New Year, New Whatever

As I have grown older, I have been less impressed with the idea that we can start over on New Year’s Day and transform our lives. A new calendar doesn’t really change anything about us.  We are the same person we were before midnight and resolutions go from transformative to onerous by the end of the month.  With this in mind, I gave them up a couple of years ago.  Instead I use the new calendar to refocus on the things that are important to me.  I am not becoming a ‘new’ me.  I’m the same old me just more mindful of the things that are important to me.  So what does this new year hold for Pastor Mouse?  I’m glad you asked.

Big plans for 2019 here!

In April I will be visiting my third Disney Resort when the Princess and I arrive at Disneyland Paris.  I am both excited and a little nervous to be touring my first Disney park in another language.  I have been trying to learn a little French, but have no confidence in my communication skills.  I am hoping that Disney is a universal language.

I will also be attempting my first Disneybounding.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it means dressing like a Disney character without the use of costumes.  Adults are no longer allowed to wear costumes, so people have begun to improvise.  So far, I’ve got a really cute Mickey outfit to wear.  I’m still working on what else I might do.

There are also a lot of Disney films coming out this year.

  • “Toy Story 4” is what I’m personally most excited for.  Every movie in this franchise has gotten progressively better so it’s hard not to be excited for the latest installment.
  • Disney is also releasing three live action / CGI remakes of older animated features.  I have never been excited for these sorts of movies.  Some of them have been very good, some less so.  Quality aside, it feels like Disney is just recycling rather than creating new content which is disappointing.
  • On the Marvel side we get the finale of the Infinity War saga.  While I am excited, there is also a sense of inevitability that the events of the last movie will be undone.  The new Spiderman movie already has publicity so we know that ‘The Snap’ isn’t so very permanent.  Hopefully the journey to the known destination will be interesting.
  • Also on the Marvel side we get “Captain Marvel”.  I am very excited for this one.  Not only do I love movies about powerful women, but Marvel has done a great job minimizing spoilers.  I have no idea what’s going to happen in this movie and I like that.
  • Finally, the Skywalker Saga ends with “Star Wars: Episode 9”.  This has been a long time coming and may be a little bittersweet for me.  The loss of my childhood heroes (one in real life) has been hard.  The end of this grand story of Empire and Rebellion will end a story that has been part of my life since I was 6 years old.

My big project for the year is to work my way through the catalog of Disney animated features in order.  There are (as of today) 57 of them.  It looks to be a long term project that is definitely achievable in a year if I stay focused.  I am hoping to blog as I go along to compare messages, styles, and over arching themes.

What are your plans for the year?  Anything big?  Let me know in the comments.

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Man Up — Postscript

There is another reason I have been struggling with writing the series on Pixar shorts in my current mood.  That reason has a lot to do with Pixar itself.

It is no great surprise if you are a Disney fan that Pixar films, both long and short, are dominated by men. Until “Brave” in 2012, there were no Pixar films that feature female characters in leading role in its 17 year history.  While there were memorable female characters Dory and Elastigirl, they were sidekicks rather than leads.  I find it interesting that they have both since gotten their own starring roles in features. Unsurprisingly, the short films have a similar bias.  There are no shorts that feature a woman until we get to the bonus feature from “Brave” narrated by the witch.  I find myself uninspired to write about men telling stories about other men right now.

As an added bonus to my apathy, John Lasseter, the main creative voice behind Pixar’s success, stepped away because of his self admitted ‘missteps’ with female employees.  Apparently is was commonly known that women would not sit next to Lasseter in meetings because of his wandering hands.  This was known by me and women both and no one said or did anything to stop it.  The men who worked with him stayed silent instead of standing up with the women they worked with.  I really don’t feel like praising the work that they created while working in a culture where women weren’t valued.  Is it any wonder that there were no films, short or long, that featured women.  It is obvious in hindsight that their voices and contributions weren’t valued.  If they were, Lasseter’s behavior would have been stopped.  Again, the ‘nice guys’ didn’t do it.  They just let it keep happening.

At some point I will return to the Pixar shorts.  They are a quality body of work.  But right now, I just can’t.

Man Up

You may have noticed that I have once again been writing less.  I wrote the intro to a series on Pixar shorts and then fell off the internet until Halloween.  So, FYI, the series is still coming, but right now I’m having a hard time writing about much of anything and today you get to hear why.

I am angry.

Since the Kavanaugh hearings I have been on a low boil.  It takes little to nothing to set me off right now.  I watched Dr. Blasey Ford’s story play out with little surprise. I knew exactly how it would end.  This story is overdone and predictable.  It plays out every day in my life and in the life of the women I know.  We all have stories of attack, abuse, and trauma.  We all know that those stories will be diminished in order to preserve the narrative of the patriarchy.  Nothing that happens to us is more important then the overall well-being of a man, particularly a white man over a certain age.  We know that.  Surprisingly, that’s not where my anger is coming from.  My anger is rooted in the response of the ‘nice’ guys, the ‘woke’ guys, the ‘my daughter deserves better’ guys, because their reaction is no reaction at all.

I didn’t realize this was what was going on until I saw a friend post a link of Facebook.  There was a song that came out in reference to comments about how hard it is to be a ‘boy’ right now.  The song talked about some (far from all) the accommodations women make to their lives to stay safe.  His response, “I had no idea it was this bad.”  Really?  REALLY?!? Where have you been living the fifty years of your life?  Where has your head been that you have not heard the stories of sexual harassment in the work place?  What language do you speak that you’ve never heard the term ‘casting couch’? Have you never left your house to hear the derogatory comments, pick up lines, and cat calls?  Do you not watch tv and hear our politicians demean women?  Have you seen no movies that depict women as objects to be acquired no matter what they might want?  Have you never heard of date rape, dick pics, or online harassment?  Where have you been?  Because if you really don’t know about all these things, I want to live there too.  The reality is, of course, is that I can’t live there.  He lives in Dude-land where these things do exist, but they do not impact his life.  I wonder if he asked his wife, daughter, sister, and mom if they knew things were that bad.

I am angry because there is no longer any excuse for the ‘nice guys’ of the world to pretend they don’t know this stuff is happening.  It is no longer enough for guys to not behave inappropriately.  It’s great that you don’t harass women on the street or put your hands on strangers.  Good for you that you never made derogatory comments or threatened a woman’s job or safety because she wasn’t interested in you.  It’s good that you can take no for an answer.  It’s not enough.  It’s time to man up.

It’s time to call out other men on their behavior.  It’s time to have women’s backs. It’s time to listen and believe.  It’s time to let go of the femme fatale myth and the notion that women accuse men of violence and assault because there’s something in it for them.  It’s time to hear all the stories even when they make you uncomfortable.  More than that, it’s time to hold other men accountable. It’s time to come out of Dude-land.  It’s scary out here but you can do it.

You can walk with us in the anger and the fear.  You can take the backlash from the  other dudes.  You can decide that there is another narrative besides the one of male privilege.  You can let go of just a little bit of your safety so someone else can get more. Wake up!  Pay attention!  In the famous words from “Mulan”, Be a man.

be a man

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, readers!  I am once again returning to the world of Disney villains for this year’s Halloween blog.

One of the nice things about Disney animated movies is that we know who to route for.  Protagonists are good.  Antagonists are bad.  We know that no matter what happens, good will triumph over evil.  We are well conditioned to align with the heroes & heroines in their journey.  Here’s the thing about that: not all of the villains are wrong.  Some actually have real and valid reasons for their nefarious deeds.  So today we are going to look at three ‘villains’ who aren’t wrong.

EdgarEDGAR BALTHAZAR

First is the villainous butler in “The Aristocats”, Edgar Balthazar.  Edgar, motivated by greed (and unfortunate math) decides to get rid of the family of cats standing between him and a fortune.  He drugs and ‘catnaps’ Duchess and her kittens which starts the main plot of the film and places him firmly in the role of villain.  Here’s the thing.  He’s not really wrong.

I have always thought that people who leave vast fortunes to pets are a little misguided.  There are plenty of ways to ensure the well being of a beloved pet besides leaving them money.  If Madame had left the money to Edgar with the stipulation that he care for the cats, he would have been quite devoted to them.  Also, Edgar never tries to kill them outright.  He tries to lose them.  He could have saved himself a great deal of time and effort by simply throwing them into the river.  Instead he takes them out of the city where there is a reasonable expectation that they could find a home at one of the nearby farmhouses.  Not a kindness, but a practice people still use today.  So, while Edgar is labeled a villain, he’s just not that bad.

 

JafarJAFAR

Second, we have Jafar.  The evil vizier from “Aladdin” fits much more comfortably into the villain description.  He is cruel, manipulative, and ruthless.  He uses his power to further his own ambitions no matter what.  His goal is to take over the kingdom and rule either behind the scenes or as sultan himself.  And while his methods are unethical, he has a point.

The Sultan is unquestionably terrible.  He pays no attention to his kingdom.  He sits in his palace playing with toys, while the city outside his gates is falling apart.  The guards are out of control.  Nobles are abusing the citizens with no consequences.  Regular citizens are taking the law into their own hands.  Children are literally starving in the streets.  The Sultan’s biggest concern?  Finding a prince his daughter is willing to marry.  One could very easily see how removing this man from power was a heroic choice rather than a villainous one.

 

YzmaYZMA

Finally, we have Yzma.  Like Jafar, she is an adviser to the ruler.  Unlike Jafar she seems content with her role until she is unceremoniously fired by Emperor Kuzco.  While she has a secret lab and appears to be a gifted mad scientist, there is no evidence that Yzma has any designs on the throne at the beginning of the movie.  Her plan to kill the Emperor is a direct result of his behavior.  In fact her plan is so haphazardly conceived that it goes through several different iterations for reasons as varied as wrong potions, misplaced bags, and postage.  While she is motivated by personal gain, she is not wrong that the kingdom needs a change in leadership.

Kuzco is an even worse ruler than the Sultan.  While the Sultan is an apathetic ruler seemingly unaware of the realities outside his door, Emperor Kuzco is not only aware of the problem but the cause of many of them.  He is self-centered and cruel.  He takes what he wants when he wants it.  He is rude to his people, expecting each person he meets to indulge his every whim.  He takes people’s homes for his own uses without a thought of the impact on their lives.  He casually has an elderly man thrown to his death for interrupting the rhythm of his life.  It is implied this is not the first time that has happened.  Kuzco is a despot and tyrant.  It is little wonder that Yzma moves easily onto the throne after Kuzco’s apparent death.  People are glad to be rid of him.  Yzma has done them all a favor.

 

Methodologies aside, all three of these villains were right in their goals; trying to right a wrong or change an imbalance of power.  With a slight shift in focus and a little less murderous intent, these stories could have been quite different.  Do you agree?  Is there a misunderstood villain I missed?  Let me know in the comments.

*Cover image from Wickedpedia: The Disney Villains Wiki       http://disneyvillains.wikia.com/wiki/Disney_Villains

Brevity is the soul of wit

‘Less is more.’  I have heard this my whole life and when I was young it made no sense at all to me.  Less is quite obviously less.  A smaller piece of cake is less cake.  An hour at the beach is less than a day at the beach.  Less could also be a good thing.  A half day of school was less than a whole day of school.  But whether the outcome was good or bad less was less, not more.  More was more.  It took me a lot of year to figure that out and a shift to and understanding of quality rather than quantity.  I came to understand that while an hour at the beach is not much time, it’s a lot better than an afternoon at home cleaning my room.  I also eventually came to understand that this applied to less physical things as well.

Throughout my education, I was given various assignments that had requirements for length; x number of pages, x number of minutes, etc.  I’m sure you all know the drill.  The problem would come when my information ran out before the randomly determined length would come.  So like any good student, I learned to pad my work.  Long quotes formatted to take extra space, dramatic pauses, anecdotes that were only barely tied to the subject matter.  Teachers would, of course, notice these additions and point them out.  But instead of getting a large deduction for  not meeting the length requirement, I would get docked a point or two for poor editing.  This was regular occurrence throughout my educational years until I got to my Introduction to Homiletics class.  For those of you for whom church speak isn’t a second language, that translates to Preaching 101.

I was fortunate enough to take preaching from a pastor who was considered (at the time) to be one of the best preachers in the country.  He took 12 students a year and I lined up at 6:30 am outside the registrar’s office to sign up for his class.  I was the 7th person in line.  He was an amazing teacher who taught me a lot not only about the practice of preaching but about who I am as a preacher.  However, the most important thing he said to our class was, “If you cannot summarize your sermon in one sentence, you have no idea what you’re talking about.”  And he believed it.  So much so that part of the grade we got for each sermon consisted of identifying the ‘sermon sentence’.  If we couldn’t do that, we were not going to be well graded.

That has stuck with me ever since.  It takes a lot more work to do something well and simply than it does to get something done by over-complicating it and eventually getting to a finished product.  In the first years of my preaching, my best sermons were short and too the point.  As I got more experience I slowly learned what I could add that would supplement my points rather than distracting or just filling time.  There’s nothing like preaching a sermon that everyone remembers for the funny story rather than the actual point of the sermon.  This applies not just to me and my work, but across the board in any profession that deals with presenting ideas, information, or entertainment to other people.  One of the best examples of this is the short film genre.  And consistently one of the best creators of short films is Pixar.

Pixar consistently produces films that not only tell excellent stories but engage our emotions.  Unlike other creators, they do not rely on over used tropes or gimmicks.  Quite simply, they know the story they want to tell and they do so without any extra padding or side stories.  In fact, Pixar animation was created to make short films and make them well.  Even all these years later, they are still able to perform this first task they were ever given.  Over the next several weeks, I will looking at the Pixar shorts and looking at how Pixar has managed to live into and improve the short film genre.

Do you have a favorite Pixar short?  Tell me in the comments.

 

Family focus

I am redecorating my bedroom. Well, technically am just decorating it since I haven’t done much to it since I moved on last year.  I am hanging photos of various trips to Disney Parks as shown above.  As I was looking at the layout I decided what I really needed was a quote about family to put in that empty space in the middle.  So I went to the internet (as you do) to find the perfect thing.  Imagine my surprise when the internet failed me miserably!

When I Googled ‘Disney quotes about family’ the results were plentiful.  However they were disappointing.  The top row contained: 1 compilation of various famous movie quotes, most not family themed; 3 quotes that had nothing to do with Disney at all; 2 images that were the same unimpressive quote by Walt; and a quote from one of the Winnie the Pooh books that, to my knowledge, never appeared in a Disney film.  My frustration level was high.  I thought I would have to dig through many quotes to find the perfect one for my photo wall.  Instead was looking and looking just to find something that was close to appropriate.  For a company that focuses its work on families and children Disney has a shocking lack of families and family related  discussion.

As I contemplated this phenomena, I became aware of something I already knew peripherally. Disney doesn’t do family.  While it is an underlying values in almost everything that they put out, the actual traditional families are few and far between.  Now I’m not saying that the only families that are of value are ones that have Mom, Dad, and 2.4 children.  However, the extreme lack of such things is telling.  Here are some examples.

  • Mickey & Minnie have been dating exclusively for 90 years.  They have yet to commit.
  • The Duck family seems to be full of unaddressed loss and grief. Donald has three nephews in his custody and no living siblings which, of course, makes Huey, Dewey, & Louis orphans.  Donald himself has only an uncle, leaving us to wonder what happened to his parents.
  • Goofy has a son and no spouse.
  • Of the 56 Disney animated features only four show families that have not lost a member in a tragic way (death or forced separation) at the beginning of the film: “Moana”, “Zootopia”,  “Mulan”, and “101 Dalmatians”.  That is a shocking 7% of their animated films.  Pixar has one, “Brave”.
  • The small screen is slightly better, but  Hannah Montana,  Zach & Cody, and others were being raised by single parents.  All of the kid characters in the Disney Afternoon shows were short at least one parent.

Parentless families are a staple for Disney.  Is it any wonder that I couldn’t find a good quote for my wall?

As I continued to read, I came to realize that the only Disney film that talks about family in any real way is “Lilo & Stitch”.  Of course, one of the key elements in the story is how broken the sisters are.  It is perhaps the only Disney movie that tackles the tragedy of loss head on.  In a beautiful way it is their brokenness that heals the out of control Stitch.  The most beautiful line about family is spoken by Stitch at the end of that movie.  He says,

‘This is my family.  I found it all on my own.  It is little and broken, but still good.  Yeah, still good.”

It is poignant and powerful especially for those of us who grew up in ‘broken’ families.  But I can’t put it on my wall.  It makes me cry.

I wonder what more Disney could do to talk about family in all its shapes and sizes.  I wonder what would happen if Max and Goofy talked about the loss of Mrs. Goofy.  I wonder if kids being raised by single parents, foster parents, adopted parents, and all other kinds of vaguely parent shaped people could resonate with conversations about loss, change, and being different from the norm.  If Disney is going to continue to use this storytelling trope, perhaps they should actually use it.  If “Lilo & Stitch” is any example, they could do it well in ways that could resonate deeply with people.  The could open a door for connections to be made.  Perhaps they could help us to realize that ultimately we are all broken in some way and are just looking for family to call our own.

None of which helps me with my wall art dilemna.

Got any good ideas for my space?  Let me know in the comments.

Best of the Best

The obvious flip side of last week’s blog is an examination of the best that Disney animation has to offer.  As difficult as it was to find consensus last week on the worst of the Disney catalog there is even more discrepancy to find the best.   Objectively, there is no question that animation techniques have improved  dramatically, which leads to a natural bias towards newer films.  But there are many other biases at play.  Some reviewers obviously prefer musicals, others dislike CGI.  There are also more than a few who are convinced that the movies of their childhood are objectively the best.  This last one, at least, I am free from.  The animated features of the 1970’s were lackluster at best. I don’t think there is a single one of the four films that were released when I was a child that I would go to bat for as a contender for best Disney film ever. So I consider myself at least a little bit objective.

Just a quick reminder from last week, for my purposes, I have limited the list to feature films, created by Disney Animation studios, and released in theaters. Including other studios in the list again skews the results dramatically.  For example on Rotten tomatoes, 6 of the 10 top rated Disney movies are Pixar films.  I have also stopped the list at four films instead of five.  While there is general agreement in these four, rankings very quickly diverge.  So without further ado, here are Disney Animation’s best movies.

#1   Pinocchio

pinocchio

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 100% — Audience 75%

It is interesting to me that this is listed on almost every list at or near the top.  “Pinocchio” was never one of my favorites.  The Princess watched it once, cried so hard she missed the end, and then refused to watch it again.  However, my personal experience aside, more than one critic has called it ‘perfect’.  It is held up as an example of strong storytelling tied to beautifully crafted animation.  While it does feel a little heavy handed to contemporary audiences as well as a little dark for young children (The Princess isn’t the only weeper), it is a powerful film that has held up for almost 80 years.

#2    Fantasia

fantasia

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 96% — Audience 83%

Interestingly, the second film on the list was released in the same year as “Pinocchio”.  1940 was a good year for Disney Animation.  “Fantasia” was a unique project that featured, rather than one coherent whole, a compilation of different animation styles, stories, and musical soundtracks.  It was an experimental piece designed to be taken apart and put back together with new and different pieces periodically.  It was so beloved that it never happened.  In fact, the image of Mickey Mouse in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” became a Disney icon.  Instead of taking it apart, eventually animators created an entirely different project to continue the work Walt Disney initially envisioned.  It is still considered innovative and beautiful today.

# 3   Lion King

lion king

 

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 93% — Audience 93%

The next two often fight it out for the top spot.  They have a lot in common.  Both are considered part of the Disney Renaissance of the 90’s, both have successful stage productions, and soon both with have live action remakes.  “The Lion King” barely sneaks into the higher spot often because of the story itself.  “The Lion King” rather than relying on fairy tale tropes feels much more Shakespearean in nature.  The drama level is higher and the African Savannah makes a much grander backdrop for regicide and revenge.  All of this underscored with a soundtrack that takes many influences from traditional African influences.  It was unique in animated films at the time and continues to resonate with audiences.  As the film has been adapted to the stage and now to a live action film, Disney has increased the African influences in the music, costuming, and characters which has only made the piece that much stronger.

#4   Beauty and the Beast

beauty and the beast

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 94% — Audience 92%

Finally, there is “Beauty and the Beast”.  This is the last film entirely scored by Howard Ashman before his death and the film is dedicated to his memory.  In my opinion it is the music, rather than the plot that drives this film consistently to the top of the ‘Best of’ lists.  The fairy tale is fairly predictable and straightforward.  It is the music that connects us.  It makes us love the household staff, feel sorry for the Beast, root for the heroine, and even enjoy the villain.  More than the very singable numbers performed by the cast, the background music sets a scene that is at once both sad and hopeful.  The four opening notes of the main theme will pull me into the world of Belle and the Beast immediately.  In fact, that was all it took to let me know what was coming when I saw the live action previews.  I could have literally seen a black screen and those four notes and I would have needed nothing else.  Add to that stunning animation that resembles Italian Renaissance painting and it is no wonder that this film remains a classic.

Honorable Mention: Frozen

frozen

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 90% — Audience 85%

Do NOT yell at me about this one.  I know that “Frozen” is not one of the best Disney movies ever made.  It is very good, but doesn’t even break most top 10 lists.  I include it here for another reason.  This is the film that shifted our culture’s concept of what an animated feature could be.  It featured two strong, but imperfect women who drove the action and pulled the men along in their wake.  It was created and conceived by women.  It broke records. It won awards.  It made an absurd amount of money and continues to be a force in our popular culture five years later.  All of this from a ‘Princess’ movie aimed at little girls.  This movie raised the bar for the genre and is the standard by which other movies will be judged.  And I will fight you on this one.

 

So there is my list.  What do you think?  Have I missed the best Disney movie ever?  Let me know in the comments.