Monday, October 31, 2011

The Sky is Falling

It is Halloween 2011 and today I awoke to a winter wonderland. Snow was flying around outside, there was a thin layer of white on the ground and the evergreens looked as though they’d been dusted with powdered sugar. Nonetheless, this beautiful landscape seemed strangely out of place, what with it being October and all. I thought, well snow isn’t very scary, is it?
            I don’t like being scared, so not having a scary Halloween isn’t an issue for me. If it were, it would turn out I’d been wrong: snow can be scary. I was driving down the two-lane, 55 mile per hour speed limit street that accounts for 20 minutes of my 50 minute commute. Everyone else was either staying inside or were already at their destination, because the roads were mostly empty. I drove a little under the speed limit, still getting re-acquainted with driving in snow. The snow rushed around my windshield, and I felt for a moment that this is what it must be like to hurtle through space. The snow didn’t look like it was moving: it seemed to be frozen in place, with my little car displacing it. All these little white dots reminded me of stars.
            Snow became scary—or rather, eerie—when it stopped falling from the sky. I’m driving along the Glenn highway, and snowy clouds snake along the pavement, under cars. The whoosh of air and ice makes creaky noises under the car. And suddenly, snow is scary. It darts around the pavement, snakelike and with the appearance of dry-ice, as though it were alive.
            The arrival of snow ironically made me think of Chicken Little. In many—in fact, most—Disney films, winter plays a small part, if it’s cast at all. There are a few cute wintry scenes in Pinocchio and Bambi, but it seems otherwise to be a perpetual summer. Chicken Little falls into the perpetual summer category. It seems to coincide with the orphan-or-only-one-parent theme.
            Chicken Little always makes me laugh. It made me laugh in theatres and I laughed over the weekend as I watched it with James. He also laughed a lot, which pleased me. He’s been watching some of the Disney films with me, but not all of them. I love underdog stories (as does Disney) and I think it demonstrates well that parents aren’t always perfect; they don’t always do, say or act the right way. It doesn’t change the way they feel about their child, but they’re only human. CL demonstrates this well with Mr. Cluck.
            Visually, the film is pleasing. The details are part of what make it so funny.  The dogs at the diner, drinking out of a water bowl and burying their bone-entre in the front yard when the alarm bell is rung, the dog chasing his tail in the outfield during the baseball game. These little details help make this very un-real world more believable. By surrounding us, the viewers, in this imaginary world, they have to make us want to believe it. We have to be willing to believe that a rooster (Mr. Cluck) is the parent of a miniature chicken (Chicken Little), that a Turkey can be a mayor, a fox can be great at baseball and a bully, and that aliens can hide in giant metal contraptions.
            If there’s one thing Disney succeeds it, it’s immersing their viewers in another world. It’s why Snow White was so successful when everyone expected it to flop. We become entranced in this character’s life, in this world that doesn’t and can’t exist. It’s why we still flock to Disney movies. Who hasn’t cried when Bambi realizes his mom isn’t coming back? Who didn’t want Pinocchio to become a real boy? These stories, rendered in pencil and paint, make an impact. It’s why animation has evolved instead of died out.
            When Walt released Snow White, he didn’t make it just for children. Adults went and saw it as well. It wasn’t until later the animation was labeled as a medium for children and since then, studios have been working to prove that label wrong. Dreamworks’ Shrek actually took great strides, including humor for the adults watching. Chicken Little also has humor for grown-ups. But Pixar really changed the game—they didn’t just add humor for the parents and non-children audiences—they tailored the story to be relatable to every age group. Don’t believe me? Go watch UP and then we’ll talk. It’s the only film where I’ve ever cried before the characters even spoke. That’s the power of animation.
            Chicken Little is a cute, funny movie. It’s a fun twist on a classic story. Unlike Bambi, I probably won’t think of it often after this project is complete. I’ve now seen it twice, and for the time being, that’s enough. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t change me. It didn’t challenge how I thought or felt. It wasn’t a hit, but it wasn’t a miss either. It was just…enjoyable. And sometimes, that’s just what we need.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bambi Under the Stars

I kept Bambi longer than I did the other films. I only own 17 of the Disney animated features; the rest I’ve been watching via Netflix. I usually try to time it so I have one for over the weekend and mail them quickly so I can get the next one. I’m not trying to rush—I just love watching them. I forgot to mail Bambi on Friday (okay, and Saturday) and now it’s in the box but not going out until Monday. Which means Chicken Little won’t arrive until Wednesday.
            I loved Bambi much more than I expected. I think it has something to do with the all-animal cast (only Lion King and Robin Hood can boast this as well) and also the simple beauty of the film. From the backgrounds to the animals with human emotions, it’s just a beautiful film. While watching even more of the bonus features (I know, my downfall) my theory was proven right: there actually are a lot of Lion King allusions (I say LK because I’m more familiar with it; even though Bambi came first in the linear time line, LK  came first in my life). From the reflections I so admired to literally the same seeds floating through the air (in Bambi it signifies a passage of time; in Lion King in reveals Simba’s not-dead-ness to Rafiki). How could I not love the film that inspired my favorite Disney film of all time?
            Tonight I had a Mufasa moment. Tomorrow is my 24th birthday and so far it hasn’t been going like I expected. I’ve never been away from my family before. Now, my family is my husband and our dogs. But it’s still weird to be away from my parents and sister. I received my sister’s gift today, but because my birthday falls on a Sunday and we live so far out the USPS doesn’t deliver to our door (rain, snow, sleet my toosh!), I won’t even receive their gift until Monday (yes, I know my mother gave me the gift of life and that is most important. Thank you.). Anyway, I was walking my dogs on this chilly October night (yes, 39 degrees F is now chilly) and began looking at the stars. The benefit of living so far out the USPS won’t deliver to you is that there’s significantly less light pollution than in town. I took a deep breath and it returned in near-transparent white clouds of moisture while my dogs took their sweet time relieving themselves. I stared up into the sky, which appeared rounded by the increase of stars the higher I looked. I saw balls of gas, burning from billions of miles away. There’s a particularly tall Spruce tree that lives in the hilly field where we (used to) walk our dogs (I don’t go further than the little cone of light created by our little outdoor light. This is Alaska—it’s beyond dark. And you never know when an animal will walk out of your dog-walking field).
            For a short moment, my mind was clear of all the weird jumble of thoughts that usually live there. There was a beautiful moment where there weren’t any cars on the semi-busy road that runs parallel to ours; no headlights permeated that deep abyss of stars and space. No obnoxious dogs I pity were barking upstairs or in the neighboring garage. It was this beautiful silence, with the silhouette of that spruce tree standing as a shadow against a black backdrop dotted with stars. I couldn’t help but think, this is where the animators who went to Africa got their inspiration for that Mufasa scene. They saw all the stars and felt this incredible silence. They saw a tree’s outline solely by the lack of stars.
            A moment later, a car rounded the bend and the dogs nearly pulled my arm out of its socket and I was brought back to the present. Walt called his features ‘cartoons’ for the longest time; they’ve never been that to me. Cartoons make me think of the Silly Symphonies or something DreamWorks created (sorry—no offense intended). But animation—for me, it’s always been this glimpse into a magical world. I’ve found living in Alaska, after the other three states I’ve lived in, to be a bit like that. Every time I see a moose, or a bear (okay, it was only that once in Denali National Park. But still), I feel like I’m glimpsing this special, magical world. I think that is Walt’s birthday gift to me. A moment of silence amongst the universe, when I realize just how special this place is—and how special I am, simply for existing in it.
            This is what Bambi and aging are doing to me. Introspective and philosophical. Oh boy.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Run, Bambi, Run

Ah, Bambi. The movie that started this whole project. I was super excited to watch this, since it looks beautiful and I’m tired of being berated for having never seen it (why yes, I am talking about my husband, however did you know?). I had high expectations for Bambi, which is both a classic and iconic. Usually when I have such high expectations, nothing can live up to them.
            Bambi did. The problem with Bambi being a classic is that everyone knows that his mom dies. I thought it happened in the first five minutes. Guess what? It doesn’t. So  when Bambi excitedly runs into the meadow and Mom jumps in front of him to stop him, I thought for sure she was going to get it. I also thought she was going to get it when she and Bambi get separated in the same scene. And again, and again, and again. I felt like I was watching  a scary movie, I was so in suspense of when it would happen.
            Then, finally, I relaxed. It’s winter, they’re hanging out, having some quality Mom-and-Bambi time. Then grass starts growing, I feel hopeful. And it’s then, when I least expect it and love her most, that she gets it.
            It’s just not fair. I know, a four year old would say that. But you know what? It’s true. And watching little Bambi run through the woods frantically, calling out for his mother, is quite possibly the most heartbreaking image of the film. It’s just as bad as Simba cuddling with Mufasa after the stampede. It’s this image of a child who has lost a parent but can’t bear to let them go, they can’t admit that parent is really gone.
            The animators for Lion King must have watched Bambi while they were working on it. There are certain scenes that just correlate too much—the young stags prancing around the meadow, in sync and disregarding what little ones may be in their path are a mirror image of the stampede, with Simba running to get out of the way. The mood is completely different in the two scenes, but the images definitely correlate (and yes, I remember from psychology: correlation does not equal causation. But for real, this is super-correlation).
            While Bambi is a timeless story, which is part of what makes it classic, parts of it clearly identify it as distinctly 1940’s American. Some of the music, particularly the Spring song preceding the twitterpated section (who could not love a film that uses the word twitterpated?!), is very 40’s. I love it. I love the 40’s and 50’s, and having that culture be a part of this forest-centric film was a reminder of the people who made it.
            Bambi was the second film Disney started production-wise and the 5th animated feature released. It took nine years to complete. That thoroughness and attention to detail shows. It’s a spectacular film. It’s certainly my favorite of the older films so far. The watercolor backgrounds are beautiful but don’t distract from the characters. In story meetings, Walt discussed how sometimes the plot gets in the way of the characters, saying the characters should lead the story and not the other way around. It makes sense, and it’s why his films are so special. He also addressed failures straight-on and didn’t tiptoe around them. In the story meetings available in the special features section on Bambi, there are a lot of references to Pinocchio. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like it. Walt himself didn’t like the character of Pinocchio, and that’s how Jiminy Cricket was born, to make Pinocchio more likeable. There’s a distinct shift in the Disney method from making the backgrounds and environment as real as possible to making it the best for the story.
            The more I learn about Walt, the more I admire and respect him. He was constantly moving animators around, making sure their talents were both recognized and continually challenging them. He paired weaker animators with stronger ones in order to help both of them. He hand-chose who worked on what piece, and who in that group worked on which character. The amount of time and attention to detail Walt had…well, it’s just plain amazing.
            Part of what makes Bambi such a special character is that we see him grow so much throughout the film. He starts off not knowing really much of anything, and he always needs a little help. He’s constantly running into new, strange situations that he doesn’t know how to deal with. That’s relatable. Although, I have to say it, when he’s fighting for Faline? He looks like he’s losing pretty much the whole time. And then he wins, and my only thought was, How on Earth did he win? Wasn’t he losing? I’m glad he won, don’t get me wrong. But I just couldn’t see the connection.
            The advances in animation are continually astounding with each film. From the lightning at the beginning to the repeated use of reflection and water, it’s just amazing. This world they’ve created feels more real than the actual real world. It makes you want to believe all these animals are actually friends. And the music—oh my goodness the music! It was amazing. The use of music and how when you heard the hunter’s theme, you immediately felt fearful without really consciously knowing why. It was just amazing. It was beautiful in so many ways.
            I didn’t so much like the lack of involvement on the Stag’s part in the beginning, or the implied lack of involvement on Bambi’s part at the end. I’ve encountered deer in the wild, and it was a little family. It was kind of an odd experience and one I’d forgotten about, despite how special it was, simply because it was so long ago.
            I was living in Indiana in a new development. When we first moved into the house, ours was the only house on the street for about a block. There was a big open park across the road with a trail through the woods and plans for a playground. A middle school, one I would attend later on, sat on the other side of the park. One day when I was 12 or 13, I got into a fight with my parents or a friend, I can’t really recall, and went for a walk. I walked off the trail, into the woods and behind the school. I found a little clearing, maybe five feet wide by ten feet long. I sat down in the grass, crying and feeling sorry for my pre-teen/teen self. I made a little circle around me out of sticks, like Sarah Crewe does in A Little Princess with chalk when she wants to feel safe. I wasn’t frightened; I just always wanted to feel like I was in a movie.
            I was pleased with my little stick-circle when a small spider approached and then turned back instead of crawling over the sticks. I heard a rustling noise and looked around but didn’t see anything. Then a little baby deer stepped out of the woods and into the clearing. The mother followed. I sat completely still, not wanting to frighten them. They walked closer to me, obviously curious and realizing I wasn’t dangerous, and I continued to sit still and watch them. I may have whispered a, “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you—I’m a vegetarian.” Then got within a few feet of me and stopped. I stared, they stared. They were beautiful. Then a big male deer appeared at the edge of the clearing, his antlers big and pretty but not quite as big or pretty as the Stag’s in Bambi (which I know now but didn’t know then). He huffed at them, walked a few steps into the meadow, looked at me. The mother dear and fawn walked toward him and they all retreated back into the woods.
            I sat there frozen, in awe. I had never been that close to deer before. The only time I have since was in a controlled environment at the Reindeer Farm in Palmer, Alaska. We got to feed and pet baby reindeer and big reindeer alike and it was amazing. We’ll probably go there twice a year as long as we live here because we love it so much. Or because I love it so much.
            As I thought about Bambi and how much I loved it, I remembered that encounter. And I felt a little better, knowing that in the wild Bambi would stay with his little family. Or at least if he lived in Indiana, he would.
            It’s hard to top Bambi—I’ve seen Chicken Little and know it won’t, I even feel a little bad for it for having to follow Bambi. But, so is life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fly Away, Dumbo

Netflix has been in the news a lot recently for severely angering their customers. I was irritated when they hiked their prices, I was disappointed when they planned to split the streaming and DVD websites into two. But now, I’m just plain mad.
            I was very excited to stop by the post office and get my latest Netflix movie. I’ve never seen any part of Dumbo, other than clips from Disney Scene-It (the to-go version; no one would play the full version with me. I have to twist arms just to get people to play the to-go version). Imagine my crushing disappointment to open the envelope and see… Meet the Robinsons. Now, had I already watched Dumbo and had I been expecting Robinsons, I would not have been disappointed. Because of mailing schedules and my irritation with having to return it, re-add it to the queue, and then call and say I want to wait out the ‘short wait’ for Dumbo, I’ve decided to try and watch Dumbo online and keep Robinson’s. I’ll still keep Dumbo as number one on the queue, so I can watch the special features (which better not be disappointing).
            Apparently Dumbo isn’t available online. Not even on YouTube. Oh, copyright laws. Usually I love them, but they can be kind of irritating, too. Since I have to out of order with Saludos Amigos/Three Caballeros—because they are only available on a joint disc—I’ll have to make an exception and go out of order with Dumbo and Meet the Robinsons. The chapters will still be in the proper order, though.
            Dumbo finally arrived and didn’t disappoint. Our offer on a house was accepted (more details on that in the following chapter, since it coincides with Meet the Robinsons). The day after our home inspection (who knew it took three and half hours?!), we were already pleased because nothing major is wrong with our almost-house. I can’t call it our house yet, because we haven’t closed, thus the almost-house. I dropped by the post office on route to spend time with friends in Eagle River and Anchorage, and there it was, patiently waiting for me: Dumbo.
            The most lasting impression I have of Dumbo is both visual and an observation of the whole film: Dumbo is swinging in his mother’s trunk as she sings him Baby Mine. They’re separated by a wooden crate and iron bars, but she still manages to comfort him. My observation is that once again, Disney uses non-verbal communication to express the emotion of the scene (as we barely see Mrs. Jumbo, his mom). It’s the music and the image of Dumbo that makes the scene emotional. In fact, Dumbo doesn’t speak at all, during the entire 63 minute film.
            Dumbo is unlike the other Disney features thus far. It’s drawn much more cartoon-like, and this point is further validated by the presence of two short “Silly Symphonies” cartoons in the bonus features. It’s only 63 minutes long, as opposed to the hour-and-thirty length of most of the others. But it’s the perfect length: the story is completely told by minute 63.
            Bonus features have gotten me into trouble once again. I watched the making of Dumbo before the film itself, and saw a scene with Timothy the mouse telling off the crows, saying Dumbo is an orphan. Pause—Dumbo’s mom dies? Really? Great, now I’m going to cry. So I watch the movie and am so relieved that she doesn’t die, that the fact that they’re separated doesn’t upset me that much. They’re only separated for a short while, she’s not seriously injured, she doesn’t die, he can still see her some. Compared to her actually dying, it’s not that bad.
            Bullying has been in the news and social media quite a bit lately. While the bullied get the worst of the pain, sometimes parents make it worse. For instance, in Dumbo, the mean kids are making faces at Dumbo and saying mean things. Instead of reacting negatively, Dumbo just prances around, showing off his ears. He doesn’t understand that they’re being mean, and so his feelings aren’t hurt. Mrs. Jumbo actually made the situation much worse by trying to move him away. That made the mean kids start actually touching Dumbo, pulling his ears. That moment, when his ears get pulled and he starts trying to hide, is when he starts hurting. Before that, only his mother’s pride was hurt. Now I’m not saying parents always make it worse or even generally make it worse; I’m not a parent, I don’t have a child that’s been bullied. I understand the mom’s reasoning: her baby is being picked on. She wants to protect him. Most parents want to protect their children from pain. Ultimately, she made the situation worse by spanking the ringleader of the mean kids. People interpreted that as attacking, and she was whipped and separated from Dumbo.
            Timothy mouse—he’s a stand up kind of guy. I was so proud of him, scaring off all the mean old lady elephants and befriending Dumbo, always sticking up for him. It takes someone of strong moral character to stand up to bullies who aren’t even bullying him (this is not always good—remember Simba and the hyenas in the elephant graveyard? They were way bigger than him and Zazu was no longer in danger. Not a good move). The message from this film—to not let other’s opinion of you be greater than your own, to stand up to bullies even when those who they’re bullying won’t stand up to them—are golden. I love the message, it was presented beautifully. It provided the financial means to continue making films, whereas Pinocchio and Fantasia were not financially successful.
            I also have a soft spot for Dumbo—other than the fact that he’s just so darn cute!- because the making of his film has some parallels to the making of The Lion King. Both times, the studio was working on another film they thought would be a bigger success (Bambi, Pocahontas). This allowed those animators, writers, director and producers working on the ‘B-film’, or second priority, to really flourish. They had an environment where they weren’t being closely monitored, where they could really showcase their talent. Animators who had never been a character lead were suddenly a character lead. The low-expectation environments produced some of Walt’s most famous films. Dumbo made money when the studio desperately needed it while Lion King earned critical acclaim and is still the highest-grossing animated feature to ever hit theatres.
            Dumbo is just one of those lovely films that when you think of it, you just smile. Sometimes that’s all you really need. This morning, it gave me a smile when I really needed it. It’s mid-October and our weather is just odd. All day Sunday it was grey and raining. It’s only the second or third time I’ve seen steady rain since we moved here; it just doesn’t usually happen. We get steady drizzle, but not steady rain. Then last night it dropped below freezing, and as James was driving to work, the rain turned to snow. When he got to work, it was snowing like crazy. The ground was too warm for it to stick (thank goodness—the roads were too warm for ice to form as well). In any case, on my way to work this morning I was subject to one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen. The sun was rising over freshly-snowed upon mountains (it’s been sticking up there for a while), the clouds breaking apart at the sun’s rays. The entire Knik River Arm was blanketed in heavy fog, but our road is elevated enough that fog didn’t block my view. Strings of fog had broken apart and drifted upward, where they were slowly shrinking under the warmth of the sun. I kept looking to the side as I drove, enjoying the sparkly view. Then, just a few miles from my house, my eyes got teary. There was broken glass in the road, a car pulled over and a man standing outside of it. Off to the side, the moose lay on its side, eyes closed and unmoving. And I knew, without a doubt, it had died. I was relieved the driver was okay, which I knew because he had pulled the moose out of the road (this had obviously just occurred as there were no emergency personnel on sight yet). But the death of the moose made me so very, very sad. I know I’m a bit sentimental and emotional and the death of the moose probably didn’t bother very many people. Thankfully there wasn’t blood or else I may have had to pull over—I can’t handle blood. But since moving here, I’ve felt as if I’m living on their land. After all, moose were here long before people. It’s probably silly, but I probably feel that way because of my Native American heritage.
            Part of what I love about Alaska are the mountains that surround the valley I live in. The Alaska Range, Talkeetna Range and Chugach Range make a barrier around our town and the ones near it, and I feel a bit safer for them. It doesn’t make much sense, but it probably has to do with my nomadic ancestry and the value in finding a place difficult for invaders to attack. I would say the Valley is certainly that.
            Another reason I like the mountains is because I know they’re the home for the moose during the summer. I love seeing wild life in Alaska. It may make me a little frightened to run outdoors, but it’s worth it. So when I see that wild life killed because of roads and possibly that very sunlight I had been admiring blinding the driver momentarily, it makes me sad. Compared to the rest of the U.S., Alaska is relatively unspoiled. It’s why we like it here so much. And today, when I saw the poor moose, I felt like I was part of the force spoiling it.
          It’s appropriate that Bambi is next, what with all my nature talk (no, I’m not a hippie—please don’t put the book down. It’ll get back to focusing on Disney, no worries). I’m a little nervous, since I know the mom dies in the first few minutes. But out of tragedy comes stronger characters—that’s the over-arching theme of Disney.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Meet-ing the Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons was another one I didn’t see in theatres. Again, it’s a shame I didn’t. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it so much, to be honest. I knew it was about a kid inventor who went to the future, but that was about it. We were informed yesterday that the offer we made on a house was accepted—no counter offers, no back and forth, and little stress. Suffice it to say, I was in a terrific mood when we settled in to watch the movie, with our buy-one-get-one-free A&W meals (got to love great coupons!).
            James thought it started off a little slow, but when I saw singing frogs clearly alluding to Frank Sinatra, I was sold. By the line,I have a big head and little arms. I'm just not sure how well this plan was thought through,” I was rolling with laughter. That may have been my favorite part. Rational T-Rex’s are apparently my Due Date. What do I mean by that? Well, on the plane ride when we were moving to Alaska, we rented one of those little movie screens from Alaska Airlines. We chose Due Date and commenced watching it. That is, until James was dying from not being able to laugh out loud due to the large number of people on the plane being very quiet. Then he lost it. At one part, I’m not even sure which scene now, he was laughing so hard we had to pause it. He continued silently shaking with laughter, tears streaming down his face, for a good five minutes. When we would start to watch it again, he’d collapse into silent giggles and we’d have to wait again. I thought I would die of embarrassment, as he rocked back and forth and created a much larger spectacle than just laughing. He thought he was going to have stroke from holding it in. To a (much) lesser degree, that’s what the T-Rex’s line made me do. Only without the embarrassment, since I was on our comfy brown couch with Nala in my lap.
            What I love about Disney is consistency. Of course, when your studio makes fifty animated features, some are bound to be better than others. Some might even be—dare I say it?—not good.  MTR was a laugh riot, but I predicted just about every twist and turn— from who Louis was to who the Bowler Hat man was. But the hilarity and cleverness of the lines and plot made up for that. The references to Frank Sinatra and his dark connections (“Little Doris now sleeps with the fishes”), the octopus butler, the T-Rex and the robot all made me laugh so much that I didn’t care that I knew what was coming. Even though MTR came out too recently to be a classic and wasn’t big enough to be largely remembered, it was still an enjoyable movie to watch. It had some great lessons and great special features.
            James started enjoying it more when it had important lessons for kids. Listening to parents (shutting the garage door so nothing valuable gets stolen), focusing on who loves you instead of who birthed you for adopted kids, not blaming others for your mistakes, treating large reptiles with caution… Okay, maybe not so much that last one. But like Disney always does, there is a good, positive message. My favorite one is that sometimes, you have to wait a little while to find the people who will love you for who you are and encourage you to be the best version of that self. Meet the Robinsons made me laugh, but if I had kids, I would have been pleased with how the touchy topics were handled.
            Another of my favorite parts of the film was when it ended with this quote from Walt Disney, Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious... and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”  Walt himself was an innovator and an inventor, the latter of which was something I’d forgotten. He dreamed new things up and then found a way to accomplish them. Walt (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis) has been an inspiration to me for most of my life; he’s the reason I love animation so much and the reason I want to work for the Disney Company. Walt has been my hero for a long time, inspiring me to always strive to create things of the best quality. And I think he could understand me better than anyone, especially after reading this quote:
            "Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children's approach to life. They're people who don't give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought - sometimes it isn't much, either."
            Walt’s wisdom always encourages me to be true to myself—that quote, in particular.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I love a good dog story. Surprisingly, I didn’t see Bolt in theatres. Then James and I got it on Netflix—and wow, was I silly for not seeing it in theatres. I hope it came out during finals week or something—I can’t think of any other excuse why I wouldn’t see the latest Disney animated feature in theatres. I saw Princess and the Frog in theatres on opening night (along with 90 or so little girls dressed like princesses); the return to hand drawn animation and a new Disney princess drew me in, but I just see Disney animated features in theatres. It’s practically part of my character (character as in a real person and the qualities that make up who they are, not as in a fictional character. I’m a Disney fan, not delusional).
            Dogs have such character and expressive faces; it’s part of why I love dog movies, and dogs in real life, so much. When Mittens teaches Bolt how to be a dog…it’s just adorable. And so true! Our three dogs all have very distinct personalities, and they show. In fact, they can be quite predictable. When we moved to Alaska, we put our cable services on hold (tear—I miss the Disney channel sorely); despite the lack of T.V., our dogs often provide us endless entertainment. For example, last night we had to give them rice for dinner because Charlie was having stomach problems. We gave the girls (this is what we call Layla and Nala when we’re lazy and don’t want to use their full names) some rice with their regular dog food so they wouldn’t feel left out (which they would—trust me. They know when someone else gets something they don’t, and they make you suffer with serious puppy dog eyes).
            I should preface by explaining that Charlie thinks he’s a lion, Nala thinks she’s a giant dog/cat (it varies: she acts like a big dog, even though she’s the smallest; yet she also acts like a housecat, balancing on furniture arms and sleeping on the back of the couch), and Layla is afraid of everything. Absolutely everything. When we moved to Alaska, we were sure she would be afraid of snow. So there we are, feeding them dinner and watching them eat to make sure no one tries to steal anyone else’s food. Okay, there’s more. Layla loves food more than anything in the world, so watching her eat is kind of like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, only without the embarrassing hits-to-the-groin and fake laugh track (which, let’s be honest: if the videos were that funny, you wouldn’t need a laugh track). James had put her bowl in front of the stove, as we must feed them rice on the linoleum or it will be permanently embedded in the carpet. We’re watching her eat, and the bowl is slowly sliding towards the base of the oven. I turn to James and say, “I bet she jumps when her bowl hits the stove.” Because their bowls are ceramic, we know it will make a clanging noise when the bump occurs.
            Five seconds later: Layla jumps six inches in the air when her bowl clangs against the stove. Then she resumes eating. Clang. Jump. Eat. Clang. Jump. Eat. This continues, with a jump or flinch each clang—until her bowl is empty and the floor surrounding it in a 3 foot radius has been licked clean.
            We’ve taken to spelling certain words to avoid over-excitement. These include outside, out, walk, leash, dinner, and food. As Jack Prelutsky’s poem suggests, our dogs have learned to S-P-E-L-L. Our dogs aren’t very subtle. James has an alarm set on his iPhone to go off at 7:30 every night. This tells us it’s time to feed the dogs, since routine and regularity provide the structure that dogs need to feel safe and comfortable. After their rice breakfast this morning, the bowls didn’t get picked up. With the rest of the day being busy, they were still on the floor right before dinner. I was standing at the stove, attempting stir-fry (American and Italian cooking I can do, curries I can do, stir-fry still taunts me) when I turn to see Charlie, looking up at me woefully, full puppy eyes and cute collie ears. It’s the full nine yards. Then I look at the clock.
It’s 7:28. Charlie’s paw is in his bowl; he looks meaningfully at his bowl, and then back up at me. Apparently our dogs can tell time in addition to spelling.
            Part of what I love about Bolt is his incredibly expressive face. The animators really took advantage of how expressive dog’s faces can be. Charlie regularly winks at me and raises his eyebrows. His eyes, nose, eyebrows and ears communicate to me exactly how he’s feeling. We often joke by saying, “Use your words!” to the dogs, but they don’t usually have to. We know who did what based on who acts guilty and who doesn’t. For instance, when we come home to find the bathroom or laundry room trash pilfered and shredded, we know it was Layla. She hangs back, doesn’t come greet us, looks at the floor and runs off as soon as we approach the room in which she’s spread tissue and dryer sheets. She also doesn’t crow. Crowing is what we call this funny, guttural noise she makes. It’s a cross between howling and grumbling. It’s usually done when she thinks we’re taking too long (to open a door, bring her the food, take off her leash, etc) or when she’s super excited (when we walk in the door, when she wants to play). If she doesn’t make this noise, something is up.
            We know for sure it’s Layla for other reasons, too. Charlie, thinking he’s a lion, doesn’t like small spaces. Yes, my dog is claustrophobic. Hilarious, I know. If the kitchen trash has been gotten into, Charlie is to blame. He’ll go into the trash to go after some bit of food he thinks he should have gotten. Nala has no interest in the trash cans at all, so we know by deduction that Layla is the culprit. I should say, so James doesn’t yell at me later for pointing out Layla’s flaws publicly, that other than her bathroom trash shredding, she’s usually perfectly behaved. Charlie barks, Nala doesn’t like other dogs coming near her door, but Layla is usually calm and well-behaved.
            In turn, Bolt reminds me of all three of our dogs. When Bolt sticks his head out the window, he reminds me of Layla. She and Charlie both love putting their head out the window, but Layla will shove just her nose out, if that’s all that will fit. She LOVES car rides more than any dog I’ve ever met. Charlie can be very possessive of me, since for a long time it was just the two of us (ten points if you caught the Will Smith song reference). I am his person, in his mind. Like Bolt, he would stay with me, even if we were in danger and he could get out and I couldn’t. In that same scene, Bolt also reminds me of Nala. She’s a cuddle-bug. When Bolt lifts Penny’s arm to lie down beneath it, letting her know he’s still there, that’s a distinct Nala move. Except Nala does it when she wants attention. Or to sleep. Or to cuddle. Or because she’s breathing. Nala is convinced if you’re sitting still, you could be petting her. And if you could be petting her, then you should be petting her.
            Growing up, I loved watching Homeward Bound. If there was even a moment of animation in it, I would have found a way to fit it in this project. When Bolt first sees Penny after their separation, the reunion scene from HB comes to mind, and I get teary from thinking about it and seeing Bolt’s heart break.
            There’s one action Bolt takes that determines why I love him so much. He’s just had his heart broken, he’s not listening as Mitten’s tries to tell him Penny loves him. He hears Penny, inherently knows she needs his help. And he goes. Like Rhino says, when a friend needs you, you go. Bolt goes to save her, even while thinking she doesn’t love him anymore.
            That single action explains why I, and so many other people, love dogs. Unconditional love. She broke his poor cross-country-traveling puppy heart. But still he saved her. And when he thought he couldn’t save her, he was willing to sacrifice himself to stay with her. That’s why dogs are such special creatures, and why it angers me to the deepest level possible when someone huts them. They love unconditionally, they forgive instantly. They love without holding back. As a species, humans could learn a lot from their best friend coutner-parts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

But At Least No One's Shooting At Us

Sometimes a healthy dose of perspective is the best possible thing. Other times, it can serve to be only mildly irritating.

Yesterday I was reminded of another reason I, at least, was drawn to Alaska. J and I returned home from grocery shopping to notice spider-webbing cracks emanating menacingly from a small, distinct hole in our across-the-hall-neighbor's window.

J made a joke about someone planning a drive-by, shooting their window, hearing our Charlie bark in annoyance and running away.

I didn't find this funny. I blanched when he said "drive-by", instantly going back to my sophomore year of college.

It was one of those hot, sunny days when it should have been cooler but wasn't. To top off a bad day, I missed the bus home by less than two minutes. I then had to wait 20 (well, FSU said their buses came every 20 minutes, but let's be honest, it was 30) additional minutes in the searing heat. I was getting home half an hour late, which seemed much more intrusive at the time due to the heat. I was also expecting something in the mail, and was anxious to get home and see if it had arrived (not that I was looking forward to walking all the way down to the community mailboxes, either).

The bus finally arrived, took it's sweet time getting to my stop in the less than heavy 4 p.m. traffic. I hiked up the steep incline from the bus stop to the apartment building and walked a bit faster to get the that shady spot along the way. My apartment was at the back of the complex, 100 feet or so from the pool and community mailboxes. I had originally been signed up for a second floor apartment, but some disaster or other had ruined that one, forcing my roommate and I into a first floor apartment (we should have noticed this as a sign we should move).

I rounded the (thankfully shaded) corner, sweat forming in the crook of my arm and small of my back in that irritating way that makes everyone feel gross, to a surprising scene in front of me. Because ghettos and poorer areas tend to sprout up around universities, I had become overly-used to the sound of sirens and didn't register hearing any on my route home. I was most likely absorbed in whatever book I was reading at the time. Thus my surprise when I rounded that shady corner to find police cordoning off areas of our parking lot with their shiny yellow tape, their cars haphazardly parked and an ambulance speeding off in the opposite direction.

I walked towards my apartment, intent on checking on the wellness of Charlie and guaranteeing his afternoon walk was not further delayed. To my relief, the police stopped taping off access to apartments ten to twenty feet from my front door. (Funny how perspective works-- I was relieved to have access to my department despite the fact that a serious crime had clearly just taken place in my oft-overcrowded parking lot).

After walking Charlie (in a courtyard behind our apartment and out of the crime-tape vicinity), I turned on the news and googled, wanting to know what horrible thing had happened outside my door and then proceeding to look for a new place to live. Within a few hours, my apartment complex's name being said on the television lured me away from my computer. A student from another university in town had been shot-- and killed-- during a drive- by in my parking lot. Right next to my mailboxes, actually.

Suddenly I was not only afraid to get my mail, but to stay in my apartment at all. The reports were sketchy on details, but the incident appeared to be drug- related. Oh, drugs and murder. What a world. The deceased student had lived in this complex, and the proximity of both crimes made me both sad for the world, and his family, but also very uneasy.

I also became very, very thankful I missed the bus. I arrived precisely 30 minutes after the crime took place. Meaning, had I made that bus, I would have been rounding the corner as the man was shot, making me a witness and very much putting me in danger.

I have never before--nor have I since-- been so thankful for FSU's perpetually off-schedule bus system.

Why do I feel safer in Alaska, where pretty much everyone and their mother owns a gun? Because the police and troopers are prepared for everyone and their mother to have a gun on them at any given time. Perhaps because the decrease in suburban areas makes even neighborhoods close to town feel rural. Perhaps because the lot sizes houses are on are larger, giving everyone a bit more breathing room. And perhaps because I get my mail at the post office.

Of course, there's always the fact that I'm (probably) more likely to run into a moose while hiking and get trampled than I am to get shot while retrieving my mail. Strangely, that's comforting.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Enchanted by Fantasia

When I was little, someone tried to get me to watch Fantasia. Once I found out it was a series of shorts based on classical music with no dialogue between the characters, I was completely uninterested (though it did seem a better option that spinach). In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s and married that my in-laws gifted me a Blu-ray of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, with gift receipts, given my Disney obsession. They were shocked to learn that not only did I not own the films, but that I hadn’t even seen them. Within a few days, James and I found ourselves sitting in our darkened living room, sinking into our plush couch with a bowl of freshly popped popcorn (my sister-in-law gave us a popcorn maker—our families definitely know all about our love of films). Fantasia began, and I was awestruck.
            I love animation and storytelling, which is why I started my Disney project. The Nutcracker Suite will always be my favorite part of this film, and I will most likely skip the dinosaur bit. Fantasia was reportedly Walt’s favorite project (and only his third feature film) because he planned on re-releasing it, adding new shorts and subtracting others. In the writing world, writers feel as though they are never finished with a manuscript; it may draw indecisive people like me in because you can always change it, work on it, improve it. Walt, being the great storyteller he was, undoubtedly looked to Fantasia the way a writer looks at a manuscript. It was his opportunity to continually work on something he loved.
            Fantasia was also Walt just plain showing off. The animation in this film is incredible. I can’t even name all the technical inventions this movie inspired. In fact, until the discovery of a notebook decades after the film was released, modern animators didn’t know how the hand-drawn animators accomplished many of the effects seen in Fantasia. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice will always be a fun one for me, if only because it has Mickey Mouse. Walt believed in creating a quality product; to do that, he spearheaded inventions of new animation techniques in order to craft little details that would only be on screen for a few short moments.
            It is currently mid-October here in Alaska, and James and I have decided on a house that we’re planning to put an offer on this week. We had our first heavy frost last night; when I took the dogs for their morning walk, the world seemed to sparkle. It was mostly quiet, the yellow leaves hung heavy with frost as the sun rose from behind the mountains. The tall grasses, which often remind me of the wheat plains before harvest in Oklahoma, shimmered in the widening glow of the morning light. As the sun climbed higher and cleared the tree tops of the forest behind our apartment, little drip-drops of melting frost mingled with the swish of leaves falling, their stems too fragile to hold onto the tree any longer. At first I paused, hearing soft noises always makes me look for moose (a mother moose and her two calves have revealed themselves to be hanging out in that forest behind us before; looking for moose near our home is another perk of living in Alaska).
            I mention this beautiful morning scene because I was reminded of it hours later, plopped on my couch with our 45 pound black-lab mix, Nala, snuggling up next to me (yes, she is named after The Lion King—you shouldn’t be surprised. Charlie, our 70 pound collie, is named after All Dogs Go to Heaven; Layla, our black lab-German shepherd mix, is named after the Eric Clapton song; I promise we’re usually more original). The fall air was cool and crisp, a warm puppy was in my lap, and a Disney movie was playing—in short, it was an ideal Sunday afternoon. Then, during my favorite sequence (the Nutcracker Suite), I noticed something: the spider web sparkles with dew the same way our wheat-like grasses sparkled with frost. When looking at the frost, I wondered What would Disney do with that? How would he make it look? Within hours, I had my answer. They created a special way to film that sequence with light and dew. If there were a moose in the shot, it would have been too surreal.
            While my childhood attention span couldn’t cope with nonverbal communication and inferring meaning from music, my adult self loves it. I also quite enjoy Fantasia 2000; partially due to the simple enjoyment of seeing Walt’s wishes carried out (at this point I think of him as an especially cool uncle, despite any shred of possibility I could actually be related to him), but also because the simple beauty and majesty of animation paired with music is just enchanting. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kissing Frogs

          I find it a bit ironic that both film number 2 and 49 have a strong theme with stars- the evening star, to be specific. I do love the name Evangeline for the evening/wishing star. And I get misty every time I see Ray up there with her. So far, this is the only time the death of a bug has made me tear up—though Pixar came close with WALL-E and gave the audience a fright by nearly killing off the cockroach.
            I’ve spent many a night and many a wish looking up at the fireflies that got stuck in that big, bluish-black thing (it is entirely possible that there will be a Lion King reference in every chapter; be prepared. Yes, that was another reference. Ten points if you got it). In reality, stars and space have always amazed me. Maybe it was attending Christa McAuliffe Elementary in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Maybe it was early and repeated viewings of Lost in Space (the one with the kids from space camp).  Or maybe I was always secretly looking for Mufasa (for self-preservation, I would like to take this moment to acknowledge that I do, in fact, know that Mufasa is a fictional character voiced by James Earl Jones.) Regardless of the cause, I’ve often trained my eyes skyward.
            In Alaska, I’ve found myself looking at the stars even more. Well, in the fall and winter at least. In the summer we have 18 hours of daylight—not so great for star gazing. But the northern lights/ aurora borealis make appearances in the fall and winter, though on no particular schedule. I, on the other hand, am looking at the starry sky every night like clockwork when I take my dogs out. I’m not always looking for the aurora (though I certainly wouldn’t turn it away); because there is less light pollution in our newly adopted state, the stars are brighter and more plentiful here. Added to that, we live in the boonies—even by Alaska standards.
            Disney returns to the stars just like the general population does. There’s a certain majesty and magic quality to the night sky; for a studio that uses those qualities as main plot points, the path is clear. We’re enchanted by the stars as people have been for thousands of years. Even knowing what they are and how they are made doesn’t diminish our interest. Disney uses that knowledge to further the telling of a great story. Or rather, many great stories. I’m anxious to see how many other Disney animated features highlight the stars.
            Disney is in the business of dreams, so to speak. Making dreams come true is what they do; in the parks, in the movies, in the merchandise. You can ever arrange to have a Disney Princess call your little one on the telephone. Walt said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” It’s a quote that’s always inspired me to pursue whatever dream I was pursuing at the time. Acting, trapeze, seeking employment at Disney, being a better person, writing. My current dreams are writing a book, working for Disney, and being a homeowner. I’m following the old two birds-one stone path with the book being about Disney and educating myself in all things Disney animation (well, all feature film things). My fear with house-hunting is settling. I see potential and beauty in nearly everything; often that potential leads me to spend more restoring something old rather than purchasing or making something new for less cost.
            I was beyond excited when Disney first started promoting The Princess and the Frog. It had been years since there was a new princess, and a return to hand drawn animation to boot! I was a kid in a candy store. I was so excited, in fact, that no film could have lived up to my expectations. When I first saw the film in theatres, I was disappointed. But since then, I’ve realized the issue was my expectations, not any shortcoming of the film. Dr. Facilier is the most frightful villain for me, other than Scar (who can kill their brother and nephew without ever regretting it? Plus, with the Nazi-hyenas, the allusion to Hitler is too terrifying). There isn’t the same flow between storytelling and singing, but Disney was a bit rusty in the animated musical department.
            I was glad to see a strong female lead, going after her dreams and not letting the world tell her she shouldn’t. I remember how pleased I was when Pocahontas was released—finally, a Disney princess from a culture like mine! I was happy that Disney provided a heroine that African-American girls could be excited about, while children of all ages and genders would learn from her headstrong, iron willed character.
            Dreams always have a prominent spot in Disney feature films. Or at least they do so far. Dreams affect character development—in fictional characters and real people alike. Tiana, for instance, has the dream of opening her own restaurant. Her dream takes over her life: she works multiple jobs to save up for it, she rarely sleeps, and she never goes out with friends. Then the time comes when she has to choose between pursuing her dream and following her heart.
            It’s a common conundrum: following your heart or pursuing your dream. In fact, just last week a relative stranger (I had seen her once before in the computer lab where I tutor, seeking advice on using Skype; she is mostly stranger) asked the other tutor present and myself what we would do if we were offered our dream job overseas, but our husband and aging dog had to stay behind and sell the house (and wait for the dog to die, apparently). I knew my answer immediately: I would stay with my family. Of course, my dream job is writing for Disney (preferably animated features, thus my Disney-education in animated film history), which is not located overseas. She was enthralled with the idea of being surrounded by a different culture. I couldn’t imagine not spending as much time as possible with my ailing dog.
            But I am unusual in that respect. I feel very deeply, which means I love very deeply. I still sadden when I think of my childhood dog, Duke. He was with us for so long; how could I not be there at the end? The same goes today for my current three dogs. A customer at the bookstore where I worked for 3.5 years once told me the death of a pet hurt less when you have children. My mother, from whom I get my deep-love temperament, disagreed. It’s an entirely different kind of love one feels for a child versus a pet. Perhaps that is why we love our dogs so much: they aren’t merely a pet for us. They are a member of our family.
            The other tutor said for her, she would go. She is of the same temperament as the other woman. I love a good adventure (thus moving to Alaska from Florida), but I only went on this adventure because my family—my husband, our three dogs—would be joining us. In fact, we all five shared a plane (well, along with the other hundred or so people traveling; what I mean is that our dogs were on the same plane as us).
            The woman left, unsure of what she would do. While leaving Alaska to go to California or Florida and write for Disney would cause some trepidation—we love the culture here, where local business still booms and children ride their bikes to the gas station to get a coke—and so choosing between lower 48 culture with my dream job and living in the place I fell in the love with…it would be difficult. But moving overseas and leaving my family behind? I don’t have to hesitate to answer. There isn’t enough money in the world for that.

Friday, October 7, 2011


I’d rather not put my foot in my mouth (again) by recounting my disappointment with Pinocchio as a child. I only watched it once and I only remember the bit with the whale (and the nose growing, of course). So I’m going into it with an open mind and am looking forward to the bonus features. I’m learning a lot about Walt from the bonus features, so I’ll keep getting myself into trouble with them.
            I had seriously considered leaving my childhood disinterest in poor Pinocchio out of this entirely. But—Hakuna Matata or no—the past has an effect on who we are and how we view things. Since Snow White schooled me, I was actually excited for Pinocchio to arrive. Thankfully it arrived the day after The Lion King’s Blu-ray release, as I spent a good four hours watching the bonus features and film-with-commentary that epic day. Back to Pinocchio, though. I was all geared up and ready to watch. I put it in the player and watched the previews excitedly (yes, I love previews so much I even watch them at home. There’s something exciting about seeing scenes of a film I haven’t seen and something nostalgic about watching scenes from a film I have seen).
            I decided to start with the bonus features in an effort to put me in a good, open-minded mood. But….there really weren’t any. There was a commentary (I’ll be honest—the only commentary I’ve ever watched is on Lion King, and that was only because I had seen it in theatres two days before and didn’t feel like I was missing out on seeing the film itself by having the directors and producer talk over my favorite characters), a modern music video by some teenager I’ve never heard of (and this despite my active Disney Channel viewing!), and sing-alongs to all the songs. So I ended up starting off a bit disappointed, despite my efforts.
            I’m sad to say, but Pinocchio was basically as I remembered it. I had to fight to keep paying attention; thank goodness for Jiminy Cricket. He provided endless entertainment—at least for the grown-ups watching. The story just didn’t draw me in. I was disappointed in Pinocchio for not missing his father, or thinking about missing his father, until he was caged. He wasn’t concerned about worrying him at all. Since Gepetto had waited so long to have a little boy…it was just a little too heartbreaking. Of course, I’m also too sensitive.
            I was also disappointed that no one saved the bad donkeys of Pleasure Island. It’s as if they were just forgotten! And sent to salt mines, no less! Oh Walt, what were you doing with that? On the one hand, it may have frightened little boys into behaving for a few hours. On the other hand, it doesn’t say a lot about putting the greater good (helping the donkeys) ahead of yourself (returning home and then subsequently rescuing your maker—I mean, father). I  thought at least Pinocchio would tell Gepetto about the bad donkeys so they could notify the authorities. But…nothing happened. Perhaps it has something to do with the war in Europe, as this film was released in 1940. Maybe Pinocchio is an allusion for the U.S. and the lost boys for Europe. He got a bit tangled up, but found his way out before he turned into a total jackass.
            Now before you get discombobulated for a Disney girl saying jackass in a blog, go watch Pinocchio yourself. It’s said at least three times. Apparently saying jackass when referring to a donkey—quite literally—wasn’t a ‘bad’ word in 1940. Also, my little Pleasure Island allusion theory is just that—a theory. I can’t even say I put a lot of thought into it; I’m just trying to find a way to excuse Walt for dooming all those poor little misbehavers to a life of misery in an animal’s body.
            I can’t say I know a lot about technology or that I am particularly gifted at it. I know a rough outline of how animation works and mostly that Walt is the pioneer of the animation world. But even my untrained eye can see the amazing strides taken in the three years from the release of Snow White to that of Pinocchio. From Pinocchio’s dancing wooden form to the evening star, advancement in animation and the way it was created is clear.
            I do wish there had been more special features on the Blu-ray of Pinocchio. I would like to know what was going on at the Disney studio during this time that influenced the film, and how things changed.
            On a positive note, I’d like to mention that I loved the relationship between the cat and the goldfish. I liked that while any other story would peg them as enemies- predator and prey—this one didn’t. The cat may not have loved the goldfish (well, not until the end), but he never once tried to eat him. Including when they were all in the belly of the whale and starving to death. Also…how did the cat and the goldfish survive being swallowed by a whale, living inside a whale, and the escape of the whale? It’s not difficult for me to suspend disbelief, but when Gepetto and Pinocchio are rafting out of the whale, the goldfish and cat aren’t seen. In fact, they aren’t in the film until everyone washes up on shore. So where were they?
            Alaska has opened my eyes to odd relationships. Moose and Alaskans, for one. The people hunt moose and use it as meat, yet brake for moose so they can safely cross the street (and not total the car). When moose are seen eating on the side of the road, it’s an “awe” moment, not a “where’s my shotgun” moment. There’s a delicate balance of respect and need—they respect the creature when they aren’t hunting it. Of course, this is a blanket statement and I’m sure there are people who see a cute moose on the side of the road and do wish they had their hunting weapon with them. This is merely my observation of the circle of life (hmm how many times can I mention The Lion King in the Pinocchio section?), Alaska style.
            Our life in Alaska has always been interesting. The house hunt is also interesting. We’re having to choose between a neighborhood like what we grew up in versus living in the country (so to speak), where we could even have a horse on our .46 acre lot. There are lots of decisions to be made, and I am not a fan of decisions. There’s also the fact that houses are more expensive here, because of the cost to ship materials up here. I may be wishing on my own evening star that we find the house that’s right for us.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


    Think back to good ol' Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas (you didn't really think I could go a whole post without mentioning a Disney movie, did you?!) touching the water and demonstrating how one small action can turn into bigger ones. Surprisingly, my intent wasn't to cause a ripple effect. I simply wanted to make the outside of our four-plex look more inviting for when my in-laws visited. I was pleasantly surprised to discover my little action of putting two flower pots on our front steps turned into everyone, except for the loud girl upstairs, taking action to make our building a little nicer.

  It started with my little green gardening containers and some clearance flowers from Lowe's. I potted the flowers and put them on either side of our 4x4 front porch. I'd also vacuumed the entrance hall shared by all four tenants and straightened the rug, putting the giant bag of salt in the closet under the stairs (this was August. Why the salt hadn't been put away when winter ended I don't know). A few days later, our neighbor across the hall put a big flowering plant in a decorative urn at the corner where her apartment turns into the garages. Then the two little boys upstairs painted giant rocks and put them beside my plants. It was an unspoken building revitalization project.

    I certainly didn't except our neighbors to follow suit and add a little personal touch to the outside of our building, but I was glad they did. Despite the fact we never shared more than pleasantries, it felt like we were getting along-- a little, at least. Upstairs girl never did anything-- other than pull the salt out to prop open the front door, letting tons of moths take over the hallway. Then spilling the salt all over the floor and not cleaning it up, despite 6 dogs and a toddler (all of whom have a tendency to put things in their mouths) share the same entry hall. So I vacuumed again.

   It may seem a stretch, but I kind of think my little apartment building in Alaska can serve as a metaphor for the bigger picture. There will always be people doing small acts of kindness-- whether for themselves or others-- and there will always be people to frustrate the nice ones by messing it all up (usually the day out of town guests arrive).

   On a less thoughtful note, The Lion King roared into stores yesterday. I stopped by Target on the way home from work to pick up my copy. I watched all the bonus features, with Charlie (who thinks he is a lion because he watched the film so much as a pup) laying by my side. I was kind of bummed when I finished all the bonus features...then I realized I had gotten home two and a half hours earlier. Oops. Of course, then I had to watch the movie. Since I had just seen it in theatres Sunday, I watched it with the directors commentary, which was very enlightening (and often humorous). Basically, after I got home from work TLK ruled my day. So all is as it should be. I just have to has the most amazing disc menu I've ever seen. And if I ever do win that elusive $5000 gift card from Target for doing their surveys, then the first thing I'll buy will be the 6 blu-ray disc set in the wooden box for $74. And it will be amazing.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Snow White, Tangled and The Lion King (...again)

I've officially embarked on the (re)Discovering Disney project and am thoroughly enjoying myself-- and learning a lot more about my icon-- in the process. This post will be organized by the films I've watched so far. And The Lion King has another post...out of order...because I saw it again. And again.

P.S. This post is super long because I might be making this project into a book. Brace yourselves, lads. (ha-- Peter Pan reference: 10 points if you got it!)

Snow White

I had the very best of intentions to watch Snore Snow White on a Wednesday in September. But then the sun came out, and for the first time this fall (which in Alaska basically started September first), my husband and I were both off work at the same time. Part of our adjusting to post-graduate life and life in Alaska is both sharing a car and opposite schedules. In any case, we decided to take a drive up the Glenn Highway, east of Palmer, to take in the view.
            Earlier in the day I had run a secret, hubby’s-birthday-related errand and had to take a road we’d never explored before. I chanced upon a live-here-to-know-about-it scenic drive that gave us breathtaking views of fall foliage. We saw one of the many glacier-fed streams winding through a forest of varying shades of yellow and orange, the white trunks of birch trees showing through gaps where leaves had been before the wind whisked them away. It looked like something out of a movie (but a sweet Halloween movie, like Hocus Pocus, and not anything scary. I don’t do scary). An adolescent moose, looking even more awkward than moose naturally look, scampered into the empty road and back into the orange and yellow forest. In any case, watching my least favorite Disney movie was bumped from the agenda.
            As someone who loves Disney so much, people are often shocked to discover my dislike of Snow White. I don’t have anything against her, per se, it’s just that…well, every time I try to watch it I fall asleep. I mean that in the nicest way—if there is a nice way to say that the first animated feature film created under the leadership of my icon—Walt himself, of course—is a total snoozefest. But for my Disney project, I’m willing to give it one more shot.
            You know that phrase, eat your words? Well, I’m at the table. I watched Snow White for the fourth time in my life and…didn’t hate it. Albeit I was cooking dinner during the beginning. And flipping through a book in the middle. But in my defense, I had watched through the middle last Christmas, when I received it as a gift (I fell asleep before the end that day). But this time, I stayed awake during the whole film. While the film itself still didn’t completely hold my attention, the bonus features did.
            One would think, since bonus features got me into this mess, that I may avoid them in the future. One would think wrong. Clearly I never learn. I explored the extras on both discs and completed the task with a newfound respect for Snow White. Apparently the film was speculated to be the end of Disney—no one in the entertainment world could fathom why anyone would want to watch an hour and a half of cartoons, in Technicolor, at the theatre. The film was completed 2 weeks before the premiere. The animators hung advertisements on telephone poles because there wasn’t enough time to properly advertise it.
            The huge success of Snow, supported by 9 whopping returns to the theatre (all smash hits) in the decades following the original release, was completely unexpected. Well, by everyone but Walt, I’m sure. I had no idea that not only was Snow an underdog, but that she sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry, changing it forever. MGM gave Wizard of Oz the go-ahead based on Disney’s animated feature success. It didn’t just symbolize the rise of animation—Disney cemented that Americans, coming out of the depression, no less—could become engrossed in a fantasy world but still actually care about the characters’ and their respective destinies.
            My dislike of Snow White has officially ended. Knowing what I do about the history, I can relate to her a lot more. Her voice still kind of irks me (that high of a pitch irritates my ears, but only because my hearing is super sensitive. I often say I have hearing like a bat…because it’s true). I know what it’s like to be an underdog—try telling family and friends, all of whom live in Florida with you, that you want to move to Alaska. I’m pretty sure no one actually thought we’d go through with it. At least, not until we got on the plane.
            I’d always thought Snow White was a weak character. She doesn’t do anything to defend herself when the huntsman is about to attack, just cowers and screams. Then, when she runs away, she has a little meltdown and starts seeing things. I get it, fear makes you crazy. But when she comes upon the dwarves, she is still too trusting (considering her step-mom just tried to have her whacked). Then she takes food from a stranger (nice lesson to add in, Walt. Well played) and croaks (temporarily). Why doesn’t she fight back? Or stand up for herself? She just didn’t seem like a strong role model.
            As an adult, I see how she didn’t even falter when her royal life was wiped out from under her (even if she did start the film in rags and go flower-picking in a nice dress). She never cries or whines about her belongings or her old life. The only thing she misses is the Prince she met. She picks herself up, dusts herself (and the dwarves’ cottage) off and begins anew. That’s pretty admirable. I also have to remember that strong female characters weren’t exactly the norm in the culture of the 1930’s.
            Walt himself is also pretty admirable. He hired 300 additional artists during the depression in order to complete Snow White. If only he were here today to continue that tradition and hire loads of people during this economic downturn. (Although I often visit the Disney jobs site, and they are continually hiring people, so that’s a plus). His constant pursuit of dreams continues to inspire at least me, and I’m sure thousands of others. Thus I have the inspiration to watch every animated feature his company produced (and yes, I did get teary when they mentioned the year he died in the “Disney through the Decades” special feature).
            Because I work as a semester-to-semester employee at a University, I often have an entire month off from work. Before you feel jealous, think of having an entire month without pay every May, August and December/January. It stinks. I love my job, tutoring college students, but the schedule can be hard to cope with financially. In my months off, I would mope about not being able to find other employment for just a month and feel super stressed every time we went to the post office (yes, USPS does not deliver to our house. Welcome to Alaska). Next time I find myself temporarily out of work—with the knowledge I’m guaranteed to start back in 30 days—I’m going to take the Snow White route and just move on.


Tangled is my second favorite Disney feature. I saw it in theatres and bought it on Blu-ray (with a coupon, of course). This is most likely because I can --without a doubt-- relate to Rapunzel the most. And it has Maximus the horse, who is just plain hilarious. Between him and Pascal, the chameleon, I was in stitches. This is my go-to pick-me-up movie. It makes me laugh and I only get teary at the end. I love the music, as well. (As opposed to The Lion King, my favorite Disney film, which makes me cry over and over and over again. Oh Mufasa—why must you die?! More on that in The Lion King later).
            When Will My Life Begin was my anthem until our 6 month mark in Alaska. I was sitting around, going through the motions of living without really trying to make myself happy here. When we first moved to Alaska, we encountered a period of struggle unlike any I’d ever gone through before. We found out later that Anchorage, where we flew into and planned on living, has a kennel law: if you have more than two dogs, Anchorage considers you as a kennel and you can’t rent from any apartment complex. This left my husband, myself and our three large dogs (ranging in size from 45 pounds to 70 pounds) living in a one-room hotel room at a Motel 6. We weren’t allowed to leave the dogs in the room unattended, so everywhere we went from work to the grocery store, the dogs were in the back seat of our rental car (thank goodness for lint rollers and vacuums, or we’d have been out $250 to the rental car company).
            Our first month was incredibly difficult. We called every apartment complex in the city, trying to find anything that we could move into. We called privately listed homes, but unlike in Florida, most privately rented homes are through property management companies with similar pet policies to the apartments. We went searching for a house to buy, but we had both been on our jobs for less than a month, which wasn’t particularly attractive to lenders in this oh-so-friendly housing market.
            After two weeks in a hotel room that did not have any kind of kitchen—there was a microwave in the lobby and we kept an ice chest in our room, so our meal-preparation and eating was less than healthy or, for that matter, even good—I lost hope. I thought, we came all this way only to fail in less than a month? Some pioneers we are. I started fantasizing about renovating a vacant house my family owned in Oklahoma. I drew up floorplans from memory and priced flooring materials and bathtubs. I talked endlessly about how I’d love to fix up this 1930’s era house.
            Right before I drove my husband crazy with talk of wanting to give up and move to Oklahoma, we found an apartment. It’s in the boonies—even by Alaska standards—and while it doesn’t look like people get murdered there on a regular basis, it doesn’t look like the most successful people live there either. But our dogs were okay and it had a kitchen, so I was sold. We found out quickly that our upstairs neighbor was…loud, to put it mildly. To make up for the lack of friendly neighbors, we found a great church just seven miles down the road (which, by Alaska standards, is practically next door).
            Unfortunately, the reprieve we felt from not being trapped in a 300-square foot kitchen-less motel room didn’t last very long. A mostly empty apartment (we sold most of our furniture before moving and only brought the necessities, like our television, half my books and most of our kitchen tools/accessories; our new-furniture budget was used on a month in a hotel and a deposit on the apartment), three dogs not used to living in an apartment and a very, very loud upstairs neighbor sent me clamoring back to my dreams of the lower 48. I found a job teaching middle school language arts near Ayden, North Carolina, a small town near a big town on the East Coast. I started chattering about moving to Ayden, and being a teacher, and looking at houses there, and proceeded to drive my husband crazy yet again. Thankfully he is patient and held out hope that I’d fall in love with summertime in Alaska, like so many people have.
            Summer in Alaska is truly spectacular. The evergreens, which provided a Currier and Ives setting during the winter, were eclipsed by bursts of green from birch trees and the vast amount of wildflowers. Fireweed, a pink-purple flower, began growing everywhere. Lupine and daisies sprung up along the sides of the road and in fields. I felt like we’d stepped back in time, with warm (ok, it never got higher than 76 degrees F, but that felt warm. Especially since we got six inches of snow—on St. Patrick’s Day. Yes, that is in March) sunny days and the mountains covered in shades of green from the newly bloomed trees. Children play in the lakes and people are constantly canoeing, kayaking or sailing on the same lakes. Fluffy white clouds would dot the sky, and all was well.
            Except that it rained. A lot. We’d have four days of sun followed by five days of rain, so on and so forth. But now that it’s fall, and termination dust (the snow that falls on the mountain tops that signals the ‘termination’ of summer) has fallen on the mountains, I can go back and re-write my summer memories to mainly consisting of sunny, warm days (even though most days the highs were in the 60’s,  but again—that felt warm).
            Rapunzel is a dreamer, but she also makes the best of her situation. She keeps busy and entertains herself. Then she goes out on a great adventures, learns a lot about life and herself, and makes her life what she chooses it to be. That’s kind of like what I did, except I’m already married to the love of my life (that patient, patient man who didn’t rip all his hair out with my moaning and groaning and dreaming about living somewhere else) and we’re already on our great adventure. But I finally learned to enjoy it.
            It was mid-August when my in-laws came to visit and we got to show them our favorite places in Alaska and explore new places. It wasn’t until we began exploring all these new, exiting places—and saw lots of wildlife—that I really began to enjoy living here. From seeing a whale in Prince William Sound to a grizzly bear in Denali National Park to playing with a sled dog puppy at the Iditarod Museum (conveniently located across the street from our church and just seven miles from where we live), I began to really experience Alaska.
            Instead of focusing on Rapunzel’s “When Will My Life Begin” theme, I focused on finding a new dream. A dream that actually takes place where we already live. I finally realized that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, so I may as well enjoy it.
            So now we’re looking to buy a house. In Alaska, land of dreams. Well, my dreams—now.

The Lion King...again

Tomorrow, my favorite Tuesday in October, The Lion King comes out on Blu-Ray. It will be a happy, happy day. Leading up to that, Disney re-released the epic film back into theatres for two whole, glorious weeks.

I may have seen it 3 times in theatres. I may have personally contributed $36.25 of this year's re-release box office total of (approximately and according to Wiki) $61 million dollars. HA! That's awesome. Lion King love!

Ahem. Sorry about that. Anyway, it's not every day that my favorite movie is re-released into theatres (only 3 times in 17 years and I didn't get to go the second time because it was only at IMAX and Indiana didn't have IMAX yet. Or if they did it was in Indy, and no one would take me.) ANYWAY, I saw it twice in 3D and once in 2D and it was amazing each and every time.

While I'm not (yet) at the point where I ask myself WWMD (What Would Mufasa Do), I do have a deep and unconditional love for this film. After all, Charlie (our 70 lb collie whom I've had since he was a 7 week old terror) grew up watching TLK and even thinks that he is a lion (complete with roar-esque groaning noises).  The Lion King love is seriously strong in our house.

I'm beyond happy that the rest of the world--and a whole new generation of kids-- have been able to experience this amazing feature in theatres again. And in 3D! Zazu flew over my head. Scar jumped at my face (can you say SCARY?! Huh, s-c-a-r are the first four letters of scary. I wonder if that is a coincidence?!). Basically, it was awesome, and I'm still reeling from it. So I had to tell you about it. Again (x2).

That's all for now. Pinocchio should be arriving via Netflix/ Quickster (I mean really--- why'd they have to change?! No me gusta) mid-week, so expect a weekend report. I say weekend because of course I'll be in Lion King blu-ray heaven until then. :)

Hakuna Matata!