Draconmouth: The Thoughts of Jaya Lakshmi

Draconmouth: The Thoughts of Jaya Lakshmi
The Media as a Medium, Part Two


You have to hand it to Disney; they are a household name and yet they have not made a good animated movie in about seven years. Pixar does not count because Disney bought Pixar and distributed their movies.

      That besides the point, if one were to look at Disney’s successful film history from it’s premiere film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Lilo and Stitch, then you would see messages that change with the nation’s attitude towards women. Why is this attitude so important? It’s because now only the Japanese do 2d animation and very few three-dimensional animated films do the medium justice. Also, since life imitates art and vice-versa, maybe the subtle feminism that appeared in Disney movies that eventually took over its more recent movies help fan the flames for the women’s rights movement. Not to mention that women make up a huge population of the US.

      I’m not going to be chronological, however, because I am not going to use Wikipedia to find out exactly when each movie was done. I’m also not going to include every movie because I have not seen every Disney movie and I don’t want to bore the reader with tedious explanations. This is an editorial, not an argumentative essay.

      Snow White is a clear example of ignorance towards women; in fact, the best scenes are with the dwarfs and not with Snow White at all. The evil queen certainly has power, but instead of serving as an intelligent villain who can explain if not justify her actions she simply fills the role of the bad character. (Man, Disney could’ve have a ball game with this had he been writing this the way they wrote Frollo.) While she does create the poisoned apple and successfully get Snow White to bite it, it’s rather the title character’s naivety than her clever skills.

      What seems to be a rewrite of Snow White is Sleeping Beauty, which is a better movie. While it seems to be the same formula, with an evil witch causing the main character to fall into a deep sleep that only a prince can awaken her from, there are huge differences. We have the three fairy godmothers, the three strongest characters in the film. They are the ones who take Princess Aurora into hiding, rescue Prince Philip, and defeat Maleficent. (Philip was only a pawn through which the fairies killed Maleficent because they’re the ones who gave him his weapons to fight against the evil witch’s enchantments.) If my theory of best scenes is right, then the funniest scene is when Fauna and Merewether are fighting over what color Aurora’s dress should be.

      Maleficent doesn’t have a better reason than Snow White’s evil stepmother to kill the princess (after taking offence at a snub), but she is much smarter, as she shows when she captures Prince Philip. Thus, even though Disney may not have meant to, this was the first subtle introduction of strong women characters in animation. (Pinocchio does not count because the Blue Fairy is more of a goddess than an actual character.)

      This subtle strong woman theme also appeared in Mary Poppins; yes, Mrs. Banks was supposed to make fun of suffragettes and promote women as homemakers and not voters, but consider Mary Poppins herself.

      She employs herself as the Banks’ new nanny, she has the power to do anything, and she doesn’t allow Mr. Banks to intimidate her but forces him to accept her and her oddball ways up until she leaves. (I know Mary Poppins is only partly animated, but it’s still an example of the subtle women theme that started to pop up.)

      Robin Hood was another interesting movie because while most of the women were either mothers or love interests, there was a hen named Clucky who revealed her tough side when she took down the sheriff and several guards during a huge fight scene at a tournament. The scene was played for laughs, although Clucky proved her body’s worth.

      The Rescuers is no-brainer, as Bianca does save Bernard as many times as he saves her in the first movie. The second movie I won’t cover because I think that one movie on these two mice will suffice.

      I’ve already covered Peter Pan in “Time to Be Original,” so I’m going to skip that.

      Next would be Beauty and the Beast, I think. Belle is not strong physically, but she is smart, has a huge love for fantasy adventures and isn’t afraid to show it. Because she is smart and she loves the adventures that books describe, she is bored with living in her French small town and refuses to marry the ‘heroic’ Gaston, who sees her more as a prize than as a person. Everyone else thinks that she’s strange. (I know how you feel, Belle.) She also has a sense of honor, as shown when she helps an injured Beast back to his castle after he saves her and her horse from hungry wolves and when she decides to return home to her father and revive him. (A smarter idea would’ve been to bring him to the Beast’s castle, but we needed to bring in Gaston to the mix so he’d realize that he had a rival.) Mrs. Potts and Belle’s wardrobe also prove their worth in the siege upon the castle, so we get the subtle women through the side characters.

      Aladdin, a guys’ movie, has only one main female (Jasmine), but the females who appear in the market scene where the guards chase Aladdin helter-skelter display their strength . . . very subtly. They either kick him out, chat with him, or squish him in a bear hug. Sadly, these women never reappear for the rest of the movie. Jasmine herself, like the other traditional Disney women, wants to escape her life of convention and dull customs that treat her badly. She hates “Prince Ali” and loves Aladdin for this reason. Aladdin as himself is the first person to treat her like a human being. She identifies Ali as Aladdin during their second meeting. She doesn’t escape the damsel-in-distress mode, but she isn’t stupid or naive.

      The Little Mermaid also features a strong title character and the first Disney female character that displays her guts. Most people could argue that Ariel gives up her mermaid form to be with a guy that she’s only seen for four days (the movie takes place in four days). However, that was not the original reason why Ariel wanted to become a human. If anyone listens to “Part of Your World,” Ariel wants to be a human because she’s tired of her sea life and she wants to know more about the treasures that she collects. In other words, she dreams of better places, just like Alice, Wendy, Dorothy, and Belle, meaning that she comes from a long line of descendants who don’t face the criticism that she faces.

      As for her falling in love with Eric, we can only thank God that she loves a NICE prince rather than a guy like Prince Charming from Shrek. Eric adds a romantic theme to the story and to stick to the original fairytale’s roots. However, her love story is no different from Snow White’s, Princess Aurora’s or Belle’s. The difference is that her prince also wants someone different, someone who is his equal, and Ariel is certainly that. She saves his life TWICE in the movie, which I think is a fair price for him defeating Ursula.

      Ursula is the third female villain in the line-up so far. Don’t get me wrong. She is scary and a strong antagonist. However, after reading books and watching documentaries about corporations, I have to assess that she is not evil, only power-hungry. When she sings to Ariel in trying to persuade her to sign the contract, she is simply advertising her product, just as the people on TV advertise cereals and medicines and a whole bunch of stuff that people don’t need. Ursula’s jingle is more original than the TV advertising, but I digress. What she is doing is using her product (the three-day potion) to obtain her resources (Ariel’s voice and Ariel herself eventually) in exchange for what she wants (Triton’s trident), playing the role of the producer, the entrepreneur, and the lobbyist in the undersea economy.

      The Lion King is rather interesting because it has only two female characters in it: Simba’s mother Sarabhi and his friend Nala. We don’t know that much about Sarabhi, but from the way Nala constantly beats Simba in every battle they fight and from how she fights the hyenas in the climatic battle; she qualifies as a strong woman despite the fact that she gets no chance to save Simba and she has a minor role.

      The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a different fish because it was not meant to be a kid’s movie. I remember seeing this in theaters because it was a Disney movie and I remember hating it because the glorious stuff ended up gaudy, the ending had no true festivities, and the gypsies dressed as skeletons scared me. I re-watched it over the summer on Toon Disney and the hatred has disappeared. I think it’s the best and only animated movie that deals with subjects such as religion and “righteous” people who do terrible things.

      But onto the women: one main lead and two minor characters have a big impact on the plot. In the beginning, Quasimodo’s mother, a gypsy, runs for her life to Notre Dame in order to save her child from Frollo, a judge who hates gypsies. If anyone sees the opening clip on YouTube, you’ll notice that she sprinted far on foot while Frollo was in horseback, considering that she carries a baby. People may call it a mother’s instinct, but this mother ran and died for Quasimodo, a deformed and crying baby who could’ve revealed her and her family to the soldiers.

      The second character, Esmeralda, is more obvious in her strength. She longs for a world where outcasts like gypsies do not exist. However, it’s a dream that she sings to the Virgin Mary. She is able to evade soldiers and Frollo throughout the film and saves Quasimodo both from cruel mobs and from Frollo’s detrimental influence. When she can’t save him, such as making him leave Notre Dame for good, she coaxes him out of the place where Frollo has imprisoned him physically and emotionally. Now, she isn’t perfect, given that she chooses Phoebus, a handsome and heroic soldier, over the hunchback, but by the time Quasimodo has to save her, it takes a long time for her to get caught and in a position where she becomes a damsel-in-distress.

      The last character is a little girl. She appears as part of an audience to Clopin, who narrates Quasimodo’s story at the movie’s beginning. In the movie’s resolution, when Frollo’s dead and the crowds are cheering, Quasimodo comes out of Notre Dame not dressed as a King of Fools or in disguise, but as himself, deformities and all. This girl approaches him and hugs him, leading to the people carrying him on their backs and cheering. She breaks the barrier that Frollo and these people have created against outcasts like the hunchback.

      Pocahontas, another different fish, tries to assure women that they don’t have to get married or learn how to fight in order to gain respect. It succeeds in that message, but people didn’t want to hear it in the movie theater any more than I wanted to see gypsies dressed as skeletons. Pocahontas defies all expectations; she is a young woman who likes adventure, is highly curious, and does not know her destiny except for a sign. She does not long for a better world, but rather wonders about her future. She doesn’t marry a brave villager because he is too serious for her (and because in the movie he dies), she doesn’t marry John Smith because she can’t go back to England with him (due to a gunshot wound) and she doesn’t have to kill a villain (John Ratcliffe in this case, his name shortened to Ratcliffe in the movie) in order to win a battle. She breaks all of the conventions that Disney had followed up to this point and continued to follow.

      In real life, Pocahontas was famous not because she was a peacemaker, but because she adopted English custom voluntarily, married an English John Rolfe, and moved to England. She sent the message that the other Native Americans could abandon their traditional customs and adopt English culture and become “civilized.” (We have to pay for that mistake, people, by not forgetting what America’s founders and spreaders did to the Native Americans.) Whoever came up with this version of the Powhatan girl who heals the discord between two races bent on killing each other must’ve looked at West Side Story’s Maria, decided to make her less violent and more pacifist, and rename her Pocahontas. 

      Between Pocahontas and Mulan and Lilo and Stitch came the Disney Dark Ages. They did NOT produce good movies during this time. (Hercules was NOT a good movie. Entertaining, but not well.) Cel animation became more expensive with costs of everything increasing, so they only produced two or three more good animated movies with long gaps in between them.

      Tarzan was one of those movies, but it had a love interest with the usual damsel-in-distress personality. Eh, not a big deal.

      Mulan was the first Disney movie with a manly heterosexual woman. It broke the first tradition of “female wanting a better world” by having Mulan as a girl who tries to fit into Chinese culture and fails.

      We know that Mulan is clumsy and a constant late person, but she has brilliant ideas that are simultaneously crazy, as shown when she pours tea on a fire in order to extinguish it. However, her brains don’t come in useful when dealing with the matchmaker, or in being a bride.

      Her brains come in useful when she joins the army disguised as a man. As a man she has to gain initial trust and respect from her captain, Shang, and her fellow soldiers, which is hard as she botches up her first day in the army. She never receives it from Chi Fu, the overseeing councilor. This she does through one of her crazy and brilliant ideas (firing a cannon into a mountain to cause an avalanche and envelop the enemy in snow) and her not-so crazy ideas (figuring out how to use the weights while training).

      This trust and respect disappears when they find out she’s a woman, Shang feeling doubly betrayed because she saved his life. Chi Fu is absolute about killing her because he never respects her in the first place.

      When she comes up with a crazy plan to rescue the emperor, Mulan regains this trust quickly from her three fellow soldiers because they like her and respect her anyway, while Shang trusts her because he knows from experience that her crazy ideas work. She defeats the enemy Huns’ leader through one more crazy and brilliant idea (shooting him into the fireworks tower, causing a massive implosion). The emperor respects her and wants her on his council because he recognizes her intelligence.

      It’s implied that she will marry Shang at the end, though all she does is invite him to dinner, but that little detail is unnecessary compared to Mulan herself dealing with a man’s job. The scriptwriter stuck that in there because you can’t have a Disney movie with adults without romance.

      Lilo and Stitch is Disney’s best 2D-animated movie to date. (Has it been two years already? My God.) It’s the most unusual story that is not a typical Disney movie because its three main women are, like Mulan, not dreamers.

      First we have Lilo herself. She does not dream of a better world, but simply wants a friend who will accept her for who she is. She is odd because she is odd and she is a kid, but she isn’t stupid. She teaches Stitch how to love, how to treasure people and care about them not through her Elvis lessons (please don’t ask; see the movie) but through her conversations with Nani and him.

      We have Lilo’s sister Nani. Nani has no time to dream because she has to be two parents and a sister to Lilo while maintaining custody of her. She seems to be no older than eighteen, but she is saddled with responsibility that she can’t handle. Stitch is the straw that breaks her back and threatens her and her sister living together as a social worker places hard expectations on the siblings’ living conditions.

      The third strong woman is the Councilwoman. She is the one who condemns Stitch to exile and sets the story in motion. She is not evil, but trying to do her job as leader of the universe. She is not afraid of any male alien or man, or of Stitch and she has power. If she does have dreams of a better life, she doesn’t reveal them in the movie.

      Why hasn’t Disney been producing more good movies?

      The reason is simple. Disney, instead of pouring efforts into creating a new franchise, has been cashing in on the old ones through merchandise and multiple sequels. Their other movies like Brother Bear, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Home on the Range have failed at the box office. My brother claims that bad animation, or worse animation than those used in the Disney films, has caused this.

      The current CEO talks of two more movies in the works, but I’m not crossing my fingers because they aren’t going to be animated like they used to be. No more watercolors of Lilo and Stitch or the beautiful cell-animation in the Little Mermaid; computers will do most of the work. (Think of Brother Bear or Home on the Range.) Computers animate more efficiently than people and cost less, but they eliminated job opportunities to the group of young artists out there who are drawing their comics. (I’m not talking about myself; I’m talking about the people that draw REALLY well but will never make it big-time.)

      If the age of 2D is over for Disney, then at least it has a good track record, right?

      Not so! Some 2D movies are on their way to success or have been successes; examples include Persepolis, A Scanner Darkly, any Hayao Miyazaki movie that is good, Paprika, and Millennium Actress. The art is dying, but it’s not dying quietly.

Jaya Lakshmi is a featured columnist at Yuugiou Uncensored.  You can contact her through e-mail or by going to her forum at the Message Boards.


 Jaya's Past Articles

            Jaya speaks out on the unoriginality of movies in America.

             Yet another great offering.

             Jaya comes through again with a slightly darker piece than usual.  You have to see it to enjoy it!