Animation Review Part One: Disney Princess Movies

Although Walt Disney will be forever remembered side-by-side by his iconic cartoon creation, Mickey Mouse, his animation studio took off on the heels of his Disney princess franchise. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a landmark in cinematic history, marking the first time a fully-colored animated motion picture set afoot in America. Later, Cinderella would save the studio from undergoing bankruptcy in the 1940’s, and the studio would call for another princess, this time in the form of a red-haired finned mermaid, to save the studio once again from financial crises in the 1980’s. It’s no doubt that these films have played an essential role in expanding Disney Animation Studio to what it is today, and it’s no wonder why the company so selectively brands their beloved franchise. Although this series of films have faced their fair share of shortcomings, namely in Pocahontas and Sleeping Beauty, it’s hard to begin reviewing animation from anywhere but here.

SnowWhiteTitle

Although it’s definitely a little cheesy now, I do like the whole flip open an elaborate book as the audience reads the text thing it does at the beginning. It makes it seem like we are being told a fairytale, which we are, and in that sense, we can more easily forgive its simplistic and unsophisticated storyline. Anyone who is familiar with my opinion on Beauty and the Beast knows that I believe a simple story retold well can earn the title of being one of my favorite movies, and anyone who agrees with my opinion on The Little Mermaid understands that the whole Disney flaw of love at first sight can be overcome by masterful storytelling. So, now the question is: does this movie tell its story well?

The short answer is yes. Before we proceed, let’s summarize the story and its immediate flaws. Snow White is a princess who has a step mother. Of course, the step mother is evil, and she hires an assassin to kill Snow White because she is jealous of her beautiful looks. The assassin is unable to kill an innocent princess like Snow White and tells her to run off. Snow White settles in an empty cottage, which houses the seven dwarfs. The step mother with her magic mirror figures out that Snow White is still alive, and turns into a witch to do the job herself. She gives Snow White a wicked apple to eat that will make her sleep forever unless at love’s first kiss. The step mother is chased away, the Prince who Snow White heard sing once comes to kiss her, and he carries her into the sunset to live happily ever after.

SnowWhiteEnding

If you couldn’t pick out what part of the plot is problematic, it’s that it assumes love can be achieved without any meaningful human interaction. I mean, Snow White never knows the Prince’s name… ever. We don’t even know it. He’s just referred to as The Prince, and his name, or lack thereof, is indicative of his role in the movie—he’s just a let’s-make-the-ending-happy character. Moreover, this has some serious moral implications that shouldn’t be encouraged to young children, which is why I cannot bring myself to like it as much as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

However, I do think Snow White is a great role-model, and it’s sad she is often the first example for the whole “Disney princesses aren’t good role models” argument. In fact, I don’t think any of the Disney princesses deserves these criticisms, with the exception being Aurora from Sleeping Beauty (see below). Snow White reflects what was attractive at the time, so she has smaller eyes, shorter hair, and a plumper figure. She is a presumably praying Christian and a housewife, or at least would be perfect for that role. Disney could definitely not get away with these characterizations in their kid’s movies today, but I’m glad that they were able to get Snow White in before this became unacceptable by the feminist movement. I like Snow White because I think she’s a perfect mother-figure. As the title suggest, this film is really as much about her as it is about the seven dwarfs, and their interaction together is splendid. Just the way every single one of them is developed with patience and lightheartedness; it is heartwarming stuff in an age of kid’s movie (except Pixar) that are fast-paced and stuffed with obnoxious jokes. Really, if you just slice off the ends of this film, it is Disney charm at its peak.

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The animation quality exceeds even today’s standards, which has benefited from the assistance of computers since 1990. The stepmother witch is one of Disney’s most memorable villains, the iconic magic mirror and wicked apple adds mysticism to the entire story, Disney does not shy away from darker tones, Snow White is just a well-natured human being, and each one of the seven dwarfs more than justify their existence in the film. The way the music syncs with the animals and the action of its characters is delightful, and even the dialogue rhymes like it would have, had it been read out loud from a fairytale. Yeah, the movie certainly isn’t didactic, but it’s definitely one of Disney’s most enjoyable to revisit.

CinderellaTitle

Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would be the cookie cutter that Disney used in their featured animated princess fairytales. I am extremely thankful for the success of that movie since this formula has yield movies the likes of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Tangled, and Cinderella.

Following in the footsteps of Snow White, this movie suffers the same major problems. A simple plot summary should make it more than apparent. Cinderella is about a girl who loses her mother. The father marries a stepmother, and then when the father dies, the stepmother shows her true side. Yes, of course she is evil. The stepmother and her two daughters make Cinderella their servant, but then Cinderella’s big break comes through when the King invites all females to the castle with the intention of making his son fall in love with someone. Predictably, the stepmother doesn’t allow for this to happen, and so Cinderella needs a fairy god mother to go to the ball. Cinderella goes to the ball, dances with someone unknowing that it is Prince Charming (that is literally his name), and drops her glass slipper as she rushes back home before the spell times out. When it is revealed to Cinderella that Prince Charming is searching for his mystery girl by way of fitting the glass slipper on people’s feet, she starts day-dreaming and humming to herself. This makes the stepmother lock Cinderella up in her room in order to stop her dreams from coming true. Fortunately, her animal friends unlock Cinderella, and so Cinderella is able to prove she is the one Prince Charming has been looking for, and they get married and live happily ever after.

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So, couple problems… this film claims that love is just one dance away. And apparently after this one dance, you will not be able to identify the girl who you love unless they leave a souvenir behind. I mean, it’s not like Cinderella’s face was covered, and even if she would be unrecognizable without the elaborate dress she wore to the ball, you should be able to recognize her personality if you loved her!!! Okay, now let’s talk about the good stuff.

Cinderella is a timeless princess. She’s animated very well, she sings a lovely song in A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, and like Snow White, she has a likable personality. Despite all the hatred she receives from her stepmother, two sisters, and the cat, she treats each one of them with respect and dignity. This sort of unbreakable kindness explains why the birds and mice love her as much as they do. Best of all, Cinderella doesn’t stop dreaming despite how oppressed she is, which is certainly admirable. All this combined makes us want Cinderella’s dreams to come true, as they are as vague as simply experiencing something outside eternal servitude. Sure, maybe critics have a point when they say Cinderella isn’t all too proactive, but she’s always working. She certainly understands the virtue of hard work and what’s so wrong with hoping she’s rewarded for being a good person?

CinderellaWorking

All the magical elements that made Snow White feel like a fairytale are still here with the talking animals and her fairy god mother. While the villain isn’t as memorable and the side characters, being the animals, are not as charming as the seven dwarfs, this is in my mind fully redeemed by an improvement in princess animation and vocals, along with a pleasant focus on the concept of dreams. This element was certainly evident in Snow White, but it was clear Snow White was dreaming of love. To contrast, Cinderella’s dreams are never told to us, and this skyrockets the educational value of this movie as it tells its audiences that you will be rewarded if you continue to focus on being as good of a person as you can be, despite the circumstances you might be forced into. This is about as moral as a message can possibly get, and Cinderella delivers it with magic and charisma.

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I hope I’m not shocking anyone when I say the story is not the strong point of this film. In fact, deep down at its core, the story is actually rather flawed. It’s about a mermaid who wants to be part of a different world, a world that her father, King Trident, forbids her to go. And this is the first big miss of the movie: why does the king feel this way? Did you notice that we are never introduced to Ariel’s mother? What if she died like the mermaid protagonist did in Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and the Prince, as a result of the world that Ariel so desires? Darn, the movie simply flops here. Secondly, Ariel is naïve. She thinks she loves some guy because he’s handsome, she risks losing her family due to this sort of love at first sight mentality, and she thinks she can win someone’s love in three days without speaking. And ultimately, she gets everything her way by the end of this tale without ever having to change these preconceptions in the slightest bit. So why is this film my second favorite Disney movie of all-time?

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If I want to be mesmerized by classic Disney storytelling, I’ll pick Beauty and the Beast. If I want to sit back, relax, and have a good time while revisiting the same sort of magical fairytale atmosphere, I’ll pick The Little Mermaid. Sure, it does not strike gold on its plot, but it just about delivers in every other aspect. I mean, you can literally hum every song from this movie, including Under the Sea, Part of your World, and Kiss the Girl. All of the sidekicks are memorable additions to the screenplay. They even had time to sneak in the crazy chef who ridiculously chases after the crab Tom and Jerry style! And… I’m not even at the best part.

This movie features my favorite Disney princess, the one and only, super attractive, passionate, whiney, sixteen-year-old, red-haired, free-spirited, little mermaid. You don’t love Ariel because she’s perfect; you love her because some part of you wants to be like her—someone who isn’t afraid to stick with her dreams no matter what anyone else says, and give up everything to get it, albeit a little misplaced. Not to mention that hair! I mean, Ariel never has a bad hair day. In the water it flows so marvelously, and even when tied-back on land it still manages to freely bounce about. In short, Ariel’s animation is delightful. And let’s talk about her voice! Was anyone not awe-inspired by Ariel’s Part of your World and whenever else she sings? Jodi Benson deserves a big round of applause for voicing Ariel as well as she did. For all these reasons, Ariel is just such a charismatic princess who makes her journey more than worthwhile to follow.

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Both the prince and princess base their criteria for love in superficial ways: the prince is looking for someone who can sing like Ariel, and the princess is looking for a bipedal, good-looking guy like Eric. However, this is partially redeemed by the fact that Eric clearly demonstrates a sort of kindness to his dog on the boat, not to mention a touch of heroism, which may have contributed to Ariel’s fascination with him. Also, the voice that Eric vaguely heard following shipwreck represents a girl who saved his life, so in that sense, we can find non-superficial roots for their romance. But… maybe I’m just making up excuses for an otherwise near-perfect film. The real delight in this movie in regards to their romance is not their haphazard fantasizing about one another, but when they’re actually together! Eric, as Ursula predicted, gives Ariel a chance because, you gotta admit, she’s pretty darn hot, uh… for a cartoon animation I mean… but there seems to be real resistance in Eric from getting to know more about her before giving up on the girl with the beautiful voice (if only he knew!). After touring the town, however, I like to think that Ariel wins over Eric with her genuine and infectious admiration of the world Ariel so passionately desired. This human world does not fail to impress, and I can quite honestly say I’m glad it doesn’t. That is the real strong point of this movie: it captures the essence of teenage rebellion without ever antagonizing the concept. In other words, you want Ariel’s dreams to come true even if she can be naïve, whiny, shallow, disobedient, and just not perfect because, well, what’s admirable about her is just so admirable.

We have all felt what Ariel is going through because at the roots of Ariel’s dreams is the common thread of trying to experience something that is out-of-this-world, something extraordinary, something beyond the normal, daily routine. Disney is able to provide this to us through Ariel’s majestic, underwater palace, and what the underwater home of Ariel represents to us, the human world of ours represents to Ariel. If you can manage to recognize this, then you will be invested in Ariel’s dreams as much as you love the under-the-sea world. Pushing aside the romance and the father-daughter relationship for the princess was an extremely risky gamble that paid off spectacularly due to the breadth of ideals Ariel represents to us, whether that is beauty, independence of thought, or simply being a dreamer.

TheLittleMermaidPalace

While I would have liked Disney to focus more on the father-daughter dynamic and fine-tune the romance, both certainly serve to add to the fairytale charm of its ending. With that said, I am still under the impression that it would have been more profound if the daughter could budge for her father since she certainly isn’t perfect. In the same way, this movie isn’t perfect—but what it does well is just so perfect to warrant my unhindered and unabashed praise for The Little Mermaid.

BeautyAndTheBeastTitle

Disney wastes no time in establishing how a spoiled prince demonstrates his superficiality and lack of generosity to a disguised enchantress who turns the prince into a beast as punishment. Of course, there is a way to break the spell. He must learn how to both give and receive love before his twenty-first year, as marked by the magical rose the enchantress offered in return for shelter from the cold. If the last petal falls before the beast can find true love, he and his grand castle will remain under the spell forever. At this point, Disney has shown us their hand—we all sort of know what’s going to happen. So what’s so good about the story? It is simple enough for kids to follow, and allows Disney to focus its efforts elsewhere.

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The story may be simple, but the storytelling is complex, sophisticated, and magical. All of the information summarized above was told in the first three minutes by way of great, fitting music, a narrator with mystical dialogue, and wonderfully antique stained-glass art. If this introduction does not impress, then I don’t know what will. Fortunately, this sort of fairytale-feel storytelling resonates throughout as the hallmark of this classic story.

When working with a title like Beauty and the Beast and knowing exactly who is going to be Beauty, the artists can easily wind up trying too hard to animate her as beautiful. Meet Belle: a modest yet definitely attractive brunette who seems poised to break the beast’s spell. She is the airheaded, oddball bookworm of the town who never grew out of the sorts of stories in “far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, and a prince in disguise.” The only thing holding Belle from superseding Ariel for my favorite Disney princess is that perhaps she is too perfect. This works well in the context of the film, but when judging Belle as a stand-alone character, I can certainly see the argument that maybe she is a little boring and unbelievable. This goes without saying that Belle is beautiful not because of her appearance but her character.

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When you first see the beast, it is literally impossible to think of a better design for him. I mean, the beast’s animation is just so… beastly! But more importantly, he is never a beast in character. Sure, when we first meet him he clearly doesn’t understand how to love or control his temper, but he never seems to enjoy other people’s pain; he just has a lot of his own to deal with. In other words, the beast is only a monster on the outside.

BeastIntroduction

Belle’s perfection works splendidly because the story revolves around the fact that we want Belle’s dreams to come true, which includes falling in love with someone more worthy for her than Gaston. The beast seems like an unlikely candidate, but the second the castle comes to life with Be Our Guest, Belle begins curiously exploring the castle—this is exactly the sort of stuff she read in those stories and is looking for when she says she wants “more than this provincial life.” But how does the beast play into this? Well, the beast saves Belle when she runs away from the castle and this allows Belle to see past his temper tantrums. As Belle treats the wounds that the beast suffered while saving her, he realizes Belle isn’t your ordinary pretty-face who will run away from a beast like him for shallow reasons. As a result, he genuinely wants to do something special for her, and what better way to show that you care about Belle’s interests than by revealing your massive library? This is the start of a real friendship which gives the beast hope for potentially breaking the spell. Unfortunately, this nose-dives for the worse when Belle sees with an enchanted mirror her ill father searching for her. This is when we realize that there is something beyond the castle—we almost forget about the town because it’s simply so boring in contrast to the charming castle. The beast now has a crucial decision to make: on one hand, with the rose dying, he could force Belle to stay, or on the other hand, he could grant Belle’s wish to return to her father. That’s when you realize the game isn’t important to the beast anymore because he truly loves Belle. When the beast is dying, Belle realizes in a sort of “you don’t know what you have until you lose it” way that beast or no beast, she loves him too, and… well, it’s a Disney movie.

At first glance, you may not understand why Belle sings about living a grander life, why she won’t settle for the handsome and beloved Gaston, why she keeps her nose in those books. This radically changes as we fall in love with the beast’s enchanted castle, and soon enough, we are completely engulfed in Belle’s dreams because we are experiencing it for ourselves. When Belle sings about the prince charming of her favorite book, I get chills, but the sensation doesn’t quite match the emotions that overwhelm me when Belle and Prince Adam share their first kiss. Through the masterful storytelling of Beauty and the Beast, the stained glass introduction and Belle’s most cherished story come to life, in the same way the enchanted castle literally comes to life for us. And as a result, at least for those short-lived 82 minutes, the ideal of true love comes to life as well.

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While romance may not be the ultimate kid-pleaser, this movie carries you to another place visually, emotionally, and conceptually. I can forever try to capture the essence of this movie in words, but nothing will compare to actually watching the magic that is Beauty and the Beast.

AladdinTitle

Aladdin is a “street-rat” who is tricked by villain Jaffar into retrieving a magical lamp from an impressively animated and magical sand cave in the shape of an intimidating, talking sphinx. Fortunately, Jaffar doesn’t get his hands on the lamp and instead, Aladdin inadvertently unveils a genie who will grant him three wishes. With his first wish he wishes to be a prince so that he can try his hand at winning over princess Jasmine’s heart. Unfortunately, Jaffar gets in the way and forces Aladdin to use his second wish to save himself from drowning. With only one last wish left, Aladdin is put in a tough spot: should he wish for the genie’s freedom or keep him around so that Aladdin can be the prince Jasmine thinks he is? Needless to say, the story’s set perfectly for a suspenseful, daring magic carpet ride.

It is pretty obvious that Disney targeted the boys with this one: now we’re focused on a prince instead of a princess and we have sharp swords, thrilling flight sequences, and evil cobras to battle! So it seems a guy like me should be particularly impressed with Aladdin’s storytelling, but unfortunately, it is rather a big let-down. In exchange for fast-paced, action-packed comedy, we lose a lot of the enchanted Disney storytelling of Beauty and the Beast and the light-hearted charisma of The Little Mermaid. Give it credit for trying to give this film a different vibe, but I didn’t feel like Disney took this project as seriously and thus, it comes off as a childish effort. And although this movie runs for the full 82 minutes, it feels rushed. This is because it scratches at the time it needed to spend on Aladdin and Jasmine to, as I’ve said, appeal to the guys.

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Fortunately, Aladdin does not need to make up for its storytelling with its story alone—it receives a lot of help from its cast of characters, starring the undoubtedly best non-title Disney character: the genie. Sounding completely improvised by Robin Williams, the genie is spontaneously hilarious and it’s still a joy to see the animators keep up with what the genie says as a college student, even as his dialogue dates the film back to 1992. The genie adds a refreshing amount of energy in every scene he’s in, and honestly, this film should have been called “The Genie.” The movie’s unexpected decision to concentrate on the genie pays off handsomely in the end when he gets his freedom and alleviates some pressure away from the slightly forced love story. And this is unfortunately the last of the Disney Renaissance movies where the sidekicks will be done well, although the parrot of Jaffar is progressing towards the eventual side-characters of the likes of Timon, Mushu, and those darn annoying gargoyles.

Genie

Disney does another one of its “find love in three days” thing, which has to be annoying seeing that The Little Mermaid threw that curveball at its audiences just three years prior. Nonetheless, Aladdin and Jasmine sparks some on-screen chemistry because, although a bit hurried and contrived, they share something in common. Both Aladdin and Jasmine feel trapped by the social hierarchy they are unable to disassociate from. Aladdin wants to be rich enough to stop stealing and help those in need, and Jasmine wants to leave the confines of her albeit gorgeous palace and find love on her own terms. This actually carries very nicely with the genie’s desire to break the chains of servitude, and even the villain embodies when this all goes wrong. While our three protagonists, Aladdin, Jasmine, and the genie, all want freedom from their social ranking, Jaffar wants to abuse the system in order to obtain power. This very attentive, but not over-the-top, attack on social status’ serves to give this movie a surprisingly deep amount of substance despite its unimpressive storytelling style.

Moreover, Aladdin also digs into the psychological repercussions of such an engraved economic ladder, as we painfully watch Aladdin’s lack of money translate to his lack of confidence in his personhood. Shortly after being introduced to the noble-hearted title character, we realize that although we, Abu, the genie, the magic carpet, and Jasmine are able to see the good in Aladdin, he is unable to recognize that himself. Until Jasmine accepts Aladdin for whom he really is—a prince.

Aladdin does the same Ariel thing where he falls in love at first sight, but this is, for the most part, forgivable considering the added emphasis on the genie character and all the substance this movie carries. We mustn’t underestimate the fruitful addition of the magic carpet, for without it, we’d lose those gravity-less, animated scenes and of course, how can we forget Aladdin and Jasmine’s romantic ride featuring one of my favorite prince-princess duets, A Whole New World. While Aladdin feels more grounded to reality compared to the fantastical dreams of Ariel and Belle, the magic carpet allows us to escape the pedestrian setting of Agrabah. This really helps to illustrate what Aladdin feels when he’s with Jasmine, and if you’re over thirteen, this will make the first flutters of love feel all very familiar again. The story is ambitious, the genie deserves an encore, the lesson is there to be learned, the magic carpet is magical, the romance functions, and Aladdin is an adventurous take on a familiar Disney formula.

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Greedy, white people come to Virginia to get some gold, they almost fight Pocahontas and her tribes, and then they leave. Wow… what was Disney thinking when they wrote this up? I’m going to go ahead and say they probably weren’t.

The storytelling is better than the story at least… but that’s really not saying all too much. The dialogue is pretty stiff, and while the animation does soar frequently, it feels really empty without the desperately needed character development. I recommend getting your dosage of Pocahontas by watching Colors of the Wind on YouTube instead. It’ll bring back those nostalgic feelings while allowing you to save a lot of your time on more worthwhile things.

ColorsOfTheWind

Conclusion
EXTENDED: From “Number Nine” of the “Disney Renaissance Ranking” category

https://taestfulreviews.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/pocahontas/

Although the critic community has, in my mind, correctly assessed the quality of Pocahontas, I find myself almost dumbfounded by the sheer number of user-rebuttals found on IMDb. I mean, it’s not like it should have found its way into children’s hearts because it doesn’t even have the typical Disney happily ever after. The songs aren’t as catchy, although that didn’t stop me from singing Colors of the Wind as a child, and there are far fewer jokes, provided solely by its animal characters. So I don’t think it’s the nostalgia that these people must be fighting with. Rather, I think it’s because the romance worked for them. And so, here I am to rebuttal these rebuttals. The romance doesn’t work because Disney allocates time for it, and yet fails to deliver any real reasons for their attraction of one another. Why does Pocahontas like John Smith? Is it because he is exotic? Why does John Smith like Pocahontas? Is it because she is exotic? That is literally the best explanation I have. This is only compounded by the fact that Pocahontas rejects Kocoum because he’s “serious,” but is John Smith really less serious? I mean, for the audience to be sure of this, Disney had to make Pocahontas and Kocoum interact, but they never do. We are just told that he’s serious–that is the definition of bad storytelling! Moreover, the love doesn’t seem authentic because it is force-feed to us by grandmother willow. How does Pocahontas know that the compass from her dream points to this man? Is it just her gut feeling? That’s not a very reassuring piece of plot thread to base an entire romance around. I could continue, but I’m going to go ahead and say that even if you liked the romance, there are so many other things that didn’t work. You forget someone dies in this movie, which should be a big deal, and the character I would be most comfortable describing is the villain because at least he has character! The protagonists are boring, the story is boring, the romance is boring at best, and thus, this movie is boring.

MulanTitle

Mulan is an unlikely princess who may have the looks to fit in with a rather gender-divided Chinese society, but is unfortunately too clumsy to do so. She just wants to impress the matchmaker, be matched up with a husband, and live a typical life as set by this society. However, Mulan can’t seem to impress the matchmaker, and thus, she sings Reflection. I mean, if Mulan can sing like that, why doesn’t she just become a professional singer? All jokes aside, the film moves away from this internal conflict as a more pressing one develops. With the attack of the Huns on China, Mulan’s weak father is recruited into the Chinese army. This is when Mulan honorably replaces him in the army not knowing that it is here where she’ll finds the answers to her personal struggle.

This movie is set in an enchanted castle where household items dance and sing… okay, just kidding, a majority of this movie is spent in a Chinese army… and unfortunately, Mulan does not run into a magic carpet to make this Chinese army any more magical. Don’t get me wrong, the time spent in the army is enjoyable, but in a comedic way which comes off as unambitious. It’s completely fine that Disney went for the more humorous route with the army but there’s something about this route that always makes a kid’s movie seem like it’s not taking itself seriously. In short, Mulan loses a lot of Disney’s fairytale allure by relying more on its slap-stick humor and fun-spirit, even as it has some more serious moments in the film.

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Mulan is interesting because she’s a solid entry in the Disney princess line-up without following in the footsteps of Ariel and Belle. While they have their own dreams and desires, Mulan just wants to be happy when she looks at her reflection. In other words, Mulan cares more about what’s inside of her and not disappointing her family than about escaping societal norms and what she wants. In the end, this turns out to be more of a refreshing decision than a hurtful one since Mulan now offers a pursuit of self as opposed to a pursuit of dreams. This makes Mulan, the Disney princess herself, one of the unique aspects of this film that makes it worth viewing. While Mulan, like the storytelling, certainly isn’t as ambitious as Ariel and Belle, she is proactive, determined, and an independent female lead–a perfect Disney princess to lead any feminist movement.

The good thing that came out of Disney’s more lax approach to Mulan is the songs. While Hercules and its less-serious approach failed at reviving songs the likes of Under the Sea, although it hit on more emotional songs like Go the Distance, Disney finally finds its catchy musical groove with I’ll Make a Man Out of You and–for what it’s worth–we’ll include A Girl Worth Fighting For. Unfortunately, Disney didn’t get the memo about annoying sidekicks, and this film is plagued by a lack of detail to its other characters. Mushu the dragon is the comic-relief character out of place, there is nothing interesting about Prince Shang, and the Chinese ancestors are not that funny. Really, they should have been used to try to increase the mysticism of its Chinese setting. Nonetheless, Disney sent their artists to China for a couple of weeks before the production of Mulan, and this helped the animation department provide its most authentic feel as opposed to Disney’s tendency for caricatures.

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I really liked the premise of Mulan, but Disney is unable to give its audiences a confident closure to Mulan’s quest of self by the time the credits roll. Yes, Mulan learns during the time spent in the army that she is an awesome person despite her faults, but after saving the entirety of China, she just goes back to the life she was going to live otherwise. Talk about a let-down. This was not as problematic as it could have been because Disney does a very nice job at giving us confidence in Mulan’s personality, and so as long as Shang isn’t a shallow misogynist, we all know deep inside that Mulan will find her happy ending.

After critical complaints rolled in after Pocahontas, Disney seemed to make more calculated moves rather than rising up to the challenge and trying to re-spark the magic that made the early Disney Renaissance movies so good. In this one, they tackled the criticisms their Disney princesses were under, and while they do deliver their most manly female lead yet, this is largely negated by the lack of charm this movie carries. Yes, I liked every scene we spent in the army; it was fun, there were the songs, and Mulan’s friends are great, but this is certainly not the atmosphere that we have all come to love and adore from Disney.

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Disney’s last traditionally animated film, and it’s no surprise they returned to the songs and dance numbers characteristic of the Disney Renaissance. And it’s no surprise they decided to go back to the princesses and the fairytales, which has been proven to be Disney’s point of expertise. Being eleven years out of practice since Mulan in 1998, does Disney show the poise of a 49th animated feature veteran? Does Disney display the creativity needed to keep their princess fairytale formula fresh? Well, for starters, this movie did not do well enough in the box office to keep Disney’s 2D hand-animation department intact, so I guess the short answer is no. However, it received an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s not like it tanked. And that’s basically how I feel about the movie: it’s neither impressive nor underwhelming.

The reason why this film doesn’t work in the same way Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid did is because it feels like a caricature again. This doesn’t automatically translate to failure, as Aladdin and Mulan both had moments of “isn’t that a little racist?” in there too, but it was more unbearable for me in this one. The African-American community is poor compared to the wealthy, white upper-class, and there is nothing I can say to tell you how over-exaggerated this class difference is portrayed. Tiana’s childhood friend Charlotte La Bouff is the most obnoxious and superficial Disney character ever created (sorry Gaston), and her father is the most leniently rich Disney parent I have ever seen. Tiana, on the other hand, is working and working these minimum-wage jobs, and I couldn’t help but ask myself: if she’s been working this hard her whole life, why is she stuck with these jobs? If she is this good at cooking, why couldn’t she get a job to do what she loves doing? Disney just bypasses these important details to make us sympathetic for Tiana, which I consider to be a plot hole at worst, and a major plot contrivance at best.

LaBouffCharacters

Nonetheless, The Princess and the Frog has Disney moments with a few new tricks up their sleeve. They pay homage to the princess classics by having a fairytale book read out loud at the beginning, and spins the story in a Disney sort of way to make it less predictable. In this case, when Tiana kisses prince-turned-frog Naveen, she turns into a frog as well! Totally unexpected, and their journey as frogs is much more enjoyable than any scene spent with humans. And that’s the thing: Disney really failed at producing likeable human characters. I’ve already mentioned Charlotte La Bouff and Eli “Big Daddy” La Bouff, but let us not forget the frog hunters, Lawrence, Mama Odie, and even Eudora, Tiana’s mother. When it comes to animal characters, however, Disney truly shines. Louis the alligator and his love for jazz music were perfect in this New Orleans setting, and he plays the trumpet with as much passion as Louis Armstrong. I’m going to have to admit, I didn’t like Ray at first, but by the end of the film, there is no way anybody is going to wish he wasn’t part of the screenplay. I mean, just: wow! Disney really blew me away with what they did with Ray, and it works so well that I have to dedicate an entire paragraph to it.

Ray is equivalent to The Princess and the Frog as the magic carpet was to Aladdin. He provides lights that add nice hues to the otherwise dark and swampy night in which Tiana and Naveen shares a romantic dance. Moreover, he is integrated into the movie’s focus of dreams. It feels familiar because they return to the concept of wishing upon a star originally started by the puppet who wanted to become a boy in 1940, but it doesn’t feel copied because Tiana’s father tells Tiana that dreams also takes hard work to make them come true. This exact star that Tiana wishes upon as a child and even as an adult is the love interest of Ray, who mistakes the star for another firefly named Evangeline. In the climax, Ray dies after being stepped on by the villain, and you honestly don’t really feel too sad. However, when Ray’s dead body is set afloat into the river’s mist, another star appears to the right of Evangeline, and there is no question that Ray’s dreams have come true. In fact, this scene is so powerful that it overshadows the moment when Tiana’s dreams come true and they return to human form. If you have not already seen the movie, I would recommend watching it for the sole purpose of catching this fantastic Disney moment.

TianaNaveenDance

This film feels smart with all its subtle Disney references. There is a way to break the spell that expires when a clock tower strikes midnight, and the star that appears to the right of Evangeline clearly refers back to Peter Pan as the entrance to Never Land. However, for all its nice ideas, most of these feels like gimmicks since it doesn’t have the creativity to back it up and stretch our imaginations. This is honestly an okay movie that is remembered as enjoyable by the end due to the dream come true of Ray.

TangledTitle

Disney’s first computer-animated princess film coming off so soon after The Princess and the Frog, and at this point, everybody must of been thinking two things: one, can the princess fairytale genre be translated into this 3D animated medium? And two, can Disney return back to form after what had to be considered disappointments in Pocahontas, Mulan, and The Princess and the Frog? I’m pleased to say that the answer to both of these questions is a strong yes.

Tangled establishes all necessary plot threads right from the get-go, and although it does not carry the same effect of Beauty and the Beast’s fabled introduction, it certainly is concise, giving its audiences hope that maybe the magic hair of Rapunzel will make this movie equally as magical. We are introduced to our heroine Rapunzel by way of song, similar to how Belle was introduced. I’m going to keep making Beauty and the Beast comparisons because these similarities certainly exist and hopefully illustrates why Tangled is as good as it is. The next statement I’m going to make may seem racist, but please give me a chance to explain: I’m glad that Rapunzel is white. After Belle, Disney clearly attempted to diversify their ever growing list of white princesses, but Disney simply doesn’t care enough about other cultures to depict them without over-exaggeration. And with Rapunzel, it is very refreshing to see Disney return to its comfort zone.

The best thing about pre-Rapunzel-leaving-the-tower is that she actually has a lot of spare time on her hands, so it’s not like she has any real reasons to hate the tower. But, being the hopeless romantic she is, Rapunzel is set on seeing the lights that always go up on her birthday, even if it may be mere coincidence. When Flynn Rider, the bad guy who has a pretty good sense of humor for being a bad guy, chooses to hide in Rapunzel’s tower while her fake-mother is away, he gets hit with a frying pan–hilarious. Rapunzel shows determination and independence in her pursuit of what seems to be a trivial dream, and bargains with Flynn Rider to show her the lights. It eventually gets revealed that both of them have been keeping secrets away from each other: Rapunzel wasn’t supposed to leave the tower, and Flynn Rider is a thief. What pursues is a very entertaining journey, including awesome non-stereotypical villains who sing I’ve Got a Dream, the best Disney horse in Maximus, and… what, Flynn Rider says he can’t sing? A prince who can’t sing, would you look at that?

Maximus

The journey takes a last-minute pit stop at Rapunzel’s kingdom, and I say its Rapunzel’s because she is the missing princess whose real-parents send the lanterns up on her birthday. Stuff does happen here at this pit stop, mainly targeted at developing the brewing love between Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, but for how good the rest of the journey has been, I sort of wish this was just omitted. To be honest, Rapunzel’s kingdom isn’t all too interesting, and the movie drags at this particular spot. Nonetheless, by the end of the adventure, you will have already had more than a fair share of lighthearted laughs, theater-scaled action sequences, touching moments, heroic acts of independence, and enjoyable character development, which makes this portion of the movie forgivable.

Now it is time for the big moment of the movie: the lights. Will it disappoint Rapunzel and her lofty expectations? Will Disney’s constant reference to this scene set this up for failure? No. This scene is perfect. Much like how the ballroom dance sequence of Beauty and the Beast was the main center piece to which the romance was building up to, the lights makes for some beautiful imagery to go with a great song and… oh my god, Flynn Rider can sing! What a liar!

Pascal

Disney doesn’t like to have the expectations raised on them. In fact, they personally complained about the complaints directed at Pocahontas, claiming they were un-done by their successes in the early portion of the Disney renaissance. Just look at what they did with Flynn Rider, making us expect little out of him in terms of vocals. But here, Disney does not shy away from the challenge of delivering a scene artistic enough for their imaginative princess, and man, if you didn’t like the movie by now, you have to at least be impressed.

From this point on, however, it just sort of unwinds in a predictable manner. Barring one exception, the rest of the movie feels obligatory and drawn out, having nothing left to strive towards after peaking at its climax a bit too early. While Beauty and the Beast still had something to offer its audiences with an adrenaline-driven fight that would put a decisive end to its love triangle and an enchanting transformation we all were waiting for, the ending of Rapunzel finds itself running short on Disney magic.

Despite the minor problems here and there, Tangled is what we have been waiting from Disney since 1991. It is only fitting they would return to the roots of my favorite Disney movie, and maybe that is why I like this movie as much as I do. If you are in the majority of people who liked Beauty and the Beast, I give strong recommendations to its more modern rendition which I consider to be tangled in the best cinematic elements of Disney.

FrozenTitle

I would like to start this review with a disclaimer: I have little to no experience writing non-spoiler reviews. At most, I’ll just give a thumbs up or thumbs down to my buddies. My true passion lies in analyzing movies, which usually involves some discussion of the plot (that was sarcasm. it always involves discussion of the plot). In any case, I’ll try to do my best for this highly anticipated Disney release, but please don’t expect these sorts of reviews to populate my blog. I want to keep this place primarily for analytical reviews.

DisneyRenaissance

There’s been talk of a new Disney renaissance–a second Disney renaissance, if you will. I personally dismissed these talks, largely crediting the overrated reputation of Wreck-It Ralph for starting these conversations. I guess talks about the second Disney renaissance come down to this: are you talking about a time period that produced some of the studio’s greatest movies? Or are you talking about a time period when a studio consistently produced good movies? I’ve always characterized the Disney renaissance as an early succession of nearly flawless films (followed by immediate failure), but if we are not holding the second Disney renaissance to the standard of these films, then I’ll say this: Frozen makes me believe in a second renaissance.

Frozen is essentially a better executed and fully animated version of Enchanted. It has fun poking at typical Disney fairytale tropes while still keeping you in the fairytale. At times, it goes too far, making you question whether this is a Disney parody or a Disney feature, but for the most part, it works… hilariously. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun while watching a Disney film. Olaf the snowman, voiced by Josh Gad, is laugh-out-loud funny, and let’s give Kristoff’s reindeer Sven some credit: he is adorable. With that said, all the other side characters I haven’t mentioned are forgettable. Fortunately, they don’t get a lot of screen time, so it looks like Disney (sort of) knows what they’re doing here… that’s all I’ll say so as to not spoil anything.

OlafPuddle

Unfortunately, they dedicate an entire song to this subset of side-character(s), and it’s pretty bad. It reminded me of The Lion King 2’s Upendi. Never heard of the song? Good. You don’t want to. There’s another dud which comes early on between princess Anna and prince Hans. With these two failures, they have three successes. These songs actually don’t include Let it Go because I just don’t like Idina Menzel on it. Demi Lovato’s version is much better. Moreover, I wish these songs were dispersed more evenly throughout the film. All of them clocks in at the first half of the movie. Disney really should have considered saving one of these crowd-pleasers towards the end.

Visually, the film is wonderful to look at it. I actually think I got colder while watching Frozen. The snow takes on a wide range of different characters, from fluffy and playful to dangerous and unforgiving, depending on the tone of the scene. Really excellent stuff coming out of Disney’s animation department.

AnnaHans

One last thing I have to get in before summarizing my general feeling towards Frozen: I love love loveee princess Anna.
1. Ariel
2. Belle
3. Anna ❤
Kristen Bell does a fantastic job voicing her full of personality. I know a lot of people are more anxious for Elsa the snow queen, but for me, Anna steals the show.

In all, Frozen is a Disney fairytale that tries to expand the definition of what a Disney fairytale can be. I argue it succeeds. I think this is exactly what the studio needs so to keep their Disney princess formula fresh. Frozen isn’t classic Disney, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t capture the magic of The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, but I think we may be in a new Disney era.

DisneySecondRenaissance

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6 thoughts on “Animation Review Part One: Disney Princess Movies

  1. Wow nice detailed post here!

    I too agree with you in that I don’t think any of the Disney Princesses deserve their “bad role model” criticisms and they all have good qualities to learn from. I also believe Aurora isn’t deserving of that criticism, but I guess we’ll have to disagree there.

    Of the official Disney princesses, my favorite will probably be Cinderella; I just admire her patience, perseverance, and overall demeanor.

    And yep, they’re calling our new Disney era, the Disney Revival. At least that’s one of the more popular names for it.

    • Hey Animation Commendation!

      I’m actually reformatting my blog, so this is just a synthesis of all my previous Disney princess movie reviews I’ve written. Cinderella is a great pick for favorite Disney princess! Mine would have to be Ariel.

  2. I have a lot to say. As soon as I saw this, I knew I was going to need to take at least an hour to dissect and to compose a comment.

    Snow White does have the issue of love being achieved without meaningful human interaction, and I do think it is a bit of a copout how the studio said that they “couldn’t” animate an animated male. Another topic for another day. She is a brilliant motherly figure, which has been missing a lot in animation for decades. I think the focus on the dwarf’s humor (filler) severely hurts the film as well. Same critiques about Cinderella.

    The story isn’t the strongest point of the film (and I would go far enough to say that the characters are worse). The contribution of Ariel;s love maybe involving Eric’s dog could be said about Phillip and Prince seeing Snow White and Aurora with animals as well. I still think their relationship is as shallow as their predecessors, as they really don’t get to know now another. To you she can do whatever because she is admirable, but it didn’t come off like that to me I guess. It just bothers me how she doesn’t learn anything I guess. Sometimes being a fairytale, or having a magical aspect to it doesn’t really excuse storytelling or characterization to me.

    Despite what I said about The Little Mermaid, I think the storytelling in Beauty and the Beast is even worse. It’s just kind of weird that Belle is the main character, but she is the one who doesn’t learn anything and like you said, comes off as a bit too perfect. The Beast keeps on talking about how she is pretty, and how he doesn’t deserve someone as beautiful as she is, which…… is all he says. I get why Belle falls for him through action and words (even in the musicals, which more than makes up for the story), but never his perspective other than her being beautiful. It is still a strong film with great characters and fulfills the musical element to the best of its ability.

    I disagree with the statement that they did not take this film just as seriously because the film is more comedic than the other two. Disney cannot make enchanted films over and over again, but it is your taste. This film is very fast paced, and while it is nice at times, it does suffer at times, and causes some plot holes to surface. Ironically, I find the romance to be one to the least contrived romances in Disney history, which has become very tried and predictable with how it handles romance now. It does get kind of weird how lustful they are though.

    Pocahontas, Pocahontas, Pocahontas…… If they were going to handle natives, and the story of Pocahontas, they needed to NOT put it under the Disney Renaissance formula. Why couldn’t Pocahontas be a preteen? Why did John Smith need to be a young man? You know what? Nevermind. If the film is about conflict, the conflict NEEDED to be on point. We do not see nearly enough scenes of the natives and europeans fighting, and we do not spend as much time with EITHER side. If we are supposed to feel something for the two cultures, you need to develop them and give the audience reasons to either sympathize or hate them, so the conflict pays off better. Nothing happens in this film; the first half is WAY too slow, and causes for a rushed second half. More needed to happen all throughout the film. I was unaware of people defending this film on IMDb, but it is something I should look into just for curiosity sakes. Pocahontas and John I can easily say is one of the worst Disney romances, and the worst Disney Princess romance. We should have seen Kocuom be this horror that was told to us for us to decide, and root against him being with Pocahontas.

    With Mulan, I don’t know if they went with the fairy-tale like manner, people would have been offended or not, because it would be the “eurocentric” magical fairy-tale instead of the Ancient Chinese if that makes sense. I did not care for a lot of the comedic humor in the army scenes, and Mushu’s presence was…. offputting. Why the hell was Eddie Murphy in this movie? Maybe they added a lot of the humor in those scenes, because right after that would be an overly serious and dark theme that would take over. Disagree about Shang not being interesting or unique, but it is frustrating that the ancestors were not used to better use. While there was probably more culture in this film compared to Pocahontas, Hercules or Aladdin, they could have done more. The thing with Mulan is that it was never her intention to find a new world like Belle and Ariel, and she was quite content with wanting to be a wife and being a family person in her culture. Her issue was just the lack of confidence. I did notice as well how calculated the humor was with this film (especially after Pocahontas and Hunchback was released).

    There was a checkbox with this film, as to what needed to be in there. As a person of African/Caribbean descent, and learning history through family members and history, I have to say that the portrayal in this film is not over-exaggerated. The areas were very segregated, which involved turning it into a class relation struggle as well (especially due to the Jim Crow laws around the time the film was set). It is not like she could just outright become a chef (especially with sexism playing a part of it) in any area during the time. They often took low-rent jobs like waiting, being nannies or seamstresses because that is all that was available, since a lot of them did take care of the white people of the areas. It wasn’t just to make Tiana sympathetic, but it was how it really was in those days, but they couldn’t outright state it in the film for obvious reasons. Despite this, there was a lot of clutter in the film, and Tiana’s lack of relationship with Facilier increasingly huts the film. If they took out some elements, and gave more focus to the simplified plot, it would have been a lot better.

    What you said is for sure not racist, and it is true that there is another element of pressure when focusing on an area that involves a minority group or a character as the main focus. I wish that Rapunzel actually learned skills on her way through her journey, since it seems a bit too easy for her to navigate through. It is refreshing to see more of a fairy-tale element back in Disney, since it was missing in a lot of their later DP work, and after the 2000s films especially. I agree with the peak being too early, and being a but disappointed with the climax scene overall. Very nice film, and truly started the new age we were in.

    Screw non-spoiler reviews, they are no fun. Cheers to that. Ohhhhhhh Frozen, Frozen, Frozen. I would not have an issue with them poking at fairytale tropes, but they do it way too blatantly, and way too much. The songs are brilliant, though weirdly paced in the film. While I see this film as a severely flawed film, I do not like all of the unwarranted hatred it is getting now, just because it is popular. People are doing it because of a trend, instead of not liking or being mixed about it from the jump.

    I literally did spend an hour on this comment. Now that I got to the end of it, I realize you are critiquing them based on being a fairy-tale, and I see your side on a lot of it. It just doesn’t bother me when they do not decide to focus on the magical aspects. Keep up the brilliant work, and you always keep me interested.

    • Hey Ani. Glad to see you’re still around blogging. I can tell you spent some time composing your thoughts and reading my entire post. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say. You are certainly right in saying that I am focused on Disney nailing the fairytale storytelling style I enjoyed so much in BatB and TLM. It truly is the standard I hold these Disney princess movies up to. I didn’t know Disney claimed it was hard to animate the prince in Snow White! What a cop out and lie. Thanks for the tidbits of facts and ideas. I’m willing to soften my stance on the caricature found in PatF, and even though I disagree strongly with your statements on TLM and BatB, I do agree with your statements on Pocahontas and Frozen. Cheers.

      • I took a break for a while, since transitioning into Uni and the work force was NOT easy for me.

        They claimed it was hard to animate realistic males for Snow White and Cinderella, which is why most of the males were caricatures. It is just a bit odd because they got animated females down pat, and I feel like if they really wanted to capture realistic men, they could have.

        Cheers to you too. People get WAY TOO worked up about Disney sometimes, so some of the hate that it gets really bothers me. Thanks for at least hearing me out.

        I am still going to get around to commenting on your other blogs within the next few days.

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