100 Books: August

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I don’t want summer to be over because I find it inconvenient to wear sweaters.

This month has a content warning because the first book I finished this month is a non-fiction about domestic violence.

Less upsetting is that I took it as a chance to talk endlessly about Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid again, but, I did in fact do that also, so be warned.

Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft

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I started the month off right with some light reading about how abusive men think and the ways they get rewarded for being abusive and the ways that culture enables them in being abusive and/or not suffering any consequences. This is a very good book that very clearly explains the mentality of all types of abusive men written by a guy who has counselled abusers for a long time and has lots of expertise on the subject. It’s written mainly for the partners of such men, past or present.

I didn’t read it because I know an abuser or a victim (thankfully), but instead because I wanted a more thorough understanding of this topic that is still unfortunately very misunderstood. Early on in the book he makes a list of common misconceptions about abusive men (like how people think they tend to be alcohol and drug abusers, mentally ill, victims of abuse in the past, or that abuse mostly happens within certain races or religions, etc) and apparently while sometimes abusers are those things, usually not, and abuse happens in every culture, race, religion, etc, and really all you need to create an abuser is for a person to decide to be an abuser.

This is good for any intersectional work I might try to do in day-to-day conversations in destigmatizing substance abuse, mental illness, past trauma, and, like, race, but it also means that “fixing” an abuser requires the abuser to actually decide to stop abusing, which, according to Lundy, even with good counselling, is very rare.

There was one part that made me raise my eyebrows though. It was really, really short, and it was ultimately fine, but, OK, here goes, because I’ll take any and every opportunity to go on and on about Disney. Lundy’s talking about how the media contributes in the normalizing of abusive relationships between men and women and the devaluing of women’s agency and autonomy in our culture, and mentions two Disney movies.

Beauty and the Beast, because it is entirely a narrative about how a woman’s kindness and being in love with her transforms a dude from angry and violent (Lundy is adamant, refreshingly, I found, that “violence” doesn’t necessarily have to be physical violence, so even threats of violence or slamming things or throwing things around to cause fear is violence all on their own… oh, Beast) to kind and gentle.

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Well, but, uh –

Fine. I personally maintain that whole thing is how it is because no one listened to Howard Ashman, who wanted the Beast to be a little boy at the beginning which would have lent him a little more sympathy and his arc maybe would have been less problematic with the whole “cursed as a child” thing being the beginning of it – just because I think it turned into a self-flagellation thing about how monstrous masculinity is or something, at least, from my perspective, that’s what it looks like. They made the whole thing about controlling his temper when that was probably a really stupid thing to do in retrospect because the “you can change him” thing is pretty insidious, and it’s probably why his “temper” is barely even a thing in the new version. He’s just a huge, rude, grumpy cynic. Although he does still scream at her when she goes near the rose. (I used the word “thing” 7 times in this paragraph, 8 if you count it as a suffix. I decided to just bold them all rather than edit because I’m awesome like that.)

So, whatever, I still think Beauty and the Beast was going for something lofty about masculinity with the characterization of the Beast but because Belle doesn’t have anything to learn and because the Beast learns basically nothing himself, it is kind of as Lundy says it is. There just isn’t enough in the movie to confidently state that Belle and magical, perfect, pedestal-perched femininity isn’t being portrayed as the thing to “tame” angry men and save them from themselves. Sigh.

But then Lundy makes a flippant comment about The Little Mermaid! You know the flippant comment I mean, the one everyone makes: how dare Ariel trade her voice for a man, obviously she has no sense of self worth and Disney is evil. I’m paraphrasing but that’s the gist of the comment we all know and love.

Sooooooooo OK Ariel does that because she’s a kid, Ursula tricks her into doing it because if she’d just let her go up there with her voice then everything would have been fine and Ursula is trying to take over the ocean, and it’s all King Triton’s fault, you know, the guy who at the end learns that he has to let his daughter make her own choices and turns her into a human with her voice and everything.

And I love Eric! He’s so friendly and dog-rescue-y and is really nice to Ariel even though she’s a mess. Imagine not remembering that Triton is the one who fucks up and thinking that the major problem in the entire movie is that Ariel likes Eric too much for her own good. I mean if anyone’s abusive…

BTW how does the movie feel about this?

Well Triton regrets it 2 seconds afterwards, so.

And doesn’t the fact that Eric falls in love with Ariel because of her voice and consequently doesn’t want to start up a thing with her when he thinks she can’t talk count for anything? Like, yes, she should have self-worth apart from Eric, how she feels about Eric, and how he feels about her, but it was 1989 and the movie is only 90 minutes long and is entirely about how Triton needs to get over himself.

Anyway it’s fine, because Lundy’s point isn’t that these stories cause abuse, just that they indicate deeper problems inherent in the culture and that they need to be consumed with a healthy dose of critical thought, which of course I agree with a tonne. Even in the case of The Little Mermaid, which I think is fantastic and endlessly defensible, I think it’s important to note just how important the romance aspect is to everything that Ariel does because this is typical of female characters and while romance is not inherently bad, and while many of us want even more romance in every story ever, I’m gonna go ahead and say that it is inherently bad that the most prominent character arc female characters in general have is falling in love. Often she’s falling in love with a man. Often, in fact, the arc is her falling in love with a man against her will. Female characters need variety, because if every girl hero a girl has while she’s growing up is mostly concerned with falling in love with men that is going to contribute to the stupid idea that women and girls have to have their self-worth given to them by men who are romantically interested in them. PS: hello, Mulan, Nani, Merida, Anna, Elsa, and Moana! Some of you even have romance subplots on the side but you get to do other things too, yay!

OK back to the extremely important and heavy subject at hand. There were many references to specific cases of physical assault, but the part that stood out most vividly for me was the section about abusive men harming their partners through their children. The two examples that ruined my month were a guy who fed his newborn spoiled milk (which made him sick) to punish his wife for something stupid, like coming home late. Not that there’s… ever a good reason to do that. The other was less life-threatening but wow: a man was having a verbal argument with his wife, told her to stop or she’d be sorry, she didn’t stop, so he went to their daughter’s room and shredded her prom dress.

I can’t even imagine that. I didn’t even go to prom. I never even ever felt the slightest desire to go to prom, but still. Imagine your dad ruining something that important to you to get at your mom through your pain. How do you even begin to deal with that?

And that’s why I went on and on about the Disney references, because with everything else this book discusses, I’m just kind of left speechless. What do you say, other than, “Can we… start over? Scrap the world and start again and make sure this isn’t as prominent, or even a thing at all?”

So. Yeah. This is a good book and I think it has probably helped a lot of people in abusive situations or who have left abusive situations, and also I hate the world.

Wolves and Witches by Amanda C. Davis and Megan Engelhardt

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This is a collection of short stories and poetry – retellings of fairy tales or just new fairy tales. So in other words, this is my favourite type of collection.

I liked all of the poetry, I liked both reimaginings of Rumpelstiltskin, and my favourite was the last story, called “Questing for Princesses” which features a guy who is a prince and is too busy to go rescue women from dragons and death-sleep and enchanted towers and all that stuff (I’m pretty sure every princess fairy tale is referenced in this one). An enchantress tries to entrap him into reinacting the Beauty and the Beast plot but he foils her by just letting her stay and take shelter. Other people try to entrap him into basically every princess plot but he’s too busy being practical. It’s very clever and cute the whole way through and is a must, IMO.

Monstress: Volume 1 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

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Welp. It’s pretty. And dark. It made me feel icky, though. There’s far too much… child-eating. And child-enslavement. I like the prominence and variety of female characters and I like that except for Kippa, they’re all morally ambiguous to varying degrees, and I also like all of the talking cats, but I don’t know if I have the stomach to read Volume 2.

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

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I enjoyed it. I didn’t love it, but I did love specific things about it:

  • the main character is an engineer girl (whether the twist related to engineer girling takes away from Piper engineer girling I haven’t decided. I think it kind of does, and kind of doesn’t. But regardless of what happens she’s still an engineer girl)
  • much of it takes place on a cool train
  • importance of female friendship highlighted, super cool

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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While I really liked it, the cynical part of me wishes this wasn’t another romance narrative about a guy talking a girl into participating in the romance narrative.

The guy (Daniel) is a romantic and a dreamer and believes he and the girl (Natasha) were meant for each other, having just met. Natasha is a realist and a science-enthusiast and is being deported the next day so spends a good chunk being coerced into “love.” Not just love, though, but, like, “soul mates” kind of love. And I’m meh on that.

Natasha has a lot of good reasons to not be interested currently, which I know is what creates the tension, but it also left me occasionally annoyed. Daniel is a decent fictional guy but the number of times he outright states, to her, like, to her face, that they are meant to be was too high and quickly became grating. I’d have liked it better if he had toned it down a little. Internally he could believe what he wants, and he might even hint at it to her, but maybe if he’d said things like “we won’t know if we don’t try” or, like, anything except “we’re meant to be” after a couple of hours together, it would have been less annoying.

Ah but maybe I’m ice-hearted. It’s probably a bit of both.

Anyway it has a really intriguing style. I see Yoon being compared to John Green and, having only read this one of Yoon’s and having read none of Green’s, I’m going to hesitantly say that’s a good comparison.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

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This is a romance set in the Civil War era south, and I can’t remember exactly where they were but it’s not important. It reminded me a lot of a Courtney Milan book which, of course, means I liked it a lot. The protagonist is posing as a mute slave and she has a photographic memory, the love interest is one of those cocky, confident Scottish guys you’re always reading about posing as a rebel soldier, and they have a lot of discussions about race and racism and power dynamics in and around all of the sex.

So, I mean, it was educational. I’m starting to think I prefer my romance historical, because everything just seems to work much more easily and, in this book’s case especially, the setting and subplots get to be really interesting too.

Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy

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Can I just say that I loved it and leave it at that because I loved it. And I’m going to read the next one. Now I’m literally going to go google when the next one is coming out, or if it’s already out, and I’m excited.

**There are like 5 more volumes out already of this and I am SO HAPPY**

(Yeeeeeeah I only read 7 this month what of it)

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No Magic: The Wonder of Modern Disney

We’ve been wanting to write a longform piece about Disney films’ changing attitudes towards dreaming, believing, and proaction. Maybe we still will one day, but for now it’s entirely unnecessary because this amazing post does it all and more.

Check out this examination of how modern Disney films challenge and twist the messages of older Disney. And also, we need to rewatch Meet the Robinsons. And watch Tomorrowland for the first time.

Kids Riding Bicycles

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” said Arthur C Clarke in a famous quote that captures the world-shifting potential of science and discovery. Without wishing to trivilise the quote, it also comes to my mind when I think about Disney’s current era of film. (Yes, I’m being serious.) From 2011’s Tangled to this year’s Zootopia, Disney has earned critical and commercial plaudits for a series of films that have pushed the boundaries in both animation technology and thematic complexity. They’ve adapted their core offering, evolving the magic and wonder we’ve come to expect from them into something both new and old, something distinctly familiar yet undeniably fresh. And it revolves about Clarke’s binary between magic and technology.

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To understand what Disney has become, it’s important to first look back at what it was. Throughout Walt Disney’s life and well beyond his death, Disney films were all about…

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Brave

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Last week, we talked about masculinity in Brother Bear, and how the movie manages to have a sincere discussion about masculinity without making a joke out of the whole thing.

This week, in honour of Mother’s Day, we’re going to talk about Brave – which is just as much about womanhood as Brother Bear is about manhood, and, inexplicably, also just as much about bears.

Brave is generally considered to be a Pixar dud, which we think is unfair for our own specific reasons, as well as our more general bias about Pixar films. We like them, don’t get us wrong (excepting the Cars franchise), but while Brave may not have the cleanest plot like some others we could mention, its underlying themes work for us way more than those of some of Pixar’s biggest hits. Mother-daughter relationships, a coming-of-age story that’s realistically about coming-of-age, and the underlying importance of family do it for us. Toys in existential crises about children growing up… don’t.

But we can’t argue that the film doesn’t suffer from story problems. It’s pretty obvious. It had trouble while it was in development with it’s director and writer, Brenda Chapman, fired in the middle of production for creative differences. Erm, who is a sucker for behind-the-scenes stuff, watched everything she could find on the making of this movie and came away still none the wiser about what specifically went wrong, but that’s OK. We’d rather engage with the movie as it is than try to critique the movie it might have been. Let’s start by defending it against some of the more dubious complaints we’ve heard.

Number One: Merida shouldn’t complain/make selfish and irresponsible decisions. Her complaining about being forced into marriage and wanting her freedom is invalid because every once in a while she doesn’t have to be a princess, and also she’s privileged.

Being forced to get married is a good enough reason to do something rash, when you’ve tried arguing and you’re not being listened to. And this is true no matter how privileged you are or how often you get days off.

Number Two: Bears.

Yes.

Number Three: The male characters are exclusively used for comic relief.

… so?

Female characters are typically used only for certain things, like love interests, prizes, goals, villains, temptresses, or simply as naked, dying, or dead bodies. Forgive us if we’re not concerned that the men in this movie are not as integral to the story as Merida and Elinor are – because that’s all that’s happening. The male characters are important, if mostly good for a giggle, and there’s genuine warmth to Fergus at least.

Number Four: Exploitative of Scottish people.

We don’t want to be insensitive because there are certainly some stereotypes here and some jokes that didn’t need to be included. We’ve all seen Pixar movies, yes? We know they’re capable of being smart. Making a joke that is ultimately, “Haaaaaaaaaa Scottish people are Scottish” is beneath their creative capabilities.

But.

Having seen the behind-the-scenes footage we know that there was a lot of research put into this, and it seems as though the filmmakers went into it with a lot of respect. This isn’t the Siamese cats or the black crows or Peter Pan’s Indian tribe. It isn’t even like Aladdin, where the characters and setting are vaguely Middle Eastern but the actors are all white people, who occasionally put on accents. These are lovable, fleshed out characters playing on a beautifully crafted stage, played by Scottish actors. So apart from everyone’s tendency to have cheap laughs at kilts and haggis, we’d argue that the film is for the most part respectful.

The unique things we love about Brave

Mothers, Daughters, Families

Brave is the only Disney or Pixar fairy tale about a family. Everyone loves to complain that each Disney fairy tale hero is missing at least one parent, but Brave is the fairy tale movie that breaks the rule.

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Not only does Brave tell a story about a family that starts together and ends together, which, if you think about it, only makes sense in a genre intended for all ages, but it is the only example we can think of for a fully Mother-Daughter narrative in animation.

Forget animation, actually. While we aren’t entirely lacking mother-daughter films, the ones we can think of that we’d recommend are sparse: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya SisterhoodOne True Thing, Dolores Claiborne, Mermaids, Stepmom, and Freaky Friday. Maybe this is because we need to be watching different movies, but stories about mothers and daughters seem to be in short supply.

Divine is an emotional roller-coaster – worth the ride, but we relate to that Jann Arden song “Good Mother” so while we very much like the movie, it doesn’t get under our skin like Brave does.

One True Thing and Stepmom are about dying mothers, which is a different thing.

Dolores Claiborne is amazing, but it’s more about women than it is about mothers and daughters. Also it’s horrifying.

Mermaids has a lot of angst going on, and someone makes a choice later on in the film with major familial consequences, so it’s a similar story to Brave.

Freaky Friday is the ONLY truly lighthearted one! It’s similar to Brave in its suitability for younger audiences, its exploration of a mother-daughter relationship where they both learn to empathize with each other and communicate properly, and again, angst.

Now there’s at least a smidgen of romance in each of these, except Dolores Claiborne, which again is more about women than it is about mothers and daughters. Brave’s lack of romance means that Merida and Elinor can focus 100% on their relationship with each other.

Like in Brother Bear, the transformation into a bear impedes communication between Elinor and Merida. However, in Brother Bear, it requires a magical transformation back into a human in order for Kenai and Denahi can work things out. In Brave, it’s while Elinor is a bear that she and Merida are able to communicate properly. Merida implores on several occasions for her parents, particularly Elinor, to listen to her, and they don’t. Although Fergus sees eye to eye with Merida on many more issues than Elinor does, it’s not from listening to his daughter, but from their similar personalities. In the climax of the film, he rides off to kill Bear!Elinor, and Merida shouts at him to listen – and he does not. It takes her standing in his way, twice, with weapons, to stop him. In Elinor’s case, their arguments frustrate her because she believes Merida doesn’t listen to her, but in this case “listen” does not mean effective communication, it means compliance with everything she asks her to do. Merida won’t do this, because she does not want to, quite rightly.

When Merida does her speech at the end, successfully ending the brawl without any help from Elinor, this is also Merida finally reaching out to her mother. Elinor, too, is finally listening. She sees Merida about to agree to her betrothal, and even though she can’t speak (or roar), she frantically mimes her way through the rest of the speech – and she and Merida communicate freely for the first time, despite all of their obstacles, and come to a compromise on how to handle the situation.

Ultimately in both films, the bear transformation is an effective metaphor for the challenges people have with communicating in these important relationships. In this movie, it was also the motivation for Merida and Elinor to finally effectively communicate.

Romance Does Not Exist

There was a time when Merida was to be the great lesbian hero of the Disney-Pixar world, but that time has passed and we’ve moved on to Elsa. It’s a good thing, too, because we are in dire need of at least one princess who isn’t interested in who she’s going to marry (or who she’s going to be romantically linked to, for those princesses who don’t decide to get married right away). Merida’s fixation on staying single, keeping her freedom, and her reiterations of, “I’m just not ready” and, of course, “In fact, [the princess] might not ever be ready,” suggest that she could be asexual, or aromantic, or both.

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She does say later, during her pacifying of the Lords speech, that the Queen wants young people to be free to find love in their own time, but as we have learned from Disney movies of late (this one included), love comes in many more forms than just romantic love. In any case, here’s to Merida not getting married. Even though we all liked Young MacGuffin.

The dogs aren’t cute

We suspect they’re instead historically accurate. Which is nice.

The Coming-of-Age Story is more like what growing up actually is like

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Obviously it’s not a completely realistic coming-of-age story, but Merida’s teenage angst and eye-rolling and stubbornness remind us of being teenagers more than Elsa’s character arc in Frozen, for example, or Simba’s in The Lion King. This is probably because some heavy stuff is happening to those characters, so the way they come of age is not going to resemble an ordinarily bumpy transition to adulthood. But Brave is refreshing because of this – despite (and because of) the magic happening around her, Merida has to grow up and take some responsibility.

Brave GETS how coming-of-age and mother-daughter relationships are linked for girls.

If you are a woman who grew up with a mother, at some point or another she probably taught you how to survive as a woman living in a man’s world. Whether we think it’s right or wrong, women have to operate within certain rules, or at least be aware of those rules when we purposefully go on to break them. We learn that from the female role models in our lives, and in Brave, Merida learns from Elinor.

In the throne room, the men get into a brawl. Elinor sends Fergus to deal with it, and he ends up resorting to violence when his attempts to pacify the men fail. Merida and her mother sit there, visibly fed up, as the men fight.

Elinor stands, and walks through the room. The men all stop and stare at her sheepishly. Merida looks up, visibly noticing the power her mother has at this moment.

The lesson here is simple, and familiar: Women are expected to repress every violent or emotional instinct. Men are not.

Elinor teaches Merida this lesson every day – her brothers get away with murder, she doesn’t get away with anything. A princess is a role model. A princess is compassionate. A princess does not chortle. A princess does not stuff her gob. A princess does not place her weapons on the table. A princess should not even have weapons, in Elinor’s opinion.

Before we get all up in arms like the clans here, let’s take a moment to consider whether the movie thinks this is right or wrong.

On one hand, yes, the movie does seem to believe Elinor. Look at what happens when the ladies do resort to violence – Merida hurts her mother by cutting the tapestry, and Elinor hurts Merida in kind by burning her bow.

On the other hand, although Merida is held responsible for nearly causing a war and turning her mother into a bear, she does eventually get what she wanted: Her freedom to break the Woman Rules.

Merida walks through the brawling men just like her mom. And when she can’t make them listen, she takes a note from Fergus, and screams, “SHUT IT.” And it works! Because Merida is not her mother, and she’s not a perfect princess. But she is a powerful, responsible young woman who is capable of simultaneously embracing her role as princess and breaking the rules that prevent her from being who she is- a wild-haired marksman who wants to stay single and let her hair flow in the wind as she rides through the glen firing arrows into the sunset.

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The only problem we have: Bears.

We’re not really sure what’s going on with Mor’du. We understand that he is a legendary prince who ruined himself, his family, and his kingdom by being selfish, and by going to a bear-obsessed witch for help. But we also know that he’s behind the Wisps summoning Merida to the same fate, and later summoning her to mend her own bond and, conveniently, get Mor’du killed and free his spirit.

It seems kind of mean to trick a sixteen year old girl like that just to get a bear killed. Why didn’t he instead go after Fergus if he wanted the bear killed so badly? Was that what he was trying to do all along, but Fergus doesn’t believe in magic so he had to mess with his wife and daughter, who do?

And how is it that he’s both Mor’du and the power behind the Wisps? And why isn’t he just a regular bear? He should have lived out his lifespan by now if it really is an ancient kingdom as the legends say, and at least some of those wounds should have slowed him down. Why does he seek out people to savage and hang around his old throne-room when it’s implied that should Elinor remain a bear forever, she’ll just be a regular bear which will sever the bonds she has to her family?brave-disneyscreencaps.com-9861

When Elinor goes full bear she does become a danger to those around her. First, she attacks Merida, but only when Merida taps her on the back, which you would never want to do to a real bear for obvious reasons. Later she attacks Fergus, who is a real threat to her, but her interactions with Merida are fairly harmless. When she begins to lose herself for the final time, she just lays there letting Merida hug her until eventually she changes back. There isn’t a consistent metaphor about loss of humanity here, because we don’t have a clear definition of a binary. For example, with bear-Elinor’s violence, we only see it twice, and on two occasions we see her tolerate Merida’s presence, which means violence is not linked to the animal, with non-violence linked to the human, as it normally would be.

The only common thread is that bear-Elinor doesn’t know that she is Merida’s mother, or Fergus’s wife. And even this goes both ways: Fergus refuses to listen to Merida when she tries to explain to him that his wife has been transformed into a bear. Elinor remaining a bear is framed as being tragic not because she’ll be a vicious killing machine like Mor’du, but instead because she will lose her family, and her family will lose her.

That makes sense. We still think they could have portrayed this a little better.

We’re asked to take for granted Mor’du’s existence and actions and we suppose that we can – perhaps the bear-witch’s spell was a little bit different for the prince than it was for Merida. But the only information we’re given is that the witch is just inexplicably obsessed by bears, and every time someone asks her for a spell they do so in such a way that, happily, she can just perform the one spell she knows and everybody magics into bears.

We needed Sitka’s silent wisdom or something, so that we could understand what the significance of bears is in particular.

The only thing we can think of is the “mother bear” thing, and Elinor certainly fulfills this stereotype. As much as it’s Fergus who wants to revenge himself against Mor’du, it is ultimately Elinor who kills him, and she only does this to save her daughter.

Ultimately, our only problem with the movie is the bears. Even though it didn’t need to be bears, or they could have more thoroughly explained why it had to be bears, there’s enough depth in their use to excuse their presence in this film, excessive and confusing though it may be. Despite its flaws, this is the first Pixar film with a female lead. The second Pixar film with a female lead is Inside Out, and it’s worth noting that these two movies are also the only Pixar films with a story that would provide catharsis for the audience and not the creators. Not to knock Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, or Ratatouille, but these are stories about parent figures, special people, and prodigies. Although Brave (and Inside Out) has parent figures, the lesson is that they need to give their child room to grow and be themselves – and shouldn’t that be the entire point of children’s literature?

 

The Last Four Books I’ve Read, In Order of How Creepy the Love Interests Are

I (three) was recently complaining on Twitter about how I keep finding terrible love interests in adult romance.

Teen lit never gave me this problem. Maybe YA wouldn’t either – I’ll get to that. But for now, all I want to know is, why do adult m/f stories always have such skeevy men in them?

Anyway, I wanted to chat a little bit about the reading I’ve been doing and where they all stand on the skeeviness scale.  Continue reading “The Last Four Books I’ve Read, In Order of How Creepy the Love Interests Are”

The Ethics of the Sun’s Gift

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Don’t ask us for sources, but we have a general recollection of people arguing in defense of Mother Gothel’s actions in Tangled by invoking the “it’s not fair that they took that flower and boiled it just to save a monarch” argument. We thought it might be immense fun to use that as a jumping off point to talk about all of the ethical issues of the Sun’s Gift in Tangled that we could think of. Yeeeeey.

Continue reading “The Ethics of the Sun’s Gift”

Sleeping Beauty vs Maleficent

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Last week we compared Disney’s 1950 animated Cinderella to their 2015 live-action Cinderella. This week we’ll look at another – the one that was the first in what will likely be a long line of live-action reimaginings: Maleficent, compared to its source material, Sleeping Beauty (1959).

Now the way we did it last week was to compare each element, but this time it will work better if we look at each film separately before we get into those specifics.

Continue reading “Sleeping Beauty vs Maleficent”

Cinderella VS Cinderella: A Comparison

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Maybe it’s just us, or maybe it’s not, but when we think about fairy tales we think about Cinderella. The story is simple, it’s romantic, and it meets all the criteria for a classic tale that begs to be retold over and over again.

Consider, for a moment, Romeo and Juliet (bear with us). Romeo and Juliet is a story everyone knows. Even if you’ve never studied the play (though most of us with a high school education have), it’s become a cliche of pop culture to refer to all love stories as Romeo and Juliet, even though it’s arguably the worst love story ever, given the ending (and the beginning, and the middle…) Yet the star-cross’d lovers will live on in an eternity of retellings. Something about those two young lovers has gripped our collective psyche in the English-speaking world.

Cinderella is the Romeo and Juliet of fairy tales. “Cinderella story” is a synonym for “rags to riches story” that everyone knows. The 1950’s Disney Cinderella, in particular, is the iconic telling that everyone seems to default to, although there are plenty of retellings which are also well-loved by the public. In fact, this post is currently our most-viewed post ever, at the time of editing.

So when Disney chose to create a live-action version of this tale, surely no one was surprised – nor were we surprised when they decided not to change the basic narrative like they did with Sleeping Beauty. There’s still room for comparison, though, and we’ll begin with our protagonist.

Continue reading “Cinderella VS Cinderella: A Comparison”

The Swan Princess

This movie is one of the ultimate “what could have been” movies. Like. After a gigantic exposition dump, this is the first real part:

Great, right? I mean, they’d have to build on that a little because the “why” in why they’re suddenly in love needs some plumping up, but otherwise this a great start. Especially because this came out in 1994, the same year as The Lion King, just as chemistry between romantic animated couples was becoming important.

Continue reading “The Swan Princess”

Disney Cats

Let’s let Walt Disney talk about cats for a little bit.

So, we have some notes:

  1. Cats were actually domesticated in the Middle East, around the place and time that the agricultural revolution happened. Dogs were domesticated long before that, as dogs were happy to tag along while people were mostly still hunter-gatherer types. Cats didn’t see the benefit to sticking around until humans started mass-storing their food, which attracted lots of cat prey.
  2. Egyptians certainly did revere the cat, but at the same time would kill them (by cervical dislocation – not the LEAST humane way, but damn, that’s cold) and mummify them to sell.
  3. Rats are not enemies of humanity. Your Friend the Rat could have told you that.
  4. Plague is carried by fleas, and is itself just a bacterium.
  5. Whiskers are used to determine where prey is when the cat is very close to it – cats have very blurry eyesight that gets worse the closer they get to something.
  6. Cats don’t kill rats that noisily?
  7. Other animals persecuted when people decided everything was a witch: goats, dogs, probably everything, but mostly old women. People are terrible.
  8. The animation in this little excerpt is very nice, displaying cats as graceful and fluid in motion as we know them to be (sometimes). Disney films featuring animated cats don’t always showcase these qualities in their characters.

Let’s take a look at some of the cats who have appeared in Disney animated features over the years, shall we?

Continue reading “Disney Cats”

Tale as Old as Time

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I saw Beauty and the Beast at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto.

I’m fairly new to the Disney musical scene – aside from Beauty and the Beast, the only other one I’ve seen is The Lion King, and I was way too young for critical analysis at the time.

Still, I was excited about Beauty because I have so. many. complaints about the Disney animated feature. I won’t get into that now, because what I want to talk about is how the show improved on the animated feature – and how it didn’t.

li-beauty-beast Continue reading “Tale as Old as Time”

Witches Abroad: Letting the Characters Tell the Story

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People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.

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The opening of Witches Abroad, maybe the most compelling part of the entire story, goes on to say the following:

Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.

And how fitting, for this particular story. Usually, when we tell the story of Cinderella, for example, the same cast takes part: A virtuous young aristocratic girl, a good, charming prince, a pair of talentless, nasty stepsisters (ugly or otherwise), a wealthy, evil, self-serving stepmother, and a plump little fairy godmother.

I would argue that those are pretty specific static roles. The story seems to very much care who takes part in it – these boring, static, rice-cake characters we see in every Disney movie, cheap Disney ripoff, Disney live action remake, bad attempt at a modern retelling, and so on. [EDIT: erm has reminded me to point out that only some Disney movies have rice-cake characters. More on that at a later time, but for now, let’s assume I’m talking about Cinderella.] But I think Pratchett’s point is not that anyone can be a princess – it’s that princesshood, or princehood, or stepmotherhood, or whatever other fairy tale role you choose, is a thing that sucks the personality, diversity, and humanity straight out of a character.

In Witches Abroad, the people reclaim the story. Continue reading “Witches Abroad: Letting the Characters Tell the Story”