And further discovers that they’ve given her a suite in the East Wing, well, Cogsworth rats out Lumiere. They’re urging a romance because they’re becoming less human every day. Beast retorts that “she is the daughter of a common thief.” Mrs. Potts comes back with “you can’t judge people by who their father are, now can you?” giving the Beast a significant look. (Not too much of a stretch for the audience at this point to guess that the Beast’s father may have something to do with how spoilt he became, leading to his curse.) So, the Beast “politely” pounds on Belle’s door, telling her to come to dinner. The servants figure she is scared to death in her room. Not so much, more like working on an escape attempt. I admire how Belle stands up to the Beast. She calls the Beast “insane,” prompting the Beast’s outburst of “if she doesn’t eat with me, she doesn’t eat at all.” That fury scares Belle, so when the Beast uses the magic mirror minutes later, he sees her curled up in a corner.

Mrs. Potts enters a while later. Instead of being angry or upset at Belle’s escape attempt, the kindly housekeeper simply offers the young woman a warm cup of tea before she leaves. That leads to Mrs. Potts commenting on dinner and leads Belle to the dining room. Maestro Cadenza is part of the ensemble, the husband of Madame de Garderobe, and Lumiere carries on with his production of Be Our Guest. It’s truly a CG marvel, but lacks a little bit of the whimsy of the original animated version. “Ten years” is removed, so as to not date the characters. For those paying attention, when Lumiere sings “they can sing, they can dance/after all miss, this is France,” he uses the butcher’s knife as a guillotine. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere has the singing chops and charisma to help carry the number (he has previously stared in Down With Love and Moulin Rouge).

After dinner, Belle remarks to her new friends, “I don’t understand why you all are being so kind to me? Surely you are trapped her as I am? Don’t you ever want to escape?” Mrs. Potts swears that the master is not as terrible as he seems, underneath he’s really a “prince…of a fellow.” She sends Belle to bed, but Belle takes the opportunity to explore the West Wing. She makes her way to the Beast’s chambers, witnessing the scratched portraits. In the family depiction, the mother is spared claw marks. Again, she’s entranced by the rose and the Beast scares her. She flees, evading Frou Frou, the fancy footstool, ignoring Lumiere’s plea “please don’t go, it’s dangerous!”, but once again, doesn’t make it far before wolves attack. She lands some hits with a small branch, but she’s still lucky that the Beast came along when he did. After the brief battle, Belle returns to the castle with the Beast and they have the same banter, ending in Beast needing to learn to control his temper.

In another part of the woods, Maurice is endeavoring to lead Gaston and LeFou to the castle, but Gaston has had enough with Maurice’s story. LeFou even whispers “you really want to marry into this family?” Magic, Gaston insists, is not real. But wolves, starvation, and freezing to death are. He admits that he only came because he wants to marry Belle. Maurice refuses on her behalf and Gaston, despite LeFou’s efforts at calming him (with thoughts of the war…and widows. Not entirely how LeFou means that. Does he mean Gaston slept with widows? Or enjoyed killing and thus making widows?) punches Maurice, then ties him to a tree. If the old man won’t help him, then he is in Gaston’s way. LeFou wants to explore other options rather than murder, but Gaston threatens to leave without him. Agathe wanders by in the morning and rescues Maurice.

While the Beast sleeps off his wounds, Mrs. Potts explains his tale to Belle – leaving out the details of the curse, particularly how it’s lifted. They stood by and did nothing when the Beast’s father corrupted his son after his mother’s death. The servants earned their fate and it’s not Belle’s concern how to lift the curse. The group separates, reminiscing their Days in the Sun (another new number written for the movie). Belle realizes that she’s changing in her short time at the castle. Before, she was “innocent and certain/now I’m wiser but unsure.” She’s “stronger now, but still not free.” The Beast later wakes to Belle reciting Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, which he joins in on. She’s surprised he knows Shakespeare, to which he retorts, he had an “expensive” education.” But he’s not impressed that her favorite play is Romeo and Juliet, claiming it to be full of heartache and pining. There are so many better things to read. “Like what?” Belle urges. Again, that library is beautiful. And even more so because it’s realistic! (This is why Oxford library is at the top of Places I Want to Visit list.) I made the same squeal that Belle did when Beast gifted it, even after making a joke about of course he hasn’t read all the books, some of them are in Greek! For a girl who has had only a handful of books to read over and over for her entire life, now her world has exploded!

2017 library
(Hard to capture it all in just one image)

Again, the couple slowly falls for each other, seeing Something There that they didn’t notice before. The pair reads at the dinner table, soon sitting next to each other. Belle helps the castle clean and Beast nails her with a giant snowball. A quiet interlude was added with the couple in the rose garden, discussing Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, and the Knights of the Round Table, and commiserating how laughter dies when they enter a room. Belle admits that the villagers call her a “funny girl,” and not as a compliment. Beast states that her village sounds horrible; they should run away. And he has a way to do so. This enchantress left another gift, a book that can transport you to anywhere you want to do. But he remains a Beast and there is nowhere in the world he’d be accepted. But Belle can now see all the places she’s read about. He encourages her to “think of the one place you’ve always to see. Now, find it in your mind’s eye and feel in it your heart.” They are transported to the windmill apartment where she was born. Her father never told her how her mother died, but Beast recognizes a doctor’s mask (one of those old, terrifying ones), and deduces “plague.” He apologizes for ever calling her father a thief. Now knowing, Belle whispers “let’s go home.” (Huge clue as to their relationship status!)

LeFou still wants to return to the forest to rescue Maurice (we discover it’s been five days). They don’t need to; he’s in the tavern and accuses Gaston of attempted murder. Gaston sidesteps the charges, pointing out that he wants to marry Belle, why would he harm her father? And one cannot trust the word of a beggar woman. Maurice turns to LeFou, but Gaston pressures his “dearest companion, oldest friend and most loyal compatriot.” Gaston turns the accusation onto Maurice, claiming his ravings make him a danger to himself and to others. Some other men of the village move forward to take him away. LeFou is visibly unsettled by what transpired.

The Beast apparently told Belle that she looked so beautiful in the ballroom, so they should have a dance. She agreed and now they are preparing. His servants insist that he tell her how he feels, because if not, the Beast will have to suffer through cold tea in the dark and dust for the rest of his days. (A humorous bit is that they discover his old style of make-up does not suit his current form.) I love the updates to the classic outfits. The embroidery on the Beast’s coat lends a regal touch. Belle’s new dress simply floats over the floor and seems more comfortable. The dance is magical, the choreography elegant; the candles during the lift look like stars. I do have to admit, I prefer Angela Landsbury singing to Emma Thompson. It’s a beloved song from my childhood, I tend to be stubborn about change. Beast timidly probes Belle whether he has earned her affection. Sadly, Belle can’t be truly happy if she’s not free. She still misses her father. Beast offers his mirror and she witnesses Maurice in trouble. Beast releases her; she’s free. He still insists that she keeps the mirror, so she can look back on him.

2017 costumes
Updated look for 2017

And the song that makes my heart melt every time, Evermore (my mother and I contest who sings it better, Dan Stevens or Josh Groban [I the former, she the latter, there’s something that strikes me to the core about the deeper voice]). The Beast bemoans that he once thought he was master of his fate. But he let a woman steal into his melancholy heart. She’s changed him, forever. He will always remember her, but now she is physically gone. But her presence left a lasting mark that will never leave him. “Now I know, she’ll never leave me/Even as she fades from view./She will still inspire me/be a part of everything I do.”

In the village, a mob has amassed to send Maurice off to the asylum; Pére Robert tries to stop them, but no one listens. Maurice refuses Belle’s hand to Gaston again and Belle rides in as they lock the coach, still in her gold gown. She begs the crowd to free her father, even asking Gaston for help. Gaston claims loyalty to her family, but her father’s claims are too wild. Her word alone is not proof, she would say anything to rescue her father. The mirror shows them the Beast, but Gaston sees it as sorcery, dark magic [Luke, you’re letting your Bard out, lol]. Clearly, Belle is under some sort of spell, especially when she spouts that Gaston is the monster, not the creature in the mirror. He has her locked away as well and now has “a threat to their very existence” to destroy. LeFou protests, but Gaston threatens he’s next. The former captain riles up the mob, “you can bet they all will follow/for in times like this they’ll do just as I say.” LeFou, now really wondering what side he’s on, mutters, “there’s a beast running wild, there’s no question/but I fear the wrong monster’s released.” The mob marches to the castle and the servants must prepare to defend their home. Beast is still despondent. Meanwhile, Belle reveals that she knows the truth of what happened to her mother and asks her father for help. Yes, it’s dangerous. But Maurice can see that his daughter loves the Beast. He can pick the lock, “after all, it’s just tumblers and gears.”

Cogsworth sounds so much like Gandalf for a moment when he orders the objects to man the barricades (hmm, I wonder why?). Madame de Garderobe still dresses up three of the village men in gowns, though this time, one likes it. She comes to her husband’s rescue, shouting “this is it! The fat lady is singing!” when a crotchety woman orders “silence that harpsichord!” LeFou catches Mrs. Potts and informs her that he has changed sides; he and Gaston are in a bad place. She tells him he is too good for Gaston. The hunter has snuck up the stairs and found the Beast on a tower. He tries to hurt the Beast first by saying “Belle sent me,” then fires his pistol (more violent that the arrows in the animated film). When he goes for his crossbow, Belle is behind him (in her undergarments, having discarded the gold gown), snapping the arrows. Incensed, Gaston tells Belle, “when we return to the village, you will marry me. And that beast’s head will hang on our wall.” They struggle for his pistol, the crumbling castle giving way beneath Gaston, knocking the gun away temporarily (Gaston merely falls one level).

The sight of Belle spurs the Beast on. Gaston pounces and pummels the Beast. Belle’s cry has Beast turning and dangling Gaston over the edge. The hunter begs for mercy and Beast releases him, ordering him to “get out.” He finally turns back to Belle and at the last leap, Gaston’s second shot hits him in the back. He reloads for a third shot, sending the Beast careening onto his balcony. The archway beneath the man gives way and he falls to his death (you can actually hear a small thud at the end). Belle and the Beast share a tearful reunion, but three bullet wounds take their toll and the Beast closes his eye as the last petal falls. This time, we witness the servants turn fully into objects, first Plumete, Garderobe, Cadenza, and Frou Frou. Then Mrs. Potts as she’s looking for Chip, Chip a moment after his mother has gone silent. Finally, Cogsworth and Lumiere. I cried in the theatre. I knew it couldn’t end that way, but it was still heart wrenching. Belle finally whispers “please don’t leave me, I love you.” A kiss to his brow breaks the curse and Agathe (revealed to be the enchantress) casts a golden light that surrounds the Beast as he transforms back into a prince. They did a better job this time of matching the eyes between Beast and the prince. (Dan Stevens as the prince is very handsome) And hurrah for a kiss! The golden light rains down on the castle, changing it back and bringing the servants back as human. Turns out, when the enchantress erased the memory of the castle, a few spouses were stuck in the village. The forgetful Monsieur Jean is Mr. Potts, and the crotchety woman is Cogsworth’s wife (he’s not happy to see her, hoping to turnbeast finale back into a clock…because she’s been lonely).

The Finale is beautiful; Belle has a new dress, the prince is in light blue and Audra MacDonald shines as a soprano [I like to sing along to this piece in the privacy of my car so I can drop into my operatic voice and savor the high notes; well, not the last, I’d need to warm up more that]. Emma sings the forgotten verse of Beauty and the Beast. LeFou and Stanley share a brief dance (there was a bit of an uproar of Disney including a gay character. It was barely a minute, leave it be). Belle wants the prince to grow a beard and he responds with a flirty growl.

[Fun note: the credits include French job titles]

Along with the Broadway adaptation, there have been a few television shows and direct-to-video stories connected with the animated film.  I’m sure I saw some of them, but I could not tell you which since I don’t remember and don’t own any.

belle
Meeting my hero

As I stated at the opening, Belle is my favorite princess (I told her as much when I met the costumed actress in Disney World), primarily because she reads. I have loved reading since I was a child; my parents read to me from a very young age and I would enjoy sitting and reading for hours on end. Still do, though most of the time it’s online fanfiction anymore…my stack of books to be read is ever-growing (and to imitate Ariel a little), I want more. Just like Belle, I loved going to far-off places and on daring adventures immersed in a book. “With her nose stuck in a book,” described me a good portion of my young school days. I always had a “book for fun,” with me in school, so I could occupy myself if class finished early. Even in college; I’d read before classes start, I’d read during lunch, I’d spend weekends lying on my bed, reading. Indoor recess; I read (I overheard some other girls ask my friend why she liked hanging out with me because I read so much). My favorite room in any school was the library and I’d always befriend the librarian. For a long time, my career goal was to become a librarian (life did not go according to plan). The career goal that stuck with me, however, is to become an author so I can tell all the stories in my head to others.

And just like Belle, I have always been a bit of a misfit. My dearest wish, same as hers, is “to have someone understand.” (Until then, that is what TV shows/movies and fanfiction are for). So, to see a young woman so very much like me, get a happy ending, still gives me hope (when I beat back the cynicism). She’s feisty, she speaks her mind, she’s not scared away from being different. Belle is a strong and positive role model. Heck, she evens help rescue her prince!  A truly great role model for girls and young women.

Speaking of fanfiction; some recommendations!

emjee (MerryHeart) on AO3 has a small series of college Alternate Universe stories featuring Belle and Beast (again, typically named Adam) based on the 2017 counterparts.  Still want a guy like Adam 🙂

hester-latterly (also on AO3) has a marvelous tale Honey You’re Familiar (Like My Mirror Years Ago), a modern “marriage of convenience” AU, again based on the 2017 film, wonderfully told and I’m eagerly awaiting its finish.

As always, I welcome your questions or comments. Do you have a version of Beauty and the Beast you prefer?
Up Next: Aladdin

“We Got a Hot Crustacean Band”

The Little Mermaid

We’ve reached the Disney movies that came out during my lifetime. The Little Mermaid is also the first movie part of the coined “Disney Renaissance,” when Disney returned to making movie musicals. The story is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale, though we no longer have a storybook opening to introduce the tale. Instead, we’re greeted by a sailing ship, with the sailors singing Fathoms Below. One comments to Prince Eric and his advisor, Grimsby, that King Triton is to thank for the fair weather; Grimsby denounces mermaids as “nautical nonsense,” while the sailor insists. Once under water, we eventually come to the city of Atlantica, which is preparing for a concert, featuring Triton’s daughters, composed by Sebastian.

[Note: is has been suggested by pintrest that Triton’s daughters stand for the seven seas, depending on their hair and personality. As a kid, I just he just wanted all of his daughters to have names starting with “A”]

The-Little-Mermaid-Movie-Poster

Ariel misses her debut because she is out exploring old shipwrecks with her fish friend, Flounder, searching for human artifacts. Flounder is certainly more cautious than Ariel and they manage to run into a shark. They take their findings to the surface to ask a sea gull, Scuttle, what they are for. According to the idiotic bird, a fork is a “dinglehopper” and used to comb one’s hair, while a pipe is a “snarfblat” and is a musical instrument. That reminds Ariel she missed the concert. Triton is furious and is even more so when he finds out Ariel has been going to the surface. Such actions are forbidden; she could have been seen by a barbaric human (the prequel that came out in 2008 explains that Triton’s wife had been killed by humans). Ariel’s retort is that she is sixteen, she’s not a child (and every adult is thinking, oh yes you are). Triton fires back with the classic, “as long as you live in my ocean, you obey my rules.” (That rarely works on kids/teens.) Once the argument has ended, Triton assigns Sebastian to look after Ariel.

 

part of your worldWhat Sebastian discovers is Ariel’s treasure trove. And while Ariel has numerous bits and bobs, she wants more; she yearns to be Part of Your World. As anyone who daydreams about life being different, she guesses, “betcha on land/they understand/bet they don’t reprimand daughters, bright young women.”  [Yes, for a while, I thought I’d be all grown up at sixteen….nooo.  I’m almost twice that and I still have no idea what I’m doing.  Yes, Ariel dear, human daughters do get reprimanded when they do something stupid]. All the while, the sea witch Ursula (who apparently once ruled the ocean) has had her two eels, Flotsam and Jetsam tailing Ariel and figures that she can exact revenge on King Triton through his daughter. Ariel is intrigued by a dark shape and swims to the surface to discover Eric’s ship is throwing a celebration for the prince’s birthday (complete with huge statue, which Grimsby hoped would have been a wedding present; the whole kingdom wants to see their prince settle down with the right girl [at least they include “right”]). The party is cut short when a hurricane blows in; lightning hits the sail and starts a fire. The ship runs into a reef and the crew is thrown overboard (or manages to get into a lifeboat somehow). However, Eric’s beloved canine companion, Max, is still onboard. The prince goes back for Max, but his foot gets stuck in the crumbling deck. He throws Max overboard and we next see an explosion, caused by the fire hitting gunpowder. Ariel swims in to rescue the handsome prince. They wash ashore a beach and she reprises her song, even more desperate to be part of the human world.

 

Ursula is positively cackling; King Triton’s daughter has fallen in love with a human! A prince, to be precise! Sebastian attempts to talk sense into the teenager, rationalizing life is better Under the Sea (a catchy, full-ocean production that I can’t help but smile every time I hear). Ariel’s sisters, and even Triton notice her changed behavior; humming all the time, always in a happy mood. The older girls inform their father that the youngest is in love. He assumes it’s a merman (who else could it be?) and calls in Sebastian. Sebastian, despite telling himself to “remain calm,” spills the secret. Ariel is happily flirting with the statue of Eric that has landed in her trove (how serendipitous) when her father appears in the shadows. He is absolutely incensed and destroys her treasures, including the statue, as a way to get through to her. As we’ve noticed before, he regrets his actions once his temper has abated. Flotsam and Jetsam swoop in and persuade Ariel to go to Ursula to solve her problems.

Ursula welcomes Ariel into her domain and justifies that she uses her powers to help Poor Unfortunate Souls [gotta admit, I’d love to perform this song; it’s sassy and so much fun to portray a villian]. The only way for Ariel to get what she wants is to become a human. And for this, Ursula just wants Ariel’s voice. When Ariel protests on how can she convince Eric to bestow true love’s kiss by the third sunset (in order to remain a human versus turning back into a mermaid and belonging to Ursula) Ursula retorts that she’ll “have your looks, your pretty face.” After all, human males prefer ladies to not say a word [I could go into how this has happened in periods of society, but I shan’t] The teen signs the contract, Ursula casts her spell and Ariel indeed becomes a human. Sebastian and Flounder rush her to the surface.

On land, Eric hasn’t been able to get the woman who saved his life out of his head, or the prince erictune she sang. Max leads him to Ariel (the dog recognizes her scent). She seems familiar, but without her voice, she can’t be the one. Nevertheless, Prince Eric is a gentleman and eagerly agrees to take care of the young woman (they assume she was in a traumatic shipwreck). Sebastian follows Ariel into the castle, though he has to run for his life in the kitchen from French chef Louis, who loves Les Poissons. During dinner, Eric stares at Ariel and is happy to give her a tour the next morning. Ariel demonstrates that she is certainly different from other ladies. That evening, Eric takes her out in a boat and Sebastian takes matters into his own…claws; they’re running out of time to keep Ariel out of Ursula’s grasp. The crab sets the mood and urges the prince to Kiss the Girl (and helps Eric guess her proper name). Yet, just when the couple is leaning in, the eels dump them. Things are getting too close for Ursula; she has to take matters into her own tentacles. While Eric is deciding to choose Ariel over a mysterious woman (thanks to advice from Grimsby), a mysterious woman appears on the beach! With the voice he remembers! And…Eric is hypnotized.

Scuttle wakes Ariel the next morning, congratulating her on the happy news of her impeding marriage to Eric; the whole kingdom is talking about the wedding that afternoon. But when Ariel runs down the stairs, there is a dark-haired woman simpering next to Eric, who is instructing that the wedding ship leaves at sundown. The ship sets sail at dusk, without Ariel onboard. Yet, Scuttle has more news; he’s discovered that the new woman, Vanessa, is Ursula in disguise. Sebastian has Flounder help Ariel get to the ship, he’ll fetch Triton, and Scuttle is to stall the wedding. Scuttle is aided by the nearby animals who wreak absolute havoc. Max is pleased to get back at Vanessa (who kicked him; add animal cruelty to the charges, and further proof to Eric if he wasn’t hypnotized). In the commotion, Ariel’s voice is released and returns to its proper host, breaking the spell over Eric. Unfortunately, before they can have a proper conversation and kiss, the sun sets, turning Ariel back into a mermaid. Ursula has returned to being an octopus (or squid) and takes off with Ariel.

They meet up with Triton, who attempts to break the contract with his trident. Signed, it’s binding and no magic can change it, except, an exchange; Triton for Ariel, relinquishing the crown and trident to Ursula. Reacting as a father, Triton agrees. Now the commander of the seven seas, Ursula advances on Ariel, but Eric throws a spear to distract her. He’s lost his love once, he won’t lose her again. His attack causes Flotsam and Jetsam to pull him further under water. Sebastian and Flounder team up to release him. Ursula’s shot with the trident, meant for Eric, misses (thanks to Ariel) and hits her pets, destroying them. Angry, she grows until she towers over the surface. Ariel and Eric were initially caught on her crown, but jump away, quickly separated by the waves churned by Ursula. The sea witch traps Ariel and is bent on killing her with a blast from the trident. Those same waves also brought up the shipwrecks; Eric commandeers one and aims, running Ursula through (he jumps off during her death throes). With her death and the return of the trident, her curses are reversed, reverting her garden of creepy seaweed back to merfolk, including Triton.

Ariel once again returns Eric to shore and she wistfully sits on a rock (in a mimicry of the real Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen; I thought the movie took place in France for the longest time, actually, it’s probably set in Denmark). Sebastian muses to Triton that children must be free to live their own lives. One problem – how much Triton is going to miss his daughter. He grants her legs (and a new, sparkly dress; better than that sheet from earlier). Ariel eagerly runs to Eric and they finally get their kiss. Which transforms into a wedding. Triton rises in the water for a final goodbye, Ariel whispering “I love you, Daddy,” and Eric bowing to his father-in-law. He casts a rainbow over the ship and we know “they lived happily ever after.”

ArielMarriage

Little Mermaid did have a spin-off cartoon that ran in the nineties (I watched regularly) and it has been adapted into a Broadway stage musical (I think I saw part of it while at Disney World). There was a sequel, Return to the Sea involving Ariel and Eric’s daughter, Melody; and as already stated, there was a prequel. There is another Little Mermaid movie that came out in August of 2018 that seems to have a completely different storyline from the Disney classic (I was excited, then confused). There have been rumors of a Disney live-action retelling for several years, but nothing is truly known for certain, especially a release date.

While Ariel is not my favorite princess (nevertheless, it found its way to our VCR plenty), I do appreciate that she wanted to take her fate in her own hands (to good and bad consequences. If it involves visiting an evil witch and signing over your voice or “belonging” to someone, bad. Good that she fights for what she loves). She swims after Eric’s wedding ship, even though she’s uncoordinated as a human, to save Eric. She does not ask her father for legs at the end, but he was kind enough to gift them (that whole: if you love something, let it go). Triton is a typical father (though he has to balance raising seven daughter and running a large underwater kingdom). He wonders if he did the right thing and wants to lay down rules, but not stifle his children. Eric is a good match for Ariel. He does not hesitate to rescue his beloved dog, takes care of his advisor and crew. He takes in a woman in trouble even though he had no clue who she was. While Ariel instantly fell in love with Eric and Eric had fallen in love with the woman he rescued, he also fell in love with the true Ariel. All in all, a better role model for young people.

Questions? Comments? Any other adults find it a little disconcerting that a man is being encouraged to kiss a young woman who can’t speak?

Next Time: Beauty and the Beast

“All Stuffed With Fluff”

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Love, love, love Winnie the Pooh! Behind How to Train Your Dragon and Lord of the Rings/Hobbit it is one of the things guaranteed to put a smile on my face. I am not aware exactly of how or when I first fell in love with Winnie the Pooh; it’s been a favorite as long as I can remember. I have a copy of A.A. Milne’s book, several Disney board books, and a more recent treasury. When my brother and sister-in-law were expecting, I knew I would be getting Pooh bear items; it’s classic and works for boys or girls. Pooh celebrated his 90th birthday in 2016 and more information about his background has been released. Like the real story of a bear named Winnie (I have that book).

Pooh

The movie opens once again with a storybook in the supposed nursery of Christopher Robin. The nursery is actually very reminiscent of the one from Mary Poppins, with the same bedspread, similar blocks and furniture. Our narrator gives a little background and explains that all of Christopher Robin’s friends like in a “wonderful world of make believe,” the Hundred Acre Wood. The film is made of shorter segments, like chapters; the book even flips pages between stories, with an adorable intro tune. We’re treated to several songs throughout the movie. Pooh sings as he practices his “stoutness exercises,” perfectly content to be who he is. Sadly, he is out of honey, so Pooh must go get some more and a flittering bee gives him an idea. After falling out of the tree from his initial plan to simply climb, Pooh borrows a balloon from Christopher Robin, then rolls in the mud, becoming a Little Black Rain Cloud. He floats up to the bee hive, but the bees suspect (which Pooh spells correctly, he often has more than “very little brains”) and after flying about for a bit, Pooh lands with Christopher Robin in the mud.

Next, Pooh visits Rabbit for lunch and overindulges on honey. He gets stuck when he tries to leave and no tugging or pulling works to free him. So, Pooh must wait until he’s thinner to leave. Rabbit’s not pleased by his houseguest, though he attempts to decorate Pooh’s backside (it doesn’t work out). Gopher makes an appearance (he’s not in every chapter and not often part of the core group of characters). Just when Rabbit despairs ever using his other door, Pooh budges. There’s a little parade and everyone joins in to free Pooh. A little too much “oomph” and he flies into the bee tree and is finally able to enjoy honey again.

The Hundred Acre Wood has a Blustery Day next. Pooh’s diddy takes lyrics from the book as he skips along to visit his Thoughtful Spot. After some thinking (and input from Gopher) he decides to wish his “very dear friend, Piglet” a “happy Winds-Day.” Alas, the little Piglet is blown about by the wind and becomes a kite. They run into Owl, his tree and house rocking back and forth in the wind, before it’s finally blown over. The Blustery Day turns into a Blustery Night and there’s a new sound in the Wood. Pooh, being a bear of very little brain, lets the new noise in. Turns out, it’s a Tigger! I think The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers is the most famous song from Winnie the Pooh. It’s very cheerful and “bouncy.” Tigger puts the idea in Pooh’s head that there are Heffalumps and Woozles out to steal the bear’s honey (Pooh attempts to correct Tigger by saying they’re elephants and weasels. I wonder sometimes who is the one “with very little brains.”) That sequence has always been a bit weird to me, not as cute and cuddly as the rest.

blustery day

After Pooh’s dream, the windy day has become a stormy night and the following morning, the Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down Down. The lyrics tell the brief tale of Piglet’s home flooding and washing him out the window. Pooh falls off a tree branch and they’re both caught. Christopher Robin starts to mount a rescue, sending Owl to locate their friends. A waterfall causes Piglet and Pooh to swap places; Pooh is now on the chair and Piglet is in the honey pot. They wash up at Christopher Robin’s place and Christopher Robin declares Pooh to be a hero for rescuing Piglet. They throw a party once the water has receded. Yet, all this time, Eeyore has been searching for a new house for Owl. He takes the group to a lovely tree with the sign “Trespassers Will” in front; Piglet’s house (the tale is it’s short for “Trespassers William,” Piglet’s grandfather). [Yes, as adults, we realize that it probably is the beginning of “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted” or something. It’s adorable as a child]. Piglet is cheered as a hero for letting Owl have his house. Pooh declares that Piglet will live with him.

The next chapter is about bouncing. Rabbit has had enough of Tigger bouncing him and ruining his garden. He gets the idea to take Tigger into the woods and lose him. When they find him again, Tigger will be sorry and never bounce them again (children, this is not a safe, or smart idea). Instead, when Piglet, Pooh, and Rabbit take Tigger out the next day, it is them who end up getting lost in the mist. Pooh eventually leads Piglet out by listening to his stomach. Wandering around the forest for hours leads Rabbit’s mind to play tricks on him, scaring him with the sound of frogs and caterpillars munching on leaves. He’s subsequently bounced by Tigger, who leads him out; Rabbit’s plan backfired.
But Tigger gets himself into trouble nevertheless. The first snow of the season, he plays with Roo and they decide to “bounce,” not climb a tall tree. Tiggers, while not good at ice skating, are apparently scared of heights. Pooh, and Piglet, who have been following [their own] tracks, come across the pair and go to get help. Roo has no problem jumping down. The narrator has to flip the book so Tigger can slide down the text. Rabbit attempts to hold Tigger to his rash promise to never bounce again. But their other friends are all sad and miss the old Tigger, so Rabbit caves. Tigger also points out that Rabbit’s feet are made for bouncing.

In general, the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood are accepting of each other.  No one pushes one another to be different.  They all look up to Christopher Robin as their boy, but they also put up with Owl’s long stories (except when danger is imminent, such as the waterfall during the rainy day).  They don’t tell Eeyore off for constantly losing his tail and they don’t want to hurt his feelings when he finds Piglet’s house for Owl.  Kanga lets Roo play with Tigger, simply cautioning to “be careful” and bundle up, but she doesn’t criticize Tigger for bouncing to the top of a tree.  Rabbit tends to be the sourpuss of the group, openly disliking Tigger’s bouncing, but they encourage him to accept Tigger.  Piglet is never made to feel bad about being the smallest and he’s Pooh’s very best friend, an odd pair.  And while Pooh is a “silly old bear,” they listen to his ideas.  It was a very encouraging show as a child and demonstrates that you can be friends with anyone.

We come to the last chapter, where Christopher Robin has to go away to school. But he has a walk with his “silly old bear,” discussing “doing nothing,” and they’ll never forget each other. They stop at their iconic bridge and we’re left feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

Winnie_the_Pooh_and_Christopher_Robin

When I was in Disney, I managed to capture a few pictures of Pooh throughout the park, but did not manage to meet him (if I ever go back, that is a goal).  We rode his ride and visited the shrubberies in England.  About the time I was born, Disney put out a cartoon series, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which I watched for years as a small child; it was a staple on the Disney Channel. There have been numerous other movies and shows involving Pooh Bear. I’ve seen some, like The Search for Christopher Robin.  I did watch Goodbye Christopher Robin and that depressed me. I finished that movie feeling bad for ever liking Winnie the Pooh since it created bad memories for Christopher Robin. The more recent Christopher Robin movie, starring Ewan McGregor is happier. There are sad moments, as can be expected considering Christopher Robin is grown up, but the ending is happy (and in view of Mark Gatiss as Christopher’s boss, I see Mycroft from Sherlock and I want him taken down). So, Pooh and Robin Hood are certainly at the top of my list of Disney favorites; Pooh edges Robin out a little.

Questions?  Comments?  Who was your favorite childhood character?

Up Next: The Little Mermaid

Golly, What a Day

Robin Hood

This remains one of my favorite Disney movies and started my interest in British folklore. There is no historical proof of a singular “Robin Hood” existing but tales of him date to the fifteenth century. As with other films and shows about Arthurian legend, I’ll swing back around and post about other Robin Hood films.

Another storybook opening, and simplified history (taking a course in medieval history in college taught me that Richard was not the best king and the whole Plantagenet line is kind of messed up). Our narrator Alan-a-Dale, a rooster, informs us that this is the animal kingdom’s version of the tale and it is “what really happened.” Oo-de-lally is a fun diddy and introduces us to the characters. As an adult, I appreciate Little John cautioning Robin about the chances he’s taking. And as an adult, I recognize how many times Robin comes close to dying. As a child, I related more to Robin; “ha ha! They’ll never catch me!” The bit about “rob” being a naughty word is a bone tossed due to it being a children’s movie.

Robin_Hood_Disney

Little John and Robin are given the chance to further “borrow” from the rich when a royal procession passes through Sherwood Forest to collect taxes in Nottingham. To do so, they dress up as fortune-telling women. Sir Hiss is actually a typical royal advisor; attempting to be blunt, but also kissing up. Prince John is a whiny brat with an enlarged younger-sibling complex. It’s funny as a child when he sucks his thumb and throws a tantrum. And I laughed when Little John and Robin ran away with all that gold and Prince John’s robe.

While Prince John overshadows the Sherriff of Nottingham as the primary villain, the Sherriff is no picnic either. He blatantly steals from the injured and from a child on his birthday. Robin stops by, coming in as a blind beggar, to cheer the boy up. The kids lead us to the castle, where they and we in turn meet Maid Marian, and her lady-in-waiting, Lady Kluck. This is when we discover that Marian and Robin were sweethearts years ago, before Marian went to London (we’re never told why she went to London or what brought her back). It is also revealed that she is the niece of King Richard (which would technically make her Prince John’s niece as well). A phrase that adults catch that goes over children’s head is when Skippy shouts “death to tyrants!” We learn later, in school, that this is what John Wilkes Booth shouts after he’s shot President Lincoln. Make of that what you will. Remember: this is from the kid that thinks kisses are “sissy stuff.”

Once the children have left, Marian tells Kluck that she is still in love with Robin, but worries he’s forgotten her in the time she’s been gone. Then we see Robin humming, paying no attention to the dinner he is burning, because he’s thinking about Marian. And he still loves her, but feels he can’t marry her since he is an outlaw and that is not the life that she deserves. Little John and Friar Tuck both try to cheer him up, Tuck declaring that Richard will pardon Robin when he returns from the Crusades and the king will end up with “an outlaw for an in-law.” Oh, and to really cheer Robin up, there is an archery tournament the next day where Maid Marian will kiss the winner.

The tournament, as the merry band guesses, is Prince John’s plan to capture Robin. Robin has disguised himself as a stork (though Marian recognizes his eyes). But his skill raises suspicion and Hiss realizes who he is (there is a whole funny bit with him flying about in a balloon after being kicked out by Prince John and disguised Little John, then sealed in a barrel of ale by Alan and Tuck). When Robin wins the tournament, John cuts away his disguise and orders his immediate death (okay, a little dark for a kid). Marian pleads for Robin’s life to be spared, because she loves him. Robin returns her love, but Prince John won’t be swayed, shouting “off with his head!” when Robin loudly declares “long live King Richard!” Little John to the rescue! He threatens Prince John to let Robin go, but when the Sherriff discovers the subterfuge, a battle breaks out. Which was honestly my favorite part of the movie as a kid…and still is. Marian at first seems like a typical damsel in distress, calling for Robin to help her. But she does throw a pie to distract a vulture. She eagerly accepts Robin’s marriage proposal and agrees to a honeymoon in “London, Normandy, and sunny Spain.” (The movie does get some historical notes correct: mentioning the Normans and Normandy, Marian’s costume. However, Little John’s purple ruff is inaccurate; that fashion piece wouldn’t show up until Elizabeth I). The little football gag is hilarious, including the snippets of college fight songs.

phony king of england

Love is not my favorite Disney love song. Part of it stems from the scene being really boring as a kid, after the high energy of the battle. Phony King of England, on the other hand, is hilarious. And includes further nuggets of history. No, history books do not call him the “phony King of England.” The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain put out by Charles Phillip describes John as “an unprincipled opportunist…[who] made a series of bad decisions in pursuit of short-term advantage (46).” He was known as Lackland due to being the younger son, and losing territory in France that had been gained by his father, Henry II. His taxation policies when he fought to reclaim that land led to the barons’ revolt which brought about the Magna Carta, which “guaranteed the reform of royal abuses of power and turned out to be the first step in establishing constitutional government in England (47).” It was true that Eleanor of Aquitaine (a truly awesome queen) favored elder brother Richard over John, but their father favored him (not that it helped when both sons revolted). “Too late to be known as John the First, he’s sure to be known as John the Worst,” is rather true. There have been no other “Johns” in the royal family. [Further historical note: John at least had children to succeed him; Richard did not. Richard also was rarely in England due to either being on Crusade, captured, or simply preferring France. Can you tell where my interests lay in college? lol]

 

Disney note: it has been pointed out and I can verify after watching Disney movies for the past month or so, that the dance scene in Robin Hood borrows from Jungle Book and Aristocats. I see nothing wrong with the fact and just find it a bit of a “fun fact.”

Continuing on! Prince John is furious now, between Robin’s escape and the peasants’ irreverence. He’s tripled taxes and thus, most everyone is in jail due to their inability to pay. When the Sherriff pays a visit to Friar Tuck and takes the lone coin from the poor box, Tuck kicks the lackey out and they fight in the churchyard. Tuck is arrested for treason. Prince John sentences him to be hung in the morning in an effort to draw out Robin and thus make it a double hanging (again, a bit dark for a kids’ film). Robin re-uses his blind beggar disguise to gain information from the Sherriff (Trigger is a bit paranoid, but Nutsy and the Sherriff are both idiots). Robin and Little John plan a jailbreak (Marian and Kluck must have stayed back in Sherwood Forest). Little John will take care of the jail and Robin will go after Prince John’s gold.

And they’re almost successful. Hiss wakes up as Robin grabs the last bag of gold, but Robin escapes on his zip line and Little John has the rest of the prisoners loaded on a cart. But one of the baby bunnies has been left behind. Robin sends the rest on and he goes back. The guards manage to close the gate, but the bunny fits through; Robin climbs. The Sherriff chases him into the tower and his torch lights the room on fire. Robin escapes to the roof, but the flames still lick at him. This remains a bit of a nail-biter and I can remember being worried during this scene as a child and almost in tears when Robin jumps and the arrows seem to have possibly killed him, one sticking through his hat. It doesn’t help that Little John and Skippy are worried and almost in tears themselves. Happily, Robin is alive and shouts “a pox on the phony king of England!” Prince John is incensed again and pushed over the edge when Hiss points out his flaws and mentions that his mother’s castle is now on fire. The Prince chases Hiss with a stick, thumb in his mouth again, Hiss crying for help because “he’s gone stark-raving mad!”

The final scenes show that Robin Hood has been pardoned and there’s a wedding; his and Marian’s. King Richard has returned and “straightened everything out.” The monarch chuckles to Tuck that he now has “an outlaw for an in-law,” quoting the friar’s prediction. Prince John and his cronies have been arrested and are shown to be toiling in the rock field. The carriage is reminiscent of Cinderella’s (and Marian’s dress and the bouquet are not historically accurate, but it’s a children’s movie and that is what we are familiar with in regards to a wedding). And they live happily ever after!

As I stated in the beginning, Robin Hood remains one of my favorite Disney movies. It’s got lots of action, a little bit of a love story; though I’ve always enjoyed it for the tale solely about Robin. To me, the music isn’t quite as good as the soundtracks from the eighties and nineties (I’ve got nothing against the Sherman Brothers; I love Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins [those will be mentioned in a future musical section]). But I’d love to hear what you guys think. Do you have a favorite folk hero? Favorite period in history?

Next Time: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

“Because a Cat’s the Only Cat Who Knows Where it’s At”

The Aristocats

A play on the word “aristocrats,” ’tis a tale of a family of aristocratic cats in early twentieth-century Paris. Their owner, typically referred to as Madame, though occasionally referred to as “Adelaide” by the elderly lawyer, is a former opera singer (her favorite role was Carmen, from Bizet’s opera of the same name [the song playing on the record player is Habarnera]). Her dearest companions are her four cats; Duchess and her kittens Toulouse (a nod toFrench artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec), Berlioz (a reference to French composer Hector Berlioz) and Marie (an homage to Marie Antoinette, most likely). They are cared for by indulgent butler, Edgar. Except when Edgar eavesdrops on Madame’s conversation with her lawyer, he discovers that he will inherit her vast fortune after the cats.

kitten trio

One could call Madame a crazy cat lady; leaving a family of cats a fortune seems…ridiculous on a level. They’re cats; what are they going to do with it? But I view her sympathetically with Duchess. She’s an old woman who has admitted she has no living relatives (we don’t know if she was ever married, ever had any children) and her closest companions have been this family of cats. So, if she wants to, why not leave the money to the cats?

madame adelade

Duchess carries on her day, heedless of Edgar’s plotting and scheming, educating her offspring to be proper aristocrats. Toulouse practices his painting while Berlioz accompanies Marie practicing her Scales and Arpeggios. Toulouse and Berlioz are typical brothers, who like to roughhouse a bit (the piano gets some paint on it at one point and they practice fighting alley cats) while Marie is a little diva, swooning at romantic phrases and insisting she’s a lady. “Ladies don’t start fights, but they can finish them.” Her brothers’ response to her insisting “ladies first,” is that she is “not a lady, you’re nothing but a sister!” Duchess keeps patient control of them. Their lunch, served by Edgar, includes sleeping pills so he can remove them from the house that evening quietly.

He drives his motorbike out into the country and runs into two hounds, Napoleon and Lafayette (yes, the movies does indeed take place in Paris. If Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower aren’t enough proof). A wild and slightly improbable chase later, the basket with Duchess and her kittens is left under a bridge. A storm wakes them up and they realize what has happened. They take shelter in their basket and wait for morning.

Morning brings Thomas O’Malley Cat singing an introduction (with words that I am not sure of to this day). Duchess is the only cat visible during his exposition, so he flirts. He’s flustered by the appearance of her kittens and almost rescinds his offer of help. Duchess, while very ladylike, does not hesitate to set off with her children. O’Malley comes to his senses and scares up a ride for them (Marie spends a portion of the movie as the damsel in distress). When they’re kicked off the truck by a “horrible human,” the group attempts to take the train tracks. An actual train chases them off and Marie is in distress again. That escapade introduces them to Abigail and Amelia Gabble, very silly English geese. (Their giggling is incessant). With them they do manage to return to Paris and meet up with “Uncle Waldo,” who is “marinated.” He seems a harmless enough drunk, but as an adult, I take it with a grain of salt. (Abigail and Amelia giggle throughout)

Back at Madame’s mansion, she has discovered her beloved cats missing. Edgar brags to the horse, Frou Frou, and mouse, Roquefort (a French cheese) that he is the now famous catnapper from the paper, though he realizes he lost some items when he abandoned the cats. He must retrieve them before they’re found by the police. This leads to another run in with Lafayette and Napoleon (who still asserts he is the leader and he’ll decide).

It is too late in the evening for Duchess and her kittens to return to Madame, so they crash at O’Malley’s pad where Scat Cat and the gang are swinging. (I used to like Everybody Wants to Be a Cat more before it was part of a medley for a synchronized swimming routine. It took several years before I could listen to it again.) I think I even cringed as a child at some of the stereotypical racial characterizations; I knew that was not how Asians should be portrayed, it was demeaning. The song is still “bouncy,” as Berlioz states. There’s a harp interlude that I always forget is part of the song. It’s a nice demonstration that both sides can appreciate each style. Once the kittens are asleep, Thomas and Duchess have a conversation. Duchess wants to stay with Thomas, but she won’t leave Madame. Madame loves them very much and would miss them terribly. Berlioz sadly sums up the children’s feelings: “Well, we almost had a father.”
scat cat

O’Malley is still a gentle-cat and sees Duchess and the kittens home. To be grabbed by Edgar again and locked in a trunk to be sent to Timbuktu. Roquefort is sent to fetch O’Malley, who sends him to Scat Cat (real smart, Tom, sending a mouse to a gang of cats). They attack Edgar, with some help from Frou Frou, and he switches places with Duchess et al and he’s carted off to Timbuktu instead. Madame is happily reunited with her companions, and gladly adds another man to the house. She comments to her lawyer that the new will should include any offspring Thomas and Duchess have, both of whom seem open to the idea. Madame blithely mentions that if Edgar knew about the will, he would not have left. I guess she thought that Edgar had just run off. In addition, Madame has started a new foundation, giving a home to all the alley cats of Paris (so she can enjoy the swing music).

I tend to associate this movie with my mother, since she loves cats. The kittens are adorable and act like human siblings; Duchess is a remarkable female feline, with all of the poise and manners of breeding, but she’s also able to accept and befriend those of a lower class, without being condescending. Overall, it would rank under Jungle Book, but certainly higher than some other Disney movies (Lady and the Tramp, for instance. I didn’t mind puppies and dogs in 101 Dalmatians, but I’m not fond of Lady and the Tramp).

Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Up Next: Robin Hood

“Man Cub”

A quick note first: this may seem to be posted early, but I’m attempting to increase the number of posts per week.  I cannot guarantee strict consistency of two posts per week; I work in retail and we are coming upon a busy time of year.  But I have so many more movies and some TV shows I’d like to get to!

Jungle Book

Based on the “Mowgli” stories of Rudyard Kipling (I think I tried to read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi when I was young; if I finished it, I didn’t like it). Based in India, it tells the story of a young “man cub” Mowgli who was lost as an infant in the jungle. He’s found by a panther, Bagheera, but taken to a family of wolves. Ten years later, a threat returns to the jungle; the tiger, Shere Kahn. The “man cub” must return to the “man village;” Shere Kahn fears and hates men and the tiger will not rest until Mowgli is dead and will kill any who protect the boy. Bagheera volunteers to lead Mowgli back to the village.

jungle book cover
The cover I remember from video tapes

Mowgli does not understand why he has to leave the only home he’s ever known. Along the way, Bagheera and Mowgli run into Kaa, the snake, who attempts to hypnotize Mowgli in order to eat him. Then they meet a herd of elephants, under the leadership of Colonel Hathi (with a catchy marching cadence). Mowgli seems to enjoy copying other animals’ mannerisms and continues to put up a fuss about leaving. At the end of his patience, Bagheera first growls at the child, “you’re going if I have to drag you every step of the way” (I’m sure this is what every parent tells a wayward child at some point) and finally exclaims that Mowgli is on his own!

Well, Mowgli next meets Baloo, a sloth bear (I didn’t realize what sort of bear he was until recently; as a child, he was always a bear. Not the same as Winnie the Pooh, but a bear nevertheless; possibly classified as a “grey bear” compared to a “black bear” or “grizzly bear.”) And Baloo is the opposite of Bagheera, who seems practical, while Baloo sings about the Bare Necessities and a carefree lifestyle. I’m still not sure what a “paw paw” or “prickly pear” are, but they were fun as a kid. [Upon re-watching, he’s almost a prequel to Timon and Pumba: carefree life, no worries, eat bugs.] Baloo takes an instant liking to “little britches” and quickly adopts the boy as his own cub. He promises Mowgli that he can stay in the jungle with “good ol’ Papa Bear.”

I Wanna Be Like You
“I Wanna Be Like You”

Until the monkeys nab him and take him to the ancient ruins to meet King Louie. The orangutan wants to Be Like You and makes a deal with the man cub; he’ll help Mowgli stay in the jungle in exchange for knowledge on how to make “man’s red flower” aka, fire. But Mowgli doesn’t know how to make fire, which we find out is one of Shere Kahn’s greatest fears (this may be why Louie wants to know how to create it). Mowgli is in fact rescued by Bagheera and Baloo and while he sleeps that evening, the two adults have a discussion; Mowgli must go back to the man village; he will be safer there, Baloo alone cannot protect him. When the bear tells the boy the news come morning, Mowgli runs…into Kaa again.

In the meantime, we are introduced to Shere Kahn. His deer hunt (yes, there are apparently deer in the jungle in India) is interrupted by the elephant brigade and he hears the news about a lost man cub. He was not aware that there was a man cub in the jungle. (Good going, heroes) So the tiger has joined the hunt for the man cub. Kaa has managed to hypnotize Mowgli again and prevent Shere Kahn from finding the boy, but Mowgli wakes and pushes the python out of the tree, again. Mowgli next comes across a group of vultures (nice ones, based off of the Beatles), but by this point, he’s depressed that none of his “friends” want to keep him around. All he wants to do is stay in the jungle and they keep making him leave. The vulture quartet explain What Friends Are For (they’ve never met an animal they didn’t like…adults get the double meaning), though they’re interrupted at the end with Shere Kahn’s appearance. Mowgli, being young and stupid, isn’t afraid of Shere Kahn and refuses to run, even when the tiger gives him a “sporting” head start. Luckily, Baloo arrives to grab the tiger’s tail and a rain storm picks up. Lightning strikes a tree, creating fire and the vultures urge Mowgli to act. The boy grabs a lit branch and ties it to Shere Kahn’s tail. The tiger runs off in fear; except he’s already struck down Baloo. Bagheera gives a touching eulogy…but Baloo’s not really dead.

Baloo declares “nothin or nobody gonna come between” him and his cub. Until they hear odd singing; a young girl is fetching water from the river. Mowgli wants a better look and (falls in love, I guess). Baloo urges him to come back to the jungle; Bagheera urges that he goes on to his own kind. Mowgli follows the girl into the village. The End.

In 2016, Disney re-made the animated tale into live action. I have seen it; though I haven’t been able to get my hands on it again. I do remember it being a more mature tale; Shere Kahn kills Mowgli’s wolf father. The film shows Mowgli as more human; using “tricks” to accomplish tasks rather than imitating other animals. I enjoy the jazzy soundtrack from the animated movie; they tried with Bare Necessities, but some of the charm was lost. The newer rendition of I Wanna Be Like You is dark and foreboding and Louie was large and definitely not Mowgli’s friend. The end is opposite from the animated; Mowgli does use fire to defeat Shere Kahn, but he stays in the jungle, rather than return to the man village.

2016 jungle book
Cover of the 2016 live-action version

There is sequel planned for the live-action movie, and a movie titled Mowgli due out in 2019 (directed by Andy Serkis [Gollum/Smegol] and starring Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, and Benedict Cumberbatch), though I’m not sure how closely it will resemble the Disney story. There was a direct sequel to the animated film – I saw it once and all I can remember is that Mowgli ended up in the jungle again, somehow, and there have been numerous other iterations of the Jungle Book story. I, however, remember the characters in the cartoon TaleSpin (I still have some of the episodes released on tapes), where Baloo is a pilot, Shere Kahn is a villainous business-tiger, and Louie runs a club. (I think some of my fondness stems from the fact that Baloo had a plane and my father loves flying and planes). [Fun note: the air pirates from TaleSpin show up in the rebooted DuckTales cartoon, with added singing. Further proof that I have not outgrown Disney]

talespin logo
TaleSpin logo

Oh, and if any of the voices from the animated film sound familiar; they are. Phil Harris was Baloo (Bill Murray in the live-action) and he went on to voice O’Malley in Aristocats and Little John in Robin Hood (the animation style of the bears are very similar as well). Sebastian Cabot was Bagheera (Ben Kinsgley’s role in the live-action) and we’ve previously heard him as Sir Ector in Sword in the Stone and the always trusty Narrator in several movies. Sterling Holloway was Kaa (Scarlett Johanson in the live-action) and he’s the ever lovable Winnie the Pooh [I try to ignore that fact because that just makes things a little creepy]. Colonel Hathi was voiced J. Pat O’Malley, who seems to have a long run with Disney. Mowgli and Christopher Robin share Bruce Reitherman as a voice. Idris Elba as Shere Kahn and Christopher Walken as King Louie are other big name stars in the live-action adaptation.

In the spectrum of “Disney movies I like,” Jungle Book falls in the middle. I’d probably watch it if it was on television and didn’t have other plans. As a child, I thought it was fun for another child to live with animals; we like imitating them anyway. And Mowgli at least tries to make friends with other animals. I sided with Baloo and wanted Mowgli to stay with his jungle buddies. And the girl’s actions, even to me as a child, were obvious that she was trying to get Mowgli to go with her.

As always, let me know if you have any comments, or questions. What was your favorite Disney cartoon?

Next Time: Aristocats

“Wart” is a Horrible Name for a Child

The Sword in the Stone

This was the first iteration of the Arthurian legend I was exposed to; luckily it was not the version that got me interested in the legend. Overall, it has a good message for kids about education and that the best way to move up in the world and to be someone of importance is to have a solid foundation. Brains over brawn, and all that. But just like the source material, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, I contest it’s characterization. (A tiny bit of background on me as I avoid delving into a rant…I have done some reading on Arthurian legend and my capstone project from college was on Morgan le Fae, where I read The Once and Future King, Le Morte d’Arthur, Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave sequence, and The Mists of Avalon among other interpretations and I am aware there are several ways of looking at the legend.)

Carrying on…Disney’s movie opens on a storybook, though added this time, singing! And glosses over a decent chunk of the legend…like Uther. Arthur’s father. Though, considering he committed adultery in order to beget Arthur…not the most child-friendly backstory. Disney sums it up as “the good king died.” The country descended into chaos, but lo, magically, a sword appeared in a stone in London town (historical note: not called London at that time). Inscribed upon the sword in gold letters: “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of England.” Many tried and failed. The sword is eventually forgotten and England falls into the Dark Ages. (Further historical note: that is not how the Dark Ages happened).

sword in the stone
Forgot that I had done this…there is an “attraction” at Disney where you can attempt to pull the sword from the stone. “King” has been changed to “Ruler” in the inscription.

We first meet an old man with a long white beard, blue robe and hat, complaining about the lack of electricity and plumbing; our first hint that he is not all he seems since even as kids we have figured out those didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. He’s preparing for “someone important” to drop by, as he tells his talking owl, Archimedes. Fate has willed that he will guide a young boy to his place in the world. We next meet said young, scrawny boy – Arthur, called Wart, and muscular Kay. Wart messes up Kay’s shot and rushes into the woods to retrieve the arrow. Demonstrating his lack of grace again, he falls into the old man’s home (landing on the carefully placed chair). The old man introduces himself as Merlin, a wizard who can see centuries into the future (and possibly time travel; in The Once and Future King, White writes that Merlin lives backwards in time). He has futuristic plans and models laying about his home, such as a locomotive and starts expounding that children need a good education. He agrees to accompany Wart back to the castle to begin. A memorable scene of nonsense words packs up his belongings, though Merlin cautions young Wart that magic won’t answer all problems.

Wart’s foster father, Sir Ector is against Merlin’s insistence on an education for Wart at first. His method for raising the klutz is a demerit system and assigning chores (not wholly a bad notion, it does teach responsibility, the excess is the problem). Pellinore brings word of a [jousting] tournament in London that will decide who will be King of England (question: was this not tried before?) Wart correctly explains that only men of proper birth can become knights (and thus, compete in the tournament); Wart being an orphan can only hope to train as a squire, an assistant to a knight. Merlin is tricky and wrangles an agreement for education from Ector. Merlin’s method of teaching involves transforming himself and Wart into different animals. Their first go-about is as fish where we are treated to a diddy teaching us about “for every to there is a fro, for every up there is a down,” and ultimately, brains beat brawn.

Merlin’s next lesson, after magically setting the dishes to wash themselves (not quite as disastrous as Mickey’s stunt with the mops) is to turn him and the boy into squirrels, whose lives are full of trouble. We learn alongside Wart about love (and how persistent female squirrels are about pursuing a mate). I felt a little bad with Wart at how broken-hearted the young girl squirrel was when she found out Wart was human. Next, Wart is turned into a bird and is briefly tutored by Archimedes. Unfortunately, they come across another house in the woods; this time, belonging to Mad Madam Mim. (Note: Mim does not appear in other versions of the Arthurian legend, though there are several other witches, including the Lady of the Lake, Morgan le Fae, and Queen Mab). She takes delight in gruesome and grim games and wishes to destroy Wart since he is friends with Merlin. Merlin shows up to save Wart and is challenged to a wizard’s duel (different from Harry Potter), where the opponents transform themselves into different animals to order to kill each other. Merlin wins in the end by becoming a germ (to her purple dragon; the music at that point reminded me of the music from Sleeping Beauty when Maleficent was a dragon).

merlin and mim wizard duel

Wart is given the news at the castle that he will accompany Ector and newly knighted Sir Kay to London for the tournament. Merlin is disappointed and a bit outraged that Wart still prefers to be a squire rather than continuing his education. He blows himself to Bermuda and the tournament arrives. Unfortunately, Wart has forgotten Kay’s sword back at the inn, which is now locked. He spies a sword in a churchyard, stuck in an anvil and pulls it out. Pellinore realizes that the sword young Wart handed Kay is the legendary Sword in the Stone. He and other knights urge Arthur to show them where he retrieved it and pull it out again. He does so and is crowned King of England. Merlin comes back when Arthur wishes for help ruling the country. The wizard’s parting words are about Arthur’s tale living on for centuries, even being made into “motion pictures.”

I’ll finish the Disney movies and circle back to other interpretations of Arthur (I loved BBC’s Merlin, despite its deviation from traditional legend). It’s a subject I’d love to do more research on; I’ve got some books, but a very long reading list. Until then, any questions? Comments? What’s your favorite legend or myth?

Up Next: Jungle Book

Once Upon a Dream

Sleeping Beauty

Another classic fairytale, complete with a princess, a prince, fairies, magic, and a dragon. Disney’s animated film score is heavily based on Tchaikovsky’s ballet suite (I want to see the ballet), which is credited at the beginning of the film. Beyond that, is opens with a storybook and narration quickly filling us in on the backstory of King Stefan and his unnamed queen desperately hoping for a child, then – a princess is joyfully born! “Hail to the Princess” comes straight from the opening march of the ballet, and we’re introduced to neighboring King Hubert and his son, Prince Phillip, who is betrothed to infant Princess Aurora (this was a common occurrence during real life medieval royalty). And this prince actually shows some personality! His little nose wrinkle is adorable, because what boy is going to be pleased to be told, “this little baby is going to be your future wife”?

trio auroa and philip
From left to right: my friend Dawn Winkler, Prince Phillip, my friend Krista Ivan, Princess Aurora, and myself. Same band trip 🙂 Apparently, Phillip and Aurora are hard to find; we stumbled upon them by accident, just wandering around the one morning.

The king and queen invited three “good” fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather to their pseudo-christening and they bestow (almost) three gifts. Flora gives the gift of “beauty” (because all fairytale princesses are beautiful). Fauna gives the gift of “song” (and the young woman does have a more mature singing tone, compared to previous princesses Snow White and Cinderella). Merryweather is about to give her gift when the “evil” fairy Maleficent appears. Oh dear, she’s not wanted. And the only line the queen has: “and, you’re not offended, your Excellency?” Oh no, and to show she bears no ill will, Maleficent too has a gift for the young princess. Aurora will indeed, grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who know her, but on the evening of her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel…and die! With a cackle, she fades away. Merryweather is able to soften the blow of the curse, instead of death, Aurora will merely sleep until she is waken by true love’s kiss (it’s always true love’s kiss…that plays a huge role in Once Upon a Time), for “true love conquers all”.

King Stefan and his queen reluctantly agree to Flora’s plan for the fairies to raise the princess until her sixteenth birthday in an attempt to protect her from the curse. Stefan also burns all of the spinning wheels in the kingdom (the historian in me wants to know how they make clothes after that). Time lapse: sixteen years have passed and the fairies are preparing for “Briar Rose’s” celebration. They send the young woman out, with the warning to not speak to strangers. Aurora tells her animal friends (I guess a requirement for Disney princesses is the ability to speak to animals) that she’s dreaming of a prince and the animals proceed to steal clothing from a strange man in order to create Aurora’s prince. “Once Upon a Dream” is the ballet’s waltz and the man appears and steps in to dance with the young woman. At first, Aurora tries to follow directions and leaves, but he’s dashing and charming and they stroll through the woods romantically.

aurora and phillip woods

Meanwhile, Maleficent is furious that her creepy demons haven’t located the princess in sixteen years. They truly are imbeciles and have been looking for a baby the entire time. Alas, I must agree with Maleficent that they are a “disgrace to the forces of evil.” Instead, she charges her trusty crow to find her prize and he discovers a cottage…pink and blue sparks shooting out of the chimney do not aid in secrecy. Inside, the fairies are continuing with their preparation and we must wonder how they survived for sixteen years; Flora is terrible at sewing and Fauna cannot bake. In a last-ditch effort, Merryweather retrieves their wands to help, sadly resulting in a fight primarily between her and Flora, thus generating the sparks. (To give them some credit, they had shut the doors and windows to prevent being discovered; they just forgot the chimney) Briar Rose arrives home to tell her guardians that she met a wonderful man and intends for him to visit that evening. They have to tell her the heartbreaking news that she’s actually a princess and already betrothed; everything she knows is changing.

At the castle, Stefan and Hubert drink “Scumps,” toasting to the future of their children. Which Phillip interrupts when he tells his father that he has found and fallen in love with a woman in the woods. When he arrives at the cabin that evening, Maleficent is waiting for him, not “Briar Rose.” She captures the prince, informing him that the peasant woman he met, by whim of fate, is the princess to whom he is betrothed, and sets about to see her curse through. The fairies have taken the princess back to the castle and leave her alone for a moment to gather herself. An eerie wail hypnotizes Aurora and lures her through a secret passage to an ominous spinning wheel, where she in fact pricks her finger and falls into a sleep. The three fairies put the rest of the castle to sleep until they can get the handsome man Aurora met and fell in love with to kiss her awake. To do so, they must venture to Maleficent’s castle, where the demons are dancing around the fire in a mimicry of Night on Bald Mountain (that little animation has in fact given me nightmares).

Sleeping-beauty-dragon

Maleficent’s plan is hold Phillip at her castle until he is too old to be a threat, then she’ll release him to kiss his princess awake (and promptly die, I’m sure). The three fairies sneak in afterwards and gift him the “enchanted shield of virtue” and “mighty sword of truth” (always important in a fairy tale). Phillip set about hacking his way through a forest of thorns, but soon he must “deal with [Maleficent]…and all the powers of Hell!” She transforms into a dragon (in a battle that is shorter than I remember) and is slain by Phillip’s sword (again, typical Disney death, she falls off the cliff). The fairies lead Phillip up to the tower where Aurora is sleeping. He kisses her awake and the kingdom wakes up. They appear before Hubert and Stefan (to one of my favorite Tchaikovsky pieces) and a reprise of the waltz.

[Fun note: if some of the voices sound familiar: the woman who voiced Lady Tremaine in Cinderella is Maleficent, and the woman who voiced the Fairy Godmother is Flora]

Maleficent is the live-action 2014 adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, except told from the point-of-view and including the backstory of the villainess. Angelina Jolie stars as Maleficent, Imelda Staunton (aka, Dolores Umbridge) is one of the pixies, among other stars (one of the other fairies was the Queen in an updated Musketeer movie, the king was Murdoch from the updated A-Team movie) and there is a sequel due out in 2020. The narrator announces “let us tell an old story anew and we will see how well you know it.” There were bordering kingdoms; one of humans, greedy, ruled by a terrible king, and the other; a magical realm of fairies and creatures, called the Moors. The human king envied the Moors wealth and wanted to conquer the land. But it has a protector, in a young girl with horns and wings: Maleficent.

One day, a human boy is caught stealing a crystal and Maleficent must pass judgment on him. The boy’s name is Stefan. They bond, as orphaned children, and become “unlikely” friends, and for a time, the old hatred was forgotten. On Maleficent’s sixteenth birthday, Stefan gives her [a supposed] “true love’s kiss.” But Stefan was like the king, jealous and conniving. He has managed to become a servant to the king and when the king is on his deathbed following an encounter with Maleficent and the Moors, he takes the chance at the king’s word, whoever can kill the “winged elf” will become the next king. Stefan sneaks into the Moors to “warn” Maleficent. She forgives him for his absence and for a night, all is as it was. However, Stefan sneaked a potion into her drink, putting her to sleep; yet, he cannot bring himself to kill her. Instead, he cuts off her wings. These are his proof to the king that he “killed” Maleficent. He is crowned and gains a queen, Leila [who resembles Keira Knightley, but is not] (I also wonder if this is the daughter that the previous king, Henry, mentioned and Stefan married her to aid his control of the throne).

Maleficent mourns the loss of her wings and that is how she gains her iconic staff. The next day, she saves a crow from being beaten to death, turning him into a man. In return for her rescue, Diaval will be Maleficent’s wings. The real turn in Maleficent’s character comes when she finds out that Stefan had done all that to her, just to become king (I have to admit, I understand her rage at this point). So, she becomes queen of the Moors (they never officially had a monarch previously) and her former friends now cower before her. We next witness the birth of Stefan and Leila’s daughter and once again, Maleficent attends the christening. Her speech to the assemblage is identical to that from the animated film, though her curse changes a little; the “true love’s kiss” is a dig at Stefan, and the “sleeplike death” will last for all time, “no power on Earth can change it.” Once again, Stefan orders all of the spinning wheels burned [and again, how do they make fabric after that? And what possesses one to leave the burned remains in the castle?]

Maleficent_Angelina_Jolie

The pixies, Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistlewit, are charged to care for baby Aurora for sixteen years and a day. They prove to be truly incompetent and it is lucky for Aurora that Diaval and Maleficent found her, or she would have died; either from starvation or falling off a cliff. One day, toddler Aurora comes across Maleficent healing a tree in the forest and hugs the woman [she was played at this point by Angelina’s own daughter, because she was the only child not scared]. Throughout the years, she plays with the crow. At the same time, Stefan darkens with paranoia and vengeance and plots Maleficent’s demise (ignoring the fact that he wife dies). He sends soldiers to the wall of thorns that Maleficent has erected. They fail, and he remembers what he learned as a boy; iron burns fairies. He has a new idea.

Maleficent shows Aurora the Moors and the young woman is fascinated. The creatures like her and she eventually lightens Maleficent’s heart. Aurora refers to Maleficent (not knowing her true identity at first) as her fairy godmother (a cute play on traditional fairy tale roles); she remembers the silhouette of Maleficent’s shadow from her childhood. Maleficent even attempts to remove the curse, but she recalls that she had included the clause that “no power on Earth can change it.” Not even Maleficent’s own magic can lift the curse. She continues to protect Aurora and tries to warn her about the evil in the world and Aurora expresses her wish to come live in the Moors. Maleficent agrees. Aurora encounters Prince Phillip on her way home to tell the three pixies her decision (witnessed by Maleficent and Diaval; Maleficent feels that Phillip could be the answer to “true love’s kiss,” even though she believes it does not exist).

At the cottage, the three pixies are forced to reveal that Aurora is the princess of the kingdom and she must go back to her father. (They get confused on the timeline and take her back on the day of her birthday, not the day after) Aurora confronts Maleficent about the curse and declares that she is the evil in the world. The young princess rides back to the castle alone. Stefan shows no emotion at seeing his daughter for the first time in sixteen years. He remarks she looks like her mother, but neglects to inform the lass that the woman is dead, and he stands still as Aurora hugs him. He locks her in her room so he can focus on a battle plan. None of it prevents Aurora from being hypnotized and led to the dungeon full of spinning wheels. She pricks her finger and falls asleep.

Maleficent knows the curse will come to fruition; she finds Prince Phillip and carts him off to the castle. Iron spikes impede her, but she manages to get Phillip to the hallway outside Aurora’s room. The pixies let him in and convince him to kiss the sleeping princess (and thank you, young prince, for resisting at least a little, calling to attention the fact that you’ve only met the one time). But the kiss fails. The pixies kick him out and leave to find someone else. Maleficent emerges from the shadows and apologizes to the young woman, but knows she cannot ask for forgiveness; what she did was unforgiveable. She places a gentle kiss on Aurora’s brow. That does the trick. Now they must escape the castle together and retreat to the Moors. Alas, Stefan and his soldiers are waiting for them. Maleficent turns Diaval into a dragon, setting the hall alight. An iron net deters Maleficent, but she eventually faces off against Stefan. Aurora discovers and frees Maleficent’s wings and that’s the real turning point. Stefan suffers a Disney death and falls off a tower during his duel.

Maleficent_Crowns

Maleficent removes her crown and takes down the wall of thorns. The kingdoms are united under Aurora, who is crowned in the Moors (Phillip is in attendance) and they were brought together by one who was both hero and villain: Maleficent. The closing narration sums up that “the story is not quite as you were told. And I should know, for I am the one that they called Sleeping Beauty.” Our parting shots are of Diaval, as a crow, flying with Maleficent.

My mind-set on the animated Sleeping Beauty has been that it’s a typical fairy tale. There are a hundred ways to tell it and the characters are interchangeable. Princess Aurora doesn’t strike me as a “fight for yourself” princess. It has been noted that she doesn’t speak the entire second half of the film, even after she is woken by “true love’s kiss,” or when she meets her parents. Prince Phillip is admirable as a typical prince and this time, he actually does something. He fights the dragon; he rescues his damsel in distress; he speaks his mind to his father. Pity he’s not more remembered for that. Maleficent is intimidating visually. We are left to wonder why she suddenly appears at a celebration and randomly curses an innocent baby. I guess it’s hand waved as “she’s evil” and apparently the queen of all darkness.

Which is why when Maleficent was first announced, I didn’t plan on seeing it. But after watching the live action Cinderella, I decided to give it a chance. And I was pleasantly surprised. As a scholar with an interest in faerie lore and mythology, I was excited to see the added element of iron burning the Fae. Overall, I enjoyed how Maleficent was portrayed as a Fae, that not all fairies are tiny little creatures with wings. They have immense power and a tie to nature.

I enjoyed how Maleficent’s character was fleshed out and well rounded. Most of the characters were given greater detail (Phillip suffered, unfortunately). We now have a believable reason for Maleficent cursing Stefan’s child. I thought it was interesting that they expanded the crow character and he was a fun addition. I wonder if there’s a romantic inclination towards Maleficent or Aurora. He’s reasonably loyal to Maleficent and he seems attached to Aurora. For a moment, while re-watching, I thought it would be him that broke the curse by kissing the sleeping princess; but I content with the mother/daughter relationship emphasis instead. Phillip’s presence at the Moors at the end has me wondering if they’ll expand that tale in the sequel.

Again, there is a typical warning as in most fairy tales: “don’t talk to strangers.” There’s never really a bad consequence to those who do: in the animated, Briar Rose meets the man who will rescue her. In the live action, Aurora speaks to the woman she coins as her fairy godmother. In both cases, it ultimately turns out well for her. I appreciate in the live action that dragons are not painted as completely bad (considering my favorite movie is How to Train Your Dragon). In the animated, of course the powers of Hell will transform into a dragon. An element of dragon mythology is that dragons kidnap princesses and lock them away. Diaval as a dragon doesn’t get much action in the newer movie, but it’s understandable since the action should be focused on Maleficent’s struggle.

So…? Any questions? Comments? What’s your position on dragons?

Next Time: 101 Dalmatians

Disney’s First Princess

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Ah yes, Disney. I’m in the generation that grew up during the coined “Disney Renaissance,” the early nineties when they put out some of their best work. Hercules, Lion King, Little Mermaid, Aladdin all had cartoons on the Disney Channel. I love Winnie the Pooh to this day. I sing along with Disney songs almost anywhere. Very nostalgic.

snow white
I’ve been to Disney World once, on a band trip my senior year of high school. This is at the Princess Meet-and-Greet

But, going to start with the first full length animated movie. Released in 1937, it retells a Brothers Grimm tale about an evil sorceress who becomes the stepmother to a beautiful princess, named Snow White due to her “skin as white as snow” (it’s a fairy tale, they can have…not normal names). But the queen is jealous and wants to be known as the fairest in the land (here, they use “fair” as a synonym for “beautiful” because the queen is certainly not kind.) When her magic mirror tells her otherwise, she orders a huntsman to kill Snow White and bring back her heart as proof. Because Snow White is the eternal optimist (her mannerisms remind me of Shirley Temple, a child star of the same era), the huntsman can’t bring himself to kill her. Instead, he tells her to run away into the forest and never return.

That forest has given children nightmares; falling in line with the purpose of original fairy tales to scare children into behaving. Snow’s fear fueled the terrifying images, until she calms down and sees it for cuddly woodland creatures. Those bunnies are absolutely huggable. They lead her to a filthy house in the middle of the woods and they all clean!

Okay, let’s interrupt the narrative a little further to discuss a few things. Modern women look back on this and huff about how the princess just wants to clean and take care of men/children. Let’s remember when this was produced; women were not a major part of the workforce yet. And, the original Grimm fairy tale was unlikely to be proponent for women’s rights. Re-watching this, I take it as, that’s what she wants to do, fine. I don’t have to. However, can someone explain to me when woodland creatures learned how to clean a house?

Returning to the story; they all whistle while they work and take a well deserved nap afterwards. The owners of the house, seven dwarfs, not orphaned children, return from their work in the mine. At first, they’re suspicious about having an intruder in their home, yet that melts away when they discover it’s a beautiful young woman.

They’re smart enough the next morning to warn Snow White that the queen will still be hunting her and to not let strangers in the house (good message for kids). Snow’s not the smartest apple in the barrel and willingly talks to a haggard old woman (personal vendetta: not all witches are evil, and why do they have to be ugly? The queen goes through all that work just to be known as the prettiest? Alas, those all fall into traditional fairy tale tropes). When the birds try to warn Snow White, she takes pity on the woman – and does the thing that the dwarfs just told her not to do! Proving that animals are smarter than humans, the woodland creatures fetch the dwarfs. Sadly, it’s too late. Snow White has fallen prey to the Sleeping Death, though not permanent death, since the queen cackled the dwarfs would bury her alive.

Classic Disney death, the queen falls off a cliff followed by a boulder (though not every death is accompanied by creepy vultures). The dwarfs hold vigil for months; we witness the changing seasons. And the prince has been searching for months for this young woman. Yep, that classic trope of love at first sight, and love’s first kiss. “And they lived happily ever after” completes the fairy tale.

I can understand “I’m Wishing;” she’s a fourteen-year-old princess from some undetermined historical period. Entirely accurate to be wishing for a handsome prince to marry (doesn’t quite jive with modern viewpoints, again, it’s the thirties). Young girls and tweens still wish for a prince to see them off their feet. Fully grown women still secretly wish for love (we just know it’s a lot harder to acquire).

Snow White’s song is interrupted by a strange prince coming up to her, then serenading her. I reiterate my question: how do you love her if all you’ve done is listen to her and see her for thirty seconds? Later, Snow White tells her new dwarf friends she dreams of her prince returning. Okay, first issue, how do you honestly know he’s a prince? He could be lying, a vagabond that stole the prince’s clothes. And you know you’ll be happy, how? We keep circling back to the fact that you’ve known each other all of a minute. That is not love, that’s barely infatuation or a crush. One is essentially saying, “oh he/she is cute.” It means nothing. You’ve never spoken to each other. This is not how marriages worked even in the medieval or Renaissance time. Arranged marriages were negotiated. Royalty had to go through a rigmarole to get married. Guess we’ve got to chalk it up to “because it’s a fairy tale.”

I’ve gotta to compare the dwarfs here to the dwarves of Tolkien, brought to life by Peter Jackson. There are some similarities; they have memorable names: Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy, and Dopey vs Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Oin, Gloin, Ori, Dori, Nori, Fili, Kili, and Thorin. They’re all miners, though, the Tolkien dwarves are far more traditional. Children, that is not how gems are mined and smart people do not throw away the slightly imperfect ones. They’ve got fun songs: Heigh-Ho vs Blunt the Knives (those dwarves clean up similar to woodland creatures). And they’ve all got beards, for the most part and color-coded garments. However, Tolkien created a wonderful history for the dwarves, rich in culture. His are characters that take part in the grand scheme of things. Disney’s are…lifelike garden gnomes. And would you really want to go up against the dwarves from the Hobbit?

In conclusion, Snow White has never been a favorite Disney movie of mine, but re-watching it, it’s not too bad.  Fine watching if there’s not much else on TV, but not something I would be in a hurry to elect to put on. Kids, do not talk to strangers or accept food from strangers or let them in your house. Most of the other views are honestly outdated, but if you don’t let yourself get distracted…. I respect it for being groundbreaking for animation. I do have to say, I enjoyed the recharacterization that Once Upon A Time made to Snow. I can totally get behind a woman who takes her destiny into her own hands and kicks butt at the same time.

I do not intend to do an analysis on Once Upon a Time. I love the show, but it’s seven seasons.

Questions? Comments? Want me to do OUAT? Let me know.

Next Time: Cinderella