Murder Princesses

A long, long, long time ago, I started writing a thing about how Andrew Stanton was annoyed that predator and prey species coexist in The Lion King and so he went on to infuse his movie, Finding Nemo, with such examples of natural realism as a pelican scooping up two fish and some sea water and flying them away from a flock of seagulls to rescue the son of one of the fish, who is acquainted with the pelican because the pelican frequently visits the fish tank where the fish son currently lives to watch a human dentist practice dentistry the way the rest of us watch the olympics or whatever.

And I keep getting distracted and writing paragraphs about humpback whales and fictional telepathic gorillas and human civilizations living in South American rainforests, and now,

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and I think it’s time for just a quick post about something I only fully began to appreciate recently.

Nala and Kiara are murder princesses.

Nala, best friend and love interest of The Lion King‘s protagonist, tries to kill and eat Puumba, one of the protagonist’s surrogate fathers.

It’s mostly played for comedic effect. The scene is tense and quite scary, but probably no one except the very young in the audience actually think SHE’S GONNA EAT [PUUMBA]. Also Timon tells Simba to GO FOR THE JUGULAR.

They can pull it off precisely because the entire audience sees a scary lionness preparing to pounce in the long grass and thinks, “Oh, it’s Nala,” so we know what we’re in for is one of those hijinks-infused sequences in which everyone misunderstands everything until finally each of the love interests realize who the other is.

It’s just that this hijinks-infused sequence is a very dramatic chase scene in which the female love interest and basically Disney princess is trying to kill and eat one of the comedy animals.

This is what happens when your movie is about lions.

In the very not good though still admittedly technically competent sequel, teenage angst ensues because KIARA JUST WANTS SOME FREAKING INDEPENDENCE, DAD.

INDEPENDENCE WHILE HUNTING. KILLING ANTELOPE THINGS.

I’m even willing to admit that Kiara’s murder princess scene is a little bolder than Nala’s, since, in The Lion King, we know Puumba, and we know that it’s Nala, and we’re assuming that everything will be set right as soon as Simba shows up.

In this sequence, Kiara is just hunting a random herd of animals who don’t have any lines or names. I’m not even sure what species they are. They’re probably purposefully not one of the more recognizable prey species of lions. Could anyone root for Kiara after watching her hunt a herd of zebra, for example?

Personally I don’t root for her at all, but that isn’t the point and I’m just jaded. The actual point is that theoretically, Kiara could be successful on her hunt because she isn’t hunting a main character or even a character with a small speaking role. She isn’t hunting anyone off-limits.

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But Nala’s the one with all the teeth and claws, and also she’s in the better movie. But it doesn’t matter. Disney’s lioness princesses/queens are violent predators and the movies are kind of shockingly honest about that.

Neat.

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The Best Scene in The Lion King

Real quick today, I thought I’d talk about this one.

OK the truth is, the entire sequence in which Rafiki meets Simba, talks to him, shows him sky Mufasa, and then hits him with a stick is probably the best part of the movie – it’s likely that said sequence is what made The Lion King so iconic. Now, that’s just my opinion, of course, but as always, I’m entirely, objectively, unquestionably correct.

But this scene is still my favourite. I like Rafiki’s home, with the fruit hanging up and making cool wooden wind chime sounds when he passes. I like how he cracks open this fruit and twists his one arm up like that while eating it.

I love that he learns things just by looking at, sniffing, and swirling seeds that blew in. I like the monkey quality to his laughing and also the background theme because it’s just really good music.

I don’t think I’ve ever been able to watch this scene without smiling. I like it; it’s a good one.

Power Rangers, The Lion King, Scar, and Reverence for Nostalgia

All right so I watched this review:

I plan to see Power Rangers because the trailer promised a gritty, YA-novel version of the silly show I used to watch as a six-year-old so obviously I’m there. I have very low expectations. I’m willing to put up with some boringness and way too much angst. I read the entirety of the Twilight series, so I’m immune at this point to popular YA-type angst and awful storytelling. I am looking forward to the action, though, because although I can’t really remember, I’m pretty sure that Xena-loving kid me severely dug that there were two action girls in this show, so, I’m excited.

But my expectations have been low since I heard there would be a Power Rangers movie. Because it’s Power Rangers. I was six and I knew it was stupid. It was the good kind of stupid, obviously, but stupid nonetheless.

It’s a fine line to walk, because I don’t think children’s entertainment has an excuse to be lazy and incompetent just because it’s for kids, and I also acknowledge that there are big fans of Power Rangers who maybe see something profound in the various TV versions of it that have existed for decades. But I don’t know – I feel like at the end of the review when he says something about how he’d punch someone if they adapted something he’d loved as a kid like this, he’s engaging a little too seriously with treating Power Rangers like a nostalgia property that should be worshiped like some sort of deity.

I might change my mind when I actually see it later this week, but I don’t know. I wish they’d made a fun Power Rangers movie (this and other reviews I’ve seen suggest it unfortunately wasn’t made with “fun” being the major point of the whole thing), but probably they went with angsty and overlong because they wanted it to resemble the teen dystopia stuff that sells, so. Fine.

But here’s a thought exercise for myself on this lukewarm Monday evening: what’s a nostalgia property that might be adapted so badly that I would want to find the filmmakers and punch them?

Well obviously The Lion King.

All I know about the live action CGI Lion King remake is that Donald Glover and James Earl Jones have been cast, which is good. But today my coworker turned up the Broadway Lion King soundtrack way too loudly (also he sang along wrong, singing lines too fast or too slow or outright missing key words, and then when he noticed that I was unimpressed he had the gall to ask, “Don’t you like The Lion King?” and I thought “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE SPEAKING TO RN” but I settled for saying, “Yes, but-” and then he started singing along incorrectly again) and I remembered that song, “The Madness of Scar,” and how it’s actually kind of terrible.

It’s fine as a song goes, I guess. It’s funny. It was entertaining to watch on stage, mainly because Scar is the worst and it’s fun to laugh at him. But it gets laughs out of enhancing Scar’s Shakespearean villain “being haunted by the terrible thing he did” thing into HILARIOUS mental illness. And how he was never loved as a child. And then he decides what’s missing is a wife, so, he gets weird about Nala. And none of this was necessary. So I look at this and think, “The last time they adapted The Lion King, the biggest difference is that they went for sympathy – mocking, maybe, but sympathy still – for Scar, who as far as I’m concerned deserves very little sympathy. So who’s to say that in the remake, rather than perhaps outright acknowledging Timon and Pumbaa’s queerness, they’ll just add trauma or mental illness to try to make Scar sympathetic and everything will be awful?????”

So let’s talk about what the upcoming Lion King remake might do to Scar that would encourage me to write a song in which I shriek at myself about how angry I am because SOMEONE MISSED THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE ORIGINAL SO I MEAN WHY WOULD THEY EVEN BOTHER REMAKING IT IF THEY NEVER GOT WHAT WAS SO GOOD ABOUT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

Scar, for reasons that will remain eternally unknowable, has a fanclub. A pretty big one. So does Frollo, so, it doesn’t really mean anything apart from confirming that people watch movies and only pay attention to certain parts, I guess, but Scar’s fanclub does exist. If the filmmakers decide to throw them a bone and give Scar some sympathy, a couple of things begin to fall apart.

If Scar is sympathetic because he was abused or neglected as a child, our suspicions turn to Mufasa. Why didn’t Mufasa look out for his little brother? Now, look, Mufasa doesn’t have to be flawless – but what would be the point in giving him a pretty unforgivable flaw? Not looking out for your smaller brother is not cool.

Look at how the Thor/Loki dynamic turned out with the Marvelverse’s audience. And Thor tries, even, but it’s not enough. The fact that Loki is incurably selfish does very little to correct how freaking likable he is. Scar, I would suggest, can be likable without being sympathetic. We can like that he as a set goal in mind and that he achieves it. But then when he snivels and schemes and tries to blame everything on the hyenas, and when he throws Simba’s mercy quite literally right back in his face, and also before all of this when he’s scheming to murder his own brother and nephew, and also all of the nasty emotional abuse? Yeah. I don’t need to sympathize with any of that.

Making Scar a victim of childhood neglect, or perhaps even trauma, depending on where he got that scar that he’s apparently now named after, is, as far as I’m concerned, a mistake. Because The Lion King doesn’t need its villain to have a fleshed-out childhood trauma narrative. Simba is all we need.

Simba is a little baby just living his life when his uncle tries to feed him to hyenas, twice. And in between the first and second hyena-feeding attempts, he watches his father die, and then is made to believe that it was his own fault.

Simba and Scar have a conversation near the beginning of the movie where Scar calls himself “A monkey’s uncle,” and calls Simba his favourite nephew. This conversation would be sweet. If. You know. Scar weren’t trying to gode his baby nephew into running right into hyena jaws to try to prove his bravery. Scar is emotionally manipulative from the beginning. After all, he was next in line for the throne, until the little hairball was born. Simba is an obstacle in the way of Scar’s power, and must be removed.

Do we really need an extensive childhood-trauma backstory of Scar‘s to explain why he does the things he does?

Look at two things. One: American politics. Right now. Paul Ryan is very upset because his first big attempt to take down Obamacare failed. Really think about that. Paul Ryan’s ambition is to take health care away from poor people. He wants poor people to die. Sure, he probably doesn’t kneel at his bedroom window, gazing up at Evangeline, praying, “Please let me make it harder for poor people to get access to necessary health care, Evangeline, please.” Probably he really does believe that people who deserve health care will just magically be able to afford it, and that poverty only exists because liberals make capitalism malfunction by making people pay taxes or something. And for sure he has a whole, complicated personality and backlog of memories and experiences that have led him to this point, which, I remind you, is that he wants poor people to die. But. I don’t need to sympathize with him.

Let me. OK. Look. I work at an animal shelter. People in my industry, whether they’re shelter workers or even if they just work in animal medicine, have a kind of troubling suicide tendency. This line of work is hard. It puts you face to face with suffering animals and the people who outright refuse to care about them, so we work doubly hard, trying to make up for the apparently endless callousness of humanity. Emotional labour is exhausting and, unfortunately, it’s finite. I’ve met some people who maybe started out working with animals out of a love they thought was endless, but then it turned out that love did end, and they became kind of awful. An example of something I saw that was somewhat disturbing but not actually unethical was a coworker of mine was ripping feathers out of a dead hawk for a craft someone was doing. It was really violent. The hawk was dead, so, it was fine, but I said to her, “I don’t think I could do that, even though he’s obviously not suffering.” And she laughed and said, “Working here does things to you.” We need a bit of callousness for ourselves; we have to wear it as armour, but we have to be careful or we turn into monsters. So I’ll say: we need to empathize as much as possible with as many people (and animals) as possible, but there are limits. There have to be. Right now, I’m empathizing with the people Paul Ryan is fine (happy, even!) letting die, and not him.

So like. If there’s a Trumpcare movie, I don’t need a whole sob story about Paul Ryan to explain why he has the terrible ambitions that he has. The emotional focus should be on those vulnerable people he’s giddily trying to harm.

And, less depressingly, two: Remember when Star Wars tried to explain what turned Darth Vader to the dark side?

Yeah.

I think the best decision here is to just do what the original movie did. Scar is like those privileged frat guys who do horrible things even though they’ve lived more or less unchallenging lives. Sure, maybe they’ve had a bit of sadness here and there, but they’re not mentally ill (and we need to stop stigmatizing mentally ill people as the only – or even the usual type of people who do terrible things because usually not. Usually they’re the victims of violent crimes, in fact), and they’re not victims of childhood trauma and neglect (also we need to stop stigmatizing these). I think you can be pretty dark without enduring significant pain in your past. I think you can have dark ambitions and a gigantic propensity to hurt others even if your parents were basically all right to you. See Donald Trump. See George W. Bush. See Dick Cheney omg it’s always a better day when I don’t remember that man exists. *Shudder*

Why? Who knows. Probably it’s culture. Toxic masculinity, rampant individualism, anti-intellectualism, every type of bigotry and how institutionalized bigotry rewards privileged people for not noticing it. And in the utopia of the Pride Lands? Well, it’s probably because he’s a lion. Lions stand in for humans in this story (because, ahem, we’ve casually forgotten that there are humans in Africa. Also Tarzan does this). They’re the top of the food chain, kings because if they treat the ecosystem poorly everyone starves, but they’re benevolent and instead work to keep the circle of life working properly. But they don’t have to. If Scar does unethical things to gain and keep power and it works? Why should he do the hard work of ruling properly when doing the opposite has worked for him so far?

“The Madness of Scar” suggests that Scar is surprised and a little sad that he isn’t loved the way Mufasa was. I’ll firmly suggest that the Scar I know, voiced by Jeremy Irons with a perpetually smug look on his face unless he thinks he’s seeing his brother’s ghost or if the nephew he kept trying to murder when he was a baby is now an adult and is getting the better of him, DOES NOT CARE ABOUT BEING LOVED.

Banzai: Hey, boss!

Scar: Oh, what is it this time?

Banzai: We’ve got a bone to pick with you.

Shenzi: I’ll handle this. Scar, there’s no food, no water –

Banzai: Yeah! It’s dinner time, and we ain’t got no stinking entrees!

Scar: It’s the lionness’s job to do the hunting.

Banzai: Yeah but they won’t go hunt!

Scar: Oh, eat Zazu.

*Zazu and Scar argue about whether Zazu would taste good*

Banzai: And I thought things were bad under Mufasa.

Scar: WHAT DID YOU SAY?

Banzai: I said Muf- I said, uh, que pasa?

Scar: Good. Now get out.

Banzai: Yeah but, we’re still hungry.

Scar: OUT!

And then later, in public…

Scar: Where is your hunting party? They’re not doing their job.

Sarabi: Scar, there is no food. The herds have moved on.

Scar: No, you’re just not looking hard enough.

Sarabi: It’s over. There is nothing left. We have only one choice: we must leave Pride Rock.

Scar: We’re not going anywhere.

Sarabi: Then you have sentenced us to death.

Scar: So be it.

Sarabi: You can’t do that!

Scar: I am the king, I can do whatever I want.

Sarabi: If you were half the king Mufasa was you wouldn’t –

Scar: I’m TEN TIMES the king Mufasa was!

All Scar wants, the entirety of his desire, is to do whatever he wants. Which is, apparently, listening to happy tunes (but NOT “It’s a Small World”) in a cave. He doesn’t want the responsibility of keeping things in balance, which keeps everyone fed, especially considering that letting the hyenas have free reign is a major factor in his gaining and keeping power, and the hyenas having free reign ruins the balance. So.

He’s a Republican, is what I’m saying. The Lion King is about the responsibilities of power, after all, and Disney’s chosen metaphor for this is a family group of big cats where the big, scary male is in charge but actually all of the hard work is done by the females (heh heh heh). Scar’s politics are nonsense and ecologically devastating. And he hates women. What he wants and what he needs don’t actually work together. His staunch refusal to do what is necessary is so staunch that he’s willing to starve to death himself, just as long as he gets to be king (like all of those Trump voters who will likely lose their health care).

Even his guilt about Mufasa is more about his fear of losing power than it is about his fear of facing his own conscience. Probably the only law he ever enacts is the law that states that you can’t say the name “Mufasa” in his presence, because, as he screams at Zazu, “AM THE KING!” He has to keep screaming this, and banning Mufasa’s name, not because he’s secretly sad that he murdered his brother, but because he knows that once the lionesses learn that he stole power they’ll turn on him.

Scar is not sympathetic. Do you want to know how he got that scar? OK I know there’s a cool Lion Guard or The Lion King: Expanded Universe official explanation of it but here’s mine and I think it’s better: he got on the bad side of a lioness. He doesn’t even need to have been Frollo-esque rapey, to be honest (pretty sure his “unwanted affections,” if he were to have any, would be directed at the males of the species anyway). Maybe, since he’s a bully, he bullied her cub, or her sister, or something. Maybe she gave him what he deserved. I don’t know why he would be called “Scar” because of this, though. Frankly, even if he got scarred as a very small cub, that part makes no sense. But the rest of it does, right? I’m sure he has depth and motivations, but like the politicians and terrible frat guys I’m comparing him to here, they don’t mean much to decent people like you, me, and even the hyenas, in the end. Scar is the worst. He should garner no sympathy.

But erm, you say. What does this have to do with you thinking that Power Rangers doesn’t really need to be any good?

Not much, I have to admit. I think my point is that I can understand being angry at bad adaptations, ultimately because if the original works and then the remake changes one thing without radically changing everything else connected to it, everything falls apart. But Power Rangers, no matter what anyone says, isn’t The Lion King. It’s five teenagers doing martial arts and joining into a huge mechasuit or whatever and while that is awesome and while it deserves an earnest, fun, “rah-rah let’s be heroes” blockbuster movie, if its filmmakers dropped the ball and made it too YA-angsty for it to truly be as good as it could have been, well, it isn’t really a tragedy.

But that’s only my opinion. And I kind of liked the Rangers as a kid, but I memorized the other thing. I memorized it. So, of course my opinion would be that Power Rangers being good is far less important than Donald Glover+CGI everything The Lion King being good.

Shrug.

PS: I’m happy about the CGI, in case I made it seem like I’d prefer Disney to use real animals. Big cats aren’t actors and shouldn’t ever be. People hit them in the face as cubs to teach them to defer to human trainers. Also eventually some of them snap and maul and/or kill people so there’s that too.

I looked for the video I saw of leopards being hit but couldn’t find it. But who needs that, am I right?

The Irony of Wanting: The “I Want” Song from The Lion King On

Last time we celebrated the “I Want” song, taking it for what it is: a sweet, fun little through-line into being invested in our protagonist.

But Disney movies began to do a strange thing with their “I Want” songs right around the heart of the Renaissance. Rather than set up our protagonist’s happily-ever-after, the songs instead set up a cruel life-lesson for our characters to suffer through. As always, there’s a bit of a spectrum for this; not all ironic “I Want” songs set up our heroes to get badly hurt, but a couple of them do.

We are intrigued by this trend and have decided to talk it through. Let’s start at the beginning.

(and be warned that we use the phrase “learn him” or “learned them” a couple of times and we don’t know why. Learn us some explanation for why we used that phrase please.)

(screencaps AS ALWAYS from disney screencaps dot com)

I Just Can’t Wait to be King

Simba sings this very fun and carefree song early in The Lion King. You might suggest that it doesn’t count as an “I Want” song, and sure, its not as explicit as Ariel’s “I wanna be where the people are,” or Belle’s “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere,” but Simba’s little romp through imagining how great it’ll be to finally become an adult with a frightening amount of responsibility fits in with some of the others, like Snow White’s “Someday my Prince will come.” She isn’t explicitly saying, “I want my prince to show up,” but it’s still clear that’s what she wants, even with the indirect language. She’s just being demure about it. (It’s important to note this because a lot of the “I Want” songs use indirect language, and we’re just going to go ahead and assume that when Disney protags say things like, “I just can’t wait,” or “When will my,” or “For the first time,” or whatever, they actually mean that they want those things, and not just vaguely speculating about the possibilities.)

Simba wants to be king. He imagines a carefree existence in which he can go desecrate burial sites with Nala without supervision, and he can fight hyenas from dawn until dusk with no one to send him home out of parental concern for his safety. Oh Simba, our sweet summer child.

Simba gets what he wants. And how. Mufasa is murdered after Scar sings his version of “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” which includes a lot more death threats than Simba’s does. This of course makes Simba the rightful king, and then he is chased away by a physical threat of death and the unfair, unwarranted guilt he is made to feel. He still has Sarabi, but Scar deliberately severs the tie by manipulating and scaring the cub. “What will your mother think?”

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(can we take this opportunity to despise Scar for a second)

So two things: One, Simba is the king. It doesn’t matter that Scar pretends that he’s dead. He’s alive, and that makes him the king whether he’s eating grubs with Timon and Puumba in the rainforest or roaring on Pride Rock. It’s easy to forget this, because Hakuna Matata is so fun and also kind of ironic. But when Nala shows up and ruins everything by saying, “And that means, you’re the king,” even Timon and Puumba acknowledge the truth of this statement. Puumba does so with reverence and incorrect diction. Timon, cynical, cynical Timon, doesn’t believe it for a second, but then he cements it for the audience: “I can’t believe it. You’re the king? And you never told us?”

Simba’s like, “Look, I’m still the same guy.”

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Timon, apparently plotting something: “But with power!”

So it’s settled. Simba is the king, and he has been since Mufasa’s death. Add this to the fact that Simba has believed since then that his father’s death is his own fault, and “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” is suddenly pretty horrific.

As for two, Simba now has no one telling him to do this, be there, stop that, see here, but it’s not at all the way he imagined. It’s not all bad, of course, because meeting Timon and Puumba means that he also meets the concept of not ever worrying about his problems, but we know that this is unsustainable. Everything Simba wants in “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” comes true, but his freedom and carefree life is a lie, and is built on the murder of his father. Even before Nala shows up to ruin everything, something as simple and supposedly nice as looking up at the stars reminds him of his painful past. You’re the king, though, Simba! Remember when that was all you wanted?

We don’t think the movie is punishing Simba, but if not, why put this retrospectively cruel song in there at all?

Partly, we think, is the ever present need in Disney films to speak to and about other Disney films. Disney loves itself some Disney. So they’re making a movie, the formula demands an “I Want” song, and it definitely makes sense for a crown prince to be excited about his future. But remember how Ariel gets the legs she wanted, but it’s also a trap? Why not take it even further, and have Simba’s wish come true in the most horrific way possible?

The other part would be how well it fits in to the rest of the film. The theme is leadership, male leadership in particular, and our villain really wants all of the perks of kinghood without any of the actual responsibility. Simba sings a fun little song about doing whatever he wants once no one can question him, but he grows up and becomes a good king, fighting a difficult battle (mostly against himself) because his kingdom needs him to. His arc is just magical to watch.

Simba’s cruel “I Want” song serves his characterization. Our hero learns. He starts from a place of naivety, and when confronted with the horrors of adulthood and leadership in extremes that no one should have to face, especially as a child, he devolves into a carefree layabout in order to cope. And when he roars at the tip of Pride Rock, we know how far he has come.

Out There

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Quasi sings about wanting to go outside. Ultimately it seems that this wish is fair and fulfilled, since Esmeralda pulls him out into the sunlight after the war on Notre Dame, and he is accepted by the crowd.

Unfortunately for Quasi, before this happy ending, his venturing outside teaches him something: he is never going out there again. No sir.

When Paris gets a taste of his face, at first they don’t know how to react, and then Clopin’s like, “Dude, this is exactly what we asked for,” so they celebrate, but then the second some bozo guard decides to throw fruit everyone’s suddenly like, “Yeah, cool, that’s actually a better idea.” The cruelty of this scene, which may actually be the standout for a Disney film, makes us wonder about the happy ending. Sure, everyone is being nice to him now, because Es and that little girl are accepting of him, but in five minutes when someone throws some rotten tomato at him it’ll be pandemonium all over again. Or maybe we’re supposed to believe that Frollo’s reign of terror learned them all some lessons about prejudice and things. Fine. We can buy that. But only because of the scenes showing people refusing to turn Es in, and Frollo trying to burn the miller family alive in front of horrified witnesses this is a children’s movie.

Quasi wants to be “like ordinary men who freely walk about,” which could be interpreted as his wanting to look like everyone else, but we prefer to see it as his wanting to be able to walk around and, we suppose, not worry about having fruit thrown at him – which would be a perfectly reasonable request if not for the guards.

In theory the Feast of Fools should provide that perfect opportunity for Quasi to be accepted among the crowd because he can go in disguise. It does at first, but because people behave badly in a crowd it turns poisonous pretty quickly. Not to mention that manipulative Frollo can go on and on about how he’s protecting Quasi at the beginning of the movie, but he has many an opportunity to stop the crowd torturing Quasi and refuses, in order to teach him a lesson. The audience learns two things through “Out There” and the complementary torture scene: Quasi really wants to go outside, but we know why he’s not going to do it again, until it becomes absolutely necessary; and we learn that Frollo is the worst. Which we already knew. But it’s nice to have a reminder, we suppose.

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yup, that pretty much qualifies as “it is now necessary for me to go outside”

In the end, Quasi being accepted by the crowd is more powerful because we know that’s all he wanted all along, and we also know how badly wrong this could have gone because THEY SHOWED IT TO US OMG WHY

It’s kind of like if Snow White riding off to the Prince’s castle at the end was preceded by the Prince showing up briefly near the beginning but he’s terrifying OH WAIT

Go the Distance

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So, first thing’s first. Lindsay Ellis made this:

(watch this 37 minutes of EXCELLENT for a thorough look at Hercules as well as its want vs need and Clements and Musker and “chosen one” stories and other 90s Disney about men and. Just watch it)

Hercules is no The Lion King. Or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. So the ironic “I Want” song is a little less poignant, but it exists so whatever, we’ll discuss it.

Herc feels like an outsider because he’s constantly endangering the lives of everyone around him with his supersonic strength. He just wishes like he felt like he belonged. We could get with this a little more if his parents aren’t shown to be such sweet and supportive people, but, sweet and supportive parents are a nice change. Right, Lady Tremaine?

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Partway through the song he decides that the gods probably have the answers, and talking to them will learn him how to find where he belongs. He’s right (for now) – Zeus spills the beans, and Hercules learns that he can and should become A True Hero™ so that he can rejoin the gods and his bio parents, thus, belonging.

His reprise is basically about how that’s what he’s going to do, by Jove.

But in the end he decides he belongs in the human world with Meg.

This is ironic, not like rain on your wedding day, but instead like getting the certification you need to finally get into Mount Olympus but it turns out that in order to get that certification you accidentally had to fall in love with someone and then you decide that you actually belong with the person you fell in love with instead of the gods and the bio parents on Mount Olympus. It seems like we could have saved Herc some time and just signed him up for eHarmony or something. Except not, obviously. We like this movie, ridiculous as it is.

And Meg is the best. EVERYONE belongs with Meg.

Huge Interlude: it has not escaped our notice that all of these ironic “I Want” songs are sung by men. Men, you aren’t allowed to want something and just get it, no questions asked. That’s just for us women types.

Reflection

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Here, one by a girl. Mulan sings “When will my reflection show who I am inside?” – a sad little ditty about not being able to pass as a dutiful bride even though she looks exactly like one. Mulan is worried that the person she truly is inside is not capable of making her family proud, and as much as she tries, and she puts the dress on and the makeup, she just isn’t that person.

She’s not entirely angry at herself for failing, of course. What she wants is a little bit more complicated than just, “I wish I could be exactly the way I’m supposed to be according to these people.” She wants to be allowed to be herself and be accepted as she is. But how, with such rigid gender roles?

Shortly after this song, Mulan gets to feel more like herself by disguising as a man. As a man, she can be true to herself by rescuing her father, which is all she cares about once Chi Fu rides in with conscription notices. As time goes on she starts to excel and seems to be enjoying herself as well.

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heh

But the whole time she’s still hyper conscious of being a woman disguised as a man. Her reflection still isn’t showing who she truly is. When she’s finally revealed as a woman, coincidentally enough at the same moment that she should be being celebrated as an intensely heroic hero, she finds herself rejected once again, even though she’s done everything right this time. And really we could argue that her meeting with the matchmaker was going fine as well, but Cri Kee ruined everything. And it isn’t even Cri Kee, really. She can’t just say outright, “Hey, there’s a cricket in your tea, ma’am,” because she’s a woman and must be silent. And even when she’s saving her commanding officer in a battle she just single-handedly won, she’s not even allowed to be there because she’s a woman and can’t impersonate a soldier.

In the end, as with Quasi, it seems that Mulan does eventually get her wish. The Emperor of China offers her a very important job right after he and everyone else bows to her for being AWESOME. But all she wants is to get home. She presents all of the gifts she received for saving China while dressed as herself, no bridal makeup, no cheat sheet on her wrist, no armour and very bad man-impersonation voice, but her dad’s just like, “Literally all I care about is you.”

So she gets there, but she wouldn’t have been able to without drastically changing her appearance and pretending to be a whole other person. Semi-ironic.

Almost There

Tiana

No you’re not, Tiana.

Tiana’s “I Want” song is only ironic because it’s not even an “I Want” song.

What?

OK, just bear with is.

We’ve said the vague, indirect language still ultimately means “I want,” but in Tiana’s case, she’s not vaguely saying she wants something. She’s saying, “I’m doing it. It’s happening. I’m making it happen.”

As a typical “I Want” song, it wouldn’t be ironic at all. It would be more like Rapunzel’s “When Will My Life Begin,” which explains what she wants and sets her up to get it, which she does. Tiana gets her restaurant at the end, as well as a bonus prince on the side. But “Almost There” isn’t about wanting, not really. She’s celebrating getting what she wants prematurely. She isn’t almost there, because of unhappy circumstance, racist realtors, voodoo madness, and froggy princes. These are things completely out of her control. Fairy tale adventure Disney movie things (OK not the racism and realtors) (OK maybe the racism a little bit because we remember Peter Pan and Dumbo) (but still).

When all seems lost right at the beginning because the realtors are going to sell the place to someone else, she gets a sad reprise, “People would have come from everywhere, and I was almost there.” This is the moment where her logical, driven, determined self has given up, and afterwards the last vestiges of hope compel her to wish on Evangeline. It’s only now that she gets to make wishes, when her drive and determination and hard work just couldn’t beat out random rich buyers and racism.

Tiana is an interesting princess because she basically has to be tricked into participating in her own fairy tale. That stuff is for Lotte, after all. She is 110% against this frog prince story. She doesn’t kiss frogs, as a rule. But she does kiss frog-Naveen, and she does eventually participate in the fairy tale. But first, before she can do the fairy tale thing, she needs to watch all of her hard work NOT pay off the way it was supposed to for arbitrary and random circumstance reasons.

As a child, her father tells her, “That star can only take you part of the way.” He encourages her to wish and dream, but she has to help her dreams on with a bit of hard work. His words are “a bit of hard work.” Tiana apparently takes this to mean she should only get two seconds of sleep daily, and also she shouldn’t do anything not related to hard work ever, even if she kind of wants to.

She goes to a Masquerade Ball and makes beignets. WHAT. (We know she was doing it for the last of the down payment but still. It makes it hard to believe she ever goes to a party and doesn’t just serve or cater or whatever. Juggle? DJ? Make balloon animals?)

Tiana is the princess who openly challenges the “Cause if you’re good and you’re attractive, no need to be proactive, good things will just happen to you!”* aspect of Disney protagonists. But her song shows that hard work is just another form of wishing, one that we value more as a culture because of individualism and stuff. At the end of all of that hard work is supposed to be the shining reward, right? Because you didn’t just hope and dream, you backed it up. But it doesn’t here, not for Tiana. She did all the work, but now she has to find a magical princess-kiss for Naveen or she’ll just be a frog forever. “Almost There” is not ironic because she doesn’t get there eventually, it’s ironic because of where she has to go to get there – down a road of magic and voodoo and dancing and love. And it’s only when she gives up completely on her restaurant that she gets what she wants, by getting what she needs: love. Even while frogging.

Tiana’s mantra: you can’t just kiss frogs and expect your prince charming to show up. You have to work hard. Wishing on stars is for kids.

The movie: You have to work hard, but even then someone is likely to stop you for arbitrary reasons, and then you befriend an enforcer alligator and kiss a frog and suddenly you’re good. The wishing and dreaming is what keeps you centered through transforming into an amphibian. So there.

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We have a lot to say about this movie and will probably do it at some point, but for now, this: “Almost There” is the crown jewel of Tiana’s fool-proof “get what you want by getting it yourself” plan, but it’s foiled because Disney would like to take the opportunity to reinforce the Disney ideals of wishing, magic, love, and getting a LOT of help from singing animals.

For the First Time in Forever

Elsa, we believe, doesn’t get an “I Want” song. That’s because in this song, she’s just singing a personal mantra of “DO WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO TO MAKE SURE NOBODY KNOWS.” There’s also “Let it Go,” but this time she’s talking to herself about what she should do now that she’s “free.”

Also! Anna sings to Elsa, “Do you want to build a snowman?”

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We can surmise that Elsa does, in fact, want to build a snowman, as it’s one of the first things she does once she’s alone.

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But it’s Anna who sings about it. It’s really cool to us that Elsa’s songs are her addressing herself about what she has to do, what she’s finally allowed to do, and there’s one that belongs to her sister asking her if she wants to do something that she definitely does want to do. That in itself is a really interesting twist in the whole “I Want” thing with the princesses and just one of the billion reasons that Frozen is not “the worst Disney movie ever and so overrated they should just go back to making stuff like Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Side note: people who say these things? Yeah, you. Quasimodo would love Anna and Elsa, and he would make really cute wooden sculptures of them, and he would be saddened by your unnecessarily aggressive and anti-intellectual approach to movie criticism. Thank you for listening.

It makes sense that Elsa doesn’t have an “I Want” song, because it’s Anna who really is the new renaissance princess in this movie, so she’s the one who gets to wish for something. And what Anna wishes for is to enjoy the party, meet a bunch of people, and fall immediately in love.

Here again we’re in “Just Can’t Wait to be King” levels of cruelty. Anna does meet “the one,” she does embarrass herself in front of him, they do “laugh and talk all evening,” and because she knows “it all ends tomorrow, it just has to be today,” she accepts Hans’s marriage proposal.

First, Elsa’s denial of what Anna supposedly wants most in the world leads to Elsa’s accidental big reveal and the subsequent freezing of Arendell and its fjord. Then, requiring Hans to save her life with True Love’s Kiss™, he reveals that he just manipulated her. Because she was so easy to manipulate, wanting to find love so badly and all.

Anna, like Simba, is being naive. Scar and Hans are terrible manipulators. But Simba learns to be a good king who takes responsibility in spite of the horrors he endures. What does Anna learn from this cruelty?

She is sad, of course, right after Hans’s betrayal, saying to Olaf, “I don’t even know what love is.” But soon afterwards, she’s ready to accept the possibility that Kristoff might actually love her enough to save her. She doesn’t lose her ability to trust, which is nice.

What’s also important, REALLY important, about her sad but strong reaction to Hans’s betrayal, is that it serves as a smaller version of what’s going on between her and Elsa. Anna comes to Elsa’s palace hoping to be able to connect with her sister, now that she knows the truth. Nothing should come between them at this point, right? But Elsa is still terrified that she will harm Anna, so she throws her out via Marshmallow. And before this, she accidentally strikes her in the heart, which Anna later learns will kill her if she can’t find an act of true love to thaw it.

This is mirrored by Hans’s betrayal: she comes to him in need, not even suspecting that he will refuse to help her (because she is an optimist, she was positive that she and Elsa could work things out as well). Hans refuses, reveals he doesn’t love her and was just using her, and as if that wasn’t enough hurt to dole out, he mocks her and her optimism – striking in the heart.

Hans is cruel to Anna. He deliberately hurts her. Not kissing her is one thing, but mocking her, being cruel in what he says to her, could have potentially ruined her for being able to be open-hearted to other people, which she needs to be in order to commit the act of true love that will save her life. But she is still able to be optimistic, and she is still open to the possibility of maybe loving some other guy. So we know that even though Elsa hurt her, not deliberately but in a much more harmful way, Anna will be capable of and willing to forgive her, to the point of sacrificing her life for Elsa’s. It’s because of “For the First Time in Forever” that we know how much Anna has learned about love and herself in this short amount of time, or perhaps what she sort of already knew about it without knowing she knew.

Conclusionary Words

Imagine The Lion King where Simba sings solemnly about how he thinks he’s ready to take on the tough responsibilities of kinghood, and Anna sings a ballad about how she wants to be close to her sister again. That would be OK, but we’re digging the ironic “I Want” songs. We like how they’re really easy ways of rounding our characters, giving them room to grow, and how they still allow for us to connect to them and root for them to succeed in their endeavors.

If erm sang an ironic “I Want” song, it would probably be called, “I Wish there were More Vegan Restaurants in Close Proximity to Me” and the movie would end with her having no money because she spent it all on food.

If three sang an ironic “I Want” song, it would be called, “I Just Want a Raise Thank You Sir” and the movie would end with her getting a $500.00 raise and subsequently wanting another raise and being eternally dissatisfied.

Ta.

*Starkid. Twisted. Hilarious. And they come around, in the end.