Thursday, March 29, 2012

Feel the Love: The Lion King

             Shockingly, this will be the hardest chapter for me to write. When you love something as much as I love The Lion King, it’s hard to put into words—even for a writer. In addition to my immense LK love, I know so much about it. I could write an entire book just on Lion King. My favorite college paper was one I wrote for advanced Shakespeare—about this film (you would be surprised how many Disney films wormed their way into my papers. Or maybe you wouldn’t. If you’re thinking I often wrote about Disney, you’d be right.).
            My love affair with The Lion King began in 1994, the year it was theatrically released. As it happened, I was staying with my aunt in Pryor, the one I’ve mentioned before. We were sitting in her living room, and I was trying to convince her to take me to see The Lion King. She was concerned it would be too emotionally trying for me. We were sitting on opposite ends of her couch, the morning sunlight slanting through the blinds, with the morning paper in the middle seat between us. On the front page, or the front page of the Arts section, was a giant, color photograph of Simba and Mufasa under the stars together (those familiar with the film will realize this is the scene immediately preceding the stampede). Having read the article and its warning about the emotional distraught brought on by Mufasa’s heartbreaking death, she was trying to gauge my desire to see the movie versus the amount I cry when animals die in movies. Finally, she sighed.
            “This movie will be sad. He dies,” she said, pointing to Mufasa. I nodded solemnly, as I didn’t yet have an emotional attachment to Mufasa. “If I take you to this movie, will you promise not to cry? Remember, it’ll be sad. The paper says it’s really, really sad.”
            “I promise. I won’t cry,” I said, excited that we’d be going to the Allred and seeing Disney’s summer release as we did every summer.

            Fast forward to later in the day. We’re sitting in a dark theatre, surrounded by other kids and their parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents. There’s the usual occasional whispering as an adult explains to a kid what’s going on. The fans whirred softly, moving the icy cold air around the theatre. I see Mufasa and Simba lying under the stars, with Mufasa alluding to death. I’ve completely forgotten he dies, and wouldn’t expect a main character to die this early in the film anyway. The next scene opens, with Scar leading Simba into the gorge. The hyenas cause a stampede. Mufasa rushes to save Simba; I hold my breath as he bounds through the charging wildebeests, puts Simba safely on a rock. I gasp involuntarily when Mufasa is ripped from Simba by the horns of a wildebeest, and relax a little when I see him climbing a sheer rock wall to safety. Then, Scar, the claws, “Long live the king.” Mufasa falls, back down, into a sea of whirly dust. I’m still not worried, cats always land on their feet, right? Right? My eight-year-old brain is trying to convince me that this isn’t where it happens, the movie is still in the beginning, practically.
            Simba rushes back into the gorge, looking for Mufasa. He finds him, tried to make him get up, calls for help. I’m biting my lip so hard it starts bleeding, just to keep from crying. Tears cloud my eyes, distorting the large screen in front of me. I hear a hiccup and look to my right, where my aunt is sitting. She’s sobbing. That is so not fair! She said I wasn’t allowed to cry! At that point, I finally let the tears I’d been holding back cascade down my little eight-year-old face. From that moment on, I always cry when Mufasa dies. I can’t not shed a tear. He’s Mufasa; he’s amazing and wonderful and I love him.
            From the first time I saw the film in theatres that day, I was in love with it. I still am; I watch The Lion King fairly regularly and coincidentally have to leave the room around the time Scar leads Simba into the gorge. Emotionally, I can’t take it. The funeral isn’t much better; Sarabi and Nala’s reactions always broke my heart. Now, as an adult—even one without children—I can’t imagine anything worse than losing your child. To lose your child and your husband in one day is just too unbearable.
            Last September, I was offered a rare but glorious treat: Lion King returned to theatres for two weeks in 3D. I may have seen it three times (in two weeks…). It was glorious and wonderful, and exceeded every expectation I had. I will forever be haunted by a 3D Scar jumping through the fire, trying to attack Simba.
Imagine THAT in 3D!

When the Blu-ray version came out a few weeks later, and conveniently right before my birthday, I bought it the day it was released. I sat down, watched the entire movie twice (once with commentary, once without), marveled at the amazing quality combination of Blu-ray and hand drawn animation, and watched all of the special features. I was entranced and in a Lion King coma for over four hours. I am obsessed, I can admit it. But it isn’t a problem; it’s like being in love with someone. Except it’s a few fictional someone’s. That’s not weird at all.
            My LK love is also the reason why my sweet collie, Charlie, thinks he’s a lion. I ‘adopted’ Charlie my freshman year of high school. During that time, my overactive imagination and impeccable memory had plagued me with terrible nightmares. In a preventative measure, I started playing the LK DVD in my room every night as I drifted off to sleep. I had the sound turned low and fell asleep before ‘Be Prepared’, and it significantly reduced the number of times I woke up, covered in sweat and thinking someone was trying to murder me. When Charlie came into the picture, he slept in my room. Being a seven week old puppy, he mostly slept during the day while I was at school. At night, he would lay at the foot of my bed (which faced the T.V.), or on the floor, and actively watch the movie. Since I got him when he was so young, he didn’t have many learned animal behaviors yet. He learned how to carry himself from watching animated lions every night. If you watch him closely, you’ll see it: he yawns largely, and groans simultaneously; he moves his shoulders vertically as he walks; and he lays predominantly on one side. His big fluffy collie-mane makes him look even more lion-like.

Puppy Pouncing Lessons

            While watching LK for this project, I made myself sit through the stampede. As I cuddled with Nala on the couch, I realized Layla was laying in front of the fireplace, actively watching the movie. So much so that when James walked up near her, she slowly turned her head away from the screen—as if she were tearing herself away. So apparently LK love doesn’t just belong to Charlie and me; Layla is now a fan too (I’d say Nala as well, but she doesn’t focus on any one thing for long enough to watch a movie). Of course my Nala is named after the Nala of the film; yet when Nala’s name is said on screen, she doesn’t seem to notice (sadly).
            I’ve learned a lot of interesting facts about the movie. James’ favorite fact is that the opening “Circle of Life” song was done in just one take, an hour before Hans Zimmer had to show it to the executives working on the film. The original film opening was dialogue heavy, to set the scene and plot up for the audience. When the directors and producer heard Hans Zimmer’s score accompanied by Lebo M.’s chant and the singing of “Circle of Life”, they changed the entire opening sequence of the film to include his entire score. For the trailer of the movie, they played that song and the opening sequence and had the big “The Lion King” letters slam onto the screen at the end, just like in the beginning of the movie. It caused the exact stir and anticipation they wanted.
            I know that in just the last chapter I said Alan Menken was my favorite composer. But he and Hans Zimmer are tied for first. I don’t know how I could have left out Hans Zimmer. Both composers write the most beautiful film scores I’ve ever heard. Alan Menken does Pocahontas and others, while Hans Zimmer did LK and Gladiator, among others as well. These two composers are the sole reason I listen to instrumental music. Before I heard their movie scores, I didn’t much pay attention how much music affects the movie. I saw it as just another part of film making, nothing that really makes or breaks a movie. I know so much better now, and I hate that I ever disregarded scores. It took the breathtaking work of these two revolutionary, amazing composers to make me see the light.
            During pre-production and production, LK was considered the ‘B’ movie, a summer release to tide fans over until the release of Pocahontas in 1995. The directors had to beg animators to come work on their film, except for the few who were animal lovers and just wanted to animate animals. The troupe that worked on LK was given a lot of opportunity. Many animators had never been a character lead animator before. The group that made this marvelous movie took this opportunity to show what they were capable of, and boy are they a talented group. They blew everyone’s minds.
            From the time I learned what a symbol was, I’ve loved the symbolism in LK. My favorite is when Simba steps into Mufasa’s paw print and realizes how much he must grow to be like the father he loves so much. The sheer amount of symbolism and modern dramatic mechanisms in LK is incomprehensible.
            Ironically, Elton John had to fight to keep ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ in the movie. Initially, the studio execs wanted to cut it. I’m not sure why or what motivated them to do so, but Elton John (Sir Elton John?) fought to keep it, and it’s a good thing he did—it won an Academy Award for Best Song. The other songs in the category were mostly from LK as well.
            There are many reasons why I love LK, but it basically boils down the this: LK is Bambi in Africa with Hamlet. One of the production crew even nicknamed it ‘Bamlet’. I’ve loved Shakespeare a long, long time. I’ve loved animals even longer. LK is an animated, animal filled Shakespearean play. What’s not to love?!
            The Lion King is still the top-grossing, traditionally animated (not solely CGI) movie in film history. The Broadway show is one of the longest running Broadway shows in history. Both have won numerous awards. It’s also the only film I’ve ever watched the entire movie with the audio commentary. Clearly I’m not the only one with Lion King love.

Our Alaskan lion

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Bear Necessities: The Jungle Book

            During the many summers of my childhood spent in Pryor, Oklahoma, I regularly tried to watch The Jungle Book. Staying with my aunt meant lots of movie watching; as an elementary school teacher, she owned lots of great movies. I would pop one in on rainy days or while I was waiting for her to wake up (as an adult, she didn’t enjoy getting up super early in the morning like I did until I was ten. Now I’d much rather sleep). I slid the VHS cover open and put the tape in the VCR countless times, watched the first ten minutes, then wandered off to play with toys or do something more interesting than watch that movie.
Bagheera, my favorite character
    As this is the last animated film that Walt personally oversaw, I was excited to watch it. Walt, being the micromanager he was, was very attentive to detail in all of his films. Once, for a Silly Symphonies Mickey Mouse cartoon, the animators purposely left out part of Mickey Mouse’s tail for one frame of film (seconds or a fraction of a second of film). Walt watched the nearly-completed short in its entirety and then said something along the lines of “That’ll work, but make sure you fix Mickey’s tail before you’re done.” With his death in 1966 (moment of silence in remembrance…), the fate of the studio was unknown. There was a lot riding on the success of The Jungle Book, and it wasn’t just financial success that was important anymore.
            The animators put even more effort into The Jungle Book in order to show their value and hopefully keep their jobs. The process of xerography was further refined and the backgrounds further developed in order to improve the visual experience. The Sherman brothers wrote most of the songs. “The Bare Necessities” was written by the original composer and lyricist for the film who was fired early on in the process because his music and lyrics were too dark and he refused to change them; ironically, the only song from the film nominated for an Academy Award was “The Bare Necessities”.
            Bill Peet, a story artist and animator I’ve talked about a lot in the last few chapters, left the Disney studio because of this film. He convinced Walt to do the film in the first place, but Walt felt the original story pitch was too dark; he wanted the story to differ from the Rudyard Kipling book of the same name. After Peet left, Walt gave the new head of story development a copy of the book and told them the first thing he should do is not read it. Peet and Walt’s relationship was never the same after The Jungle Book, though Peet does recall Walt fondly in his memoir.
            The stop-and-go nature of the film caused me not to like it so much. I can’t not like it at all, because it’s the last animated film Walt supervised. But I can’t really like it either, because I found myself reading about the film while watching it instead of just watching it. It didn’t draw me in and captivate me like Disney films usually do. Mowgli is kind of whiney and annoying; considering he’s lived in the jungle his whole life, you’d think he would get into significantly less trouble. Tarzan lived in the jungle from infant to adulthood, and he certainly didn’t get kidnapped by monkeys or entranced by a snake. Sheesh, Mowgli.
            While we’re on the topic of snakes, I feel very…uncomfortable with the voice actor of Winnie the Pooh voicing the evil Kaa the snake. That’s just not cool, man. I kept waiting for him to say, “Oh, bother” and go look for honey. I’ve heard that voice so much (he was also the Cheshire cat in Alice and Wonderland) that I associate him the most with Winnie the Pooh. Ironically, the Winnie the Pooh films came after Jungle Book, but growing up on the Winnie the Pooh shorts makes his voice much more recognizable as Winnie the Pooh (for some reason, I can’t just say Winnie. He’s Winnie the Pooh, not just Winnie. Which is odd for me, because Pooh isn’t a word I like to say).
            Normally I really hate the villain, but I had trouble hating Shere Kahn. Before you think I’m terrible, let me explain. I love tigers. I’ve loved tigers for a very long time. I even have a tiger friend at the Indianapolis Zoo; he comes to the edge of the enclosure and we stare into each other’s eyes every time I visit (James didn’t look like he believed me at first, but then he witnessed it so he can attest for my tiger friend. Whom, I’m sure, would not eat me if given the opportunity.) I love the character of Raja in Aladdin and still want a pet tiger because of that movie. I LOVE tigers (and tigger, too!). So having a tiger as a villain just wasn’t working for me.
            On top of that, the tiger wants to kill Mowgli such that Mowgli doesn’t grow into a tiger-hunting man. Man is the real villain in the film, as man hunted the tigers and gave Shere Kahn the motive to kill Mowgli. It’s really just self-preservation. And Mowgli is a bit of an entitled whiney brat, so there’s that. (Of course I’m not wishing Mowgli had died; but he could have been less annoying).
            On the topic of Mowgli, he’s a very disappointing character. He doesn’t learn anything about his experiences. He gets into trouble with every animal he encounters, save Baloo and Bagheera. The monkeys, the elephants, the snake…the vultures are nice to him, though. Baloo nearly dies saving Mowgli, and not thirty seconds later Mowgli is distracted and follows home the first girl to make goo-goo eyes at him. He abandons his friends for a girl. He abandons his principles for a girl. I just spent over an hour watching him fight to stay in the jungle (without thanking his wolf-parents, by the way—he didn’t even try to go back to them. Just walked away and whined about having to leave the forest), then his friend saves his life so he can stay in the jungle, and what does Mowgli do? Completely forget about his friends and his complete unwillingness to leave the jungle and follow a girl to the man-village. Ugh.
            On the plus side, I love Bagheera. He’s kind of the Jiminy Cricket-redeeming-character of the film. He may say he’s wiped his hands (paws?) of Mowgli and given him over to Baloo, but when Baloo cries for help with Mowgli, Bagheera rushes in to help save the day. I’m glad he gets what he wants, at least. And I’m glad he finally makes friends with Baloo—Baloo clearly needs a friend.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Discovering Pocahontas

            Like many kids, summer was always my favorite time of year in Oklahoma. No school, lots of swimming, plenty of time to read—what wasn’t to love? Every summer, my sister and I would spend a week alone in Pryor, with our aunt. This gave each of us a week of quality alone time with our Mom, and a week of quality alone time with our aunt and grandparents.
            Our aunt lived in an adorable, quaint yellow house. She had a lot of pets, from dogs and cats to birds and even a turtle. As an animal lover, I loved visiting and playing with all the animals. I also loved eating out all the time, as she and my grandparents rarely cooked. One summer, the week I spent with her included a daily Blue Coconut slushy from Sonic. One of our traditions was going to see a movie together at the Allred theatre.
            Pryor is a small town, about the same size as the one I currently live in. The Allred is an institution in this town and has the same old-timey look as when it was first built—in 1917. It has the old-fashioned outdoor marquee, the blazing lights, and--until recently—the same decorations inside. It’s played everything from silent films to modern 3D. It’s my favorite place in Pryor. Anytime I visit Oklahoma, I have to at least drive by the Allred.
The Allred theatre, in Pryor, OK.

            There’s always at least one day a week during Oklahoma summers that is too hot to do anything. It’s too hot to go swimming, too hot to drive anywhere. The heat permeates everything until even your hair is sweating. On days like these, all you can do is escape into a nice, cool movie theatre. The lights go down, the air is frigid, and the only thing sweating is your Coke in the cup holder. I also hold a special place in my heart for the Allred because it’s where I’ve seen some of my favorite animated movies. The summer of 1994, my aunt took me to see The Lion King there. The following summer, she took me to see Pocahontas there.
            The summer of Pocahontas was the summer I decided I’d be the best roller skater in Oklahoma. Due to my proclivity for injuring myself in the most mundane of activities (compound fracture of my elbow on the playground the previous year), my mom was very justifiably over protective. So when I started roller skating, every time I put those skates on I was first outfitted with a helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads. Once I was all wrapped up in that bubble wrap of padding, someone else had to put my skates on for me. I looked like that kid from A Christmas Story, but in an Oklahoma summer heat wave. I took all this equipment with me to my aunt’s house, prepared to roller skate up and down the sidewalk all day long every day. Day one, I put on all my padding and set out only to return soaking wet, drenched in sweat, ten minutes later. The bees and wasps were crazy with heat stroke and flying all zig-zaggy around the neighborhood. Heat and potential bee stings? No, thank you. I’ll just stay inside (my lack of having ever been stung by anything makes me absolutely terrified of stinging insects. It would be comical if it wasn’t so scary).
            At some point during that week, Pocahontas came to the Allred and we followed her. Everything about that experience is so vivid to me. Having lived with an overactive imagination my entire life, I was used to thinking about all sorts of things during movies. But as I sank into my not-that-cushy theatre seat and rested my sweaty forearms on the ice-cold plastic armrest, the moment the movie started my mind was thinking about only one thing: Pocahontas. I watched this magnificent story unfold beautifully on the large screen in front of me; I didn’t notice when people walked up the aisle—for all I know, there was a triple homicide that day but I didn’t notice, simply because this film drew me in and captivated me.
            The Lion King has my heart and is, of course, my favorite movie. But Pocahontas meant the world to me. As a proud member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, I love my culture. I love the history and learning more and more about this part of my genealogy. But that part of history is rarely explored in public schools. It doesn’t paint the good ol’ USA in very positive light, and so it often gets glossed over. As a Native American child, I was aware that I belonged to something special. I got special math tutoring, for one thing. I was friends with the other Cherokee girl at my school. We talked about our heritage and how cool it was. But we didn’t really have a role model; our culture wasn’t really a popular topic for fictional characters.
            That all changed with the release of Pocahontas. She was strong and smart, but still beautiful and sensitive. She was graceful, but she also went white-water rafting in a canoe. She taught me that not only was my heritage just as awesome as I always thought, but that I could be whoever I wanted to be: I didn’t have to be confined by what other people thought of me. I could be adventurous and feminine. I could be brave, but still be frightened sometimes. I could make myself into whomever I chose to be.
            Now, I know Pocahontas isn’t Cherokee, and I don’t want to allude that she is. But a Native American role model was revolutionary for me. Pop culture had failed to supply me with a positive Native American figure; the only Native Americans I saw were in Western films or cigarette commercials. Rarely in those cases were they portrayed positively. Pocahontas was mature and focused on finding peaceful solutions to the problems. She was spiritual and cared about what happened to her people as well as their land. She wasn’t afraid to see the world in a way that was different from everyone else.
            Historically speaking, the film isn’t particularly accurate—nor is it particularly inaccurate. The only written accounts we have of the actual Pocahontas and John Smith are written by English colonists; obviously they’re views are biased. With gossip what it is now, imagine what it was 400 years ago, when they were isolated from their culture and lacked diversions to occupy their minds. Pocahontas and her people weren’t yet recording their history in writing; oral traditions passed down history, which often leads to history becoming legends. Pocahontas’ story most likely had the same path. Her people told her story over generations orally, such that when it became a written history it had grown and become a legend. She was known to be both peaceful and playful; Disney portrays that well. I would venture so far as to say they captured her spirit well.

            As to the actual events, there is much dispute in the historical community over what actually happened. John Smith’s journals say she saved him, placing her head over his, willing to sacrifice herself. He felt he was in very real danger. Her people’s oral history tells us he was not in any real danger and she wasn’t even there; it was merely a ceremony to welcome him to the tribe. It was an adoption ceremony of sorts.
            Both accounts detail how close of a relationship Pocahontas and her father had. While he would have had many children, and many wives, Pocahontas was his favorite. Their love and respect for one another is clearly portrayed in the film. Her relationship with John Smith is disputed; granted, she was much younger in history when the English arrived than she was in the film. She was between ten and thirteen when they first arrived, but was a symbol of peace to them. She often accompanied her tribes-people when they brought food to the English during that first brutal winter.
            Disney also expedited the time frame for the film. The English arrive and have a terrible relationship from the get-go as opposed to arriving, having a positive relationship, demanding too much years later, and deteriorate the relationship further by kidnapping Pocahontas years later. Had they painted a historically accurate depiction, she would have been completely naked as a child. I doubt the MPAA would have let them keep their G-rating had that occurred.
            Disney expedited the timing, changed Pocahontas’ age to make her romance with John Smith more appropriate, and created a villain out of Governor Ratcliffe, as opposed to having the entire English colony be the villain. Historians can’t decide whether or not she married Kokoum after John Smith departed; oral tradition says she did, the English journals don’t mention it. Oral tradition also states that Kokoum was killed when Pocahontas was kidnapped, years after John Smith left.
             The John Smith-Pocahontas romance is disputed; they dealt with each other frequently, but no one knows for sure what the feelings were. His journals lead the reader to believe he had feelings for her, but who knows if he acted on them. If he had, would he have wanted to record them for posterity? He was 30-40 when she was an adolescent and teenager. Disney certainly couldn’t portray that, now could they? It is a children’s movie, after all.
            Or is it? They initially cut the “If I never knew you” song and sequence because children found it boring; it occurs in a climactic spot, after John Smith has been captured and is awaiting a dawn execution. The concepts of the film are very adult issues: finding a middle ground between different cultures, not assuming something is bad simply because it is different, fighting for what is right, even if that means going against everyone you know and love. Pocahontas loved and respected her father deeply, yet she still stood up to him when she felt he was doing the wrong thing. She put her life on the line to stand up for what she believed in.
            I can’t talk about this movie without talking about the music. I love Alan Menken’s compositions. If you had asked me five years ago who my favorite composer was, I’d have given you a blank look. Now I can tell you immediately: Alan Menken. He writes the most beautiful movie scores I’ve ever heard; they are full of meaning, regardless if you’ve seen the film. I liked the lyrics in this film as well, but because of how well they worked with the music. I still sing “colors of the wind”, “if I never knew you”, “Listen with your heart”, and “just around the river bend”. Basically every song that has absolutely anything to do with the title character. I’m so thankful they put the “if I never knew you” sequence back in the 10th anniversary edition DVD; it’s such a beautiful song, and it really shows how much they love each other.
           Everything about Pocahontas is beautiful. The animation, the backgrounds, the music; all meld so well together. It’s just lovely to watch. The play of shadows on faces, facial expressions and even just the way people carry themselves speaks volumes. James was surprised by the ending, plot wise. He wasn’t expecting John Smith and Pocahontas to not end up together. Perhaps this is why I love this movie so much: it’s so real and so unreal at the same time. They can’t be together, and that’s heartbreaking; but they weren’t, and they stay true to that. Sometimes in life, there is heartbreak. It’s heartbreaking when Kokoum dies, because he was largely innocent. But it’s also heartbreaking when these two people, who fought so hard for what was right, still can’t be together. It shows that they weren’t just fighting so they could be together; they truly care about their people and want everyone to live peacefully. It’s a wonderful message: to fight for what is right, even when you can’t benefit from it.
            Shortly after school started in the fall of ’95, I came home to find a very excited mother and sister. They led me up to my room, made me close my eyes, and led me inside. When I opened my eyes, I was astounded. They had gone and bought Pocahontas window curtains, bedspread, pillows. The whole nine yards. Meeko and Flit adorned the curtains, along with the stylized leaves from the film. My sheets, pillow shams and bedskirt were all Pocahontas themed. I loved it. I was embarrassed, because that same day I had said I hadn’t liked the movie because my friend didn’t. Standing in that room, surrounded by Pocahontas, I remembered what she stood for. I may not have said I liked the movie, but I didn’t say I didn’t like anymore either. Courage doesn’t grow overnight; it takes time. Now I am a courageous person who stands up for what she believes in. I will always cherish the memory of being led to my bedroom and seeing it, in all its Pocahontas clad glory and the love I have for the two women who created that memory for me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Brains over Brawn: The Sword in the Stone

            A lot of important messages have been shared in Disney animation over the years. Both here and in Meet the Robinson’s the lesson is that it’s not uncool to be terrifically smart. Intelligence is important; if there’s one thing you take from The Sword in the Stone, it’s that. The flip side is that you also have to find who you are and not just really on some eccentric old wizard to tell you.
            When I first put the movie in and hit play, James realized that this was the same Sword in the Stone he loved growing up; he recognized it instantly as his favorite Disney movie. I felt a lot of pressure instantly to like it, if only because he obviously does. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it’s not one I think I’d just watch randomly for fun. At the same time, it’s not one I wouldn’t watch if someone else wanted to. It’s a bit odd, I know; I might not choose it (Lion King is always first choice for me), but I’d still enjoy watching it again. There are a lot of funny moments, word play, and allusions to modern things that are witty. I laughed a lot while watching it, which is a good sign.

James’ favorite character is Merlin, but mine is Archimedes, the owl. He reminded me of Owl, from Winnie the Pooh, who ironically used to scare me when I was little. But as a grown-up (well, as much of a grown-up as one can be when really a child a heart), he didn’t scare me a bit. I loved that he was smart and stood up to Merlin; I loved how his feathers ruffled when he was upset (or, perhaps, ruffled? Clearly I should leave the word play to Bill Peet, the screenwriter for the film). Archimedes is the only character to stand up to Merlin and is thankfully by Arthur’s side when he pulls the sword (along with the funny line, saying “I told you to leave that sword alone!”). James loves how interesting Merlin is; how he’s been to the future (I keep calling it time travel; James says he lived life backwards, so he knows what’s going to happen but not the specifics of what’s happening while the story takes place). I can sort of see how the Genie, from Aladdin, is a comic spin-off of Merlin. They’re both magical and mystical, both are a little bit in their own little world. Merlin is a really interesting character, but he’s a bit of an “I’m always right and you just have to deal with it and if you die while learning, well, at least you learned something” kind of guy. When he doesn’t have precisely his way, he flies of to 20th century Bermuda. What’s so wrong with Wart/Arthur becoming a squire anyway? If he hadn’t gone to London, he wouldn’t have pulled the sword, after all. So take that, Merlin!
Archimedes the owl from Sword in the Stone
Owl from Winnie the Pooh

              Once again, expectations came into play. I was expecting the sword to be pulled in the beginning of the film, and for his journey from child to adult would go from there. But the sword doesn’t get pulled until the end of the film, with his journey from insecure, clumsy, kind-of-smart kid into an insecure, clumsy smart kind of kid. I was disappointed with the beginning of the movie because of this, but once James told me it was more about his journey to the sword instead of after it, I relaxed and began to enjoy the movie more.
            Once sequence I particularly loved was when they were squirrels. Merlin turns himself and Wart/Arthur into squirrels, and a female squirrel immediately falls in love with Wart/Arthur—as a squirrel! She chases him and takes all of his negative responses as acquiescence, and does his own pushing-away moves back to him. It’s all quite fun and games until someone gets their heart broken. She rushes down to save her love from the wolf, putting herself in danger. She saves him, and tricks the wolf into jumping off a cliff. While she’s hugging her squirrel-love, he turns back into a boy. She’s heartbroken and runs away. The last we see of her, she’s standing at the top of a tree, looking sad and heartbroken that her love has gone. I was so sad for her. James saw my face and said, “I know, it’s sad. And that’s the last we see of her. I remember thinking that when I was a kid, too.” So we never find out what happens to her; her fate is especially confusing, as Merlin said that squirrels mate for life. Does that mean she’ll go through life alone now?
            The Sword in the Stone is unique for Disney in a lot of ways. First, it had only one director; one of the nine old men, Woolie Reithermen, directed it. Secondly, Walt read the story, purchased the rights, and had Bill Peet write a screenplay for it before he’d decide to do it. Bill Peet wrote the screenplay, as opposed to the storyboarding technique that was typically used to write animated features.
            Bill Peet also did the character design for Merlin. He modeled Merlin on Walt himself; he even gave Merlin Walt’s nose! Walt was loved, but he was also argumentative and he didn’t like when people tried to change his mind after he’d made a decision. Bill Peet apparently saw a lot of Walt in Merlin, and so he used Walt as inspiration for Merlin without Walt’s knowledge.
            On to special features! I was a bit disappointed with the little Backstage Disney features. There was a scrapbook on the film, which you could digitally flip through. It was mostly concept art. Concept art is interesting because it shows you what the artists were thinking in the earliest stages of production. It’s always interesting to see how a character changes over time, along with the story changing. My favorite special features are the bonus shorts. Two short cartoons, one starring Goofy and one starring Mickey, are included on the disc. “Knight for a day” is Goofy’s, while Mickey’s has to do with capturing a giant.
            My favorite-favorite special feature is an excerpt from the DisneyLand TV show, starring Walt, as he gives a tour of the ‘magic basement’ at the studio. He does a few magic tricks and promotes the film. He even calls in the Mirror, from Snow White, to help him out. I love old footage of Walt; it’s so interesting to see him talk about his films. When you see someone who really loves what they’re doing, it shows. Walt really loved what he was doing, and it’s so easy to see.
            The xerography animation technique is again used in The Sword, having come out only two years after 101 Dalmatians. It’s not my favorite, as it looks a bit grainy (I don’t believe it’s been digitally re-mastered yet). Unfortunately it’s what they use until the 80’s, so I have a few more movies to go until another technique is used.
            I can’t talk about this movie without mentioning the transformation scenes during Merlin and Madame Mim’s Wizard Duel. It’s a true testament to brains over brawn, as Madame Mim is all brawn and Merlin is, quite frankly, all brains. Does Madame Mim’s voice sound familiar? Perhaps it’s because she also voiced Nanny in 101 Dalmatians. Two animated features in a row set in England, of course they had to re-use some voice talent. She does have a marvelous voice. It’s always interesting to hear a voice with such a different character. Nanny is so sweet and doting, while Madame Mim loves all things evil and terrible. They change into many different things, but you can always tell who is Madame Mim and who is Merlin. It’s such a fun scene. I especially love when Merlin turns into a walrus and lands on Madame Mim, pushing her into the ground.
            The Sword in the Stone was enjoyable. I tend to like stories with strong female leads, and there’s not a single female lead in the entire movie. I think James is more drawn to it because all the good characters are very smart, which sends a great message. It also has a scrawny kid, who becomes a smart, strong man. Although it’s a British story, it really exemplifies the American dream. Arthur/Wart wasn’t well thought of, he was mostly ignored, he was scrawny and small, yet he became this incredibly smart man, a legend, a great leader. He could become anything he wanted because of his intelligence. Smarts are important, as is standing up for yourself. Once he had the smarts, he stood up to Merlin (eek!) and became who he was destined to be.   

Friday, March 16, 2012

Darkness Descending: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I get that Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame is a classic. I get that Disney once again took an amazing story and turned it into animation, to share it with the worldwide community and expose children to magnificent stories to read later in life. While I usually agree with Disney’s alterations in the name of protecting innocence, I think they could have made a few more here. I would not want my child to see this movie. While they wouldn’t get the sexual undertones, I wouldn’t want them to even pick up on them. There isn’t a lot of character growth and there’s very little redemption.
            I tried to give Hunchback a chance; I really did. It wasn’t one I saw in theatres as a kid, but I did own the VHS. I watched it once and hated it. Quasimodo isn’t especially likeable and those gargoyles are just obnoxious. We spend the whole movie watching the gargoyles get Quasimodo’s hopes up about Esmeralda and then see her and Phoebus falling for each other in every other scene. You know his hopes are going to get dashed and there’s not a thing you can do about it.
            I’ll start with this: Quasimodo isn’t likeable. In the beginning of the movie, he is likeable. We know his story, we know how amazing it is that he isn’t a terrible person after being ‘raised’ by Frollo. We know how inherently evil Frollo is; maybe Quasimodo subconsciously detects that and that’s why he turns into a whimpering mouse around him. Watching oppression isn’t exactly enjoyable. Throughout the movie, we see him be realistic, and that’s great. Then the stupid gargoyles come in and convince him to go outside/pursue Esmeralda/ etc. And he listens to them! His mind is too easily swayed, which makes me like him less. He is selfless, and for that I like him. But that comes at the end, when I’ve already spent over an hour being irritated by him.
            We see Phoebus meet Esmeralda and save the day (with a Greek mythology pun too; got to love that!). We see him continually try to help her and save helpless babies and farm families and so on and so forth. But he doesn’t do anything to protect Quasimodo from the angry crowd after the guards start throwing tomatoes at him. The crowd wasn’t an angry mob before the guards added their insult; the guards caused the problem. Phoebus’ unwillingness to rectify the situation against Frollo’s wishes at this point shows his courage against oppression is due only to Esmeralda and his infatuation with her. He knows people are being abused because Frollo is looking for her, and he’s willing to help anyone who would’ve helped her. He also doesn’t do anything to help Quasimodo until Esmeralda starts helping him. His courage seems to be only fueled by her, which isn’t very honorable.
            There’s very little character growth in the film. Phoebus, Esmeralda and Frollo are all static characters; they are either good or evil, with no redemption and no changes occurring. Quasimodo becomes courageous in order to help the oppressed, but it’s also because of an infatuation with Esmeralda. He slowly learns his own worth and how his appearance doesn’t change the fact that he’s a good person. He’s finally accepted by society in the end, but he’s still insecure, which was one of his biggest problems. There’s also very little redemption. Phoebus redeems himself by saving the farm family and trying to help the gypsies. But other than that, no one else changes at all. Esmeralda learns to trust Phoebus, but only because he helped save her and fight for her cause.
            And now for the big one: the sexual undertones in this movie are ridiculous. Apparently the whole dang cast is in love with Esmeralda, the dancing gypsy. When she’s just dancing in her regular clothes, it’s not overtly sexual. But her act during the feast of fools looks like something more fit for a stripper’s pole. Oh wait, she has one of those! She takes a spear from one of the soldiers and uses it as a pole, to seductively dance around and slide down. No, really. Skip ahead to 2:20 and watch to 3 minutes. You'll see.
            In addition to Esmeralda’s stripper moves, Frollo further sexualizes her in his song, “Hellfire”, about how lustful he is towards her. She appears dancing in the flames, still taunting him. He sings about how she can choose him or death. The MPAA made Disney redo this scene, requiring her clothing to be more well-defined. Yeah, because the song lyrics weren’t terribly, horrifically disturbing. Oh wait, they were. Thanks, MPAA, for making the fire-girl have a well-defined clothing line. That was super helpful and didn’t at all distract from the fact that Frollo will make her choose to sleep with him or die. Thanks for that.
            It’s a shame that Disney’s incredibly strong heroine of Esmeralda had to be lusted-up for that subplot. She’s strong, an independent thinker and, if not for the pole-dance, would be a great role-model for young girls. She can take care of herself, and she does so quite well. And she has an awesome pet goat named Djali, which is just so fun (though it’s pronounced ‘jolly’, which literally means fun! Yay goats!). On the plus side, I wasn’t ever concerned for Djali’s life, so that was a nice relief.
            Obviously Disney had to water down the book to make it suitable for children. I don’t know that they really accomplished that task. Frollo is evil enough without being consumed by lust for a person that belong to a race he’s trying to dispel from Paris. Oh, and by the way? Remember the beginning of the movie, when Quasimodo’s parents were arrested? How they were both dark skinned gypsies, and Frollo killed the mother? Isn’t it odd, then, that Quasimodo would be a pale Caucasian instead of dark skinned, like BOTH his parents were? Huh. Funny.
            I thought Frollo’s death was incredibly appropriate, as he said the fire of damnation would claim evil souls or something of that sort, and then he himself fell into a fiery river. How did that happen exactly? I wasn’t totally clear on how Quasimodo manufactured lava in his bell tower and then poured it towards both the good people trying to save the gypsies and the evil people trying to kill people for their differences. What a chemist, that Quasimodo.
            Maybe this makes me a bad person, but I was disappointed that Frollo died instead of having to suffer the justice system for his crimes. Then again, it is the French justice system that Frollo was a part of, so perhaps fiery death is preferred.
            The goat was awesome, but I could leave the rest of the film on the cutting room floor. Sorry, Hunchback.  On the plus side, the musical composition was amazing. The lyrics were sometimes wonderful, sometimes eh. But I thought both “Bells of Notre Dame” and Esmeralda’s song in the church, “God Help the Outcasts” were wonderful and really the only high points of the film. The rest is just too dark. Disney is my escape from darkness; this film is like escaping to an even darker world.
            It breaks my heart to dislike two Disney films so much (this and Pinocchio), but I can’t help it. I do hope they’ll stay away from such non-suitable material in the future. And I desperately hope I like the rest of the films!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Paw Prints in the Snow: 101 Dalmatians

Released in 1961, 101 Dalmatians has yet to show its age. It’s actually older than my mom, but you’d never know it (well, you’d never know the age of either of them; they’re both young at heart, and young at heart-ers are a style that never fades). The animation does look a bit old, but it fits with the style of the film. As with all things Disney, there’s always a reason behind everything. I’ve always loved 101 Dalmatians and I probably always will, if only because it makes me feel better for having 3 dogs (it could always be worse—I could have 101!).
            101 Dalmatians came on the heels of Sleeping Beauty; what we consider a classic today was a commercial failure in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Walt and his studio needed income, especially as Disney Land was a huge drain on finances and Walt’s time and attention until and after its 1955 opening. Because of the financial loss of Sleeping Beauty, the Wald Disney Animation Studios had to find a cheaper way to make their films. Xerography was the answer. I’ve read a lot about it and heard a lot about it, but I can’t explain it—it’s too complicated for me. Something about taking photographs and Xeroxing them onto cells and then painting them or some madness. Anywho, it was a new animation technique that was first used on 101 Dalmatians. While using it kept the studio afloat and allowed them to keep making animated features, it doesn’t look especially technological or beautiful. It looks very stylized, which worked for 101, but I’m not sure if that same style will work for all for the remaining films between 1961 and the 80’s, when they changed the process again. The Disney films of the 60’s and 70’s aren’t as popular, so I’m a little nervous—but we’ll see. I did love the Aristocats growing up, and that falls into the xerography time period.
            Ah, puppy love. When I was young and watching Disney films, I had no idea how old some of them were. For instance, I had no idea that 101 Dalmatians was older than my mom. Locked in my own little world, I thought every movie was brand new the first time I saw it. Which means the first time that VHS with Pongo and Perdita on the cover got popped in, I thought it was a brand new film. And, for a child, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, its case matched all the other Disney VHS cases I had; it looked the same, it sounded the same; it had talking dogs; what’s not to like? And, best of all, it’s exciting!
            As an adult, I’m so thankful I know all the puppies are going to be okay. As I’ve grown, so has my hatred for Cruella De Vil. She’s so evil and mean. She’s one of the scariest Disney villains to me because she wants to hurt innocent baby animals. BABY ANIMALS! That’s even worse than wanting to hurt grown-up animals (but only slightly. Baby animals are more fragile and less likely to be able to get away. At least with other villains, they were being mean to people who were smart and could defend themselves with their wits or strength or something. But wanting to make a coat out of puppies? That’s just ridiculous. Who could hurt a puppy?!).            My love for animals in films has always overridden that of people-characters in films. If an animal dies, I sob and cry and try to always avoid that scene (to this day I cry when Mufasa dies. And Bambi’s mother, of course. It’s the reaction of the baby animals that gets me—and the fact that the animal that dies is always the good, kind one. I don’t cry when Scar dies, for instance. But he’s a villain so he doesn’t really count in the sad-when-animals-die category. That clearly excludes villains). Or, if I know the film ends in death, I avoid it altogether. Like Old Yeller. I’ve never seen it because I know the whole movie you fall in love with this wonderful dog and then, at the end, they kill him. No thank you! I’ll watch Homeward Bound instead and cry tears of joy when Shadow comes over the hill and is reunited with Peter (that’s how good the movie is—haven’t watched it in over a year but I still remember the boy’s name). Or with Marley and Me, I’ll watch the whole movie once and then only watch the happy funny bits when it’s on TV, and change the channel when it gets to the end and I know Marley’s life is nearly over. I tear up just thinking about it.
            But, conversely, if a person bites the dust, I’m usually like, eh. Oh well. It’s just a movie, after all. BUT, if it’s animated, I’m much more likely to cry (ie, Ellie in UP. That’s the only movie I’ve ever cried in the first eight minutes in about a person and not an animal). I know the actor is acting and that’s his job and whatever, but the animal character is much more real to me. The dog in the movie is just doing a trick; he isn’t an actor. He’s a dog. When a dog in any movie dies or gets hurt, I call my own pups into the room and love on them for a very long time. Animals are such a precious gift in our lives, yet their time with us is so short in comparison. Being reminded of that means I have to give my dogs a hug (thankfully Charlie, our collie, knows how to give hugs. No, really. He comes over and puts his big paws on your shoulders and lets you bury your face in his fluffy white mane, and then sneezes when he steps down like, “Well, okay, I was cute, I love you and all that mushy stuff, now let’s move on. Toy? Food? Treat? Please? Remember how good you felt when I hugged you?” He’s the best at giving hugs).
            That’s probably why I love 101 Dalmatians so much. For one, there are more than 100 dogs in a single movie, which is just awesome. Even more awesome: none of them die! And the reunion scene at the end of the film is so beautiful and long. Often I feel a little let down by the reunion scenes in lost animal movies. It’s like the characters are all, “Oh good, you’re home, now we can go back to normal and is that someone at the door?” and they walk off and the credits roll, and only two minutes was spent on the completion of a goal you just watched be worked towards for over an hour. It’s a rip off! But, as always, Disney does it right. An entire song is devoted to the reunion, as it should be. And it’s so joyous and happy, and it’s Christmas, so it is just the BEST. Isn’t that wonderful? When something is the best?
            So many dog movies either make dogs too smart or too dumb. But that’s not the case here. The animals can talk to each other but not humans. They help each other (I always wonder if I’m interrupting a Twilight Bark when I stop our dogs from barking at the neighborhood dogs and drag them inside?). Pongo and Perdy are smart in that they walk on the ice and cover their tracks, but that’s animal smarts. They don’t do anything ridiculous, and they fight like dogs would fight when they battle Horace and Jasper. The only scene when they don’t act or move like dogs is when they are trying to escape, during the Labrador-rolling-in-the-soot business. That part I totally believe. It’s Pongo hanging off the moving van with only his paws. The van would be smooth, not allowing for traction; he couldn’t have hung on like that. Because it’s an animated movie, I give them this allowance. I don’t allow it to bother me. But since I’m going on and on about how they don’t dumb down or overly smarten the dogs, I had to be fair and mention that scene. Now, back to the awesomeness.
            I always feel better about how many dogs I have when I watch this movie. I also always feel a little sad that our pets are ‘fixed’ so they can’t have puppies; I would just love to have little Charlies and Laylas running around, being adorable (Nala is much too small to have puppies—it would be dangerous for her health. She’s the runt of the litter).
            I do find it a little funny that we only ever hear about 5 of the puppies names in the movie. Patch, Lucky and Rolly are the main puppies; a few other names are said during the reunion scene. When I was little and again, in my own little world, I always thought I shared a birthday with the puppies. They say the puppies were born one dark and stormy night in October; well, I was born in October and one year there was even a tornado on my birthday. So that covers the stormy bit, and it’s always dark at night in Oklahoma. So there. The puppies and I clearly share a birthday.  I still like to think that, when I watch the movie. But that’s because I’m a-dork-able, and I know it.
            Unfortunately there weren’t any special features on my old DVD version. Well, a theatrical trailer and recommendations don’t count as ‘special features’ in my book. I liked that there were some Spring scenes as well; it’s mid-March and we’ve been forecasted for more snow. We’re already under a ton. I can see icy drops in big clumps falling from the roof now, but I fear our ‘break-up season’, when all the snow and ice breaks up and melts, is still far away. We’ve had a colder and snowier winter than usual, and I for one am ready for Spring. I enjoyed winter until March, but ‘Spring Break’ means to me that it should feel at least a little like Spring.
            I really liked the emphasis on paw prints in this film. There’s always so much symbology with paw prints that I like.  For instance, in The Lion King, Simba realizes his youth and inexperience when he steps into his father’s paw print and sees the amount he has to grow still. That’s one of my favorite scenes. In 101, the sheer volume of paw prints show how much pressure is on Pongo and Perdita. And, as a side note, props to Disney for naming Perdita. In the book, she is simply Missis Pongo, but they gave her a name of her own for the film, which I really like. She’s a major character and clearly deserves a name other than “Mrs.” The paw prints are also an issue for the escaping dogs, as they are a clear indicator to their predators of what path they’re taking. The paw prints and snow work against them, slowing them down and leading the villains to them.
            I loved how disastrously defeated Cruella is at the end. I also love that I’m not the only one who, as a child, missed that her last name spells ‘devil’. That and her house being called ‘hell hall’ is pretty indicative of how terrible a villain she really is. I think she’s often overshadowed by Maleficent and the Evil Queen from Snow White, but she’s pretty dang eveil herself. Horace and Jasper crack me up with their ridiculousness, but they are truly awful people and I do hope they got put back in jail.
            Thankfully for me Disney has quite a few dog movies in their canon. I’ve already covered this one, Bolt, & Lady and the Tramp, but I believe I still have few left. At least Oliver and Company, which I’ve never seen. And a few cat movies, too. But The Lion King is in that category (big cats), so I don’t mind it a bit.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Going the Distance: Hercules

            As a Classics minor and someone who has a not-so-secret love for all things Greek, Roman or mythological, Disney’s Hercules is laughably off base. But as a Disneyphile, I love it. I used to rewind the VHS repeatedly to watch Meg’s song, “Won’t Say I’m in Love” over and over (this is probably why my parents thought it a wise investment to have an old TV and VHS player in my room). Mythologically speaking, there’s very little accuracy here. But the music, flow and style are so wonderful that I can kind of pretend it isn’t totally off base.
            In Disney’s defense, they had never done a myth-based movie before. Fairy tales? Yes. Myths involving multiple cultures? No. Ron Clements and John Musker directed such successes as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin and, quite frankly, I’d expect a little more of them, research-wise. For one thing, neither the Greeks nor the Romans portrayed the gods as being rainbow-colored. Blue Hades? Pink Hera? Only Zeus and Hercules aren’t pastel, and they don’t look remotely Greek. I mean, the Sultan in Aladdin is white, but at least Jasmine looks Arabian. Although I really don’t know if these are the Greek gods or the Roman ones, because they use the Greek gods’ names, but Hercules is the Roman version of Heracles. With an A right smack dab in the middle. Whoopsies, Disney! Also, Narcissus was punished by the gods for vanity, but he wasn’t actually a god and wouldn’t be on Mt. Olympus. Odysseus really was a hero, without the disgrace that Phil is disappointed by. Achilles chose to be a hero instead of living a peaceful, non-famous life. He wasn’t mocked, he was a real hero. So was Jason. Perseus was weak and the girl did all his feats, but he was considered a hero too. So Phil was a little…off with his failures/broken dreams deal. Heracles/Hercules also was tricked into a rage and murdered his wife and children (Megara and their children). I think Disney was wise to leave that part out.
            Even while I was studying Classics in college, I enjoyed watching this film. It’s fun. The fates don’t share an eye, and the gods are constantly cheating on each other (and incestuous: Zeus and Hera are both married and siblings). Zeus didn’t banish the Titans and the Cyclops may not even be Titans, but it’s a fun movie. And it has a completely blatant Lion King reference, so it can’t be that bad.
            The music is especially wonderful. “Go the Distance” won an Oscar and my VHS version nearly got worn out on Megara’s song. The wonderful Alan Menken worked on the music, so it isn’t any surprise that the music is so amazing. The score is very fitting, with all the reprises of “Go the Distance.” I’m not really sure who decided Danny DeVito’s character should sing, but I may never forgive them. Of course, I’m a little biased. He’s a villain in Matilda and he’s not exactly a great guy in the TV show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I just associate him with negative, bad characters now. His singing didn’t really change my mind.
            The scene when Hercules is stolen and his parents discover he’s missing tugged at my heart more and more. Even though I don’t yet have kids, I can’t imagine the cruelty of having your child taken from you in the middle of the night, then finding them but not being able to tell them who you are or bring them home. It’s terribly unfair, and it just broke my heart.
            The style of animation is very particular. The vases and urns depicting Greek history and mythology in the beginning and “Zero to Hero” sequence actually really do resemble ancient Greek artifacts. The remainder of the film, with sharp lines and bright colors, has a specific style. The style works really well with the plot and music. It’s all very distinctive, detail oriented and just thorough (at least something is!)
            I doubt you have to wonder who my favorite character is. I’ll give you a hint: he has blue hair, white fur and wings. It’s Pegasus! (I bet for a minute there you were afraid I was talking about Hades with the blue hair bit. Hehe.). Pegasus is loyal, smart, loving. He’s like a giant puppy with wings. Who wouldn’t love that?! And he’s a good judge of character—he knows Meg is bad news the first time he meets her.
            Who are my least favorite characters? Pain and Panic, typically minions of war god Ares but in this version Hades’ dumb minions. They are annoying, cartoonish extreme parodies that I just don’t like. They detract from the plot, slow down the story and serve to be really annoying. And they’re weird looking.
            The Lion King reference is very blatant. When Hercules is posing for the urn painter, he’s wearing the lion skin of the Neamean Lion he fought, but the lion is actually Scar—right down the green eyes and scar. It shows his face multiple times.
Photo from
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 The flower Hercules gives Meg, immediately before her song, is the same kind of flower that Aladdin gives Jasmine on their magic carpet ride. She hums to it right before the Sultan and Jafar come into her room and tell her she’ll be marrying Jafar.
            The special features were seriously lacking. There was a short ‘making of’ segment that showed a few behind the scenes and gave some information the singing. And a quality music video of Ricky Martin singing “Go the Distance” in Spanish with bonfires burning all around him. Qual-it-y. Apparently he voiced Hercules in the Spanish release. The Spice Girls were originally considered for the singing muses. Oh, 1997. What a fun year. Thankfully the Spice Girls idea was nixed, as I don’t think the film would have worked as well or been enjoyable to watch after 1998.
            Hercules and his flying white horse are fun and punny, which is always a plus. If you know Greek myths, the puns are even greater in number. The modern day references in an ancient Greek setting (Air Herc mosaic billboards, the sandals, the slurpy cups) make for some laughs as well. And it’s nice to imagine yourself among the rolling green hills of Greece instead of the frozen landscape that you may be surrounded by (well, at least I am. I’m ready for the thaw, Mother Nature). 
            Most importantly, the lesson is extra special. Being true to yourself and finding where you belong, not lying (Pain and Panic), and choosing to be with your special someone, even if that means altering your plan or having your dreams evolve. It’s also important that they show Meg’s redemption. She made bad choices, but she made up for it—and was forgiven. Someone had to be the villain, which is why Hades was angry to be in the underwold (Zeus, Poseidon and Hades drew lots to see who ruled over what area). The villain had to be punished, which is why it was a good resolution to have Hades get drowned in a sea of angry dead souls (ahem, bodiless zombies!). Redemption, sacrificing for love, trusting your flying horse when he doesn’t like your date,  it’s all there. What’s not to like? 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Aurora Chasers

Growing up in tornado alley, I was always enchanted by thunderstorms. Much to my mother's dismay, I would run outside and watch the sky at the first rumble of thunder. When the tornado warning sirens wailed, she drug me inside. I would run around, collecting pets and precious stuffed animals to take into the safe area, a closet, while she tuned the radio and checked the flashlight batteries.For a certain number of years, we'd crack windows to avoid them busting. Once meteorologists dispelled that myth, that was no longer part of our tornado-preparedness routine. I would hold my pets close (also to their dismay-- cuddling, if it occurred, had to be their idea) and wait for the all-clear call over the radio. Then we'd inspect the damage, call relatives, and watch the news to find out where it had hit and what the damage was.

The amount of time it took me to tear myself away from the clouds directly correlates with my age. The older I became, the harder it was to coax me inside. My poor sister even once hollered out a window, "What are you doing? You're going to get struck by lightening! Get inside!" as clouds swirled over me and I stood, transfixed, in the center of the yard. My reply was that I wasn't wearing any metal, because clearly lightening only strikes metal. (This is false. I also realized about two minutes later that my bra had under-wire in it, and wire is, in fact, metal.) Thankfully, I did not get hit by lightening.  With as many times as I've stood in open areas, eyes turned upward as wind and leaves swirl around, it is truly miraculous I've never been injured or struck by lightening.

I loved weather and it was a bit of an obsession. I loved watching the Weather Channel (not the boring bits that just say the temperature; the exciting storm chasing shows.), loved reading about tornadoes, anxiously awaited for storms to see if I could spot the funnel cloud, and boy did I flip with excitement over the film Twister. From the time I learned that storm chasing was a real job, I knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. And model. And act, of course. And write, and win an Olympic medal in gymnastics. What can I say? I've always had a lot of interests.

Moving here, there, and everywhere put a kink in my storm chasing dreams. Moving to Indiana reduced the number of  tornado producing storms. Then I moved to Florida, and my hurricane knowledge increased while the tornado watches decreased. As a sidebar, I know how terrible tornadoes are. I know they cause destruction and death and, let's face it, are generally just terrible. I love thunderstorms and tornadoes fascinate me. But I can't love tornadoes because of their destruction. I find them interesting, I like knowing how they work and as a storm chaser, I would have helped alert people to the dangers and my goal would have been to find more early warning signs to prevent as much death as possible.

What I didn't realize when I chose to move to Alaska is that there are very, very few thunderstorms in Alaska. Like, one a year few. If you're lucky, there's five minutes of rumbling with three lightening flashes every year. If you're lucky. Which leaves me feeling especially nostalgic and miss living in places where the horizon meets in a blurred line of blue sky and gold prairie grass.

Since I can't track and chase storms in Alaska (because I am NOT chasing blizzards; are you crazy? It's COLD, and icy, and just terrible. No. Blizzards are not a storm system I want anything to do with. Give me crazy winds, rain and hail any day), I've channeled all my storm-chasing-wanna-be-ness into Aurora Borealis chasing. The Aurora Borealis has many names, including the Northern Lights. Bright colors fly through the night sky, looking all cool and awesome and whatnot. They often look like this:

I would love to give a photo credit here, but found this photo in our downloads folder on our computer and have no idea where it came from. If you know, please tell me so I can give credit where credit is due. Thanks!
The Aurora are visible in Alaska between October and March each year. Last winter, we went chasing  them a few times with no luck. Then we saw them, very lightly, from our driveway one night. It was really just a green tint. Which is really interesting, because there's a green flash in Florida and the sky in Oklahoma gets a green tint before a really big storm. Something cool will happen if the sky goes green; just wait for it.

Last week, the week of the Iditard (best race on Earth!), a major solar activity occurred which produced the biggest Auroral display of the past 5 years. Last Thursday and Friday night were supposed to be especially awesome, so we prepared. J was off Saturday, so Friday night we headed up a mountain with some friends. Because the closer you are to the sky, the more amazing the show is. And the further from city lights. So up the mountain we went.

We got to Hatcher Pass recreational area around 11 and made it to the top, stopping a few times to check the sky, by 11:30/11:45. The Aurora is usually best seen between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The moon was bright and the clouds appeared to be receding; we were hopeful that this time our efforts wouldn't be for naught. We waited. And waited. It got colder...and darker. What doesn't make sense there? Why would the sky darken between 11 and midnight? Because the moon was slowly being covered with clouds. Which means the sky was being covered with clouds. Which means that our group, as well as the other ten plus cars up at the top, were officially out of luck. If it's overcast, the aurora isn't visible. The biggest Auroral event in five years, and we missed it due to cloud cover.

Curse you, beloved clouds. Curse you.

On the bright side, more major activity is forecast for this week. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll have pictures better than this one, from last week:

(That's the clouds covering the full moon).

What else have I been up to? Well, I baked this:

This is Olive Garden's Black Tie Mousse Cake, as made by yours truly. I have to tweak the recipe a little before I do it next, which will probably be a very long time from now. It's four layers of decadence. That means that it's ridiculously bad for you. If I made this more than once a year, I would have a heart attack before 30. However, James has said he wants this instead of birthday cake every year from here on out. This took a FULL day to make.

Paw Prints in the Sink has Twitter-pated (ahem, had to have a Bambi pub, sorry). I'm officially on Twitter and Pinterest under the name PawPrintsInSink. Once I have stuff up, I'll link to it from here. Look for Hercules' post later this week :)