Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Forgotten Disney Songs

Will I ever be able to do a post without mentioning Disney? Sigh. We all grew up on Disney songs but there are plenty that never made it into their films. Sometimes characters and plots changed during production. Sometimes they simply ran out of time. Enjoy.

1. Riddle-Diddle from Sleeping Beauty
I'm glad they didn't include this one. It's a time waster song about house cleaning and Disney has enough of those already. Here's a fan made video. The voices are matched up with the wrong fairies, but oh well.

2. Call Me a Princess from Aladdin
Ever think it's strange that Jasmine doesn't have a solo? Well, here it is. They cut it out when they decided not to make her a royal brat.

3. Life's Too Short from Frozen
Sorry, not the real voice actresses. This song references plot elements that were removed when the script was rewritten, specifically a prophecy about Elsa's destiny. It was replaced by a reprise of For the First Time in Forever in which Elsa's heartbroken and Anna's naively hopeful. Here they're much sassier. I like it.
Actually, they threw out a lot of song for Frozen. You should look them up.
4. I Can't Believe My Heart from Hercules
Meg's original love song. They decided she wasn't a ballad type of girl, so unlike Frozen, they took a sweet song and made it sassy. It ends with the line "I can't believe my heart could be so wise". Yeah, basically the opposite of I Won't Say I'm in Love.

5.If I Never Knew You from Pocahontas
It wasn't cut entirely-you can here it during the credits on some videos-put originally it was part of the plot. I don't like it. Shouldn't the guards hear them singing? The tent's not that thick. They took it out because they thought it slowed down the story.

6. Snuff Out the Light from Emperor's New Groove
Yes! A villain song for Yzma. No, she's not singing about how to kill Kuzco. It's about her stealing the power of the sun to gain eternal youth. Evil indeed. That plot was cut, but at least we got a good recording of the song.

7. Keep 'Em Guessing from Mulan
This song introduces Mushu's character. It was deleted because they decided he was flamboyant enough that he didn't need a song. 
8. Be Prepared (Reprise) from Lion King
They brought this back for the Broadway version. It's creepy. Scar seducing Nala? Ick.

9. The Working Song from Cinderella
Another clean up song, but it's much more fun than Riddle Diddle. Sure, balls are nice, but sometimes we wish for more practical things. Like a clone regiment to do our chores while we get ready for the party. I think it's creepy that she wants to clone herself exponentially instead of one at a time the way normal people would do it.

10. One Dance from Little Mermaid
Pretty, yes, but it's too similar to Part of Your World. And while One Dance just expresses Ariel's desire fall in love, Part of Your World conveys her desire to explore the human world. A well-made fan video.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How to Properly Describe a Book

Favorite books. We all have them. And sometimes they're so wonderful, so breathtaking, so life changing, that we make it our personal mission to enlighten the world.
And we suck at it. You know what? Nobody cares if you connected with the main character, or if the writing is drop dead gorgeous, or if twist-that-shall-not-be-described forever changed the way you read books. When someone sees you carrying a book and asks what it's about, they don't want this:
"So it's, um, basically set in this alternate society that's kind of like earth but it's kind of not. And there are these squirrels. Like, giant squirrels who are ten feet tall and giant with razor sharp teeth that can bite through things. And certain squirrel clans are peaceful with the humans but others are rivals with the human cities-they all live in these dome cities-because there's this ancient blood feud that's been going on for seven hundred years ever since the humans and squirrels fought against each other in this war called the Pirate Wars. And so this boy, Fabio, he's born into the squirrel society-I mean, into this world, he lives in one of the domed cities. It's actually the capital of the dome cities. And they live in fear of the giant squirrels because they can fly..."
Bored yet? I am. Here's a seven step method to properly describe your favorite book.
1. Remove All Hesitation Words from Your Vocabulary
Um, basically, like, etc. Nobody wants to hear these.
2. Who's this Happening to?
The first word out of your mouth should be the main character's name. Example: "Fabio."
3. Who is He?
"Fabio, who wants to be a champion skydiver."
4. What Does He Want?
"Fabio, who wants to be a champion skydiver, is devastated when his brother Bob is kidnapped by mutant squirrels. The only way he can afford to pay the ransom is to win the skydiving championship."
5. Why Do We Care?
"If he fails, Bob will be sacrificed to the ancient squirrel gods."
6. Who's the Villain?
"But Parkinson, the current champion, will do whatever it takes to sabotage Fabio."
See? We've got the plot down. We didn't get to the Pirate Wars and the domed cities. You don't get to reveal the shocking twist where Parkinson pokes a hole in Fabio's parachute and forces him to crash-land in a lake and discover the squirrel treasure that the pirates stole all those decades ago and pay the ransom and halt the blood feud and tear down the domed cities so man and squirrel can live in harmony.
What you've got is the stuff people actually care about. And now they can get on with their lives. The End.

Note: The book mentioned in this post does not exist. And kind of I'm glad it doesn't. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Disney Diversity

I've noticed some controversy over diversity in the Disney Princess franchise. The brilliant bloggers and twitter addicts of the world have already covered a few small issues. For example, only five of the (currently) eleven princess are non-white. And they're all slender. Also pretty. They don't look like people in the real world.
Okay, good start, but now let's get down to the real issues to the franchise.
Look at how she holds him
Tiana is the very first Disney princess to be left-handed. Half of my family is left handed, so this is a very important issue to me. One day I was watching cartoons with my leftie brother and he complained that all animated characters are right handed. I tried to prove him wrong, but every character I saw wrote, sewed, and shot with their right hands. Left handers currently make up 11% of the U.S. population. How dare Disney make 90% of their characters match up with the real world statistics.
Look at how they hide Ariel in the back. Atrocious.
Also, Ariel is currently the ONLY princess to be a non-mammal. What kind of message is this sending non-mammalian viewers? That you should only fall in love with humans? That you should change your body in order to catch a human's eye-never mind that your superior swimming abilities saved his life? That non-humans aren't important? Let's go back to Tiana. She spends a total of seventeen minutes as a human in the film. The title is The Frog Princess. Yet on all the products she's human. Absolutely despicable.
It's worth noting that Nala, Simba's fiancee from the Lion King, and Minnie Mouse, portrayed as a princess in various cartoons, are not in the official lineup.
It's not just humans that Disney favors. You have to an animated human. Giselle didn't make the lineup, despite being a cartoon for part of the movie, because Disney didn't feel like paying Amy Adams for the use of her image. Princess Leia from Star Wars is likely to meet the same fate.

Ever since Snow White hit theaters in 1937, Disney has been busy producing characters who never wear glasses. At first this seems tolerable because most of them live in medieval settings. They couldn't get glasses if they needed them. But remember that monocle guy in the Cinderella movie?
What's your excuse now, Disney?
Also, has anyone noticed that all the princesses in the Disney lineup are Disney characters? Where is Anastasia?
Anastasia, Warner Bros. princess.
Sure, she's based on a real human. Sure, Disney would have to jump some mega copyright hurdles in order to put her on the merchandise. But that's not excuse enough! It's completely and utterly unfair of Disney to only promote their own products in order to make money. Slimy corporate greed.
I hope this post has alerted you to the shameful mistakes, oversights, and outright discrimination in the Disney franchise. I shall now host a Disney merchandise bonfire in my backyard. I hope to see you all there.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Troll Authors: They're Not So New

A few months ago, I created a twitter account for the sole purpose of following my favorite authors. I have a few actors and cool websites mixed in, but mostly it's writers. It amazes me how many people send out angry tweets to their favorite authors and call them trolls. Okay, couch critics, I know you have Opinions on how your favorite series should end. But your opinions are nothing sacred. And the author probably knows what they're doing. They have an agenda in life beyond making yours miserable. Believe it or not they probably put lots of thought into what you write.
Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women
Little Women is the tale of four sisters-Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy-and their neighbor Laurie. Laurie likes Jo. She doesn't know it, but everyone else does. Her sisters. Her parents. The readers. Everyone. Since Laurie is such a nice guy, Jo tries to pair him up with Meg. But Meg marries a not-Laurie instead and the book comes to an end.
Wait, what? We get to see Meg's wedding but not Jo's? This was before tumblr. So Louisa's fans wrote her letters demanding a sequel. Because they loved the characters? Yeah. And they wanted to know what happens next? Uh huh. But mostly they wanted to see Jo marry Laurie.
Like many classic female writers, Louisa May Alcott had Opinions. One of those Opinions was that a woman needn't get married to live a decent life. So she wrote a volume II. Jo moves to New York to become an independent woman and pursue a writing career. And there she meets a not-Laurie. He's also a nice guy, but he has several flaws, one of them being he's not Laurie.
A thousand fans cry out in terror.
When Jo gets home, Laurie finally proposes-only for her to turn him down. And say romance would ruin their friendship. And then try to pair him up with Beth.
Beth dies. Louisa's fans buy guns. Laurie debates between killing himself and going to Europe, decides on that second one, and runs into Amy while he's there. Let's see. Meg's married, Beth's dead, Jo's off doing independent writerly things, who's left?
Laurie figures it out. He and Amy get hitched.
And Jo? Call her Mrs. not-Laurie
Yes, we've got our trollish authors nowadays. But Louisa May Alcott's been trolling since 1869. Give your favorite authors 150 years and you won't be so upset anymore. She went down in history as the most desperate attempt to avoid her fans' favorite ship. I've never met anyone who wanted Jo to end up with not-Laurie in the end. I don't know anybody who read the book and thought, "Amy and Laurie would make a good couple."
But you know what? I'm okay with it. Because there's more to the book than romance. And that means I don't have to disown the entire story because it didn't end the way I wanted. Yes, I'm upset Beth died. Yes, I wanted Jo and Laurie together. But the book still has a good ending.
I think it's ridiculously picky-not to mention rude-of people to call out authors for not doing things their way.  If you want a book where your favorite characters get married, the ones you hate die, and nothing bad happens to anyone you like, then you can go write your own. Do you really think anyone's going to change their story because a random Internet critic has a better idea? If you're passionate enough to send angry tweets you're passionate enough to fall in love with a story.
And when you fall in love there are two options-say yes or go off in search of something else to make you happy. It worked for Jo. It will work for you.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fiction vs. Reality

Everyone wants their life to be a story. We want to think that we're the main character of the universe. That everyone else we know is either destined to befriend us, die at the end, or fade into the background. We want to think our lives are fascinating enough to captivate an audience.
But the truth? They aren't. The only person who's interested in your life is you. And you only enjoy it because you have to live through it. There's really no other choice.
Unless you escape into fiction.
I think the biggest difference between life and fiction is that the later ends. In reality, you may meet your true love, but then you've got to buy a home and pay utilities and learn how to work through petty arguments. You will win something at some point. A fistfight. A competition. The lottery. But the high of success will run out after a while and you have to find new ways to bring yourself joy. You'll go on an adventure. You'll save someone's life. But after that you have to go home to yours.
Some people tell me they read light, funny books for escape. They can step out of their dreary lives and into someone else's. I don't do that. I like reading about characters who get malaria and fall off cliffs and watch their villages destroyed before their eyes. Their problems are so much more real than my life of piano practice and chemistry homework.
This has been on my mind ever since I saw Austenland a few months ago. It's the story of a woman named Jane who learned how to love from Jane Austen novels. She can't have a normal relationship with a flesh-and-blood man because he won't measure up to Mr. Darcy. So she travels to Pembrooke Park, a vacation resort where women can live like the heroines in Austen's book. But she comes to realize that she can never be an Austen heroine, no matter how many times she reads the books, watches the movies, and tries and fails to fall in love. So she learns to find love in reality.
Two weeks ago I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Walter's life isn't much to look at. He's got a mildly interesting office job (prepping photos for magazine covers) and a pending midlife crisis. Sure, he's not dealing with poverty or disease or the like, but his life sucks. So he escapes into fantasies. While everyone else around him is busy waiting for a train, he's saving a three legged dog from an exploding building and thrusting it into the arms of a beautiful woman.
Then one of the photos gets lost. Walter sets off to find it. In the process he has to jump from a helicopter into shark-infested waters, longboard towards a volcano eruption, and bribe an Afghan warlord with cake. Unlike Jane, he doesn't become content with reality. He makes his own story.
Jane and Walter are self aware. They want to be fictional characters. They want to fall in love and save the world. And sometimes, it's not enough to watch a character do that. We want to watch a character want to be that. Because then they remind us of ourselves.
In my English class, we read the short story Walter Mitty is based on. The textbook has a Peanuts comic on the opposite page of the story. It called Snoopy "Mittyesque."

Is there anything more fun than an imaginative character? We like these guys because they prove we're not crazy. That daydreaming isn't a sure sign we're stuck in reality. Maybe we can live in stories after all.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ten Things You Never Knew About Sleeping Beauty

I've been on a fairy tale kick for the last year and a Sleeping Beauty kick specifically for the last few months. Think you know the story? You'll be surprised. Here are a few things I've learned.
1. A Tale of Two Countries
 There are two completely separate versions of the tale. Yes, I know all fairy tales have myriad different versions, but this one has two official ones. The older of the two-Sleeping Beauty in the Woods-was written by a Frenchman called Charles Perrault. It crept over the border into Germany where it became known as Little Brier Rose.
Then the Brothers Grimm came along. They were German nationalists who wanted to collect German stories and put them in a big ol' German book for German people to read and realize how great it was to be German. Poor Sleeping Beauty almost got cut for being too French. Then they decided there were enough similarities between Brier Rose and Brynhild-a valkyrie from Germanic mythology-so they called it good. Personally, I don't see it. They both have magical naps but the similarities end there.
Some of the famous elements of the story-like the briers that grow up around the castle-come from the German version. Today it's more popular by far.

2. But Wait, It Gets Older
The oldest real version of the story (you don't count, Brynhild) is Sun, Moon, and Talia. It was written by Italian Giabattista Basile in 1634, sixty three years before Perrault's. It's quite different from the story you know. Princess Talia isn't cursed by a fairy. There's just this prophecy saying she'll be put in great danger by a splinter of flax. Her father is smart enough to ban flax from the castle but stupid enough to never tell her what it looks like. So one day a random old lady is passing by with some flax and a spindle. Guess what Talia does next.
The prophecy and splinter and sleep stuff lasts about two paragraphs. Then the story deviates wildly from the Sleeping Beauty we know, focusing mostly on her relationship with the prince after she wakes up. It's closer to Perrault's version than the Grimms'. More on that later.

3. Baby, Baby, Baby, Oh
Sleeping Beauty is a baby mama. In Sun, Moon, and Talia, the princess has twins named Sun (boy) and Moon (girl). Perrault's version calls them Dawn (girl) and Day (boy). In both cases the boy gets the brighter name because he's prettier than his sister. Dawn is l'Aurore in French, which is why the princess is Aurora in so many adaptations. Perrault's princess was nameless.

4. Is This A Kid Book?
And it's not exactly clean. At all. Think a guy kissing a dead girl is creepy? Well, the French and Italian versions go far beyond that. Those kids I mentioned? They're born while their mother's asleep. Their mother who went to sleep a beautiful young maiden. Yeah.
Their father is a random king who happened to be hunting nearby when he discovered this defenseless maiden. Girls, if you ever thought this story encourages you to wait for a "knight in shining armor", you're dead wrong. Oh, and the king is married in the Italian tale.
The queen isn't happy that her husband's having an affair. So she does what any wife would do: order the cook to fry up the children for dinner. The cook's a decent guy-unlike everyone else in this story-so he feeds her two lambs instead. Then she summons Talia so she can burn her at the stake aaaaand the king shows up. Just in time. Talia survives, the queen gets burned, and they all live happily ever after. The end!
The Grimms liked to clean things up. That's why so many of their other stories have evil stepmothers-they started out as evil mothers. They also replaced the king's wife with his mother, a perfectly nice woman who only eats children because she's part ogre. And children taste good.
Aurora for most of the movie
Aurora for the last few minutes

5. What's Wrong With Your Eyes?
Enough with the old stuff. On to Disney. Aurora's eyes are brown for most of the movie, but when she wakes up, zing! Blue! It's kind of creepy. Granted, she's not the only Sleeping Beauty to wake up with a changed body (cough cough Talia cough) but Disney had no good explanation. Is it a side effect of the magic? Did the animators run out of brown? Are her eyes supposed to match her dress?
I've got nothing.

6. Someone Got Paid to Do This
This is Helene Stanley. She gets to dance around like Aurora for a living. She also modeled Cinderella.

7. Shut Your Mouth
Aurora has less screen time than any other Disney princess. 18 minutes total. The only Disney protagonist with fewer lines than her is Dumbo. And he can't talk. She gets two songs-one that's less than a minute long and another that's a duet-and that's about it. Like many retellings, Disney chopped the story off at the kiss so they didn't have to deal with the baby drama. What remains isn't terribly long. Girl is born. Girl is doomed. Girl pokes spindle. Girl is sleeping. Girl wakes up. Infants and dead people aren't very chatty, so Aurora never gets a chance to speak up.
Can we even call her a main character? I say that title goes to the fairies.

8. Tchaikovsky Helped Out Here
We've already established that the story for Sleeping Beauty ins't new. But what about the songs? Disney came up with those, right?
They actually came from an old Russian dude. They just put the lyrics in.
It was written for the ballet, which uses the name Aurora as well. 

9. Aurora failed as a princess. Disney princesses have one job: sing, dance, and make money in the box offices. Her movie didn't exactly rake in the cash. After that flop, Disney took a break from fairy tales. Hers was the last princess movie made in Walt's lifetime, and he's said to have preferred Cinderella. The next princess, Ariel, didn't come around until 1989, thirty years after Aurora hit theaters.
Fortunately for Aurora, Disney made her part of their princess franchise. She lives on in backpacks and Halloween costumes.
I want to be just like Sleeping Beauty!
10. It's Kind of True
In 1870, an eleven year old English girl named Ellen Sadler fell asleep. She didn't wake up for nine years. She had a history of medical problems but nothing that quite explained her condition. Her village, Turville,  became a tourist site for journalists and medical experts. Here's one journalist's description of her condition:
"Her breathing was regular and natural, the skin soft and the body warm, as in a healthy subject; the pulse rather fast. The hands were small and thin, but the fingers quite flexible; the body somewhat emaciated; the feet and legs like those of a dead child, almost ice cold ... the aspect of her features was pleasant, more so than might be expected under the circumstances ... her eyes and cheeks were sunken, and the appearance was that of death ... but although there was no colour on her cheeks, the paleness was not that heavy hue which betokens death."
Some people accused Ellen's mother of drugging her for attention. She did wake up a few months after her mother's death, so that theory's pretty sound. Modern experts and historians think she might've been narcoleptic. Whatever the case, Ellen's life definitely sucked. She missed nine years of her life, lost her mother, and because her jaw locked up while she was asleep, her family removed two of her teeth to feed her.
Then there's this girl.
Poor thing. She looks exhausted during the interview. Bottom line: being Sleeping Beauty sucks.

So that's Sleeping Beauty-a hodgepodge of German, French, Italian, American, and Russian creativity. In many ways it's a lot creepier than the story we're familiar with. But it's also fascinating and complex. What is it about this sleeping princess that has captivated the world for years? 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Historical Names I Don't Understand

1. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is guy we all know and care about
This is that guy's dad
This guy is sick of getting mistaken for the first guy

Usually people get called junior when their dad did something famous. Martin Luther King, Sr., according to wikipedia, was the head of the NAACP in Atlanta. But no one remembers that now. All they know is he fathered the other MLK. When someone mentions Martin Luther King you can be pretty sure which one they're talking about. Is the junior really necessary?
Then there's his middle name. You don't talk about Barack Hussein Obama or Thomas Alva Edison. They get a last name and maybe a first name if you're feeling formal. People call him King if they're writing a news article but in conversation he always has three names.
Maybe it's because king is a common noun and Obama or Edison will always be names. Maybe it's because black people were usually called by their first names back then and we want to respect him.
But really? It just makes it easier to mix him up with the German monk.
2. Napoleon Bonaparte
Full length portrait of Napoleon in his forties, in high-ranking white and dark blue military dress uniform. He stands amid rich 18th-century furniture laden with papers, and gazes at the viewer. His hair is Brutus style, cropped close but with a short fringe in front, and his right hand is tucked in his waistcoat.
Famous guy

NapoleĆ³n III, 1865.jpg
Famous guy's nephew
Guy who can't dance
See? Napoleon has a last name. Not that anybody ever uses it. Granted, Napoleon isn't that common, so you don't need to worry about mixing him up with anyone. But aren't generals and politicians usually on last name terms with history?
I guess he was an emperor too. And once you become royalty surnames don't mean much. Queen Elizabeth II isn't Elizabeth Windsor. You get one name and a number. Napoleon I had a nephew, Napoleon III, who's famous for rebuilding Paris to make riot control easier. There was a Napoleon II as well but he didn't rule for very long. Bonaparte is just Napoleon, not Napoleon I.
The only other Napoleon I've heard of Napoleon Dynamite. Um, is that really his last name?
1. Matoaka
Who? You know, this lady.

Except she looked more like this.
File:Pocahontas by Simon van de Passe 1616.jpg
Her "real" name was Matoaka, but since names were thought to have special powers, she didn't go around telling it to English colonists. She went by Amonute for a while. Pocahontas was just a nickname-I think it means mischief but I'm not sure.
And as if this wasn't enough, she had to go convert to Christianity and change her name to Rebecca. She got a last name, too, when she married a tobacco planter named John Rolfe.
So here she is with four different names and Disney picks the hardest one to spell.

Moral of this story: If you plan on going down in history for something, leave behind specific instructions so they get your name right.