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After waiting in a line that made it look like an opening night premiere, I have finally made it to see Snow White & the Huntsman at my local dollar theater. I think it’s safe to assume we all know at least one telling of the classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Perhaps the most well-known take on this fairy tale is the one done by Disney, full of cute animals, singing dwarfs, and pathetic women. If you’re expecting Snow White and the Huntsman to be anywhere close to that, abandon all hope now for this retelling is a dark tale brimming with action and the women at the front of it all.

Our story begins with Snow White as a child. The kingdom is at war and her mother dies, breaking her father’s heart. But soon enough, the king does find another love, on the battlefield no less. After a battle, the king and his men stumble upon Ravenna, a beautiful woman who had been held captive by the enemy. The very next day the king marries Ravenna. As the audience can guess, this isn’t going to be a very happy marriage and in fact, that night the new queen kills Snow White’s father, takes over the kingdom, and imprisons our heroine in the dungeons.

Skip forward into the future and Snow White has come of age in her grubby cell. Now she’s a threat to the queen, but before Ravenna can kill her, Snow White manages to outsmart her captors and makes a daring escape. She’s got to make it to the rebel army before the queen’s men find her. With that, a Huntsman is hired and this fairy tale really begins.

I’ll be honest; in general, the movie was just okay. It wasn’t bad. It was entertaining enough to pass the time, but not mind-blowing. After one viewing, I can’t quite pinpoint what all was lacking, although my initial instinct is that it’s the characters. Yes, the main cast was fairly interesting and likable enough, but there was no great connection to them that the best of stories create nor much great character development. It felt shallow at times. (On that note, for those of you looking for a prince more developed than that of the original, the “prince” of this film is only slightly better.) Therefore, while it was a fun movie to see, it made no great impact on me character-wise — expect one. The queen.

Rankin/Universal Studios

What do you do when you want to make a one-dimensional character who is defined by her obsession with beauty and her heartlessness interesting? You develop her character by exploring the why’s. Why is the queen in Snow White so bent on beauty to the point that she’s willing to kill for it? Well, in Snow White and the Huntsman it’s because she’s learned that beauty is power and has used it to survive in a harsh world controlled by men. As she reveals near the beginning of the movie, she’s seen men choose women, use them until they age or become boring, and then throw them away. She’s not about to be used like that. Thus, Ravenna learned to betray the men who were charmed by her before they betrayed her. It is through this method that she becomes queen.

But it’s not just beauty that the queen has. She also has magic which has sustained not only her most treasured beauty but makes her immortal, although not invincible. When Snow White comes of age and becomes “the fairest of them all,” her very existence threatens the queen’s magic. The blood of someone who was pure and fair gave the queen her magic and it can also take it away. For this reason the queen wants Snow White dead — she’ll have the princess’ heart so that she can gain more magic and at the same time she is eliminating a serious threat to her power and to her throne.

Rankin/Universal Studios

Insights such as these add tremendously to an annoying tale of women pitted against each other over nothing more than youth and beauty. Suddenly, the witch/queen who was jealous of an 8-year-old’s youth and beauty is turned into someone much more interesting and even sympathetic. Yes, sympathetic. The queen is cold and unable to trust others; she believes men will betray her and girls like Snow White are threats. She’s obsessed with keeping her beauty and youth because without it, she’s lost something she’s relied upon as her greatest influence and her magic with it. It was a brilliant move to make Snow White feel some sympathy and sadness for the queen.

As for Snow White, she is a much more interesting Snow White than the classic. She’s resourceful and a survivor, something that is best shown at the beginning when she makes her grand escape. Unfortunately, like most of the characters, there was something missing; after one viewing, I felt like her character lacked depth. Despite this, I still like what the movie was trying to do.

Snow White and the Huntsman is not perfect and in general doesn’t show much riveting storytelling or characters, but provides an intriguing and refreshing take on an old classic that adds interest to an entertaining movie. If you’re lucky enough to have a dollar theater showing it, check it out. If not, it’s certainly worth renting.

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SPOILER WARNING!

Albert Nobbs tells the tale of a butler of the same name working at a ritzy hotel in 19th century Ireland with a big secret; he is, in fact, a she. Albert has spent the past decades living a careful facade of being a man, painstakingly saving every shilling she receives in tips under a floorboard in her room. However, even the best kept secrets can be broken in an instant, which is exactly what happens to Albert when her employer orders her to share her room with a painter who has come to do a job for the hotel.

This is the premises of Albert Nobbs, a movie that was recently released on DVD here in the USA. As a fan of dramas and historical pieces, not to mention someone who has read a number of history books on cross-dressing women (seriously, I have), I knew this was a film I could not pass up.

The movie starts out well, quickly immersing viewers into the prim and proper world of 19th century Europe with its strict social classes as the servants are preparing for another day of work at the hotel. The scene feels reminiscent of something out of Downton Abbey which gave me hope that I was in for a treat. Glenn Close portrays Albert as the perfect butler and shy, closed-off “man” well. Therefore, when Albert comes face-to-face with her first problem of the movie in the form of the painter, Hubert Page, I felt sympathetic and drawn in. How in the world was she going to handle this man who now knew her secret? Now, I’ve read other stories where a man discovers a woman is a cross-dresser and, after vowing to keep her secret, becomes friends with her and then romantically interested. Albert Nobbs, however, was not going to play this game and instead hits the audience with a twist; Albert isn’t the only woman masquerading as a man. At this point, I had no idea where the movie was headed. Unfortunately, it appears that neither did the people making the movie.

The next three-quarters of the movie seems odd. As I not a film expert, I can’t tell you if it was the directing, the acting, the writing, or all of the above, but whatever the case, I felt the story got a bit confused after a great start and I began to feel completely detached from the characters. Albert befriends Hubert and discovers her friend is a married lesbian. The next thing you know, Albert decides she wants a wife, too. Yet her interest in this other woman, a maid working at the same hotel, comes out of nowhere and never feels real. By this point Albert appeared almost alien to me. Her odd behavior would have made sense if the situation was reversed and the maid was in love with Albert the man versus Albert supposedly being so in love with this maid, but that was not the case. As for this maid who Albert is supposedly interested in, she obviously has zero interest in Albert, romantically or otherwise, and comes off as rather annoying. Even toward the end when viewers were supposed to feel some sympathy for her, I felt nothing. In fact, I didn’t really believe or feel anything for most of the characters as the movie went on.

To top it all off, an almost Charles Dickens-like villain appears and plots to steal Albert’s hard-earned money for himself. I have nothing against that kind of plot, but in this case, I felt the plot description and first quarter of the movie had misled the audience as to what kind of a story Albert Nobbs would be. As I said, the story feels slightly confused and I believe that created two very different feels for the beginning of the movie and the rest. I had expected more of a character journey, a woman trying to figure out who she is after living as a man for so long. If you read the description of the plot put out on movie review websites and movie rental sites, it speaks of the restrictions placed on women of that time and how Albert’s meeting with Hubert leads her to want to escape the facade of being a man. Instead, it became a story of bad guys trying to swindle the good guy.

Despite waiting eagerly for it to come to the theaters, I hesitated to see Albert Nobbs after I saw the reviews were just so-so. Now that I’ve seen the movie myself, I will say this: while Albert Nobbs is nowhere near the worst movie I have ever seen, in combination with characters that I couldn’t connect to and a plot that just couldn’t seem to decide where to go, I have to admit I’m glad I didn’t spend the money to see it in theaters. If you’re looking for an unusual period drama with all of its flaws, you might want to check it out. If you’re like me and are looking for the perfect movie, well, I think you can guess.

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I’ll be the first to admit, I give Disney a lot of flack. Disney has a reputation for their princess characters. Princesses make up the majority of their main characters in animated movies directed toward girls, but unfortunately, the princess characters and their movies are full of gender stereotypes, rather harmful messages about relationships, and what a girl’s goal in life should be. But out of all those meek heroines, there is one whom I find to be an inspiring heroine; Mulan. While Disney does consider Mulan a princess (based on their formula (human) Disney main character + female gender = princess), I refuse to pigeonhole her character like that and thus, she will not be in my series “Destroying the Princess Stereotype.” However, I do want to talk about Mulan and her movie. Awhile ago, I made it very clear why I hate Mulan II (or as I call it, the-movie-that-must-not-be-named), but recently, I realized I had yet to write a post on why I like Mulan. So, without further ado, let me tell you why I believe Mulan is the best Disney movie about a female character to date.
  • Mulan avoids major female character stereotypes
For starters, I feel Mulan breaks some stereotypes connected to Disney’s female leads. Take, for instance, the fact that Mulan is one of the few Disney movies about a girl who is not a princess. As regular readers know, I believe princess characters can be very interesting, but if all of Disney’s movies about young women are stories about princesses, it’s limiting. It seems to say that Disney doesn’t think girls would be interested in anything except tales of princesses. In contrast, Mulan is a young woman who becomes a soldier and then the hero of China. That’s fresh and new for Disney and breaks the trend. And luckily, Mulan doesn’t feel like a caricature of any other personality type. In addition, while many of Disney’s earliest princess characters are the “perfect female” (a.k.a. subservient and pretty), Mulan struggles with that. She isn’t the subservient, cookie-cutter beauty who exists only to please others. Sure, she initially thinks she needs to conform to society for her family, but I think many people can understand this. It’s hard to go against what everyone else is doing and I like that her struggle with that is depicted.  

Another thing I like about her character is her strength of will. While uncertain of herself, she ends up going to war disguised as a man for her father’s sake despite the risk of being killed in battle or if her true gender is discovered. Her strength grows, enabling her to take bold actions even after her identity has been revealed and she’s been abandoned by her comrades. I would also point out that Mulan’s intelligence is highlighted as a valuable trait throughout the movie; her clever ideas and quick thinking saves her and others on more than one occasion. It’s always great to see a girl’s intelligence showcased as an asset.

  • Mulan’s story breaks stereotypes
Mulan’s story also breaks numerous stereotypes associated with Disney movies that revolve around young women. First, unlike almost all other Disney stories about a female character, Mulan completely avoids the old plot of the young, innocent girl versus the conniving, evil, older woman. Even outside of Disney, I see so many stories where women are pitted against women so, strange as this sounds, it’s nice to see a girl (Mulan) whose main foe is a guy (Shan Yu). And don’t even get me started on my problems with the evil older woman stereotype.
 
The next big stereotype avoided is that Mulan’s story does not revolve around a romance. Most of Disney’s stories about girls involve a huge romance which becomes the main plot. Mulan actually does the opposite, making romance such a small portion of Mulan’s journey that it’s only hinted at. Instead, Mulan’s story is about her finding herself, her love for her family, and trying to save China. Mulan fulfills herself by finding acceptance with who she is, not by finding a guy. Compared to the sea of Disney movies (and frankly, a lot of fiction) about young women whose stories seem to revolve almost entirely around romance, Mulan is like a breath of fresh air. I would also argue that by finding herself, Mulan is rewarded with the bonus of meeting a guy who ended up liking her for who she is, untraditional aspects and all. And because Mulan is able to take care of herself, her relationship with the guy she likes seems much more equal than traditional Disney stories where the man always has to rescue the woman.

Mulan is about a girl finding acceptance with who she is even when society tells her she should act another way. Granted, her story comes to a fairy tale-like ending in which she not only achieves the confidence to be herself without fear, but also receives acceptance and praise from all of China. However, this gives the message that good will come from being honest with who you are, even if the road is challenging. Does this story do everything right? Probably not, but in a world single-mindedly telling girls to be princesses, Mulan tells them to be whoever they are. There are lots of other things I liked about this movie such as how the girl saves the day instead of the guy and how she has non-romantic relationships with men, but I won’t get into those today. For breaking trends and setting a new goal for girls, I consider Mulan the best of Disney’s movies focused on a young woman to date.

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In Tangled, Disney takes a crack at yet another classic fairy tale, Rapunzel. Now I think most of us are familiar with the story of Rapunzel; innocent girl with freakishly long hair held captive in a tower by yet another evil older woman until prince charming comes along. If Disney had kept very close to the original story line, I would have ignored it (which honestly wouldn’t have been too hard seeing as it’s not a very action-packed plot), but luckily, they didn’t. Instead Disney did some major tweaking (as usual).

Rapunzel is still the girl (actually a princess in this version) whisked away by an evil older woman, waiting to go outside, but she’s got a lot more spunk than the original Rapunzel. Swinging frying pan-kind of spunk. Because of a healing flower the pregnant queen consumed to save herself from sickness, Rapunzel was born with magical hair granted with the same power as the flower. Well, the crazy old lady of the story (no fairy tale is complete without one) wants that power to keep her young forever and kidnaps the princess, raising her in a tower for almost 18 years secluded from the world. Prince Charming eventually shows up except he’s not a prince like the original; he’s a criminal finding refuge in the secluded tower. (That’s when Rapunzel brings out that frying pan.) Flynn reluctantly helps Rapunzel escape, but Rapunzel’s captor isn’t going to let her go so easily. Thus begins the adventure.

Rapunzel from Disney's Tangled

After seeing the commercials way back when Tangled was being released to theaters, I was intrigued by Disney’s more adventurous take on Rapunzel. It didn’t let me down on that. Tangled’s Rapunzel has a lot of giddy energy which is not as annoying as it sounds; compared to stiff renditions of young princesses in past Disney princess movies like Aurora, Cinderella, and Snow White, this energy breathes life into a previously dull girl whose only memorable characteristic was her flowing locks. This doesn’t give her an air of great maturity, but this goes along with the goofiness of the other characters. And while this new Rapunzel is captive, she doesn’t give off the feeling of a helpless damsel-in-distress (for example, she’s not rescued from the tower; she actually strikes a deal with the criminal Flynn to get him to escort her out of the tower). She may not be wielding the frying pan the whole movie, but Rapunzel is pretty resourceful and isn’t just along for the ride. This is a Disney princess movie so, the focus is on romance, but Rapunzel is one of the more modern princesses I’ve seen from Disney. She’s no Mulan (who, strangely, is considered a princess), but Rapunzel is a notch above most of the princesses.

Flynn Rider from Disney's Tangled

The love interest of Tangled is a mixed bag. Flynn Rider replaces the prince from the original tale as a criminal which is good and bad. In some big ways, Flynn is similar in personality to Prince Naveen from Disney’s other most recent princess movie; he thinks he’s hot stuff just as Naveen did and both men have an unhealthy obsession with money. Flynn also starts off as a bit of a jerk at the beginning. His character has a bit of a twist though; he’s really not the tough guy that he acts like, but puts up an act to emulate a “cool” guy. This makes things tricky. He’s not your average trope, but this still presents the message that if you just dig deep enough, a guy who seems jerky will turn out to be nice. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know how I don’t like this idealistic notion of a jerky guy *changing purely due to love. (*After something a reader pointed out, I’d like to correct this; often the jerk-who’s-not-really-a-jerk changes due to love, but this is not entirely the case in Tangled.)  I know these characters are supposed to be good guys that just aren’t in tune with their hearts or whatever, but unfortunately, it’s not such a pretty scenario in reality; in reality, rarely does a jerky guy change like Disney and other fiction suggests. However, with so many stories spinning this tale, some people pick this idea up and expect similar results in real life. I do see why Disney did this though; by making Flynn a criminal/guy-trying-to-act-cool instead of a prince, he’s someone who has just as many problems and issues to work out as the female lead. So, not my favorite stereotype at all, but I’ll acknowledge the effort.

That brings me to my next comment; I did like the equal standards in Tangled. Not only did the two leads both have issues to work out, but they helped each other through the journey and both did some saving. Looking back at the original where Rapunzel just sits in a tower until a prince comes around and helps her escape, it was much more interesting seeing Flynn steal into the tower to hide out only to be hit by Rapunzel with frying pan (the natural reaction to an intruder) and forced into helping her then watch as the two evade not only Mother Gothel but also the authorities after Flynn. As I said, equal opportunity.

Mother Gothel from Disney's Tangled

On the other hand, the antagonist in the movie, the evil old woman called Mother Gothel, is not so refreshing. As I said earlier, we are presented with the evil older woman trope once again. Her entire motive for kidnapping Rapunzel is to retain her youth. Of course, this power apparently extends beyond granting youth but also allows Gothel to live well beyond her years, perhaps forever if she continued to use the power as needed. However, the story is more focused on Gothel forever scrambling after her lost youth rather than any greater ambition like immortality. Also, while the movie makes a point to show viewers that looks don’t necessarily reflect what’s inside, Rapunzel’s real mother (who is, of course, a kind and good person) remains youthful despite the 18 years that have passed during the movie (maybe because she ate that flower?). It gets back to the old idea of beauty=good and old=bad, an idea that seems very limited in its usage to female characters.

In the end, Tangled is still a princess movie which, with more traditional/stereotypical aspects, will not break many boundaries of the genre, but it meets modern times halfway by introducing adventure and more equal standards between the male and female lead. For those of us looking for something more radically different, maybe our wish will be granted in the upcoming Pixar movie, Brave (keep hoping!), but all in all, Tangled is one of the better Disney Princess movies.

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This past weekend, I finally got around to seeing the not-so-new newest Disney Princess movie, The Princess and the Frog. As readers of my blog will know, there are very few Disney movies with female leads that I like. However, I was curious to see if they would bring more modern ideas to this movie (since it was made it 2009), I had to take a look at it.

The basic story is Tiana, a young woman from New Orleans, is a big dreamer and is working hard to start her own restaurant when a prince comes to town. Prince Naveen is looking for a rich woman to marry because, although he’s a prince he’s been cut off from his family’s money and doesn’t want to give up the good life. Along the way, he falls victim to a man of black magic, Dr. Facilier and is turned into a frog. When Tiana comes across him with his new green look, Naveen mistakes her for a princess and, thinking of the story of The Princess and the Frog, convinces her to kiss him. Unfortunately, not only does it not work, Tiana is turned into a frog, too. Now they both must find a way to turn human again while trying to escape Facilier’s dark plans.

Obviously, this was the first time Disney featured a black women as lead (wow! if weren’t 2011, that’d be so forward thinking!) and rather than make her a pretty little princess, she’s an independent young woman who has big dreams. I appreciated that Tiana wanted to own her own successful restaurant. While she is interested in something that is traditionally associated with women, that would be a job a woman may have actually been able to get at that time Tiana’s story is set and frankly, the fact that Disney has even given us a career-driven heroine is amazing. Many Disney princesses are trapped/restricted/in trouble in some way from the start of the movie (Aurora, Jasmine, Cinderella, Snow White) and either don’t give independence or adventure a thought or don’t do anything on their own to achieve it. Tiana, however, is driven very much by her desire. She works her butt off and isn’t reliant on anyone. I also liked the fact that Tiana is not the damsel-in-distress here. Naveen and Tiana have an equal amount of problems to deal with.

Of course, I knew I should savor these radical-coming-from-Disney aspects. I could feel the shadow of tired, traditional thought processes creeping up on the entire movie just like those voodoo shadows kept creeping up on Tiana and her friends.

My first big issue showed up in the form of Tiana’s friend, Lottie. Lottie is pure and simply “the blonde girl” and Disney makes that very clear from the start. She’s rich, spoiled, talkative to a fault, not too bright, etc. Disney loves stereotypes so, it seems they tried to make the second most prominent female character in the movie as stereotypical as they could to balance out Tiana’s modern character. (No damsel-in-distress? Send in the blonde stereotype!) She’s introduced as the girl who can’t seem to shut up and is determined to meet the prince just because he’s a prince. She’s blind to Tiana or anyone else’s troubles until the end of the movie because she is so absorbed in herself. When it seems like the prince won’t show up to a party Lottie is throwing, she starts sobbing like a child, pointedly ruining her mascara, after she wasted the whole evening waiting for him to show up, but immediately cheers up when he comes. You don’t have to watch this character for more than a few minutes to figure out she’s a complete blonde girl stereotype. Disney really likes taking baby steps, don’t they?

Prince Naveen from Disney's The Princess and the Frog

But Lottie is not the only stereotypical thing in the movie. The prince who changes into a frog is more like “the jerk who (finally) changed into an adult” but it’s not really his character I have a problem with; it’s how Disney handles him. Prince Naveen, as he’s called, isn’t a really bad guy; he just doesn’t act like an adult, but instead more like an immature teen. He thinks he’s the best thing that happened to women (not to mention some other problematic traits) and only changes after he meets and falls in love with Tiana. Oh no. Here we go again. Is it so unusual and wrong that the prince undergoes character change? No, it’s fun to see character change, but by having him change because he meets “the love of his life” we’re returning to the overused jerk-will-change-after-he-falls-in-love scenario. As pretty as that sounds, it’s really not the message to be sending out to kids (or adults, for that matter). Ok, so not everyone is a sponge that absorbs this harmful and unrealistic expectation, but when we have so many stories repeating this fable, some are bound to internalize this. How many women how you heard say “Oh, he’ll change”?

(On a more positive note, I did like that Disney showed some vulnerability in Naveen. Not only is he in a bit of a pinch, but he also admits that because he’s been so spoiled by people he has–if any–very few skills with which he can take care of himself. Guys have problems, too, but in some of the most traditional Disney movies (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) the guys are perfect (in a cardboard cutout kind of way).)

My final and biggest problem with Disney’s The Princess and the Frog was how Disney handled Tiana’s ambitions of a big career. While Tiana does get her business in the end, the lesson in this movie is finding out what we want vs. what we need. Guess what Tiana wanted and what she needed? Yep, she needed love while she only wanted a career. Love is important, but love comes in many forms and the fact that Disney is essentially telling girls to give up their career dreams if they have to choose between one or the other is very old-fashioned. Running a successful business also is more than just getting money; it’s a way to independence not too much another type of fulfillment. If a girl wants both a guy and career, that’s wonderful. Many women end up with both now (whether it was their dream or not). If a girl wants to dream about a career rather than a guy, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, either. But by presenting it the way Disney did, want vs. need, it seemed to me like they were saying if a girl must choose, she should choose the guy. All I can say after watching Disney’s The Princess and the Frog is “Wake up, Disney! It’s 2011!”

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A conversation between two Disney employees ensues.

Employee 1: “Hey.”

Employee 2: “Yeah?”

Employee 1: “I want some more money. We should make a new movie. …What’s with that look? Don’t you want money?”

Employee 2: “Well, yeah. I want money, but doesn’t making a movie require…you know, a lot of effort? Besides, what if we create a whole story, all-new characters, spend all that time on it, and nobody buys it?”

Employee 1: “Relax! I’ve got it all figured out. We’ll create an unneeded sequel to one of our classics. It’ll save us a lot of effort and make a lot of money; people always buy those things.”

Employee 2: “Hey, that’s brilliant! And here’s an idea! What if we create a sequel to that Mulan movie?”

Employee 1: “Mulan, mulan…is that one of those movies about talking horses?”

Employee 2: “No, it’s about a girl in ancient China who disguises herself as a man and goes into the army.”

Employee 1: “Oh.”

Employee 2: “Anyway, it’s never sat right with me. It just doesn’t go with any of our other movies with female leads. I mean, the girl doesn’t even get married at the end, for Pete’s sake! How do we even categorize a movie like that? So, how about we fix that in a sequel?”

Employee 1: “And marry off one of the only independent female leads Disney has ever had? …Sounds great!”

This is the conversation I imagine took place just before the making of Mulan II. Ever since it was released in 2004 this movie has been a large thorn in my side, lodged deep in my skin. I can almost forget it’s there until Mulan-anything is mentioned. Then, there it is again, annoying as ever. Let me start from the beginning.

I adored Mulan as a child; I sill do, in fact. In a world filled to the brim with pathetic role models for girls (and women), Mulan was the shining ray of hope amongst the darkness that is Barbie, Bratz, and any Disney princess movies. I could watch Mulan over and over, relishing Mulan’s strength (physically and mentally), courage, and above all else, independence. Mulan’s story is all about self-discovery and accepting one’s self and for Mulan, that meant being independent. She took control of her own life while showing women could do anything men could do, that one’s gender shouldn’t be a restriction. Furthermore, while the story is chalk-full of male characters, there is only a hint of romance, no wedding bells (the signal of conformation as a “true,” full-filled woman in Disney), and there is truly a partnership between Mulan and her fellow male cast, including the guy she likes. How’s that for a role model?

Disney, however, seemed confounded on that particular issue. Even before the never-should-have-even-been-thought-of Mulan II, Mulan was almost consistently represented as the pretty young woman going to see the match-maker. Mulan merchandise consisted mostly of beautiful Mulan dolls with painted faces and extravagant robes and while searching “mulan costume” does yield some soldier-Mulan costumes, I don’t believe any of them are made or sold by Disney. Yeah, Mulan looks very pretty in that dress, but wasn’t one of the big points of the movie that Mulan was more than a pretty face? It reminds me of video game companies trying to appeal to girls/women; if it’s got to do with girls make it pink, frilly, and pretty.

Mulan is also presented as a Disney princess. F.Y.I. Disney, last time I checked Mulan wasn’t a princess so, here’s my question: why must every (human) female lead be grouped with the princesses? Because of our culture’s stereotypical view of princesses, by placing her with the princesses, it’s like screaming “THIS IS A GIRL’S MOVIE! ONLY GIRLS WOULD BE INTERESTED!” Of course! The movie is all about a girl so, obviously it’s a chick-flick! Not. Girls watch/read movies/books about male protagonists all the time so why is it that so often when movies/books feature a female lead, it’s automatically a girl’s movie? Boys could like Mulan just as much as girls. Disney just can’t seem to let it go.

Now you know what to avoid.

The other thing Disney just can’t seem to let go of is the opportunity to make sequels-sequels that should never have existed. In the case of making sequels, Disney is like that dog that, no matter how many times you tell it “no” or “leave it,” feels a certain compulsion to go after that dead squirrel in the backyard. It’s a gross fixation that usually ends up just as stinky (with some exceptions). They go back to dig up classics and give beloved protagonists kids (The Little Mermaid II, Lady and the Tramp II, The Lion King II, Return to Neverland), generally add stories that never need to be told (Tarzan II, Bambi II, The Lion King 1 1/2),  and, of course, marry off previously independent leads. Enter the hated Mulan II.

Frankly, I don’t like even thinking about the content of Mulan II; I like to pretend it doesn’t even exist. (So far, my denial of reality doesn’t appear to be working so, I’m hoping this rant will be like some kind of therapy. Some day, I hope to move past this trauma.) So, Mulan II goes like this: Mulan and Shang have been abducted and replaced by shallow shadows of themselves (ok, I made that up). They want to tie the knot, but they’re dealing with the usual relationship issues. (“I told you we should have stopped for directions, Shang! Jeez, Mulan! I know what I’m doing! Just because you saved all of China doesn’t make you smarter than me!”) Mushu, for his own reasons, wants to break the couple up. Let’s pause here for a moment. Did Disney really make Mulan, a story that went beyond the normal blah of stereotypical romances, into a superficial romance? Now the uniqueness of the original has been replaced by outsiders trying to break up the couple that’s “meant to be” for their one selfish reasons. What’s next? Mulan and Shang will be breaking up and getting back together in some strange accordion fashion? Not far from it.

The new Mulan.

Then there’s a sorry story about Mulan’s friends Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po finding their ideal women in three princesses (Disney can’t resist). Oh yeah, and then there was some stuff about playing bodyguard and political alliances (oooh, so that’s why those princesses were there!). Mostly, Mulan II is a romance with a side dish of action, the polar opposite of the original. The sophistication of Mulan was also replaced by a certain shallowness, a mere trifle. In The Art of Mulan, the animator of the character Mulan, Mark Henn, is quoted as saying the original movie was “‘really a story about a father and daughter and honor–not girl meets boy and they live happily ever after.'” Oh, what must he have thought at seeing Mulan II? Bottom line: Disney should leave dead squirrels where they lie and let the world enjoy a truly independent female lead.

The real Mulan.

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Romance can be a lovely thing, but the way fiction portrays it sometimes you would think that men ride around on white horses and women spend their time tripping on anything and everything, waiting for prince charming. Because of this, I decided to make a quick list of some of my top pet peeves about the romance genre.

DON’T…

  •  Make either of the couple sparkle with god-like perfection.“Nobody is perfect.” How many times is that phrase said each day? Yet how many times is the love interest in a story almost completely immaculate?  Love interests seem to have descended from the heavens and, like the mythical gods of ancient Greece and Rome, they glow with unearthly beauty that could cause a mortal to combust upon viewing. Even monsters are literally sparkling like disco balls nowadays (I’m looking at you, Twilight)! There are first impressions and there is new love which may add a little shine to the individual viewed through its lens, but there must be a real person with realistic flaws underneath. (F.Y.I. “I’m a sexy vampire and I might kill you” is not a realistic flaw.)
  • Make the love interest a jerk with a “good heart.” If you don’t think about it too much, the jerk with a good heart theme seems like a nice one (although certainly overused). Here’s a person-usually a guy-who is misunderstood, but by getting to know him, the girl realizes that he’s actually a good guy. Getting around first impressions can be a great and rewarding obstacle for readers/viewers to see a characters get through, but this one can be problematic. If it is truly a misunderstanding or the behavior is not brushed off as normal, that is one thing, but often the jerk with a good heart acts like just a plain old jerk to the heroine and the mean behavior is excused. Although it was one of the more extreme examples I saw of this scenario, I discussed some of the issues with jerk-love interests more thoroughly in my last post, Black Bird: Sexy Teen Romance or Creepily Sadistic.
  • Make either of the characters completely reliant on the other.  Aha! The old “You complete me” syndrome that often results in “I can’t live without you!” delusions and damsel-in-distress disease. Loving someone immensely is one thing-in fact, it’s a wonderful thing-but being so dependent on that person to the point where one feels he/she isn’t a whole person without the other is not healthy. (That’s some life advice.) So, the fact that fiction shows this situation as normal or romantic is feeding this unhealthy idea as good. The Twilight series is a perfect example of this. I know! I’ve already used Twilight as an example for something in this post, but it shows this scenario in such an extreme I just can’t pass using it again. In the second book of the series, Edward decides that he’s no good for Bella so, he dumps her and runs off. Bella literally curls up into a fetal position and cries, going into zombie mode for months because her own life doesn’t matter now that Edward is gone. While I trudged through the book (yes, I did read the series), I wanted to say, “Um, excuse me for interrupting you, Bella during this very important time, but didn’t you have a life pre-Edward?” Bella’s response to my question was to become dependent on another guy (Jacob) and do reckless, potentially suicidal stuff. Hmm. Not what I had in mind.  This isn’t to say that people aren’t allowed to grieve for lost relationships, but that letting life totally spiral out of control or giving up on life is not the way to do it so, fiction shouldn’t present it like it is.
My final thought to this little rant of mine is if you think none of this bad romantic advice given by fiction matters, I say this: if girls can look at the fictional world of TV/movies with its airbrushed, rail-thin models and develop insecurities, why couldn’t girls look at fiction and develop unrealistic/unhealthy ideas?

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