Top Ten: Disney Sidekicks

Ok, everybody, this is it. The last list, and the last Disney Canon-related article I’ll be writing for a long time. Well, at least until the release of Big Hero 6 later this year. As for this final list, it was inspired by a rather fantastic article in the New York Times about a couple of parents reaching out to their autistic son through Disney movies. If you haven’t read the article, you can click here. It’s a little long, but worth the read. Anyway, one of the important “plot points” in the article involves Disney sidekicks, so I decided to pay tribute to them with a list. After all, they are more often than not the characters we end up loving the most, and definitely the ones I liked best as a kid. Without further ado, the ten best Disney Sidekicks…

Genie10. The Genie
From Aladdin
Sidekick to: Aladdin, young, handsome vagabond, and diamond in the rough.
So many people have retroactively hated on the Genie for a) being voiced by Robin Williams, whose career and  comedy, granted, hasn’t aged as well as one would’ve hoped, and b) because it opened the door to hundreds of horrible celebrity voice work. I would answer both points by saying that 1) Robin Williams was at the absolute top of his comedic game when he voiced the Genie and 2) all those celebrity voices can be annoying, but they can also turn out gems such as Ellen DeGeneres’s work in Finding Nemo. Anyway, the Genie is hilarious, and not only thanks to Williams’s performance, but to the fantastic work the animators (led by Eric Goldberg) did translating his comedy into the character’s visual language.

Dopey9. Dopey
From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Sidekick to: Snow White, but also to the dwarfs, who are sidekicks themselves. Pretty meta, huh?
Dopey is the most noticeable and memorable of the seven dwarfs because how different he is to the rest. For starters, he doesn’t have beard, and second, he doesn’t talk (something that is often a virtue in Disney characters). He also seems to have been designed to be the silliest and funniest of the dwarfs, and he does deliver some of the film’s most charming laughs. And as fantastic as he is, his inclusion in the list must have an asterisk next to it, for he was chosen for his awesomeness, but also as a representative of the seven dwarfs, who with their particular and silly personalities, remain the rosetta stone for all Disney Sidekicks. Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy, Sleepy, and especially Grumpy, all have their great moments and their honorary places on this list.

Olaf8. Olaf
From Frozen
Sidekick to: naive Princess Anna as she tries to save her sister and learns what true love is.
Olaf will probably go down in history as one of the most delightful surprises of my history of watching movies. If there was something that was keeping me from being too excited about Frozen before it came out (and I was pretty excited), was the ubiquitous presence of this snowman character in all the marketing material. He seemed like one of those annoying talking sidekicks, the kind that is usually voiced by Eddie Murphy, that always threaten to ruin a perfeclty good movie. The surprise, then, was how endearing and lovable a character was created thanks to actor Josh Gad and the rest of the creative team.

Thumper7. Thumper
From Bambi
Sidekick to: Bambi, young deer and future king of the forest.
I understand that Bambi is beloved and regarded as a classic and a Disney masterpiece, and while it is an absolutely beautiful film to look at, there is something that doesn’t quite click with me. That being said, if there is something that Bambi excels at, it’s cuteness, and none of the characters in the film (or possibly in any film ever made) are nearly as cute as Thumper, Bambi’s mischievous rabbit sidekick.

Eeyore6. Eeyore
From The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Winnie the Pooh
Sidekick to: Mostly Pooh, but also Tigger, or any character that needs a sidekick, really.
This is where the difference between a sidekick and a supporting character comes in. Eeyore definitely strands the line between the two. He isn’t either tagging along on a hero’s quest, or constantly hanging out and orbiting a specific character, which are the two main characteristics of a Disney Sidekick. He is, however, undoubtedly a supporting character. We only get small doses of his sad resignation, but they are pure gold, and work even better when standing in contrast to the much more lively residents of the hundred acre woods, as when he is paired up with his spiritual opposite, Tigger, in Winnie the Pooh. 

5Sir HissSir Hiss 
From Robin Hood
Sidekick to: Prince John, ridiculously unqualified British Monarch.
Even though I recognize the movies’s many weaknesses, I have a huge soft-spot for Robin Hood. There are, however, things that are unquestionably great about it, and one such thing is Sir Hiss. In appearance, he is basically a rehash of Kaa from The Jungle Book, but in personality, he is fantastic comic relief. Terry-Thomas’s performance is perfect at capturing how terrible it must be to be as intelligent as Hiss, and yet, not being listened by anyone and being constantly bullied by Prince John. Sir Hiss is such a kiss-ass that he definitely deserves what’s coming to him. I’m just grateful he exists.    

Kronk4. Kronk
From The Emperor’s New Groove
Sidekick to: Yzma, evil and decrepit sorceress
How does Kronk get so high on the list? Well, he is the funniest character in what is probably Disney’s funniest movie. And he is awesome. I think we can all agree that actor Patrick Warburton was born to voice animated characters, and he has never been better. What is so perfect about Kronk is that despite being incredibly dim-witted, and working for the movie’s villain, he is a good-natured guy. Somehow he is conflicted about doing bad stuff, but not about working for an ageless, evil, sorceress. Anyway, he is funny, and that always wins you points as far as I’m concerned.

Sebastian3. Sebastian
From The Little Mermaid
Sidekick to: Ariel, mermaid princess and human enthusiastic
I hear some people have problems with the Jamaican accent, but they’re idiots. Sebastian has an accent, but he isn’t a caricature of anything that I can think so. Unless you think making a character with a Jamaican accent a good musician is insensitive. Hell, not even a good musician, but a great one! I can’t think of any character in the Disney Canon who has a better musical record than Sebastian. He is the main voice in The Little Mermaid’s most memorable numbers: the show-stopping “Under the Sea”, and the utterly fantastic “Kiss the Girl”. He is also part of “Les Poissons”, which while not a great song, is a pretty funny sequence.

Tinkerbell2. Tinker Bell
From Peter Pan
Sidekick to: the boy who wouldn’t grow up
In terms of personality, Tinker Bell is far from a feminist hero. The whole thing about fairies only being able to feel one emotion at the time, and her murderous infatuation with Peter raise a few eyebrows. However, as animated by master Marc Davis, Tinker Bell is one of the most graceful characters in all of the Disney Canon. And I still find her to be the best realized, most memorable, and definitely the most fun character in Peter Pan. 

Jiminy Cricket1. Jiminy Cricket
From Pinocchio
Sidekick to: The title puppet-turned-animated-puppet-turned-real-boy
Jiminy Cricket tops the list because his whole existence is a point of genius. In the original Pinocchio stories, the cricket is quickly smashed by the wooden boy moments after being appointed as his conscience. Disney, however, decided to expand his role, turning him into one of the most memorable characters in the whole Canon. He is supposed to be the moral center, and the voice of reason for the little puppet who wishes to be a real boy, but his trully appealing quality is that he is really not fit for the task. He is fantastic because he is not a wise-ass constantly telling the main character what he should and shouldn’t be doing. His being responsible for this little boy provides him with a journey of his own, and something to fight for.

Summer of ’92: Vampires and Bats

Vampires and Bats

This is the first chapter in this year’s Summer Series, which looks back at a weekly double feature of the movies released in 1992 (the year I was born). This week, the movies in discussion are Tim Burton’s Batman Returns and Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Hollywood’s only God is money. I think at this points we can all agree on that. After all, it was the ridiculous amount of money that Tim Burton’s Batman made when it was released in 1989 that allowed for a movie like Batman Returns to be made. I’m not talking about the fact that movies have to make money in order to have sequels, but that the mountains of cash Burton made for Warner Bros. gave the studio executives the confidence to let the director have complete creative control in the making of the follow-up movie. The result, as you would expect, was that Batman Returns is not a Batman movie as much as it is a Tim Burton movie.

And not only that, Batman Returns may very well be the most Burtonian of all Tim Burton movies. According to the auteur theory, if a director is an auteur, a single image would be enough to identify a movie’s director. Well, every shot of Batman Returns screams Tim Burton. This was the director’s fifth feature, and by this point he had very much established what his style looked like. He had managed to put a couple of signature visuals -pale faces, black and white stripes, grotesque makeup- into all of his movies, but the power given to him after the success of Batman gave him the opportunity to relish from top to bottom in the imagery of one of his biggest influences: German Expressionism. It even seems as if that were the only reason Burton directed the picture, because there is no denying Batman Returns’s DNA is pure expressionism. It starts on the script level, where the character Max Schreck (played by Christopher Walken) is named after the star of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatuand is most apparent in the production design (always the most auteurist aspect of all Burton’s movies), which is highly inspired by the genre, especially Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

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Similar city landscapes in Lang’s Metropolis and Burton’s Batman Returns

But visuals and winking inside jokes are not the only way Burton made Batman Returns his own, if he was going to make this movie, he was going to make it about the most consistent recurring theme in his filmography: lonely weirdos that are cast away by society. This is why, Batman barely appears on screen for the first 20 or so minutes of the movie, and why, despite being the title hero, he is essentially a supporting character. He doesn’t really have a character arc to speak of, since he spends most of the movie trying to stop a couple of villains that actually do. The first of these villains, and the closest thing the movie has to a protagonist, is Oswald Cobblepot a.k.a. The Penguin (Danny DeVito), a character that Burton -along with writers Daniel Waters and Sam Hamm-basically reinvented for the movie.

In the comics, Oswald Cobblepot is an aristocrat that also happens to be a criminal boss. He is nicknamed ‘The Penguin’ because he is short and has a long nose, so he kind of looks like one. In Batman Returns, however, Oswald is a deformed man that actually looks like he is part bird and part human. As an infant, he is basically a savage little monster that eats the Cobblepots’ pets and can’t be tamed. That is why his frightened parents put him in a basket and throw him in the river, not knowing that years later, their son would emerge from the sewers of Gotham city as the villainous Penguin. Danny DeVito’s performance is as grotesque as the character’s makeup design. His acting is grand and over the top, not letting a single line go by without him chewing on it first. For this, he was nominated for a Worst Supporting Actor Razzie award, which is ridiculous, because even if the performance is far from good taste as possible, he commits to the characterization that the movie requires like few other performers would have (including Jack Nicholson, whose work as The Joker in Burton’s Batman is the quintessential example of an actor phoning it in).

The most relevant aspect of the changes made to The Penguin, though, is that Burton turned was a pretty conventional villain and tailored him into a typical Burton protagonist. At first glance, his story is the same as that of Burton’s most iconic protagonist, Edward Scissorhands. Both are helpless creatures that are cast out of society for being different, whose only real quest is for acceptance. The difference is that The Penguin is actually vengeful and angry. He is actually a psychopath. On the other hand, however, we have the film’s other villain, Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), who starts out as a clumsy secretary who is pushed to her death by evil Max Schreck before being mystically revived into a… well, a Catwoman. She is initially presented a crazy, anarchic, villainess, but by the end of the movie turns into somewhat of an anti-hero. We end up rooting for her, not in small part because Pfeiffer is completely fantastic in the role.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito in Batman Returns

Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito in Batman Returns

All of this brings me to the second movie in our double-feature. It might have been the rise of youth culture, the “outsider” attitude of generation x, or the moans of grunge rockers, but something in the early nineties gave rise to an interest in anti-heroes, or at the very least, to tell stories from a point of view other than the hero’s. Because for all intents and purposes, the characters we are rooting for in the novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker, are Jonathan Harker and Mina Murray, the couple whose marriage is threatened by the immortal Count Dracula. In his film adaptation, however, Francis Ford Coppola was more interested in the the titular vampire (played by Gary Oldman) as a doomed romantic figure, who sees Mina (Winona Ryder) as the reincarnation of his long-gone medieval wife.

This is a post-modernist approach to the story that makes complete sense as a movie that would have been made in the nineties. Or now, for that matter. After all, this is the time in which Wickedthe revisionist musical take on The Wizard of Ozis the biggest hit on Broadway. This is also the time in which Tim Burton himself gave a similar ‘reincarnated love’ spin to his movie version of the television show Dark ShadowsAnd the time in which, the idea of a musical starring Dracula as a romantic hero was one of the best running jokes of the hilarious Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The culture has developed a fascination with looking at villains as misunderstood and tragic characters that probably started with the Romantic movement of the 19th Century, and reached its pinnacle with the coming of age of goth kids like Burton.

However, for all I know, Coppola was not a goth kid, and his take on Dracula is not the teen-angsty revisionist tale that it might sound like from my description. While Burton was at the top of the world, coming off from one of the biggest hits of his career, Coppola had come to a point in his career where he was making jobs-for-hire instead of passion projects. Case in point, his last movie before Dracula was The Godfather Part IIIThe adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel was brought to him by Winona Ryder, who was supposed to star in Part III but unexpectedly dropped out of the project. Surely the presence of Ryder (who had starred two years earlier in Burton’s aforementioned Edward Scissorhands), and the romantic twist on the story were the elements that secured the movie’s finance, but I bet few people were expecting the film that Coppola ended up making.

Coppola is quoted as wanting to make Dracula, which was released under the name Bram Stoker’s Dracula, feel like an “erotic dream”, something that is always a little icky to hear coming from a fifty-something man, no matter how prestigious a director he is. That kind of judgment aside, Coppola definitely did his best to make the movie as erotic and surreal as possible. Like Burton, he too used a lot of German Expressionistic influences. This is logical, since Murnau’s Nosferatu is both an unofficial adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, and one of the most influential and popular films to come from the genre. Throughout the movie, Coppola uses expressionistic lighting and montage techniques typical to the silent films of that era instead of more modern effects -like computer generated images- to juxtapose images and create other kinds of otherworldly images.

Screen shot 2014-05-28 at 7.46.28 PM

Examples of the German Expressionistic influence, including a nod to Murnau’s Nosferatu

All of this, of course, in service of an unapologetically erotic vision. The sexual undertones to the vampire myth, a creature that penetrates his victims using his fans, has always been present. In this sense it’s worth it to note how vampires are, most of the time, praying on victims of the opposite sex. Dracula is full of images of the vampire kissing women’s necks, and ladies being kept awake at night by nightmarishly erotic visions. Everything is over the top, including the performances. This, of course, isn’t surprising when your cast includes Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins. There are moments when this aggressive approach works perfectly with the material, as in the sequence in which professor Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) faces off young Lucy (Sadie Frost), after she has been turned into a vampire by the Count. For the most part of the movie, however, everything just seems ridiculous. The problem is that this version of Dracula is perfectly suited to be a camp classic, but has little humor to itself. There are a couple of funny moments, but the overall feel of the movie makes it seem like Coppola was taking this very, very seriously.

How am I supposed to take this image seriously?

How am I supposed to take this image seriously?

That ends up being the difference between Batman Returns and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Both are blockbusters helmed by auteurs with a very specific vision in mind, but whereas Coppola’s insistence on making an “erotic dream” sucks the life out of a movie that could have been hugely entertaining, Burton’s relative lack of respect for the source material he is working with (I doubt he has ever read a Batman comic in his life), lets his movie be the vessel for such a playful and lively performance as Michelle Pfeiffer’s as Catwoman, which, again, in its comical sensuality is fantastic on too many levels to count. At the end of the day, though, both movies have a strong directorial vision that seems to be absent from today’s blockbuster cinema. Gareth Edwards’s recent remake of Godzilla was a nice exception, but just coming out of the news that Marvel fired Edgar Wright from Ant-Man, it seems like Hollywood just wouldn’t give up money to make movies as idiosyncratic as these.

Next Week’s Double Feature: A Few Good Men and Strictly Ballroom 

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 9.53.03 PM

For this week’s Hit Me With Your Best ShotNathaniel Rogers, who hosts the series in his fabulous blog The Film Experience, has chosen John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, a movie which sadly seems to only ever be brought up as the one movie that won Best Picture over Citizen Kane. This boring reputation is why I had never seen the movie until now. As a matter of fact, I searched the internet for essays and articles about it and could barely find any interesting writing on it. This is very sad, because I found How Green Was My Valley to be a very interesting movie, and one worth talking about. Thank God for Nathaniel and HMWYBS, then, as I will surely be reading what everyone who is participating this week has to say about it.

As for me, there is so much I would like to get into, but I like to keep these posts focused on picking a specific shot from the movie. If there is anything that I took out from How Green Was My Valley, was immense respect for John Ford. Not that I didn’t have it before, but it had been a long time since I had seen one of his movies (maybe five years!). I had, however, in the meantime, watched other classic Hollywood movies from that time, and not to diss those other filmmakers, but watching How Green Was My Valley was like watching other kind of filmmaking. Ford was, undoubtedly, a master of his craft. Props to cinematographer Arthur C. Miller, too, who proves to be a fantastic collaborator. To illustrate my point, let me tell you that I took more screenshots from this movie than any other entry in HMWYBS. I just looked at these images and couldn’t imagine them being photographed any other way…

And yet, when the moment came to pick a single shot from the movie, the answer was obvious. How Green Was My Valley is a bittersweet melodrama about a man recounting his childhood in a Welsh coal-mining town. One of the subplots is about the forbidden love between his sister Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) and the town’s preacher Mr. Gruffydd(Walter Pidgeon). They love each other, but when Angharad receives a marriage proposal from the son of the mine’s owner, Gruffydd renounces to her love, recognizing that she will have a more comfortable life if she accepts the proposal. As Angharad and her new husband ride away after their wedding, the preacher stands looking at them between two graves. I suppose the symbolism explains itself, but still, there couldn’t be a more bittersweet, melodramatic, romantic, or Romantic shot in this movie.

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X-Men Days of Future Past: Some Things Never Change (Not Even Through Time Travel)

days of future past

Bryan Singer should only make X-Men movies. Just a couple days ago I was writing about what a terrific job he did in the first X-Men movie, where he balanced the silly blockbuster and more poignant elements of the story resulting in some sort of Rosetta stone for the whole superhero genre that exploded (and still reigns) today’s mainstream cinema. Well, Singer still has it, because X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best X-Men movie since Singer’s last time directing for this franchise, which by the way, was more than ten years ago.

With that last statistic in mind, I have to make two things clear. First, that I loved Days of Future Past. I had an amazing time from start to finish and would rank it as the best blockbuster of the year so far. Second, let me delicately state that my feverish enjoyment of the movie might have quite a bit to do with personal nostalgia. You see, the X-Men are, and have always been, for the lack of a better word, my shit. Their original animated series was one of the first things I was a fan of. Later, I became obsessed with their second animated series. That doesn’t mean that anything X-Men related will excite me, though. I was tremendously disappointed by X-Men: First Class, which was a complete mess of a movie, and the less said about the horrible X-Men: The Last Stand the better.

All of this has made me conclude that the reason this movie is good is because of Bryan Singer, which is funny, since Singer’s career ever since leaving the franchise hasn’t been particularly interesting or exciting either. His latest movie was Jack the Giant Slayerwhich I admit I haven’t seen, but by all accounts, is just not very good. Thus, the X-Men seem to be at their best when directed by Singer, and Singer seems to be at his best when making X-Men movies. Case in point, his X2: X-Men United is still one of the very best superhero movies ever made, while his Superman Returns (which he quit the mutants to direct) is a snooze. Flash-forward a decade, and X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the most fun I’ve had at the movie theater this year.

This is not a matter of fate either, there are palpable reasons why Singer makes these movies good. He may have a particular level of affection for the characters and their stories, but more importantly he definitely understands them, and knows how to shoot a good-looking movie. He has always shown a certain level of elegance in his mise en scène, making even the most ridiculous and silly moments look palatable. Watching the trailers for Days of Future Past I could only think about how silly all of it looked, but watching the movie, Singer’s staging of the action made forget about all those doubts. I would like to rewatch the movie just to spot what is it about his shooting that makes the movie so effective, but I would venture to say right now that there it’s a matter of preference for a more realistic and earth-bound look than, for example, the overuse of backlighting in the unbearably glossy X-Men: First Class. 

In case you need to know, the movie is basically about Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) traveling back in time to the 1970s, where he assembles the cast of X-Men: First Class, including James McAvoy as Professor Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from committing a murder that would set off the mutant holocaust of the future. If that sounds silly, it’s because it is. And if that sounds like 20th Century Fox trying to use the stunt of mixing the casts of the older and newer X-Men movies to maximize profits, it’s because it is. And yet, Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg make this an incredibly entertaining movie. The first half of it, is non-stop fun, including a prison break scene featuring a young mutant named Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who is the funniest part of the movie, that everyone is already (and rightfully) talking about being the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I will say one thing, though. I can completely see someone’s enjoyment of the movie being dependent on whether or not you have any kind of emotional connection to the characters. I think that even if you don’t, the work by such amazing actors as McAvoy, Fassbender, and Peter Dinklage (who plays mutant-hating scientist Bolivar Trask) will be enough to make you have a good time. And if you do have a certain attachment to these mutants, well, then you’ll have an awesome time just like I did.

Grade: 7 out of 10

Top Ten: Disney Princesses

Another week, another Disney list (only one more to go!). This time, it’s my turn to look at some of the most iconic (and the most aggresively marketed) of Disney characters: the Disney Princesses. The title of this post is misleading, because I decided that, since there are only twelve “official” Disney Princesses in the Canon, it wouldn’t make sense to make a top ten, so this is a ranking of the twelve, again, “official” Disney Princesses in the Disney Canon. Which sparks the question: what exactly is an “official” Princess? Funny you should ask, because it seems like the classification is highly arbitrary. It apparently doesn’t have anything to do on whether or not you are a Princess, or what kind of movie you appear in. It has, however, all to do with marketing. For example, Merida, from Brave, is considered a Disney Princess despite her movie not being in the Disney Canon (because it is a Pixar movie).

Meerida is actually an easy case. Consider how characters like Eilonwy (from The Black Cauldron) and Kida (from Atlantis: The Lost Empireare not “official” despite unambiguously being Princesses. It doesn’t stop there, since I’m not sure that Mulan and Pocahontas (who are considered “official”) are actually Princesses. I guess you could call the daughter of the leader of the Powhatan tribe a princess, but Mulan, who is not royalty, and probably ends up marrying a high-ranking officer, but not a nobleman, is definitely not a princess. Anyway, this is all stupid because, like I said, the only factor in determining who is and isn’t an “official” Disney P rincess is marketing value. You can only join the club if you are going to sell a lot of dolls. For this list, I considered the “official” Princesses that appear in Canon movies (so no Merida, and no characters that have, for one reason or another, been deemed “unmarketable”).

Oh, and just as a reminder, this is obviously completely subjective, and based solely on the way the character is written, designed, and animated. I am not trying to make any kind of feminist statement of anything simply because I’m not in the mood to open that can of worms.

sleepingbeautyprincess12. Princess Aurora (from Sleeping Beauty)
On the one hand, Sleeping Beauty is a strong candidate for being the most visually outstanding movie in the Disney Canon. Every element of its design is as eye-popping as animation could get back in 1959, and it holds up terrifically well. On the other hand, though, Princess Aurora, or Briar Rose, as she is referred to for the most part of the movie, is not a very exciting or interesting character. She may have the title role, but she isn’t in very much of the movie. She basically sings in the woods for a little while and then spends the rest of the movie asleep, waiting to be rescued by Prince Philip. Maybe if she had a little more to do she would be higher on this list, but as it stands, she gets last place almost by default.

elsaprincess11. Princess Elsa (from Frozen)
Sure, she has her show-stopping moment when she gets to sing “Let It Go”, but you can only get so far in my estimation when you are a character that spends most of the movie moping around. By the end of her musical number, Elsa supposedly emerges as a self-assured, powerful ice sorceress, but a few scenes later she goes back to being a scared, tormented teenager. Such a characterization might be what the movie needs, but it also makes her a rather dull character to watch. If there ever is a Frozen 2 (and I hope to God there isn’t), we better get a confident Elsa that uses her powers as often and spectacularly as she pleases.

tianaprincess10. Tiana (from The Princess and the Frog)
I feel like this is awfully low for a character as ambitious and well-intentioned as Tiana. Let’s forget about the whole “first African American” Princess for a moment, the really great thing about Tiana as a character is that she is a hard-working, determined, strong woman. She knows what she wants, and she is going to get it. That is an amazing message for little girls if there ever was one, which makes it all the more frustrating when the movie ends up giving the message that working hard isn’t going to help you achieve your dream as much as wishing on a star and falling in love with a womanizing Prince is. Anyway, Tiana could have won extra points for how beautifully animated she is, but it doesn’t help that she spends most of the movie as a frog that is rather boringly designed.

snowwhiteprincess9. Snow White (from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
As far as personality goes, Snow White is as blank a slate as you can get. She does, however, know how to croon a thirties standard, and how to melodically persuade woodland critters to help her clean up the dwarfs’ house. I guess she does express a certain level of strong personality when she demands the dwarfs wash their hands before eating dinner, but yeah, that is definitely not much. Still, the appeal of Snow White is the same as the appeal of the movie she appears in: she is a marvel of the craft, a historical milestone in the art of animation, and as fantastically and carefully animated a character as there ever was in the medium. I might not want to have a conversation with Snow, but I could watch her sing and clean that house forever. I’m sorry if that sounded uncomfortably sexist. You know I didn’t mean it that way.

jasmineprincess8. Princess Jasmine (from Aladdin)
I guess Jasmine is not a very memorable character, because I can’t really remember all that much about her or her personality. I guess this is a good place for her on the list, because while I don’t have any big problems with her, I can’t find any outstanding qualities in her either. I guess it is somewhat empowering that she doesn’t want to be married to some random prince she has never met, but she is also a little too rude and uncooperative with the fact that her being married is an important political move for her country. You also have to be a little dumb to not realize Aladdin and Prince Ali are the same person, especially since he is apparently the only guy in the whole kingdom that doesn’t look like a cartoonish buffoon.

annaprincess7. Anna (from Frozen)
There is no denying that she is ridiculously naive, but she is also determined to do something! And if I’m being honest, I find her unbearably adorable. And so enthusiastic! She also has her fair amount of pathos, and I can’t help but feel for the whole loneliness thing she experiences during “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”. Also, she is clumsy! How adorable is that? Sorry, is that a non-feminist thing to say? See, I should never have made this list, I feel so uncomfortable! Anyway, yes, she might be a little too similar to Rapunzel, but I do still find her more fun and exciting than her sister.

cinderellaprincess6. Cinderella (from Cinderella)
I feel like there is this perception that Cinderella is the most passive and boring of all Disney Princesses, and while she is definitely a product of her time, she has some very interesting qualities to herself. I said so when I wrote about the movie, but I continue to be fascinated with the psychological aspects and relationships featured in Cinderella. If you look at the movie, Cinderella isn’t as much a helpless young woman as she is a motherly figure, which is logical considering how the whole theme of the movie seems to be motherhood. She represents the caring mother as opposed to Lady Tremaine’s evil ways. It makes sense that a family movie released in 1950 would be concerned with showing the virtues of being a good mother, but it doesn’t mean that Cinderella isn’t an interesting character.

pocahontasprincess5. Pocahontas (from Pocahontas)
There are many things wrong with Pocahontas, but its depiction of the title character is not one of them. First of all, Pocahontas is simply one of the most beautifully animated characters in the story of the medium. I don’t care what your computers are capable of doing, they will never make a character move as gracefully as her. And on the other hand, while there is some “noble savagery” going on, she is one strong woman. She isn’t afraid to tell John Smith that he is an idiot, she isn’t afraid of standing up to her father, and most importantly, at the end she decides to stay with her tribe instead of following John Smith back to England.Well, at least until that horrible straight-to-video sequel that we all pretend never happened.

rapunzelprinces4. Rapunzel (from Tangled)
I continue to be delighted and fascinated by the character of Rapunzel (and with Tangled as a whole). First of all, she is so freakingly delightful, perhaps the most charismatic and lively of all the Princesses on this list. She is also, however, the most realistic as far as depictions of what an actual teenaged girl is like. The level of psychology implied in Rapunzel’s story and personality is rather outstanding. I can’t think of a more relevant way in which you could depict the story of a girl who grows up locked up in a tower not knowing the person she thinks is her mother is actually her captor.

arielprincess3. Ariel (from The Little Mermaid)
“I wanna be where the people are/I wanna see, wanna see them dancing” I could just quote the rest of “Part of That World” and call it a day, but instead I’ll say this. In these tumultuous times in which so many people are fighting for the civil rights of the LGTB community, I think it’s time that we embrace Ariel as the transgender icon that she should have become by now, because if the story of a mermaid who becomes a human isn’t an allegory for sexual identity, I don’t know what it is.

mulanprincess

2. Mulan (from Mulan)
One of my big takeaways from doing this whole Disney Canon project, was that Mulan is a freaking amazing movie, and not in small part because it at has a freaking amazing heroine at its center. Say what you will about any of the other Disney Princesses, but none of them started the movie as a clumsy teenager, worked their assess off training, and ended up saving all of China from being conquered by an evil warlord. Her character arc is so clear and well defined that she might very well be the best role model of all the Disney Princesses.

belleprincess1. Belle (from Beauty and the Beast)
Belle seems very much like the first Disney Princess for which trying to give her a more feminist personality was a major concern. Thankfully, though, her role as a strong female goes beyond the fact that she reads books (a characteristic that is, nevertheless, a very nice touch). The truth is that she shows a level of agency that was unprecedented in Disney movies at the time, and one that is arguably still yet to be surpassed. Also, because the filmmakers working on this film ended up making one of the best animated films of all time, her character arc is still the best example of reconciling having a female lead that is strongly independent and falls in love at the same time. It might be depressing, but movies are still not great at balancing something that is as common in real life as that.

Introducing: The Summer of ’92

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Hello everybody. It’s time to announce a new section of the blog. Starting next week, and going through the summer, I’ll be a doing a series called Summer of ’92, in which I will write about a weekly double-feature of movies released twenty-two years ago. Why 1992? Well, because it is the year I was born, and I am interested in taking a look at what the cinematic landscape looked like when I came into the world, and how it has changed ever since.

I hope you enjoy what is coming. I am planning on kicking things off next wednesday, with a double-feature of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns and Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In the meantime, you can read my post on Aladdina 1992 I already wrote about.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: X-Men (2000)

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This is an entry in Nathaniel Rogers’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, which takes place every Tuesday, and is hosted at The Film Experience.

Like every person who isn’t a lunatic, I love X2: X-Men United, but I never had nearly the same affection for the original X-Men. This is probably because I only ever saw it in its entirety once, close to the time when it was released in theaters, when I was either eight or nine years old, which is honestly, too young an age to appreciate this movie. Mainly because the pleasures of Bryan Singer’s X-Men don’t come from the action (which is pretty clunky), but from the way it approaches the idea of mutants with a level of social realism that was unprecedented for comic-book adaptations at the time. Let’s just say liked seeing some of my favorite characters on the big screen (I have been an X-Men fan ever since I can remember), but I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate the civil rights analogies.

Nowadays, X-Men is regarded as the movie that opened the door that led in the flood of superhero movies that have been ruling the box office ever since. What you think of those movies will surely influence how you regard X-Men as a historical artifact, but as a movie, it is a very solid one, and as far as I’m concerned, there is no denying that this whole superhero thing started because X-Men did something right. Case in point, the last superhero movie before X-Men was the disastrous Batman and Robin, which everybody loves to make fun of, but which wasn’t much more detached from reality than the previous Batman movies. The great thing about the best superhero franchises of the early 2000s (I’m referring to X-Men and Spider-Man), is that the directors knew how to make the movies as close to reality as to be accepted by audiences, while retaining their ridiculous comic-book origins.

An now, finally, let me talk about my favorite shot in the movie, which involves one of the visual effects in the movie that still looks cool these many years later. One of my favorite subplots in X-Men is the story of Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison), and his transformation into a mutant. I’m struggling to think what exactly this all means in terms of the civil rights allegory (Magneto’s plan in this movie makes very little sense), but there is no denying that this character’s journey provides some of the movie’s most emotional moments. His whole transformation is tragic, and scary, but also playful. Just like this shot right here.

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