When Disney Teaches Us to Uphold Death more than Justice or Mercy

I love Disney movies. They’re a nostalgic staple of my childhood, but like almost everything, when viewed from an adult perspective, they are far from perfect. One worrying trend that I see in childhood films is the idea that death is the same thing as justice. Disney is hardly the only company at fault for doing this, and this trope does show up in media designed for older audiences as well. But my experience with Disney was really the first time I was exposed to the idea that villains deserve to die awful horrible deaths. Even if the heroes initially want to show their villains mercy, the mercy will be misplaced, and very rarely will actual justice be done.

This of course begs the question: do villainous characters truly deserve to die, especially in such awful, violent, and painful ways?

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Disney Princesses and the Art of Originality

So, today, while derping around over at Kotaku, I stumbled upon a really cool post titled “If Disney Princesses were Final Fantasy Characters.” It’s pretty straightforward, and shouts out the artwork of one Geryes over on deviantArt. He has a project called the Final Fantasy Damsel Dossier, which consists of stylized versions of Disney princesses and official given jobs (RPG professions) as though they were characters from the Final Fantasy franchise. Here they are all together:

damsel_dossier_by_geryes-d6dinls

kida_dark_knight2_by_geryes-d6dnj2xGentle readers, your author adores both of the components of this fabulous artistic mash-up and has been poring over them all day. As an aside, the list includes official and un-official Disney Princesses. For example, on the right you will find Kida, the princess-then-Queen Regnant of Atlantis, who is not one of the eleven official Princesses, stylized as a Dark Knight. Most of them are thematic, e.g., Belle is Beastmaster, Merida is an Archer, etc. They’re incredibly cool; go check them out. It’s okay, I’ll wait here.

tumblr_mub3q9PA0x1qzimgeo1_1280Seeing this cast me back to other Disney Princess remixes I’ve seen, like this one by Mike V where Capcom fighter characters collide with our favorite Disney ladies. In case you were wondering which of them was the best, it is hands down this one of Lilo as Tron Bonne. There’s also a hilarious one of Disney Princesses twerking which is worthwhile, if nothing else, because it generated the phrase “a twerk is a wish your booty makes.

Besides the fact that these are all cool and hilarious, the frequency with which Disney Princesses are being remixed is an object lesson in how cool art has the potential to make the things we love even better if we are willing to let it be re-used, combined, and re-imagined. Most geeks already know this and can explain it in one word: fanfiction. But people are protective of their art, usually for two reasons I can think of: one, because they’re worried about it being taken from them and used, without credit or compensation; and two, because they don’t want it used for a purpose or interpreted in a way that they did not intend.

The first of these is exceedingly reasonable. Many artists receive very little compensation for the work they do, despite bringing skills and ideas that have taken their whole lives to develop. This is well-illustrated in the story of Picasso and the napkin sketch, wherein a fan asks the great painter for a little sketch on a napkin. He complies, and hands over the sketch asking for, oh I don’t know, 5000 EUR (they would have used pesetas, probably; no one knows what those are any more.) The woman recoils in terror, saying “But it only took you 3 minutes.” He replies, “No, ma’am. It took me my whole life.” More on that here.

tumblr_kuomv8qTsb1qz50oeo1_500The second is probably just as common a concern, but it is philosophically stillborn. To quote Joss Whedon: “All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet—it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” To me, if your art is incapable of supporting any interpretation other than the one you intended, then your art is weak. All art, all ideas, inventions, what have you, come from combining or altering elements of things that have already been. And that’s okay.

JBanksy_Napalm_HR_400kust think of all the incredible art which blatantly rips off, references, or remixes other work. The Magnificent Seven is an obvious and long acknowledged interpretation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and everyone knows that Kurosawa’s Ran is King LearThe Lion King takes from the Bible, Hamlet, and Kimba the White Lion, and is no less awesome for that fact. Banksy, anyone? It doesn’t do anyone any good to act like art, or writing, is slave to its creator. Everything is a remix of, or reference to, some thing or things that have come before. After all, there are only so many stories in the world.

But, I think that the “Disney Princess as X or Y” phenomenon (a couple of years old, in earnest) is special because of how important they are to us, culturally. Remember when it seemed that the appearance of Merida from Brave had changed to make her seem leaner, more “feminine” and less stocky? To quote Boondock Saints, “there was a firefight!” The Disney Princess are a multi-billion dollar institution, an important cultural touchstone, and they influence the self-image of young women and how our U.S. culture understands gender roles. Artistic remixes of Disney icons are an exemplar of the idea that nothing is too sacred or too important to be redesigned or reinterpreted. To say nothing of the fact that it produces beautiful things like this:

Theatre Thursdays: Beauty and the Beast

So I finally saw the Beauty and the Beast musical for the first time about a month ago. I didn’t like it, but of course that doesn’t mean much since most of my posts are about how I don’t like things. To clarify, I love the original movie. I think it’s fantastic, but I don’t believe it translated well, and maybe it was just the performance I saw, but I thought the play lost the original tone and epicness of the movie. It didn’t feel committed to telling the story it was based off. To be fair, plot-wise, it’s exactly the same. Everything else, however, completely differed.

I know that movies and musical performances are two very different mediums and that not everything done in one can be done in another, so I was expecting it to vary on some level, but not to the extent that it did. For the most part, what I can say about the musical is that it captures the visuals of the movie very well. Seeing them actually raise the beast and transform him at the end sends chills down my spine. All the magic of the movie came across in the play, and it was awesome.

That said, nothing else came across well. Some of the criticism of the movie is that Belle suffers from Stockholm syndrome, and I personally disagree with this. I can see the argument behind it, but I never thought that was the case. Whatever the original Disney film did to avoid that did not show up in the play. Maybe that’s because in the play the Beast, who’s obviously abusive, never learns to be more respectful until after Belle starts being nice. This doesn’t happen until after he saves her from the wolves, but Belle’s reaction is to suddenly fall in love with the man holding her prisoner. Her starting to like him is what brings out his kindness, as opposed to in the movie when his slowly blooming kindness brings out her like in him.

Furthermore, while the movie seemed very aware of the precarious positions it put the characters in, the musical did not. It turned everyone but Belle into comic relief characters. Everyone. Even the Beast. Gags flew around in every scene but the very first and the very last. With those exceptions, never once did the show break from the comic relief to have a more serious moment, and instead it turned the serious moments into jokes.

In fact, because the ending didn’t have any jokes marring it like the rest of the show, it felt like a different play. Because the musical never takes any time to develop and work with any of the serious scenes, Gaston’s death didn’t fit in anymore.

Speaking of Gaston, he was probably the only character in the play to not be completely insufferable as a comic relief character, and a lot of that has to do with how he’s presented in the movie and my not liking him than it does a good decision on the play’s part.

But for everything else? The humor just wouldn’t go away. Watching the Beast whimper in pain like a kicked puppy while Belle tends his arm after the wolf attack was just degrading. I want you to understand that when I say every opportunity made a joke, I mean every opportunity.

While Beauty and the Beast may have been more family friendly as a children’s movie, that was not the case in the play. These jokes were designed very much with only small kids in mind, which confuses the overall tone when they added all the over-the-top sexual innuendos between Lumiere and Featherduster. They didn’t stop. Constantly, they were at it, suggestively telling each other what they wanted to do offstage. And maybe something like that will go over a small child’s head, but they took the extra step to make Featherduster’s outfit as provocative as possible.

So we had these two, and then we had a bunch of childish jokes. And because of all this, it wasn’t really family friendly, nor can I tell what age group they were aiming for with their audience. Obviously, there were a lot of children at the theatre, but there were just so many adult-only suggestions in the play.

I know some of this may be nitpicking, and for the most part, people Online seem to love it, so I’m possibly in a small minority of people who hated this play. The music was great, the acting with the given roles was fantastic, and it didn’t hold back from trying to capture the magic in the movie, but for the other things, I most certainly could have done without.