Disney Reflections No.10: The Modern Royal’s Guide On How Not To Parent

This is Disney Reflections, a series of monthly posts in which I compare Disney animated fairy tales to the original stories.

It is a rare fairy tale where the protagonist’s parents are a) alive, and b) capable of raising their children without life-damaging trauma. In this, the final post of Disney Reflections, the royal family of Arendelle fail both spectacularly. I was introduced to Tumblr’s opinions on this movie – including various versions of ‘Let It Go’, genderbent art, and meta I tried really hard not to read – before seeing it myself, which meant I was spoilered for several things on top of my usual ‘You’re Doing My Fairy Tale Wrong’ literalism. A rewatch is definitely necessary for judging this one.

The fairy tale: Frozen is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story ‘The Snow Queen’, which is one of my favourites (admittedly, the list is lengthy) and was reviewed for the Fairy Tale Tuesday project. You can read my thoughts here.

The film: We start in the kingdom of Arendelle, which sounds like a dress shop rather than an actual place and what, may I ask, was wrong with Denmark? I mean, I can’t prove ‘The Snow Queen’ starts in Denmark but that’s where Andersen was from and later in the story Gerda travels to Lapland, so it would be reasonable to assume…

…you don’t really care, do you? It’s just I MISS the days when Disney set its fairy tales in real places, hyper-stereotyped though they usually were.

Anyway. Arendelle. It’s very north. In a sequence that reminds me of The Little Mermaid’s opening number, ‘Fathoms Below’, we see the ice-breakers at work on the river, hauling away vast frozen chunks with skill and speed. Tagging along behind is a little boy, with an equally diminutive young reindeer. He’s trying to learn the trade without anyone actually teaching him or, in fact, noticing he’s there.

http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/0/03/Images-3.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20140530195547In the castle, Princess Elsa is trying to sleep. The colours of the aurora borealis swirling in the night sky outside are not enough to wake her, even her little sister Anna’s determined tugging can’t get her up, until the magic words are deployed: “Do you wanna build a snowman?” The answer is YES. Elsa wants to build a snowman. And in the echoing great hall of the palace, that’s precisely what she does, because Elsa has magic that allows her to create winter at will. She makes the floor an ice rink, waves the stick arms of a snowman she calls Olaf, makes little hillocks of snow for Anna to jump between. But Anna keeps jumping higher and higher, and Elsa can’t keep up. Nor does Anna listen when she’s told to stop. A stray bolt of ice magic strikes her across the head; she tumbles to the ground and goes still. A streak of white appears in her hair. Panicked, Elsa screams for their parents.

Who at least know about the magic, though they don’t really like it. They take their daughters to the trolls, little mossy people who strongly resemble boulders. Trotting alone through the woods, the pint-sized ice-breaker is nearly mown down by the frantic royals and hurries after them to see what’s happening. “Cuties,” one troll remarks, petting both boy and reindeer approvingly. “I’m gonna keep you.”

The rest of the trolls are focused on the frightened family huddled in their midst. The chief troll comes kindly forward to examine his patient. It’s lucky – to a given value of ‘luck’ – that the blow struck Anna’s head, not her heart. By stripping away all memories of magic and modifying them to normal winter fun, the troll heals her. He warns Elsa that her power will only get stronger, and that she must learn to control it or disaster will follow. He illustrates his point with flashing red illusions that terrify the young princess and her parents, who decide the best way to handle their daughter’s burgeoning abilities is to go into full lockdown. The castle gates are locked; the staff reduced. Elsa’s things are moved out of the room she shared with her sister. She is encouraged to stay away from people until she learns to control her power…but the tighter her restrictions, the worse her control. Seeing that she makes frost with her bare hands, her father gives her gloves. The outside world becomes a terrifying place for a little girl with a secret.

And on the outside is Anna, bewildered at the sudden change in her sister, trying to coax her out of her room with slowly declining hope. She resorts to dangerous stunts to entertain herself, like riding a bike down a staircase, and starts talking to the paintings. When the girls are in their teens, their parents go on a fortnight’s sea voyage and are caught in a storm. They don’t come back. Now Elsa is utterly alone, and so is Anna.

Three years later, the stillness on the castle cracks. Elsa is about to ascend the throne and that means, “for the first time in forever”, the gates are about to be opened. Anna is almost hysterical with excitement. She whizzes past ‘wow, am going to meet someone new’ straight to ‘TRUE LOVE IS OUT THERE’. Though her notion of true love is basically just someone who wants to talk to her. Oh, honey.

In the city outside, the festival mood is echoed in flower garlands and ribbons. The little boy, Kristoff – all grown up to lumberjack proportions, along with his reindeer Sven – is among the hopeful crowd. More distinguished guests, including a gang of dodgy-looking dignitaries, arrive in the port. When the gates are flung open Anna dives out, plunging into the crowd like she’s taking her first deep breath in years. Her enthusiasm is infectious. Her co-ordination could use some work, though. She runs straight into a horse, falls in a boat and ends up face to face with a prince. He’s handsome and courteous; she’s instantly smitten. Conversation stutters along in awkward mutual apologies until the introductions are made. He’s Hans; she’s the soon-to-be-queen’s younger sister; oh yes, and the coronation is about to start, she should probably be there.

Underneath a veneer of regal composure, Elsa is freaking out. Whatever she touches with her bare skin immediately frosts over, but part of the ceremony requires her to hold the traditional orb and sceptre aloft in front of everyone. She takes them in her hands for the briefest possible time and whips her gloves back on afterwards.

The following party is far less formal. Once Elsa has been introduced by her official title, with Anna by her side – and it’s desperately sad how uncertain Anna is about being there, edging diffidently away so they don’t stand too close – there is jaunty music and dancing. The sisters attempt to have a conversation. It’s reserved but kind on Elsa’s side, awkward and eager on Anna’s. Both are a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of people suddenly in their home,  both sniff longingly at the aroma of chocolate. Their chat gets interrupted by the Duke of Weselton (one of those dodgy-looking dignitaries from earlier on), who asks for a dance. Being the queen has its perks; Elsa can say no, but Anna gets whirled around on the floor while the duke tries to pump her for information and simultaneously perform an acrobatic sort of hornpipe. Coming back to Elsa after the dance, Anna makes another tentative overture – “I wish it could be like this all the time” – and Elsa obviously agrees, but the reminder closes her down again, making Anna back off in tears. 

And who should she stumble into at that moment? The handsome, the dashing, the much-better-dancer-than-that-duke Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, who proceeds over the evening to prove himself a fantastic listener. They swap stories: he’s the youngest of twelve brothers and three of them once pretended he didn’t exist, she doesn’t feel welcome in her own home. After hours of sneaking around the castle and gardens like little kids, Hans spontaneously proposes in a romantic spot beside a waterfall and Anna spontaneously accepts. They both http://i2.wp.com/www.thefandom.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/frozen-anna-hans-2.jpgseem drunk on finding someone who actually likes them. Bursting back into the ballroom to tell Elsa, their dizzy vibe is abruptly dampened when she points out they’ve only just met, this is weird, she’s not giving her blessing and definitely not hosting their wedding. She’s not very tactful. One thing leads to another, the sisters get into a screaming row and Anna accidentally pulls off one of Elsa’s gloves. Instantly, a wall of razor sharp icicles flash across the floor.

Elsa’s secret is finally out. Horrified, she flees into the village square but everyone wants to stop and congratulate her. The Duke of Weselton – who has somehow taken charge – shouts out an order to stop her. In her panic, Elsa lashes out again and her people shrink back in fear. She runs down to the fjord. When water meets her feet, it turns to ice, making a bridge for her to pass across. Which is pretty damn spectacular. Behind her, the whole fjord ices over, trapping the ships. Elsa’s fear is so great she has brought a sudden winter down on Arendelle.

http://www.scifinow.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Once-Upon-A-Time-Season-3-spoilers.jpgAnna is not one of those calling Elsa a monster. She feels guilty about the fight and worried about her sister; leaving Hans to hold the fort, she gets a horse and rides off to find Elsa. “She’s my sister,” she reassures Hans. “She would never hurt me.” But Elsa does not want to be found. Climbing high into the mountains, the snow a whirlwind around her, she has gone right through panic into something like elation: she can’t go back so why bother with the rules? Why not do whatever she wants? Why not…LET IT GO, LET IT GO, SHE CAN’T HOLD IT BACK ANYMORE…

Had to be said.

Crafting a palace from ice, she frosts herself a dress and conjures up a snowman just for the hell of it. Elsa likes being banished. The cold never bothered her anyway. It does bother Anna, who didn’t change out of her summer ballgown and just lost both her cloak and her horse in the woods. Staggering through knee-deep snow towards the rising smoke of a chimney, she discovers a little shop that is stocked almost exclusively for summer. Managing to acquire a warm dress and boots, she and the shopkeeper are both taken aback when a snow-encrusted stranger stomps in demanding carrots. It is Kristoff, who has just come from the North Mountain, where scary magic stuff is happening. Anna perks up. In return for buying his hideously expensive winter supplies – the shopkeeper is not sympathetic to sorcerous changes in season – she enlists Kristoff’s help to reach the mountain and hopefully convince Elsa to stop freezing Arendelle to death.

Kristoff has grown up a bit odd. He prefers his reindeer Sven to human beings (well, that’s not odd, Sven is adorable, if a bit dog-like) and has a ventriloquism thing going on where he pretends Sven is singing along with him, but he’s all Anna’s got, even if he does tell her off for scuffing his freshly lacquered sled and takes Elsa’s side in the Hans argument. Anna sticks to her guns. It is TRUE LOVE. When wolves attack the sled, she works off her anger beating them away with Kristoff’s guitar.

I feel really sorry for wolves in Disney films, they get so badly typecast.

Anna and Kristoff end up running straight at a cliff. Because it is Disney, they get over safely; the freshly lacquered sled, however, ends up at the bottom of a ravine. Anna guiltily promises to buy a new one. Kristoff isn’t very forgiving, but Sven likes her so Kristoff ends up having an argument more or less with himself and comes along grudgingly.

As the sun comes up, the wintry world Elsa has created glitters bewitchingly. Anna and Kristoff are walking through it (with a very bouncy Sven) toward the mountain when they come across Olaf the mobile snowman, Elsa’s creation from last night, who is cheerfully critiquing the lack of colour. Despite initial misgivings, Anna gives him one of Sven’s carrots for a nose. When he introduces himself, she recognises the childhood name and realises they have a lead on finding Elsa. Olaf is delighted to help, though it means bringing back summer. He likes summer. Just doesn’t understand quite what it is…

As a side note: being a Queenslander, I find his desire to get tanned really unhealthy. Snow melts. Skin burns. Don’t tan, people!

Meanwhile, in the city, Hans is great in a crisis. He’s handing around cloaks and blankets, offering hot soup from the castle kitchens, tamping down the Duke of Weselton’s hysterical accusations. When Anna’s horse returns without its rider, he rapidly gathers volunteers for a rescue party. The Duke sends along two men who do not have the royal family’s interests at heart. Unaware of the concerns for her safety, Anna climbs higher into Elsa’s winter wonderland. The closer they get to the top, the spikier the ice formations grow. At length they come to a cliff-face that’s too steep to climb. Nothing daunted, Anna launches herself at it anyway. “You know, most people who disappear into the mountains want to be alone,” Kristoff points out. “Nobody wants to be alone!” Anna declares. Olaf politely interrupts by finding a staircase round the back that leads straight to Elsa’s massive ice palace. Kristoff falls in love with it on the spot.

He’s indignant when Anna insists on going in alone, but doesn’t push it. Olaf trots in anyway. Elsa is astonished to see him alive; apparently her magic has even less limits than she thought. Anna reminds her of the snowmen they built as children, asking her to come home; Elsa gets a painful flashback to when her magic and her sister last collided and demands she leave, go back to the castle where she’ll be safe. Only she won’t, because eternal winter. Hearing what her magic has done, Elsa is appalled – she doesn’t know how to undo it and Anna’s blithe assurance that she can is maddening. Ice starbursts out from her, a splinter accidentally lodging in Anna’s chest.

The noise brings Kristoff running. That’s the last straw for Elsa, who calls up a giant snow bouncer to throw them out. Unfortunately, like Olaf, it has more personality than she intended. When Anna insults it, the snow bouncer chases after them all in a homicidal rage. Kristoff rapidly rigs up his rope and pick to swing them down the side of the mountain, but the snow bouncer starts pulling them back up and they have to cut the rope, falling into deep snow. As they get up and try to decide what to do next, Kristoff notices Anna’s hair slowly turning white. Realising she was struck by Elsa’s magic, he leads her to meet some friends.

They really do look a lot like boulders. Olaf is skeptical. But the stones quickly reveal themselves to actually be trolls, who are so wildly overjoyed about Kristoff finally introducing them to another human being that they start planning a wedding straight away. I find this a bit creepy. Finally, when Anna collapses, they figure out this is a medical emergency rather than a marriage, but the news gets no better – Anna has been struck in the heart and the only cure for that is an act of true love.

Kristoff lifts her onto Sven. His idea is to bring her back to Hans for true love’s kiss, but Hans is at the ice palace getting attacked by Elsa’s snow bouncer while the Duke’s men slip past with crossbows. Elsa begs them to just leave, flinging up ice to defend herself – but by the time Hans gets there, she has both men at the mercy of her ice and is about to kill them. “Don’t be the monster they fear you are!” Hans calls out. Elsa wavers. One of the Duke’s men grabs the chance to fire his crossbow; in deflecting it, Hans brings down a chandelier. Elsa is knocked unconscious. When she comes to, she’s in a cell under the castle, hands gloved in iron to prevent her using her magic, and Hans comes in pleading with her to bring back summer. She tells him what she told Anna: she doesn’t know how.

At the same time, Kristoff is riding like mad for the castle. He leaves Anna with the people there, unwilling to go but not sure what else he can do, and she’s quickly bundled into a quiet, warm room with Hans. She explains as best she can, already very weak, and he leans in to kiss her…only their mouths don’t meet. He pulls back at the last minute. “Oh Anna,” he remarks. “If only there was someone out there who loved you.” In a screeching narrative U-turn, he reveals his hand. All he actually wants is the kingdom and as it looks like he can have that without her, he’s going to let the magic take its course. To be sure it does, he locks the door behind him when he leaves. Heartbroken, Anna collapses on the floor.

If this is really based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, I think it’s a bit much they’ve named the villain after him.

Hans then goes straight to the council room to announce Anna’s death at Elsa’s hands. “At least we got to say our marriage vows,” he whispers, “before she died in my arms.” He should be off on stage doing Romeo and Juliet. Instead he gets the throne and everybody’s approval to execute Elsa. But it won’t be quite that simple. As Anna told him, he’s no match for Elsa – her ice freezes the metal gloves to breaking point and she breaks down a wall to escape her cell.

Up on the hill overlooking the city, Kristoff is walking away from the royal family drama. Sven completely disagrees with this life choice. Kristoff kind of does too, though he can’t quite admit it. This is probably their first fight ever. It breaks off when they see the massive storm building around the castle – Anna is down there and Kristoff doesn’t even hesitate, plunging back the way he came.

The one to reach Anna first, however, is Olaf. He picks the lock with his carrot nose (there’s an interesting line to type) and throws caution to the winds by kindling a fire to warm her up. Though she can barely talk, Anna tries to warn him. “Some people are worth melting for,” he tells her. That is an act of true love, if you ask me, but he thinks they should get Kristoff, who is riding hard for the castle. If they’re going to reach him, it had better be soon – spikes of ice are spreading across the castle, turning it into a death trap. Breaking open a window, Anna drops onto the frozen fjord. Unknown to her, Elsa is close by, lost in the storm of snow. Hans is in pursuit; Kristoff and Sven are searching. It’s like a game of Murder. Guess who’s the murderer?

Hans comes up behind Elsa. He tells her that she killed Anna and the shock of it brings her to her knees, the storm collapsing with her. Raising his sword, Hans prepares to finish her off – but Anna sees them first. With the last of her strength, she throws herself between them, just as she turns into a statue of pure ice. Hans’s sword shatters on impact, sending him flying. Elsa sobs brokenly over what is left of her sister while Kristoff, Sven and Olaf look on helplessly.

Magic is tricky. Anna thought she needed to receive an act of true love; instead she showed one.https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/48/96/bd/4896bdc7789cdc5bc872a36d1f9d9b1c.jpg The ice melts and the sisters share their first hug in a very long time. Elsa realises that love is the key; if fear can set off an eternal winter, a sibling reunion is enough to end it. The deep snow around doesn’t thaw, it vanishes, leaving them all standing under a warm summer sky. Including Olaf. Who does start melting, but Elsa promptly fixes that with a personalised snow cloud to follow him about.

Which means there’s only Hans left to deal with. Anna faces him with disdainful composure. “The only frozen heart around here is yours,” she informs him, before decking him in the face. Everyone approves. Including the councillors, who are watching from a balcony and have changed their minds about a lot of things. For example, Elsa gets her crown back uncontested, while the Duke of Weselton is sent packing on the next ship out. Hans is taken home to face his big brothers.

http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/a/a6/Annakristoffkiss.png/revision/latest?cb=20140308194133Since they’re handling unfinished business, Anna prepares a surprise for Kristoff. He gets a brand new sled, the official post of Royal Icemaster and Deliverer, and a quite enthusiastic kiss from the crown princess. Olaf and Sven play practical jokes with a carrot and Queen Elsa creates an ice rink in the castle square to show off how fun her powers can be. “I like the open gates,” Anna confides. “We’re never closing them again,” Elsa declares. Skating together, surrounded by the people who love them, they both have all they ever wanted.

Spot the Difference: Okay, so this is a sweet movie. I love to see anything about sibling relationships take centre stage, particularly sisters, and there are some interesting – if not terribly well explained – narrative subversions. Anna breaking the spell on herself was a delightful touch that took me a second viewing to recognise, I thought Elsa’s grief broke it the first time around. Elsa is an unusually ambiguous character for Disney, which is also good to see. A lot of Elsa’s behaviour suggests she has an anxiety disorder, making her the first Disney princess with a mental illness, and her emotional upheaval gets a lot of very welcome nuance. These are all great things. On the other hand, a retelling that bears less resemblance to the original story would be difficult to find. The overlap is extraordinarily small and the differences are…interesting.

Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’ is all about friendship – not just between Gerda and Kay, but the host of allies Gerda receives support from along the way. Most of whom are female, occupying a wide spectrum of ages: the lonely enchantress, an exceptionally well-educated princess, the robber girl and a pair of wisewomen. The Snow Queen is a distant and largely disinterested villain. Anna and Elsa appear to be an odd amalgamation of Gerda, Kay and the Snow Queen – actually, that’s too much of a stretch, they appear to be entirely original characters with no basis in the fairy tale at all. There are no other significant female characters. Every secondary character of significance is male. This movie is about frightened girls finding their ground, and that is an important story to tell – but in the process, a host of fantastic women have been ignored.

Why pretend this is based on ‘The Snow Queen’ at all? It isn’t! It has a queen who likes snow. That’s not the same. I can appreciate all the good things about this movie and rewatching it was enjoyable, but as a retelling, it is a complete failure. I hope they make another version of ‘The Snow Queen’ someday and do it a bit more justice. Frozen stands perfectly well on its own.

This has been a fun project for me. It’s always exciting to see how fairy tales are adapted for changing times and audiences, what different ideas each iteration draws from the same story. Over Disney’s long history, the approach has evolved markedly. The next Disney princess to hit screens will be Moana, in a movie of the same name which will be released next year. I’ll definitely be watching it. Thank you for reading – I hope you’ve had fun too!

Disney Reflections No.9: In Which Blondes Are Not Having More Fun

This is Disney Reflections, a series of monthly posts in which I compare Disney animated fairy tales to the original stories.

I can be quite demanding when it comes to fairy tales. Occasionally I go on impromptu rants about feminist princesses who should be household names but aren’t and I’ve written several retellings – including, as it happens, one about Rapunzel. When I first saw Tangled, shortly after its release in 2010, I was a little underwhelmed. As with The Princess and the Frog, this is my first rewatch.

The fairy tale: I reviewed the Grimm brothers version of this story for the Fairy Tale Tuesday project.

The film: We begin with a wanted poster for one Flynn Rider that you’d be forgiven for confusing with a pin-up, what with the roguish smile and good hair. I believe it to be the only one in the movie that doesn’t deliberately get his nose wrong. “This,” announces the voiceover, “is the story of how I died.” Flynn hastens to clarify that it is not as depressing as it sounds! Nor is it his, it actually belongs to a girl called Rapunzel. So it would appear he is already nicking the story.

Once, he tells us, a drop of sunlight fell to earth and where it landed, a magical golden flower grew with the power to heal the sick. When the pregnant queen of a nearby kingdom falls desperately sick, her subjects turn out in droves to search for the legendary flower. Unfortunately, someone else found it first. For centuries a woman called Mother Gothel has been hiding the flower under a cunning leafy basket. By singing over it, she calls on its power to restore her youth and beauty.

But the deluge of miracle-seekers takes her by surprise and despite her best efforts, the flower is found. The queen drinks it down, recovers at once and gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. In celebration a painted lantern is lit and floats away into the sky.

Magically assisted pregnancies always come with side effects, however, and in this case it is a creepy wannabe immortal sneaking into their daughter’s bedroom to take back the magic. Rapunzel’s hair glows like the flower when she hears the song, but the spell doesn’t last when a lock is cut off. Does that stop Mother Gothel? Not a bit of it! She takes the child and spirits her off to a tower deep within the woods, to bring her up in complete isolation. A more sophisticated version of the leafy basket, really. Refusing to give up hope, the king and queen send up thousands of lanterns every year on their lost daughter’s birthday, hoping that one day she’ll see them and come home.

Years pass. Rapunzel grows and so does her hair. Having found myriad uses for the endless blonde coils – from a lasso to a bungee cord – she’s technically capable of leaving the tower. In fact, frenetically active individual that she is, she needs to leave the tower, she’s painted all over the walls and has made enough candles to open a small shop, plus she’s driving her chameleon sidekick Pascal crazy with games of hide-and-seek. The world outside scares her, though. Mother Gothel has drummed it into her since infancy that no one out there can be trusted.

At this point Flynn Rider finally crasheshttp://a.dilcdn.com/bl/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2012/05/flynn-rider-tangled-disney-photo-450x400-pr-2342.jpg into the movie, leaping across rooftops with some very large thugs in pursuit. They’re on the same side, nominally. Flynn wants his own castle, where he can pose dramatically on the battlements; the Thugs want the royal treasure. Letting him down through the roof – because OF COURSE Flynn thinks he lives in a heist movie – they acquire a heavily guarded tiara and leg it like mad.

Meanwhile, at the foot the tower, Mother Gothel has arrived for a visit. She doesn’t climb Rapunzel’s hair, that’s for losers, she lets her adopted daughter haul her up instead. She then proceeds to tear down Rapunzel’s self-confidence with carelessly unkind jokes that are excused with an ‘I’m just teasing!’ that actually make them WORSE. Rapunzel, though, has a plan. She turns eighteen tomorrow and she wants one thing: to go and see the floating lights that rise every year on her birthday.

Mother Gothel tries to brush her off. When Rapunzel persists, she’s treated to a litany of horrors that are sure to pounce on her the second she sets foot in the outside world, ranging from men with sharp teeth to the plague, and accompanied by rapid-fire criticisms, until Rapunzel is so distraught she’ll promise anything for a reassuring hug. “Don’t ever ask to leave this tower again,” Mother Gothel tells her, and Rapunzel agrees. It’s deeply disturbing to watch. Assured that her charge is sufficiently cowed, Mother Gothel departs again into the forest.

Which is unexpectedly full of soldiers, in pursuit of Flynn and his associates. Despite Flynn being distracted by a badly drawn wanted poster, they’ve managed to maintain their headstart, only to run into a rocky dead end. He convinces the Thugs to give him a boost up in exchange for the treasure-filled satchel, but filches it on his way up and runs off without them. The soldiers are hot on his heels, led by a moustachioed commander on the white charger Maximus. Flynn swings down from a tree, knocking the commander to the ground and replacing him in the saddle – but Maximus immediately skids to an outraged stop and does his level best to rip the satchel out of Flynn’s hands. It goes flying instead, hooking on a branch, swinging precariously over a clifftop. Flynn and Maximus brawl to get to it. Unable to bear their combined weight, the branch snaps and they fall from a great height.

Because this is a Disney movie, they survive it. Maximus springs up. The forces of justice cannot be stopped by so trifling a thing as a near-fatal fall! He tries tracking Flynn, but the thief has ducked behind a curtain of leaves and is hiding in a cave. From the other side it opens onto a flower meadow…and a hidden tower.

Flynn doesn’t need magic hair. He scales his own way up and is promptly knocked out cold by a frying pan. Rapunzel has a perfectly reasonable freak-out over his unconscious body and shoves him in a cupboard. Once she gets over the panic and confused attraction, she zooms in on the really important point: one of those untrustworthy people Mother Gothel has been warning her about came into the tower and she handled it. Also, he has nice teeth.

Then she sees the open satchel, and inside, the sparkling tiara. It takes her a few tries to figure out what it’s for, but once it’s on her head…

Mother Gothel naturally chooses that precise moment to interrupt. Hiding the satchel and tiara, Rapunzel hauls her up as usual and tries to explain what happened, but at the first reference to their earlier argument, Mother Gothel flies off the handle. “You are not leaving this tower!” she shouts. “Ever!” Rapunzel stares at her with wide shocked eyes and right then makes the decision to lie. She pretends that she wants paints for her birthday instead, ensuring Mother Gothel will take a three-day trip away. As soon as she’s out of sight, Rapunzel cautiously approaches the cupboard.

http://hdwpics.com/images/011FFA04AC1E/Tangled.jpgFlynn is still out cold, possibly with permanent brain damage from all the whacking. When he finally wakes up, he’s tied to a chair with suspiciously silky golden rope and a gorgeous girl armed with a frying pan is standing over him. Quickly sizing his captor up, Flynn tries out the charm card but just baffles her. She makes him an offer: he can have his satchel if he takes her to see the lights and brings her safely home. Considering he just robbed the royal family, that sounds a bad deal to him. But it’s that or be tied up with hair for the forseeable future, so he agrees to her terms.

For the first time ever, Rapunzel sets foot on grass and earth. She meets her first Disney bluebird! She alternates between dizzying joy at her escape and paralysing guilt at deceiving her mother, while Flynn looks on with stony resignation. He tries to exploit her conflict to make her go home, but Rapunzel turns contrary immediately. She is going to see those lights.

Meanwhile, Mother Gothel gets ambushed by Maximus. He backs off, disappointed, when he realises she’s not his quarry – but she sees that he’s a palace horse and hurries back to the tower. Of course, Rapunzel isn’t there. Mother Gothel finds the tiara instead…and a wanted poster of Flynn Rider.

Who is trying out another tactic to get rid of his unwanted companion. He drags her to a hardcore pub for lunch. It’s called the Snuggly Duckling, and is full of ruffians, rogues and generally the kind of armoured blokes who look like knock-off orcs. Turns out this was a terrible plan because they recognise Flynn (those wanted posters are inescapable!) and decide to hand him over for the reward money. Only everyone wants the reward money so he’s thrown from one thug to another while they bicker it out. Rapunzel finally catches their attention with a violent flick of her hair. It is not something you can ignore. “I don’t know where I am and I need him to take me to see the lanterns, because I’ve been dreaming about them my entire life,” she pleads. “Find your humanity! Haven’t any of you ever had a dream?”

Forget orc extras, these guys wandered off Les Miserables. THEY ALL HAVE A DREAM. From wannabe concert pianists to interior designers to that guy who makes ceramic unicorns, they all seize on Rapunzel as the eager listener they’ve been waiting for all their lives. Even Flynn (admittedly at swordpoint) joins in, though his dream is to be hideously rich on his own personal island. No one sympathises.

http://www.dvdizzy.com/images/t-v/tangled-14.jpgMother Gothel arrives at the door in time to see her adopted daughter dancing on a table surrounded by cheering thugs. And look, she’s the worst in pretty much every respect, but that is a legitimate maternal nightmare. Rapunzel is having the time of her life, though, and Mother Gothel can’t get near. Instead, the door slams open for the palace guards. The Ducklings, having had a total change of heart mid dance number, spirit Rapunzel and Flynn out the back door so she can achieve her dream. They’re out of luck anyway because Maximus kicks in the door, reunites with his commander and tracks Flynn’s scent to their escape route. Flynn’s associates – who were caught but not very well restrained – grab the opportunity to free themselves and set off to catch their double-crossing partner.

Rapunzel’s attempt at bonding with Flynn over backstory is spoiled by soldiers thundering in pursuit. They fetch up in an abandoned quarry, cornered by the variety of enemies Flynn has acquired. Rapunzel swings to safety with her hair, leaving Flynn armed with her frying pan – it is an excellent weapon but not so useful against Maximus, a horse with a grudge and a knife between his teeth. Disarmed, Flynn is cornered until Rapunzel throws him a length of her hair and drags him to safety. Well, not actually safety. Maximus has kicked down a beam to make a bridge so he can get to them, but they’re already gone, swinging away on loops of hair. That’s when the floodgate collapses, water floods the quarry and they get stuck in a dark tunnel. With the water rising and no way out in sight, Rapunzel sobs out an apology. Flynn confesses that Flynn isn’t his name at all, his real name is Eugene Fitzherbet.

Smiling wanly, Rapunzel shares her secret: she has magic hair that glows when she sings. Realising what she just said, Rapunzel starts singing. By the light of her hair, they dig their way free of the tunnel and tumble out, scrambling up onto a riverbank. Rapunzel is blissed out on being alive. Flynn is still rather gobsmacked by the hair.

Mother Gothel, in the meantime, has caught the wrong escapees. She gets Flynn’s erstwhile thieving friends instead, and convinces them to join forces with her. They get the tiara and a promise of revenge.

Flynn has other problems right now. Rapunzel has wrapped her hair around his injured hand and he watches with increasing bewilderment as she literally sings him better. Flynn would really like to flail and flee for a bit, but Rapunzel is giving big sad kitten eyes so he forces himself to be cool with the glow-in-the-dark hair and she ends up telling him how her hair stops working when it’s cut, how Mother Gothel was afraid for her (HA) and that’s why she’s never left the tower before now. It’s obvious she is feeling guilty again. On the other hand, it’s less than a day since she left the tower and Flynn is already returning the kitten eyes. 

Rapunzel drops the subject of whether she’s going back home in favour of needling ‘Eugene’. He tells her that when he was a child, growing up in an orphanage, he’d read to the younger kids from a book of adventure stories and dream about a life of swashbuckling excitement. He swears her to secrecy. He has a reputation to protect. A bit awkward after all the oversharing, he jumps up to go get firewood and Rapunzel gazes after him fondly.

So obviously this is the moment Mother Gothel arrives to ruin everything. It’s a gift.

She takes her usual tack of maternal guilt-tripping, trying to pull Rapunzel into the woods, but Rapunzel digs in her heels and won’t go. She thinks something is happening between her and Flynn, something good. Mother Gothel’s reaction is instantaneously spiteful, mocking the very idea of anyone wanting Rapunzel, and tosses the satchel – complete with tiara – at her foster daughter, telling her to put Flynn to the test. If he gets what he really wants, he’ll leave. Rapunzel is standing there shell-shocked and alone when Flynn comes back. She quickly hides the satchel while he rabbits cheerfully on about superpowers.

The next morning he wakes to a dripping wet and utterly enraged Maximus looming over him like the Charger of Doom. Rapunzel wakes to Flynn howling blue murder as the horse hauls him off by the boot to face justice. She grabs his arm and they have a brief tug-of-war. The boot pops off and we discover Flynn Rider does not wear socks. He must have terrible blisters.

Of course Rapunzel doesn’t wear SHOES, so…

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/b/bf/Tumblr_lb2ivlkRTL1qde10po1_500.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20140302175350Between her and Pascal and some authoritative babytalk, she gets Maximus to stand down. The sympathetic murmurs of ‘nobody appreciates you, do they’ probably help. She brokers a 24 hour truce between horse and thief for her birthday, though they squabble wildly behind her back. She doesn’t care – she’s arrived in the royal city and it is gorgeous.

Not, however, really designed for a woman with hair about treble her own height, so Flynn enlists a group of enthusiastic little girls to plait it all up. Able to walk freely, Rapunzel wanders about wide-eyed. A mosaic of the royal family – complete with the lost baby princess – catches her eye. Then she gets distracted by a group of musicians and kicks off a dance party. She’s adorable, and also one of nature’s leaders. No one sees saying ‘no’ to her as an option. Flynn watches on, trying to pretend he’s exasperated instead of totally besotted. Over the course of the day she paints sunbursts on the cobblestones, they eat sweets in alcoves, he shows her maps in the public library (I assume it’s public, he might have broken in) – and they dance, dance, dance.

It is the best birthday ever. When night falls, Flynn acquires a boat and they sail onto the water to watch the lanterns rise. As they wait for the light show to begin, Rapunzel wonders aloud what she’ll do after this. “Well, that’s the good part, I guess,” Flynn says. “You get to go find another dream.”

http://www.rotoscopers.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/tangled-movie.jpgIn the palace, the king and queen – worn down by years of hope and grief, so tired of waiting for their little girl to come home – step onto the balcony to light the first lantern. After that everyone joins in, sending a galaxy into the sky. Rapunzel is transfixed. Flynn surprises her with a lantern of her own and she responds by shyly returning his satchel. He doesn’t actually want it. He takes her hands instead. Leaning in for a kiss, he sees a terribly unwelcome sight over her shoulder – his ex-cronies waiting expectantly on the shore. Realising that he’ll have no peace until they have the tiara, he leaves a very confused Rapunzel in the boat while he heads off to hand over the satchel.

But of course they are working with Mother Gothel now, who doesn’t want riches, she wants her pet magic princess. Rather than letting him go, the thugs knock Flynn out and tie him to the helm of a ship so it looks like he’s leaving Rapunzel of his own free will – while she stares after him, devastated, the thugs bring out a sack. They know about her hair and they know how much that’s worth. She flees, but her hair snags on a bit of driftwood and while she’s desperately trying to tug it loose she hears the sounds of a struggle, followed by Mother Gothel’s familiar voice calling out her name. She turns back to find her foster mother standing over the unconscious thugs with a large branch. So relieved to be saved, Rapunzel agrees to return to the tower.

Meanwhile, Flynn’s boat knocks up against the castle walls. The tiara is tied along with his wrists, which makes no sense if he was trying to get away, but the castle guards are not looking for logic and lock him up on the spot. Maximus overhears Flynn frantically shouting Rapunzel’s name and realises everything has gone wrong.

The following sunset, the guards come to take Flynn to the gallows. At the same time, Mother Gothel has finished unbraiding Rapunzel’s hair and is trying to pretend nothing ever happened. “The world is dark and selfish and cruel,” she declares, but Rapunzel is looking at the world through different eyes. Thinking about the sunburst on the royal flag, she sees it everywhere in her paintings and remembers where she saw it first: dangling above her cot. She’s the lost princess and suddenly she knows.

(Memories do not work quite like that. But never mind! Revelations are afoot!)

On his way through the cells, Flynn spies the thugs and knocks aside his guards to plunge at them, demanding to know how they found Rapunzel. They tell him it was ‘the old lady’, and he works out what must have happened. As he fights the guards, Rapunzel confronts Mother Gothel, refusing to accept her weak lies. “I’ve spent my entire life hiding from people who would use me for my power,” Rapunzel cries. “I should have been hiding from you!” She sees now that Mother Gothel stopped Flynn coming back to her. Admitting that she sent her foster daughter’s boyfriend to the gallows, Mother Gothel tries to patch it up with another ‘mother knows best’ line.

Rapunzel turns spitfire. She will not be used any more.

Back at the palace, doors are suddenly slamming shut, locking Flynn and his guards in a small corridor. It is an ambush – this time in Flynn’s favour, as the dreamers from the Snuggly Duckling come swinging in to the rescue. AND THEY BROUGHT THE FRYING PAN. The whole army mobilises to face the threat. The Ducklings calmly catapult Flynn out of the courtyard and onto Maximus’s back. The horse may not like Flynn much, but Rapunzel is in trouble and if that means organising a prison break? Maximus has a MISSION, people. They go whirling off in a mad gallop towards the forest.

Arriving at the base of the tower, Flynn calls for Rapunzel to let down her hair (it had to be said!) and a golden cascade spills out the window. He catches hold and climbs up – only to see Rapunzel chained and gagged on the floor. Mother Gothel knifes him in the back. “Now look what you’ve done, Rapunzel,” she says dismissively. As she hauls on Rapunzel’s chains, Pascal bites her skirt and is kicked into a wall for his pains. “For every minute for the rest of my life,” Rapunzel swears, “I will fight. I will never stop trying to get away from you. But if you let me save him, I will go with you.”

Mother Gothel agrees. She chains Flynn up instead and Rapunzel flies to him, ignoring his feeble attempts to make her stop healing him. It means she’s not paying attention when he grabs a shard of broken mirror off the floor and slices away Rapunzel’s hair. Without it, Mother Gothel doesn’t want her; without it, she can’t save him. The magic fading, it all turns her natural brown and Mother Gothel’s years finally catch up with her. In a frenzy, she reels backwards – and tumbles from the tower window, to her death.

Rapunzel stares after her, horrified, then goes back to Flynn. She sings the magic song hopelessly, holding his limp body in her arms. But magic is a part of her, and cutting off her hair doesn’t change that. When her tears fall on his face, they melt into his skin and flare gold. He wakes up groggy and flirty. They kiss passionately on the floor.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/0f/34/ef/0f34ef9a89b9e0ed3e1ae5a677311c12.jpgShortly after that, a guard bursts in on the king and queen with the news they have been hoping to hear for so, so long. They run to the palace balcony, where Rapunzel and Flynn turn to meet them. The queen is the first to step forward – incredulity gives way to joy and before you know it there’s a huge family group hug underway. Flynn watches on smiling until the queen holds out a hand and hauls him in.

With Rapunzel restored to her true home, dreams start coming true left, right and centre. The Ducklings give up banditry in favour of performance art and romance. Maximus becomes chief of police. Pascale eats a lot of fruit. As for Rapunzel and Flynn…well, he goes by Eugene these days. Still tells outrageous stories about his life and occasionally nicks her tiara. And they are living very happily ever after.

And just for the record, there’s no reason to stop lighting the lanterns just because the princess is found. She wants to CELEBRATE.

Spot the Difference: Well, there’s hair. And towers.

Look, it’s not got much common ground with the fairy tale and that bothered me on the first watch, but to be fair to Disney there’s a lot of non family-friendly content in the original story: the wild tower-room love affair, the resulting pregnancy, the prince’s eyes being put out with thorns, Rapunzel wandering the wilderness with twins. The Disney version steers clear of all that, opting for a lovable rogue instead of a prince and a princess instead of a bartered peasant girl. As with many retold fairy tales, this one tweaks the traditional structure (well, more yanks violently) to make each character’s motivations more understandable. Rapunzel’s parents desperately need the plant and are unaware of the consequences that will ensue from taking it; Mother Gothel wants something specific from Rapunzel; the magic in the hair is probably why it’s so ridiculously long.

What’s delightful about this version of Rapunzel is how she uses that hair. It could easily be a terrible hindrance to her adventurous personality, but she grew up with it and makes it work for her, and Flynn helps her come up with a sensible solution when she really needs it out of the way. In fact, Rapunzel has a tendency to use stumbling blocks as launching pads. The naivete Mother Gothel mocks is tempered with fierce determination; she expects the best from people and usually gets it, but she’s prepared to deal with danger too, even when it comes from someone she wanted to trust. She and Flynn are a well suited couple: outgoing, exuberant, personable, cause havoc wherever they go.

As for Mother Gothel, she is…unnerving, because she’s so believable. It’s difficult to say for sure how much of her relationship with Rapunzel involves genuine maternal fondness, however twisted and abusive, and how much is just possessive pride in Rapunzel’s power. Dominating and vicious when crossed, Mother Gothel gas-lights her foster daughter to keep her obedient, and it’s terrifyingly effective. It takes explicit certainty of her ill intentions for Rapunzel to finally break away, and it’s hard. That’s an important story to tell.

I can’t tell you how glad I am that both Rapunzel’s parents survived to the end of the story and that we got to see traces of Rapunzel’s personality in her loving father and brave, open-hearted mother. There are not enough mothers in Disney.

Maximus is obviously fabulous. The Ducklings are adorable in a weird, unhygienic sort of way. This version of ‘Rapunzel’ may not stick as closely to the original as I’d have liked, but it is irrepressibly good fun with a respect for emotional realities, and anyone who can look at Rapunzel’s big sad eyes without wanting to give her the moon is probably evil. One thing that still irritates me: did her eyes have to be that big, and her waist that small? Disney princesses have always had unlikely proportions, but the principal female characters in Tangled have only-in-animation measurements while the men – even the stupidly handsome Flynn Rider – have more natural shapes. It’s a trend to discourage.

Disney Reflections No.8: Never Trust a Wishing Star

This is Disney Reflections, a series of monthly posts in which I compare Disney animated fairy tales to the original stories.

Made in 2009, The Princess and the Frog marks the beginning of a new era. It is Disney’s first fairy tale to be set post-1900, the first to be set in America, and of course stars Disney’s first black princess. I was an adult when this one came out and only saw it once. Let’s see how it holds up to a rewatch.

The fairy tale: This movie is based on the fairy tale ‘The Frog Prince’ which I reviewed for the Fairy Tale Tuesday project alongside three other amphibian-themed stories. There are more of them than you might think.

http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130709093254/disney/images/1/15/Princess-and-the-frog-disneyscreencaps.com-62.jpgThe film: It begins in New Orleans, in a house that’s pretty much a palace, in a bedroom that is the frothy pink dream of six-year-olds everywhere. Two little girls perch side by side, watching a seamstress finishing off a matching frothy pink costume while telling the story of a princess who kissed a frog and ended up with a handsome prince. Girl No.1 is Lottie, the intended owner of the dress, who cannot contain her delight at the happy ending. Girl No.2 is the seamstress’s daughter Tiana, who thinks kissing frogs is revolting. A chase ensues when Lottie traps her poor pet cat inside a frog mask and tries to make Tiana kiss it, while Tiana valiantly resists. Tiana’s mother wins my heart by rescuing the cat. Seriously, Disney, bullying cats is not amusing.

Tiana and her mother leave the sprawling mansions behind, catching the tram home to their own cramped little house, where Tiana focuses her remarkable powers of concentration on making the perfect pot of gumbo. Her dad, a passionate cook himself, is so impressed that he shares their dinner with the whole neighborhood. Later, he shows Tiana a picture of a glamorous restaurant and tells her one day they’ll be running a place like that. To prove it, he writes ‘Tiana’s Place’ across the top. She remembers one of Lottie’s fairy tales and scrambles to the window to wish on the evening star. All she gets is a frog. The universe has a childish sense of humour.

As an adult, Tiana has not given up on her dream, but she’s not relying on stars any more. Though her father has been lost to war, she is determined to open that restaurant and is working all hours to get there. The city of New Orleans gets in her way at every turn, from wannabe flash dancer musicians parading across her path to the dismissive cook at the diner where she waitresses. Her customer service ethic, and self-restraint in not dropping a coffee pot on the cook’s head, are awe-inspiring.

In direct contrast, Prince Naveen of nowhere-you’ve-ever-heard-of arrives in New Orleans to escape a fight with his parents, posing his handsome self for the waiting media then sloping off with a banjo to check out the local music scene and chat up pretty girls. His valet/ manager/ general dogsbody Lawrence trots sullenly in pursuit with the luggage. Lottie, who has not given up on her dream of snagging a hot prince, bursts into Tiana’s diner to share the glad tidings. Tiana’s had her own run-in with royalty, though she doesn’t know it – it lasted the two seconds it took for Tiana to roll her eyes at him.

She’s honestly not having a great day, what with the zero sleep and her friends trying to bully her into a social life she doesn’t have time for, but Lottie’s exuberant glee is an unstoppable whirlwind. Her doting father has invited the prince to that night’s masquerade party and Lottie, struck by inspiration, throws a small fortune at Tiana as payment for last-minute extra catering. The windfall is precisely what Tiana needs. She finally has enough money to buy her restaurant.

http://cdn2-b.examiner.com/sites/default/files/styles/image_content_width/hash/de/53/de53c0a5e09bea6e21697ae94967b58b.jpg?itok=WZ_HM7-0Which is not to say she can afford prime real-estate – the building she settles on is sort of a wreck. When Tiana’s mother arrives to celebrate the moment, giving Tiana her father’s beloved gumbo pot, all she can see are the cobwebs and rotting beams. Like Tiana’s friends, she thinks her daughter is working too hard and should be going out more, maybe finding a man…Tiana, though, is no stranger to fixer-uppers and sees an art deco masterpiece in the making. She patiently brushes off her mother’s hints. True love can wait – she’s got work to do.

Naveen, meanwhile, has pretty much the same thoughts only his version of ‘work’ is ‘run off with a bunch of buskers’. He’s the same brand of charming feckless as Lottie, only without the funds to back it up because his parents got sick of it and tied up the purse strings. Nor is Lottie the only one with designs upon the prince. A tall, mysterious man in a really menacing hat has been stalking Naveen all over town and now pounces, offering to read his future. Naveen holds true to form and bounces off down a dodgy alleyway with puppy dog enthusiasm. Lawrence tries to dissuade him, without success. Then he stops trying, because Mr Tall, Dark and Sinister – otherwise known as Doctor Facilier – is playing a double game. Laying out cards that promise a a financial windfall for Naveen, he deals a second hand to Lawrence, showing a life of ease and wealth…for a price. Both men agree. But as the spirits rise up to answer the fortune teller’s spell, Naveen realises just how dreadful a mistake he’s made.

The masquerade ball begins with no sign of its much-anticipated guest. Tiana is dressed up as a medieval handmaiden, dishing out cakes, while Lottie wears a grown-up version of the pink froth and panics over Naveen’s no-show. Her solution: wish on that star REALLY, REALLY hard. Tiana starts to point out http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20131106235226/disney/images/f/fc/Dibujo171,1.jpgthis may not be the most effective strategy ever when, because Lottie’s life works like this, Naveen appears from nowhere. Lottie whistles up a spotlight, tosses off some glitter and sashays off for her waltz. Tiana watches fondly, happy for her friend even if she doesn’t understand the dream at all.

Then her own dream is abruptly, brutally crushed by a pair of penny-pinching businessmen who calmly tell her that they’ve got a better offer for their property. She tries to chase after them, but gets knocked into her own cake stand instead. When Lottie dashes over to squee about Naveen, she sees her friend is splattered in icing and takes her upstairs, giving her a different dress. Too caught up in her own happiness to recognise Tiana’s misery, she then hurries back to the party. Tiana wanders onto the balcony, taking another look at that star. It’s got to be worth a try…

She gets a frog.

A talking, mildly lecherous frog. Reacting on behalf of all of us, she backs off and hurls Lottie’s old soft toys at it. Finally convincing her to stop, the frog explains himself – he is Prince Naveen, enchanted. If that’s so, Tiana wants to know who’s out there dancing with her best friend. Naveen doesn’t know – his priority is turning human again, and since he was also a fairy tale addict as a child, he has an answer. Tiana has to kiss him.

Thttp://online.wsj.com/media/princesskiss_E_20091213085142.jpgiana’s feelings on kissing frogs have not changed, especially not over-confident, pouty ones, but he’s a prince and she needs extra money to outbid her competitor so she screws up her nerve and goes for it. Poor Tiana. She has no idea, the movie’s only a third of the way through. Instead of turning Naveen human, the kiss turns her into a frog.

She is extremely not happy about this. The force of her rage sends both frogs spilling off the balcony, right into the middle of the party (and accidentally down Lottie’s dress). They escape on some balloons, and not a moment too soon, because the fake prince is none other than Lawrence and while he doesn’t particularly want Naveen dead, Doctor Facilier has no such compunctions. As long as Naveen’s blood marks the mask Lawrence wears around his neck, the enchantment will hold – but a free Naveen is a complication. And now, of course, Tiana is too.

Drifting around above a swamp, the prince and the waitress clear the air. He’s broke, she’s not a princess, they have absolutely no use for each other, and oh, while all that sniping is going on, the balloons have blown into a tree. A few seconds later, the frogs are face-first in the lagoon. This doesn’t improve their tempers. They try to continue the fight but everything wants to eat them and a grudging truce is in both their interests. They spend the night hiding in a hollow log, then in the morning Tiana builds a raft and Naveen makes himself another banjo from twigs.

His playing attracts the attention of an alligator. He does not want to eat anyone – he wants to fanboy over jazz. Naveen adopts him as an instant BFF, and expertly manipulates him into helping them find a more kindly disposed voodoo practitioner. After all, if a man can be turned into a frog, an alligator can be turned into a man, and then Louis can become the saxophonist he’s always dreamed of being. Tiana finds the pair of them very annoying. So do I. Naveen was sweet as a human being, but as a frog he’s a smarmy chauvinist with stupid pick-up lines. It almost makes Lawrence look good.

Except the power is draining from that mask and while Lottie is about as self-involved as they come, she does notice when her suitor’s ear pops out to twice its usual size. He distracts her by proposing marriage. Wouldn’t you know, it works. She shoves him off to revel in the moment, then dashes off to start planning her wedding. Lawrence reverts to his own form and Doctor Facilier broods over his failing plan. He’ll have to ask for help from his friends on the ‘Other Side’…

Back in the swamp, Naveen is enthusiastically experimenting with catching mosquitoes while Tiana’s frog tongue betrays her chef brain and follows suit. They go for the same insect, their tongues get all tangled up and a very chatty firefly called Ray comes to the rescue. Calling up a cloud of friends, he leads them down the river towards voodoo queen Mama Odie.

His spell failing, Doctor Facilier makes a bargain with the spirits: once Lawrence has married Lottie, Doctor Facilier will kill her father and claim control over New Orleans through his money, allowing the spirits to take as many souls as they choose. They send monstrous shadows to track Naveen down.

They’re not the only hunters looking for the unfortunate frogs – a trio of incompetents more or less accidentally ensnare Tiana. Naveen employs his natural superpower of being unbearably annoying to distract her captors. The flush of success inspires previously unheard-of levels of amicability. While Ray and Louis recover from their own encounters (Louis had a bad run-in with a thorn bush), Tiana puts her own superpower to use and whips up ‘swamp gumbo’ with Naveen as her unwilling kitchen hand. He’s never had to cook for himself before, let alone anything else, and now he’s cut off from his parents’ wealth he’s feeling his lack of education keenly. Tiana gets over her initial amusement and shows him how to mince a mushroom.

While they’re eating, Ray introduces them all to his girlfriend Evangeline – who is that highly unreliable evening star everyone’s been wishing at, and not a firefly at all. No one has the heart to tell him this. His happy clueless adoration wakes a warmth in Naveen too, who ignores Tiana’s protests and teaches her how to dance. There’s finally an advantage to amphibian living: they can waltz underwater! Even as a frog, Tiana is gorgeous and Naveen lets himself get swept away by the moment, but Tiana slips out from his attempted kiss. Lucky for her, because the spirit shadows have caught up to them. Seizing Naveen’s ankle, they haul him off into the woods.

And are promptly crisped by several well-aimed bolts of lightning from the promised Mama Odie, a little old lady with a big attitude who lives in a boat stuck in a tree. She’s cooking gumbo too, in a bathtub for some reason. Maybe she has a lot of neighbours. She can do all sorts of magic things but won’t, since she thinks ‘it doesn’t matter what you look like, doesn’t matter what you are’ – as long as you have love you’ll be FINE, is her attitude, and she all but shoves the two frogs together in a ‘now kiss’ gesture. Naveen gets what she means. Tiana doesn’t. Her eyes are still on the prize, her restaurant.

Mama Odie finally gets down to business. To be human again, they require one kiss of princess. It just so happens that Lottie’s dad has been chosen as King of the Mardi Gras Parade, which temporarily makes her a princess – just as she’s always wanted! – but only until midnight. Louis tries to bring up his own desire to be human, but Mama Odie tells him that’s not what he needs and shoves him unceremoniously out the door. I really don’t like her.

It’s fortunate they have Louis along, though, because he suggests they hitch a lift home on a steamer and while he’s aboard, he runs into a group of musicians who think he’s a really awesome saxophonist in a really awesome costume. He runs off to play with his new friends. Naveen, meanwhile, is fretting over his romantic feelings for Tiana. Showing an unexpected streak of creativity, he makes a ring out of wire and beads, manufactures a romantic table for two and plans a proposal. He doesn’t want to marry Lottie – probably wise, they’re way too much alike – but Tiana doesn’t realise he wants to marry her, distracted from the conversation as they pass the building she plans to be her restaurant. He sees that to make her happy, she needs that place – and to give it to her, he needs money. In short, he needs to marry Lottie after all.

Both women would have a thing or two to say about that thought process if they knew.

No sooner has he left Tiana alone than Naveen gets kidnapped by shadows again and brought to Lawrence, to feed the mask with his blood. Meanwhile, Ray spills the beans to Tiana, telling her about Naveen’s planned proposal. She shows a lot of enthusiasm for someone who could barely tolerate him twenty four hours ago and immediately assumes he’ll be on Lottie’s float, getting kissed human. Well, there is a prince there. Getting married to Lottie.

Tiana is heartbroken and when Ray tries to cheer her up, she lashes out, telling him Evangeline is only a star who can never love him back. He refuses to give up, going back to buzz in the fake Naveen’s ear – while the real Naveen, locked in a box at Lawrence’s feet, kicks up the biggest fuss he can. Just before the wedding vows are completed, Ray sets Naveen free and they trip Lawrence off the float. Naveen yanks off the mask; Ray flies away with it. Seeing the shadows pursuing his friend, Louis drops the sax and rushes to help.

Ray throws the mask into Tiana’s lap, triumphant. Telling her to take it and flee, he bounces wildly at the shadows, burning them with his light – but he is small, and Dr Facilier is not. Ray is swatted and stamped on. Louis finds his broken body. How is this G rated?

Running from the shadows isn’t working for Tiana, so she switches tactics and threatens to shatter the mask. Dr Facilier reacts by conjuring an illusion of her dream restaurant, promising she’ll have it if she hands over his talisman. He shows her father, who worked hard yet never got his dream…but for all that, Tiana’s father was loved. He was happy with his life. Also, it’s fundamentally immoral to enable identity theft.

Tiana tries to smash the mask, but a shadow intercepts it. Dr Facilier gloats. He’s stupid. She’s a frog; she has a tongue. Flicking it out, she recaptures the mask and this time breaks it into shards. D Facilier can no longer fulfill the bargain with his ‘friends from the Other Side’. He has no souls to give – so they take his.

The spell is broken. Lottie corners her groom to find him short, balding and more than twice her age. He runs before she has time to get angry, and gets arrested by her dad. Meanwhile, Naveen applies his winsome voice to explain the situation. Lottie whacks him with a book first, because she is Tiana’s best friend, but the magic word ‘prince’ catches her attention. She’s happy to deliver the kiss. Tiana gets there first, though; she understands why Naveen’s doing this, but while she wants her restaurant, she wants him there too. Far from getting upset about being excluded from the big romantic moment, Lottie gets all the feels and offers her congratulations. “I’ll kiss him,” she says. “For you, honey.” It’s so grown-up! Like, finding solutions and things!

Only they’ve left it too late. It’s past midnight – Lottie isn’t a princess any more, and they are still frogs.

Ray is dying. He gets to say his goodbyes, and dies with his eyes on Evangeline. His friends return him to the swamp, and to his family of fireflies. A new star flickers to life beside Evangeline. It would seem she loved him after all.

http://cdn.hipdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Tiana-and-Naveen-ready-to-get-to-work-Princess-and-the-Frog.jpgLater, Mama Odie performs a swamp wedding and the frog lovers kiss as husband and wife. More importantly, as prince and princess. That’s enough for the magic! They are transformed back into humans, in fancy wedding attire what’s more. They’re pretty casual about it, all things considered, more interested in getting back to the kissing. They have a second wedding for their human friends and family, attended by Naveen’s approving parents and a delighted media circus. Then, because this is Tiana’s wedding day, they go straight to work on fixing up her restaurant. Turns out she didn’t need extra money, she needed an alligator bestie to stand over the real estate men while they got over their sexist, racist uselessness and handed over the damn keys.

Once the restaurant is the big shiny palace Tiana always knew it would be, she puts Louis on centre stage to play for an admiring crowd, sets Naveen waiting tables (though she knows he’ll slope off to play ukelele with Louis) and saves tables for all her friends and family. Lottie finally gets to dance with a real prince, Naveen’s brother…who is six, but you can’t have everything! Tiana whirls off in Naveen’s arms, surrounded by a swirl of fireflies. You can take the frogs out of the swamp, but some friends are for life.

Spot the Difference: Basically everything.

I am not fond of ‘The Frog Prince’. It is a punishment fairy tale, a young girl’s ingratitude taken as cause to trample all over her right to say no. Her father makes her take a creepy talking frog into her bed. It needs a lot of adaptation for a modern audience! And Tiana is perfect for that, because she is the kind of heroine who generally stars in punishment fairy tales – sure of what she wants, not apologetic about it, no patience to spare for time wasters – the kind of heroine I want to hug and make tea for.

Which makes it doubly frustrating when the story keeps critiquing her for being that driven. I mean, love is wonderful and overwork certainly is not, but Tiana wants to start a very ambitious small business and she’s almost there. This is when she needs support from her friends and family, not loud pressure to go out and look for a boyfriend too. She shouldn’t have to justify herself! The best thing about her friendship with Lottie, to me, is that Lottie – darling narcissistic cupcake that she is – has zero judgement when it comes to any of her friend’s life choices. Tiana can relax and be herself in her company, in a way she can’t with anyone else.

As for Naveen…well, both he and Tiana are considerably more enjoyable characters as humans. The prince is introduced a footloose, boyishly naïve charmer. As a frog, he’s pushy, selfish and kind of lecherous. It’s not clear how much of his condescension stems from sexism and how much is classism, but you can hardly blame Lawrence for hating the boy if he’s like that all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, Naveen is not a terrible character. He makes sense in context and grows up over the course of the story, gaining a sense of responsibility without losing that happy-go-lucky charm. His friendship with Louis is particularly sweet, and both end up actively supporting Tiana’s restaurant dream. There’s a risk in portraying this type of character in children’s media, though. With sexist male protagonists omnipresent in popular culture, are children going to pick up on the nuances of what is and what isn’t okay about his behaviour? It’s surely pause for thought when the hero of the movie comes out with rhetoric quite similar to that of classic Disney villain Gaston.

That said, Tiana is not obliged to calmly accept his presence in her life the way the princess in the original fairy tale does. She challenges, mocks and expects better of him, and even judgmental Mama Odie can’t make her change her mind about her priorities. I want more heroines like her.

Disney Reflections No.7: She’ll Bring Honour To Us All

Mulan has the distinction of being the first and only Disney fairy tale to star an Asian protagonist – given it was made 1998, that’s a bit depressing. Like a fair few items on the Disney back catalogue, it’s currently in the works for a live action remake. I was BESOTTED with this movie as a child, I borrowed the video repeatedly from the library and wrote atrocious fan fiction for a sequel. This was before I realised Mulan 2 already existed and it was terrible.

The fairy tale: Well, to begin with, it’s not exactly a fairy tale. It’s a ballad, and as such I suppose it does not strictly qualify for this project but I love Mulan too much to leave her out. The version of the story I’m using is a 2014 picture book by Li Jian, translated by Yijin Wert, a dual telling in English and Chinese characters.

Mulan is a well-educated child, trained in calligraphy and literature by her father and weaving by her mother. She also learns martial arts and takes to riding as a natural. I approve of this parenting. Then her peaceful world is broken by the arrival of an imperial messenger; her elderly father has been drafted into the army. The only other male member of the family is Mulan’s brother, who is too young to fight, so Mulan dresses herself as a boy to take her father’s place. Her family not only know, they support the decision – her brother and sister help her pack up all the necessary supplies.

She rides away to the frontier, where the army is encamped by the Yellow River. They march on to the northern mountains the next day. Mulan takes no time at all to distinguish herself as a remarkable fighter. Over twelve years of service, she manages to keep her secret and also impress all the soldiers she serves with. The emperor tries to reward her success, but she refuses to accept the offered position and won’t take his gifts – all she wants is a good horse, to go home.

Her parents are thrilled to see her safely returned, even with some army friends in tow; her sister prepares a feast, and her brother cleans her room. Her whole family gather to greet her. Now that the war is over, Mulan discards her warrior’s clothes and dresses as a girl again. When she emerges in a pretty dress with full make-up, her male friends are astonished. Whether it’s that easy to discard one life and slide back into another remains to be seen, but if anyone has the determination to do it, that would be Mulan.

The film: We begin on the Great Wall of China, which is…not doing so great a job, actually, as one unfortunate guard discovers when grappling hooks come flying out of the dark during his patrol and he turns around to find armed Huns storming the watch tower. With great heroism, he manages to set the warning beacon ablaze. Further along the Wall, flames leap up as the signal spreads. “Now all of China knows you’re here,” he snarls, fully aware he’s about to die.

He’s right on both counts.

In the imperial city, General Shang’s first priority is to protect the Emperor, but the Emperor himself is thinking like a winner and planning his counter-attack. He orders a massive recruitment drive across the nation. “One man,” he says, “may be the difference between victory and defeat.” If you are at all familiar with this story, you’ll see a certain irony there.

Outside of the city, word of the invasion has not yet spread and the biggest worry looming on Fa Mulan’s horizon is an appointment with the matchmaker, an event which seems to be a mixture blind date and big exam. She’s prepared by scrawling virtues all over her wrist in case she forgets them. Familiar with Mulan’s inventive streak and her corresponding tendency to wreak unintentional havoc, her father prays devoutly to the ancestors that she’ll make a good impression; waiting in town, Mulan’s mother is having similar doubts. Not so Mulan’s grandmother, she’s invested in a lucky cricket and proceeds to test that luck by crossing a road with her eyes covered. Chaos skipped a generation, I think. I’d like to include a picture at this point, but my internet access is rubbish today and it’s simply not worth the bother. I may come back later.

The second she shows up – late, with straw in her hair – Mulan is hauled off to be scrubbed, polished, painted and coiffed into bridal elegance. She keeps getting distracted, drifting off to advise on chess games and rescue a little girl’s doll, but at last she’s ready to join the queue of hopeful girls standing outside the matchmaker’s house. At this time, in this place, boys bring honour to their families through acts of courage in war and girls bring honour by marrying well. Mulan is committed to getting this right.

Hers is the first name called. During the ensuing interview – and hell, is it like an exam – the ‘lucky’ cricket escapes its cage and and in her increasingly frantic efforts to recapture it, Mulan manages to spill tea everywhere, cover the matchmaker’s face in ink and then there’s an incident with the brazier…long story short, it goes about as badly as it possibly can. Humiliated, Mulan slinks home and hides in the garden. Her father tracks her down, gently assuring her that all she needs is the time to grow into herself.

The adorable moment is ruined when imperial officials ride into town, issuing conscription notices to each family. Mulan’s father is a good man and a loving father, but he’s proud and he accepts the summons despite a bad leg that clearly disqualifies him from service. When Mulan protests, he turns on her with a despairing anger, telling her to learn her place. Through the long night she circles helplessly around the immoveable facts: her father can’t fight, but someone must answer that summons. A girl can’t fight, but someone must answer that summons.

Mulan makes up her mind.

She takes her father’s sword. She puts on his armour. With her hair cut short and the conscription notice in hand, she rides from the courtyard, and by the time anyone realises she is gone it’s too late to fetch her back – if the deception is revealed, she will face execution. Her grandmother prays fervently to the family spirits to keep her safe.

Little does she know, Mulan has been causing debate among her dead relatives as well as the living. Some offer support, others are horrified, most just latch on to the bone of contention to kickstart old grievances (“we can’t all be acupuncturists!”). It’s eventually agreed that one of the family guardians must be woken and sent to protect the Fa family’s wayward daughter. Pint-sized dragon Mushu, disgraced and demoted after failing spectacularly at his last mission, hopes this might be his chance for redemption. Instead he’s sent to wake the Great Stone Dragon, greatest of the guardians.

He does try – the dragon stubbornly refuses to wake and when Mushu gets a bit over-enthusiastic with his gong, the statue promptly falls to bits. Panicked, he flees the scene to go protect Mulan himself.

She’ll need it. The Huns are steadily advancing from the north, leaving a trail of wreckage behind. I find it a little ridiculous how all the ferocious Shan Yu’s men are highly suspicious looking characters with terrible haircuts while the stock standard imperial soldier is a male model.

Anyway, Mulan has reached the army camp and is lurking on the hillside above, practicing being manly. So far the best intro she’s got is “I see you have a sword! I have one too,” which…is probably not an intentional innuendo, but is also not the way to introduce yourself to anyone at all. And she keeps dropping the sword anyway. “It’s going to take a miracle to get me into the army,” she tells her horse. “DID I HEAR SOMEONE ASK FOR A MIRACLE?” Mushu roars.

He puts on a great show with fire and smoke for her, only none of it is his, and she’s less than impressed when she realises he’s about ankle height. Her skepticism does not daunt him. “I’m travel-sized for your convenience,” he assures her, then goes on about his awesome powers. When that fails, he starts howling about dishonour and she hurries to shut him up.

His first advice is on how to walk like a man. It’s terrible advice. Mulan totters into camp and, following a whispered masculinity crash course, proceeds to start a massive brawl. Her commanding officer, the devastatingly gorgeous Captain Shang – son of General Shang – takes one look at the tangle of recruits he’s expected to lead and starts plotting a sadistic training program on the spot. He rightly rests most of the blame on Mulan. As she didn’t consider the need for a male name, she stammers wildly at him before producing one. Thus Ping signs into the imperial army.

Shang’s first act of training is to fire an arrow to the top of a smooth wooden pole and challenge his recruits to retrieve it – the catch being, they have to climb while wearing weights on their wrists. No one succeeds. The following days are a haze of sticks, stones and running. Such a lot of running. Also, Shang does most of this shirtless, showing off his amazing abs and making everyone feel inadequate.

With the rest of the recruits still bearing grudges after the brawl, her own inexperience a constant burden and Mushu’s efforts to help only making things worse, Mulan is actually told to go home. It’s perfect…except it’s not, because she wants to succeed. Figuring out how to wrap the weights around the pole, she retrieves the arrow and earn a second chance. This leads to a rather improbable montage of everyone becoming lethal fighters. Mulan manages to punch Shang on the jaw, making him smile approvingly. The others are warming up to her too, after the display with the arrow, but her life is still one of constant risk. Washing in the river one night, Mulan’s evening is gatecrashed by a trio of fellow recruits wanting a swim. Having chosen the most inconvenient moment possible, they introduce themselves: the thin, chatty one is Ling, the calm giant is Chien-Po and the sarcastic bruiser is Yao. There’s way too much nudity for Mulan’s comfort level and Mushu stages a distraction so she can escape.

On the way back to her tent, she overhears Shang arguing with the imperial official who has been reporting (unfavourably) on their progress. Shang thinks they’re ready to join his father in the mountains; the official disagrees. Dismayed at the thought Mulan won’t prove herself in battle – thereby proving him to the other ancestors – Mushu commandeers a panda, turns a suit of armour into a complicated sort of marionette and pretends to be an imperial messenger so that the official’s hand is forced and the troops are sent out to war.

Cue another montage as they tramp through the countryside, distracting from themselves from their sore feet by dreaming about the girls they plan to marry when they get home. While they don’t say anything really dreadful, it’s awkward for Mulan, who cannot call out anyone on their unrealistic expectations. There’s also several clichés in this section that make it a bit wince-worthy to watch.

Then they reach the mountain pass where General Shang was stationed with his men and it’s wincing of an entirely different sort, because the village is a burnt ruin. Searching for survivors, they stumble across a battlefield littered with imperial soldiers, all dead. Shang is devastated to realise his father fell with them. He makes the only memorial he can, thrusting his sword into the snow and placing his father’s helmet reverentially atop it. Mulan silently lays an abandoned ragdoll beneath it, a tribute to all the innocents who died in this place.

There is no more time for grieving. The Huns are moving onward to the imperial city and Shang’s recruits are the only force standing in their way. As they continue through the pass, the Huns ambush them in a hail of arrows. Shang attempts to launch a counter-assault with his cannons, but the Huns have chosen their position too well. Realising this, Mulan aims her cannon at an outcrop of mountain instead, triggering a landslide.

Good news: the Huns get buried in snow! Bad news: Mulan and Shang do too. She does her best to hold his unconscious body aloft and her friends spot her, throwing a rope to haul them to safety. When he wakes up, Shang is exasperated but impressed at the same time, assuring her of his unequivocal trust. She smiles vaguely and collapses.

As her injury is treated, her true identity is revealed. The bureaucratic official wants her executed, her friends want to protect her, and Shang compromises by leaving her behind as the troops move on. Unequivocal trust doesn’t get you so far these days.

Mulan goes well past misery into the icy calm of self-loathing while Mushu mourns lost opportunities and confesses his own deception. There’s nothing to do now but go home. Whatever happens, Mushu promises they’ll do it together.

What actually happens is a sudden resurgence of Huns as the apparently indestructable invaders break through the snow. Mulan takes her life in her hands to go warn the army. They are in the middle of a celebratory parade and not particularly inclined to listen. Shang is having trust issues; Mulan has no patience for it. “You said you’d trust Ping,” she reminds him. “Why is Mulan any different?” He can’t answer that.

Shang meets the Emperor on the steps of the imperial palace, offering up the sword of Shan Yu as a symbol of their victory. The Emperor tells him his father, the general, would have been proud. Except no, not really, because Shan Yu has not been defeated at all – he’s lying in wait on a nearby rooftop. In a frankly ridiculous reveal, the dancing dragon from the parade is peopled with his soldiers, who promptly take the Emperor captive and hustle him inside the palace. Shang is dashed to the ground in the first attack and the huge palace doors are clamped shut against his frantic pursuit.

Together with Ling, Yiao and Chien-Po, he’s trying to batter down the door with a repurposed statue when Mulan interrupts them with a better idea. Shang doesn’t get much choice in accepting since his men dash off after her straight away. Dressing up her friends as imperial concubines (only Shang gets to keep his armour), Mulan teaches them her climbing trick and they scale the columns at the side of the palace.

The Emperor, meanwhile, is being terrorised by Shan Yu who wants his complete capitulation and isn’t getting it. This is happening on a balcony so that everyone gathered in the square below can see; the stairs are heavily guarded but the Huns hesitate when approached by a trio of rather thuggish concubines, giving Mulan’s friends the chance to take their enemies apart. It’s a distraction to allow Shang access to the balcony. Just in time, too. As Shan Yu swings his blade towards the Emperor’s head, Shang blocks it; Chien-Po bodily lifts the Emperor and swings down on a rope into the square, followed by Ling and Yao, but then Shan Yu gets the better of Shang and Mulan cuts the rope rather than allow him the same route down.

He turns on her, and recognises her as the soldier from the mountain. When he pursues her onto the rooftops in a frothing rage, Mulan uses her fan as an unexpected shield and Mushu sets off a firework – trapped between them, Shan Yu is blown off the roof in a shower of pretty death sparks. Mulan leaps down and crashes straight into Shang. Together with her friends, he shields her when the angry official comes stalking over to be loudly chauvinistic, and Shang gets loudly defensive. The schoolyard scrap is broken up when the Emperor strides out of the smoke in that impressive way only lifetime royals can achieve. He reels off Mulan’s crimes, gesturing pointedly at the burning roof where Shan Yu was just fireworked, while Mulan’s friends make awkward faces in the background.

“AND,” the Emperor concludes, “…you have saved us all.” He smiles and bows. Everyone else follows suit. It’s a bit overboard, but sweet too. The Emperor wants Mulan to become a counsellor; she politely refuses, saying she just wants to go home. He gifts her with an imperial seal and Shan Yu’s sword as symbols of her victory, and Mulan trips over a dozen protocols to give him a huge hug. She, in turn, gets wildly enthusiastic hugs from her friends and an uncertain pat on the shoulder from Shang. The Emperor, who plays matchmaker when he’s not ruling vast empires or sarking at kidnappers, gives Shang a pointed shove in her general direction.

Mulan has finally started figuring out who she is. She’s just not sure her family will accept it. She kneels at her father’s feet, hastily showing him her trophies, hoping to at least delay his anger. He throws them aside to pull her into his arms, just grateful to have her safe. Presumably she saw the rest of the family first because they are calmly watching from the sidelines; her grandmother eyes the sword critically, remarking that Mulan should have brought home a boyfriend instead, and at that precise moment imperial pin-up Shang arrives looking for Mulan. He proceeds to stumble through a terribly obvious excuse for his presence until Mulan, grinning, asks him to stay for dinner.

The ancestors admit Mushu did a pretty decent job and reinstate him as a guardian. It’s a good excuse for a great party.

Spot the Difference: The version of the ballad I read was very simple, therefore it’s hard to draw comparisons. The time scale is the most obvious difference – the Mulan of the ballad serves over a decade in the army and doesn’t reveal her identity as a woman until she gets home. She also has a larger family and no smart-mouthed dragon giving her advice, which might explain the longevity of her deception.

The thing I love best about this movie is, even though it is about Mulan carving out a place in a traditionally male sphere, she has fantastic relationships with her mother and grandmother, and they in turn have a marvellous rapport with each other. Until this point there had been incredibly few mothers in Disney fairy tales, let alone grandmothers. Mulan may not feel comfortable in her own skin through most of the story, but it is shown time and time again that her family love and support her in every way they can. Even the dead ones (considerably more judgmental than the living) have her back.

Mulan’s male friends have rather less nuance. Why would they need it? Their expectations of the world, up until they meet Mulan, have never been challenged – but once they do realise who Mulan really is, they back her up, even when her plan is basically ‘put on dresses and hope the guards here are really stupid’. They trust her judgement. There’s a strong romantic element to Mulan’s relationship with Shang, of course, but she wants his respect more than his affection and at the end he chooses to come find her, in full knowledge of the person she really is.

The story is quite a tangle from an adult’s perspective, bringing up issues of gender norms and toxic masculinity as well as issues of cultural translation. The representation of China is…well, really clumsy in parts, and rather clichéd, but doesn’t seem actually offensive. I’m certainly not in a position to say for sure and if anyone has a different perspective on that, please talk to me about it in the comments.

There’s some concerning censure about Mulan being a ‘cross-dresser’ with a ‘drag show’ – the terms are not inherent criticisms but the way they’re said makes it clear these are negative descriptions and that’s deeply unhelpful. Fortunately, both instances of cross-dressing end up being treated with immense positivity by the narrative. Hyper-masculine attitudes are gently (and sometimes not so gently) mocked, while the heavy policing of femininity is refuted at every step.

I don’t think Mulan has really decided who she is even at the end of the movie – but she’s not ashamed of that uncertainty any more. She knows she’s respected, and trusted, and loved.

Plus, she knows now that she is excellent with explosives. That’s an important life skill.

Disney Reflections No.6: A Judgement of Tigers

This is Disney Reflections, a series of monthly posts in which I compare Disney animated fairy tales to the original stories.

Made in 1992, this movie has several notable distinctions: being the first Disney fairy tale to both draw on a non-European story and take place in a non-European setting, for one thing. It also features the first Disney prince and princess of colour – admittedly with the wrong accents and slightly Anglicised features, but it’s a start – and is the first Disney fairy tale to centre around a male character.

The fairy tale: Well, this is awkward. I deliberately did not review ‘Aladdin’ for the Fairy Tale Tuesday project because I knew it would be part of the Sharazad Project, only I have not yet reached that part. This post is going to be ENORMOUS.

The telling I’m using today comes from Ruth Manning-Sanders’ A Book of Wizards and begins in ‘an eastern country’, which is about as non-specific as it can be. Aladdin is the son of an impoverished tailor but totally disinterested in the trade or, in fact, anything resembling work. The stress of his footloose behaviour takes its toll on the family; Aladdin’s father falls ill and dies and his mother is left to scrape by as best she can alone.

One day a wizard passes in the street, sees Aladdin skylarking and decides he’ll do for a very special job. The wizard inquires with a nearby butcher to find out the boy’s name and life story, learning enough to come up with a plan. Aladdin is astonished when a stranger comes over and embraces him; when the wizard announces he’s Aladdin’s long-lost uncle, come home to share his financial good fortune with his ‘brother’, it seems like a miracle. The wizard offers help to his widowed ‘sister-in-law’, agrees to set Aladdin up as a shopkeeper and generally acts the part of a godsend.

After a while he takes Aladdin into the country, allegedly for a little uncle-nephew bonding trip, but eventually they get to the point of it all. In a valley close to the city, the wizard performs a piece of simple fire magic to reveal a trapdoor. Freaked out, Aladdin tries to run. He’s hauled back. “Obey me, and your fortune is made,” the wizard declares, “but I will have nothing to do with cowards!” Okay, you go down the scary hole in the ground then.

Aladdin doesn’t say that. Promised that fabulous riches lie below, he descends into an underground palace, armed only with a ring that he’s told will protect him from harm. He passes through a subterranean orchard where gems grow instead of fruit, into a terrace, where an ordinary lamp sits in a niche. That’s all the wizard wants. Aladdin fills his pockets with the jewels, not knowing they’re valuable but thinking his mother will like the pretty colours, and climbs back up to the trapdoor. As he reaches for the wizard’s hand to be pulled out, his ‘uncle’ demands to be given the lamp first. Aladdin can’t get at it given his position, but the wizard goes quite wild at his refusal and scrabbles at Aladdin’s hand in an attempt to retrieve the ring. The frightened boy’s grip is too tight for him to succeed. Instead, the wizard seals him down in the vault and flies off to brood in Africa.

Abandoned, Aladdin beats his fists on immoveable rock and searches desperately for another way out, to no avail. He sobs hopelessly in the dark. What he doesn’t know is that the lamp is a magical artefact of extraordinary power, but that this power could only be the wizard’s if it was passed willingly into his hands. He also doesn’t know that the ring is magic too – he pulls it off, intending to throw it away in a gesture of disgust, but the touch causes a sudden flash of light and a genie arises from the ground, asking his will. Aladdin begs to be freed from the cavern. The genie duly deposits him in the valley and Aladdin runs all the way home.

Once he’s told his mother of his dreadful adventure, he gives her the lamp to sell, since they don’t have an evil benefactor to buy them things any more. Aladdin’s mother starts cleaning the lamp to make it more presentable and a second genie appears from nowhere, ready for her commands. Utterly freaked out, she wants him to go away, but Aladdin has a little more experience and asks for the genie to fetch them a meal. They get a veritable feast on silver tableware that Aladdin later sells for more food. With his two magic slaves, Aladdin is sure all their problems are over. His mother just wants him to get a decent job, but that’s sure as hell not happening.

For a few years all goes well. Aladdin grows up a bit, starts taking an interest in trade and realises how much those stones he collected are worth. While he’s walking around the city considering his options a herald strides through the street demanding everyone close their windows so that the sultan’s daughter can pass unseen to the bath house. Aladdin, who’s still not a great person, hides behind the bath house door so that as she takes off her veils, he can see her beautiful face. So beautiful, in fact, that Aladdin falls for her on the spot and goes home to plot their marriage.

His mother thinks it is a pipe dream. Aladdin thinks he has magic slaves for precisely this sort of thing and sets them to work right away. He fills a dish with the jewels from the cavern and sends his mother to the palace with them the next morning. The sultan is thrilled with the present but his vizier was hoping to get the princess married off to his own son and tells his boss he can give a better offer. Aladdin’s proposal is put off for three months while the sultan waits to see if that’s true. He honestly doesn’t care who gets his daughter as long as they make him really rich in the process.

The vizier’s a bit desperate. He sells off all the land he’s got in order to match Aladdin’s offer and the sultan accepts his gold, though in secret so he needn’t give the jewels back. Neither understand yet quite what they’re up against. The force of gossip, for one thing; word spreads and on the day of the wedding Aladdin’s mother brings home the news. Straight after the wedding feast, Aladdin has the Slave of the Lamp bring the couple to his house. The groom is thrown outside, leaving the terrified princess alone. Aladdin promises to ‘guard’ her, which means standing in the doorway all night with a sword. A+ wooing, Aladdin, would you like to set fire to the bed too?

In the morning he has the slave take the couple back, and the princess tells her mother everything, but of course is not believed. When the same events take place the next night, however, the vizier’s son asks for a divorce and the sultan grants it.

Aladdin sends his mother back to the palace to repeat his proposal.

The sultan sees an opportunity and demands his daughter’s new suitor prove his worth – financial worth, that is, the bridal gift being a procession of slaves loaded down with forty trays of fine jewels. The Slave of the Lamp provides a suitably glittering assembly and the sultan is so pleased he accepts Aladdin’s proposal on the spot. Aladdin gets the genie to work right away on preparing fabulous outfits for himself and his mother, plus another procession of slaves to accompany him and carry his conjured wealth. Crowds turn out to watch him go past, cheering under a rain of gold coins. Not satisfied with this display, Aladdin asks for a piece of land and has the genie construct a glorious castle within twenty four hours. Only then does Aladdin ask the princess herself for her hand, and marry her.

The first few years of their marriage are as happy as limitless luxury can make them. The wizard, however, has not forgotten the lamp. Upon hearing that Aladdin escaped his tomb, accessed the lamp’s power and married into royalty, he decides it’s time to make a move. He returns to the city, setting himself up with a tray of shiny copper lamps and walks about offering “New lamps for old!”. Aladdin himself is absent on a hunting trip. The princess hears the mockery of the crowd outside her palace and is amused, sending out a slave with an old lamp to exchange for new. It is, of course, the magic lamp she gives. How could she know?

That night, the wizard summons the Slave of the Lamp. He orders that the palace and everyone inside be taken to Africa, and his will is duly done.

The sultan may not be a great dad, but he reacts with suitable outrage when his daughter and her entire house disappear overnight. Capitalising on that rage, the resentful vizier suggests Aladdin’s execution. He’s seized on his way back from the hunt and is about to be killed, without even knowing what’s happened – but all that largesse pays off and a mob descends on the palace to rescue him. The sultan is forced to pardon him and finally explain what’s wrong. “You have done away with my daughter!” he shouts. “Is it not just that I should have your head?” Aladdin asks for forty days grace to find his wife and sets off. It takes him four days of misery to remember he has another genie.

His first demand is obviously for the Slave of the Ring to bring back both palace and wife, but that’s against the Genie Code so he settles for second-best and has himself transported to where the palace currently stands, right under his wife’s window. A slave recognises him and tells the princess. She sneaks him in through a side door for a joyful reunion. By now the princess knows of the lamp’s power, the wizard carries it about constantly, but Aladdin is riding high and determined to get it back. He heads into a nearby city, swaps clothes with a random passerby and buys poison. He brings this back to the princess, then hides in a cupboard.

She dresses up in her loveliest clothes and invites the wizard to eat with her, to all appearance a woman making the best of her new situation. When she asks to taste the wine of his country, the wizard is only too delighted to oblige her. While he’s absent fetching it, the princess pours the poison into her cup and her own wine over the top of that. She suggests they exchange cups as a gesture of goodwill. The wizard downs the poisoned wine and falls dead.

Aladdin springs forth from the cupboard to take back his lamp and return everyone home. The sultan is overjoyed to have his daughter safe, asks Aladdin’s forgiveness and declares ten days holiday for the whole city. And they all live happily ever after, except the hundred or so slaves Aladdin conjured up, and the captive genies who have to obey his every whim, and the vizier, who is presumably broke.

Happy endings are entirely a matter of perspective.

The film: The story is set somewhere in the Middle East, and we know that because the intro is a musical number too full of clichés to be as catchy as it is. Having been reviewing Sharazad’s stories for six months now, I’m amused to note that the first character we meet is a merchant. It’s always a merchant. He’s speaking directly to the camera, it’s very fourth wall, and as it pans away in apparent disinterest he brings out his ace: a mysterious lamp. He begins to tell the story…


It begins one night when two men meet up in the desert: a vizier and a thief. The thief has acquired one half of a golden scarab and is reluctant to hand it over without concrete payment, but the vizier’s parrot swiftly filches it and when the two halves are joined together the beetle turns abruptly animate, flying away. Where it lands, a sand dune transforms into a vast feline maw. Is it weird that I kind of want to pet the big sand monster? Yes, probably weird.

This is the entrance to the Cave of Wonders, which the vizier has spent many years seeking, and with one purpose in mind. He desires only ‘the lamp’. Once it is in Ja’far’s hands, the thief may claim everything else. That sort of offer really should be ringing warning bells, as should the giant pissed-off pussycat who rumbles out that one person alone may enter safely: the diamond in the rough. But the thief goes in anyway. Apparently he’s no diamond, because no sooner does he set foot in the cavernous mouth than it clamps shut and he’s buried alive. Ew.

The parrot, dropping his innocent avian accomplice act, throws a violent tantrum. “I’m so ticked off I’m moulting!” he shrieks, collecting the pieces of scarab. Jafar is more circumspect. He’s a politician, after all. “I must find this diamond in the rough,” he muses.

The unfortunate dead thief is not the only one making a dishonest living on the streets of Agrabah. We next meet a young man called Aladdin, who is on the run with a loaf of stolen bread and a pet monkey named Abu while a gang of thuggish guards pound hot on his heels. His escape through the marketplace involves acrobatics, cross-dressing and ruining the day of several innocent street performers. He uses a rug as a parachute, landing safely in an alley, but his heart is several times bigger than he can afford and the sight of a pair of hungry children inspires him to give up his hard-won breakfast. A few minutes later, he has to rescue them again when they run in front of a visiting prince’s horse. They have no survival instinct.

Neither, it would seem, does Aladdin, who mouths off to the rich mean guy on a horse and is kicked in the mud for his pains, dismissed as a ‘worthless street rat’. He trudges sadly home, brooding over the names that have been hurled at him through the day. From his rooftop, he looks at the palace, dreaming about what it must be like to live there.

http://images2.fanpop.com/image/photos/9600000/Princess-Jasmine-from-Aladdin-movie-princess-jasmine-9662312-1024-576.jpgNot brilliant, actually, not if you are the princess Jasmine. Her latest suitor, Mr ‘I Can Run Down Small Children If I Want To’, storms out of the place with a large hole ripped out of his trousers, courtesy of Jasmine’s pet tiger Raja. They snicker together like conspirators while the sultan frets. There is a inconveniently specific law insisting she be married to a prince before her next birthday and she only has three days left. The sultan could presumably change this law any time he wanted, but he’s getting on and would like to see her settled. Jasmine has other ideas. She wants to leave the palace walls, meet people, make friends. Furiously she pulls open the dovecote, freeing its prisoners.

Giving up on the conversation, the sultan goes to play with his model city. Jafar looms up at his elbow, requesting the use of a ‘mystic blue diamond’. When the sultan hesitates, Jafar just hypnotises him with his serpent-headed cane. He and his parrot Iago can barely hide their hatred.

That night, Jasmine escapes the palace walls with loyal Raja’s assistance. This is a bad decision because it makes the tiger look sad. Stop upsetting your tiger, Jasmine!

Another day, another theft in Agrabah. Abu acts as a decoy while Aladdin steals breakfast and this time they actually get to eat. Jasmine is wandering around the marketplace, wide-eyed, but she’s clueless about how the economy works and when she sees a hungry child she just grabs a piece of fruit off the nearest stall without realising she has to pay for it. The stall’s owner doesn’t take that well. Aladdin leaps in like the overenthusiastic puppy he is and convinces the angry man that Jasmine is his mentally unstable sister. Jasmine plays along beautifully.

Meanwhile, Jafar is conjuring up a fake storm in a huge glass orb, the blue diamond being involved as some sort of power source, and discovers his ‘diamond in the rough’ is Aladdin. Who is trying to have a romantic moment with Jasmine, showing off his roof-leaping skills en route to his hideout in an abandoned building. They both talk about how trapped they feel without realising the other one is having a different conversation but just as they’re beginning to connect, Jafar sends in the guards. “Do you trust me?” Aladdin demands urgently just before he jumps off the rooftop. Jasmine follows. It is all no use, however, and they are caught.

“Unhand him, by order of the princess,” Jasmine snaps. She goes straight to Jafar, demanding her new friend be freed. Jafar says that Aladdin has already been executed. Jasmine runs into the garden to cry her heart out and Raja puts a comforting paw on her back and if that doesn’t give you overwhelming feels, I don’t understand you.

Aladdin is not dead. He’s chained in a dungeon, actually, moaning over his romantic mistakes. Abu comes to rescue him, though he’s pretty snippy about it, doing Jasmine impersonations while he picks locks. This a seriously talented monkey. They are not, however, alone: an elderly prisoner totters from the shadows, full of stories about a magical cave full of extraordinary treasures. “You’ve heard of the golden rule, haven’t you?” he wheezes. “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” If Aladdin comes along as the brawn in this enterprise, he’ll be richly rewarded.

The ‘prisoner’ reveals a secret tunnel and before long they reach the Cave of Wonders. The giant sand tiger accepts Aladdin but warns him to touch nothing except the lamp. That’s no easy ask. Within lie vast chambers heaped with gold and jewels. Aladdin is curious but cautious; Abu finds it harder. And once again, they aren’t alone. A sentient flying carpet flutters along behind them, pranking Abu repeatedly until finally Aladdin notices it too. He is charmed and asks for directions to the lamp. The carpet eagerly obliges.

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Within a pool lies a rock stair, and at the top of the stair, in a dramatic ray of light, lies the lamp – but while Aladdin’s back is turned, Abu gives way to temptation and lays paws on a huge jewel. The cavern disintegrates around them, the ground swallowed by molten gold. It is only with the carpet’s help that they reach the cavern’s entrance. Aladdin gropes for the old man’s hand. Forced to hand over the lamp first, he is betrayed; Jafar (because of course it is Jafar) raises a dagger but Abu bites his wrist and instead they fall.

Abu did more than save Aladdin. He stole the lamp back. He has skills.

Aladdin comes to trapped in a dark cavern. With nothing better to do, he studies the lamp, rubbing at the grimy metal for a better look. It bursts with sudden light. Blue smoke wells out, resolving into an enormous genie. He’s gone a little stir-crazy from too long in the lamp. He puts on an extravagant song and dance show to display his awesome for Aladdin but it comes down to this: he can grant three wishes. Only three wishes, and he has a few caveats. He won’t kill people outright, make them fall in love or bring them back from the dead. Everything else is fair game.

He may be fantastically powerful, but he’s dealing with a team of con artists. Aladdin loudly doubts the genie’s abilities, suggesting that he could not even get them free of this cavern, and the genie, pride stung, whisks them all off to the nearest oasis.

Back at the palace, Jasmine has taken her story to the sultan, who chews out Jafar. Not because he’s particularly opposed to young thieves being executed without trial, but because it’s upset his little girl. Once Jafar has issued a deeply insincere apology, the sultan happily insists the two of them kiss and make up. He cannot read a situation accurately to save his life.

“When I am queen,” Jasmine tells Jafar on her way out, “I will have the power to get rid of you.” Iago mimics her rudely, but is unsettled by the truth of that statement. He suggests Jafar marry Jasmine instead, thereby taking a sideways route to the throne. They plot together with much maniacal laughter.

In the oasis, the genie is triumphant – until he realises he’s been had. He has a great sense of humour about it though, and acknowledges that Aladdin is entitled to the full three wishes. Aladdin can’t decide where to start and asks what the genie would choose. The answer is obvious: his freedom. He’s trapped in service to the lamp until someone wishes him free. Eagerly, Aladdin promises to do just that with his third wish and while the genie is very doubtful, he wants to believe it too.

They get down to business. Aladdin’s instinctive wish is to be with Jasmine, so he asks the genie to make him a prince. A la fairy godmother, the genie obliges with a fabulous outfit, and even turns Abu into an elephant. Abu doesn’t appreciate this.

Jafar wastes no time in his wicked plotting, running to the sultan with a law he’s just invented and written down to make it look official, insisting that if the princess does not marry within the allotted time she must wed the royal vizier. It’s no stupider than the original, I suppose. The sultan is not convinced so Jafar starts hypnotising him, but a blare of trumpets interrupts the moment and the sultan hurries to see what’s happening. A colourful procession is sweeping through the streets of Agrabah, swordsmen and dancers and a veritable menagerie, all preceded by a bright blue spin doctor who takes on different shapes to spread outrageously flattering stories of his master, ‘Prince Ali’. Jasmine, looking on from her balcony, thinks it’s overkill, but Aladdin is hot and wealthy and the city is happy to welcome him.

His entourage bursts into the palace. Jafar is of course very unhappy to see him and tries to point out the gaping flaws in his backstory, but the sultan just wants to play with the magic carpet. Aladdin is incautiously optimistic about his chances within the princess’s hearing. “I am not a prize to be won!” Jasmine shouts, storming back to her chambers. That night, Aladdin paces back and forth in the garden, trying to think of a way to charm her while the genie and magic carpet play chess and Abu sadly contemplates all the bananas he can’t eat. The genie advises Aladdin to be himself, but that’s exactly who Aladdin doesn’t want to be. The ‘street rat’ jibes are still a sore point.

He floats up to Jasmine’s balcony on the magic carpet. She considers that an invasion and so does her tiger, who stalks him to the edge. During Aladdin’s nervous blathering, however, Jasmine sees something familiar. She exchanges a suspicious look with Raja. Realising he’s stuffed everything up, Aladdin apologises for bothering her and jumps off the balcony. Jasmine is temporarily shaken, until he floats back into sight on his carpet and tentatively offers her a ride. “Do you trust me?” he asks, and she’s suddenly sure. She climbs aboard the carpet and they swoop off into the night sky, across the city, into the clouds – past the pyramids and on to China, where they land on a rooftop to watch romantic fireworks. Jasmine makes a casual reference to Abu and when Aladdin unthinkingly replies, demands an explanation. She wants the truth.

Aladdin lies again, saying he’s as restless with palace life as she is and pretended to be a commoner – making him a commoner http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/18500000/Jasmine-and-Aladdin-disney-18539954-500-281.jpgpretending to be a prince pretending to be a commoner. He flies her home and gets to kiss her goodnight. Things are looking good! So of course the next thing he knows, he’s getting kidnapped by Jafar’s thugs, tied up and thrown in the sea.

As he hits the seabed, the lamp tumbles out of his turban and falls against his hands, summoning the genie. He can’t help Aladdin unless it’s an official wish (what happened that first time, then?) but bends the rules a little and takes the unconscious lolling of Aladdin’s head for an order. They return to the palace, where Jafar has hypnotised the sultan into letting him marry Jasmine. She is outraged and incredulous. Aladdin breaks Jafar’s staff and in so doing, his spell, but Jafar gets a glimpse of the lamp and changes plans abruptly. He vanishes in a puff of smoke. The sultan flails with fury at the near-miss, only to be rapidly derailed at the sight of Jasmine and Aladdin falling into each other’s arms. He sets about planning the wedding straight away, promising to hand over power to the couple once they are married.

Aladdin panics. Everything he has is the direct result of a wish; he dares not free the genie as he promised. Betrayed, the genie retreats to the lamp. Aladdin wrestles with his conscience and decides he has to tell Jasmine the truth before it’s too late, but unluckily for him, it’s already too late. The sultan announces Jasmine’s engagement to the people. While Aladdin waves awkwardly from a balcony, Iago sneaks into his rooms and takes the lamp.

Jafar’s first wish is to become sultan. The genie is deeply unhappy about the switch in command but is incapable of resistance. Jafar’s next wish is to be the greatest sorcerer in the world, so that he can make his erstwhile employers kneel before him. He also reveals Aladdin’s true identity and exiles him to the ends of the earth.

No idea where that is, but there’s a hella lot of snow. Aladdin wraps the meager protection of his jacket around Abu, trudging stubbornly uphill. He’s not quite without allies – finding the magic carpet in the snow, he frees it and they rush back to Agrabah.

The new regime is making itself felt. Iago has strung up the sultan like a puppet and is stuffing him with crackers in vengeance for a lifetime of ‘pretty Polly’ jokes, while Jasmine has been shoved into a skimpy harem outfit accessorised with manacles. Jafar makes his third wish, ordering her to fall desperately in love with him. As the genie tries to explain he really doesn’t do that kind of thing, Jasmine catches sight of Aladdin and quickly pretends to be under the spell. It’s disgusting. Everyone thinks so except Jafar.

Aladdin comes within a finger’s length of stealing back the lamp. Unfortunately, Jafar spots his reflection and flashes around his sorcery in retaliation, trapping Jasmine in a giant hourglass. The ironic Sharazad aesthetic really doesn’t suit her. As for Aladdin, Jafar toys with him, transforming himself into a giant cobra and squeezing his rival slowly in his coils. That gives Aladdin time to think. He taunts Jafar, reminding him that whatever powers he may have all stem from the genie. No sorcerer can ever match that.

Jafar makes his final wish: to become a genie himself.

While he’s revelling in his newfound cosmic powers, Aladdin dashes to free Jasmine from her prison. It looks like he’s made a terrible blunder, but Jafar never bothered chatting with the genie and so never learned of one big drawback – there are limitations. Namely, shackles and a lamp. Iago gets sucked in there with him until someone’s stupid enough to set them free. The genie hurls Jafar’s lamp into the Cave of Wonders to make sure that’s a long time in coming.

https://bplusmovieblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/aladdin-177.png?w=590&h=368Now that everyone’s safe, Aladdin apologises to Jasmine for his deception. Being a big adorable softie, the genie is willing to give up his chance at freedom and make Aladdin a prince again, but instead Aladdin wishes him free. The bonds on his wrists break. The lamp falls, hollow. Beside himself with excitement, the genie tells Aladdin to wish for the Nile just so he can say NO. Amidst all the celebration, the sultan gets a grip and figures out he can change his own damn laws, allowing Jasmine to marry whoever she wants – that, unequivocally, being Aladdin. Everybody has feels. The genie pulls them all into a group hug then plunges off towards…Disneyland, if his Goofy cap is any indication. Aladdin and Jasmine, meanwhile, go forth on their magic carpet to find more fireworks. It’s a whole new world, after all.

Spot the Difference: There is an actual Ja’far in the Thousand and One Nights but I adore him and would whole-heartedly support any bid he made for power. Also, he doesn’t have a parrot minion. As for Aladdin, well, he may have a more felonious lifestyle in the Disney film but he’s far and away a better person. You really see how much the accusations of ‘street rat’ hurt him, and how desperately he tries to prove his worth to everyone he meets. Though that compulsion leads him into a spiral of lies, his heart is in the right place. Even when he betrays the genie, it takes him about five minutes to try and make amends. Jasmine is a somewhat stereotypical ‘feisty princess’ surrounded by laws that make no sense, but I like her poise and choice in pets. She gets a raw deal compared to the other Disney princesses, that’s for sure. She’s the love interest in this movie, not the lead, playing the prince’s role in many ways but without the same illusion of control. Even while imprisoned, Prince Philip never had to fake attraction to his captor; even while enchanted, Prince Eric got to keep all his clothes on.

Loss of free will is, of course, a big theme in Aladdin. The genie is literally the slave of the lamp and that’s acknowledged in the film in a way it couldn’t be with the original story, coming as the latter does from a time when slavery was a social norm. There’s no magic ring, the flying carpet seems to have taken that narrative space – there’s actually a delightful friendship between the carpet and the genie, who seem to have known each other for millennia, and both make the deliberate choice to side with Aladdin. Yes, the genie’s free will is limited, but his role in Aladdin’s life is much more akin to a spin doctor/ life coach than a servant. He’s an all-singing, all-dancing anachronistic force of nature with a solid moral code to prevent the worst excesses of his masters, and the story is not over until he’s free. In this version, Aladdin earns his happy ending. And the genie does too.

Even the tigers approve.

Disney Reflections No.5 – It’s No Bed of Roses

http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/5800000/Beauty-and-the-Beast-disney-5841751-1280-720.jpgThis is Disney Reflections, a series of monthly posts in which I compare Disney animated fairy tales to the original stories.

‘The Beauty and the Beast’ is my mother’s favourite fairy tale and Belle is my favourite Disney princess, and incidentally one of my earliest blog posts was a detailed dissection of this movie’s plot inconsistencies, so obviously I have even more opinions than usual. By 1991 Disney had made an art form of the princess musical and this one ticks all the boxes but one; for the first time, we don’t have a glamorously evil villainess.

Don’t worry. Gaston can totally handle it.

The fairy tale: I reviewed three versions of this story for the Fairy Tale Tuesday project, my preference of which involves a snake prince and face punching, but Disney is riffing with the French one. You can tell because of all the names and Lumiere’s terrible accent.

The film: Somewhere in the depths of forested France, in a castle that may just win out over Prince Eric’s on pure architectural beauty, there lives a selfish, spoilt young prince. One wintry night, an elderly beggar woman knocks at the door, asking for a night’s shelter in return for a single rose. The prince turns her away. Karma offers unexpected whiplash when she reveals herself as a dazzling enchantress and transforms the prince into a beast. His fate is bound to the rose: it will bloom until he turns twenty one years old, but if he has not loved and been loved in return by then, he will never be human again.

Years pass. In a village not too far away, an inventor and his daughter Belle take up residence in a dilapidated old millhouse. Belle is bookish and quietly sarcastic and loves fairy tales and is basically my ideal human being. The villagers disagree; they admire her beauty but are nonplussed by her enthusiastic intellectualism. All except for the hunky local hunter Gaston, who just ignores whatever he doesn’t want to see. He has decided to ‘woo’ Belle. “Right from the moment I met her, saw her,” he carols, apparently not realising those are two different things. He tells the whole town his plan before he tells her, advises her to stop thinking, knocks her book in the mud and still comes out of the encounter thinking she likes him.

Spoiler: she doesn’t like him. She thinks he is ridiculous.

Also, she has other things on her mind, chiefly helping her father with his latest invention, an enormous wood-chopping machine that frankly looks like a lot more effort than it’s worth but that he is treating like a life’s work. When he finally gets it operational, they hitch it up to a cart and he sets off for the fair. Near nightfall, he takes a wrong turn. Here’s a handy tip when you are lost in the dark forest: pay attention to your horse’s reactions or you might find yourself thrown to the ground while wolves circle. The inventor runs for his life. A gate looms providentially into sight; it opens at his frantic shove and he ventures inside to seek assistance. He sees no one – but someone sees him.

When the prince was cursed, the enchantress turned all his employees into household furniture or knick-knacks. Lumiere the hospitable candlestick wants to allow this unexpected visitor to stay; Cogsworth the clock is more cautious, but his protests are ignored while Lumiere blithely reveals himself to the stunned inventor. Who is thrilled, prodding eagerly at Cogsworth’s inner workings in the hopes he’s now living in a steampunk novel. He’s soaked to the bone and exhausted, though, and Lumiere seizes the opportunity to display a little over-excited hospitality. Other members of the staff come out of the woodwork (not literally. Yet) including Mrs Potts the teapot, her son Chip the cup and a cute little footrest that was once a dog. How terrible a person do you have to be to enchant a DOG? That enchantress has a lot to answer for. Everyone has been going a little stir-crazy and they are happy to see a new face.

All except for the prince, whose temper has amazingly not been improved by becoming a huge furry beast. He stalks into the room, all sharp white teeth and glaring eyes. The pleas of his servants are ignored. He is, in this moment, as he drags the inventor away, every inch the monster.

Belle does not know to be worried yet, and she has more than one thing to be worried about. After their little chat, Gaston set up a wedding in the field outside her house complete with cake and musicians…all without actually proposing. He barges into her house (her eye roll when she sees him is a thing of beauty) to share his vision of domestic bliss and, in the process, deface her book again. This time even he can see she’s not interested – he turns predatory and she backs quickly to the door, so that when he tried to corner her he finds himself flying headlong over the step and into the millpond. In front of the whole town.


Once he’s safely stormed off and taken the townsfolk with him, Belle emerges to vent her indignation. Marriage is not what she wants right now, let http://images2.fanpop.com/images/photos/5800000/Beauty-and-the-Beast-disney-5845562-1280-720.jpg alone with Gaston – she wants adventure and friendship and really anything but staying in this village all her life. Thoughts of the disastrous proposal are pushed out her head, however, when the carthorse Philippe appears with the cart, and without Belle’s father. Philippe really is an exceptionally clever horse, he takes Belle directly back to the castle.

Just inside the gates, she finds her father’s hat. Searching the echoing spaces inside, she is led by an unseen guide (Lumiere, who has pounced on the idea that she will save them all, followed by Cogsworth, who just gets caught up in these things). She finds her father in a dank cell and is manhandled by the furious Beast, but she refuses to be cowed, insisting he take her in her father’s place. The offer is almost enough to startle him out of his rage. Almost. Not quite. He accepts in about as ungracious a manner as possible, sending for his frightening spidery carriage to transport the inventor home before (on Lumiere’s advice, it should be noted) pushing Belle into her new room. So at least she won’t be living in a dungeon. The Beast makes one attempt at conversation, telling her that as a permanent resident in the castle she may go where she wishes – only not to the West Wing. She asks why. He shouts “It is forbidden!”

He is so incredibly bad at interaction.

Meanwhile, back in the village, Gaston is brooding over his wrongs while sympathetic townsfolk remind him of how muscular and manly he is. He’s been cheered up by a bar brawl and several swooning women when Belle’s father comes bursting into the tavern telling them what’s happened and begging for aid. He’s laughed out into the snow. That scene hurts. The incident gives Gaston an idea. A really horrible idea.

Belle’s new room is actually rather luxurious but she’s sobbing so hard she probably hasn’t noticed. She’s roused from her misery by the intervention of the castle’s ladies – Mrs Potts bringing the tea and the cheerfully chatty wardrobe offering an outfit for Belle to wear to dinner with the Beast. Except she’s not planning to eat dinner with him, or look at him, or talk to him if she can help it. Lumiere and Mrs Potts do their best to cajole the Beast into something approaching civility, but he’s having a self-loathing episode and instead of trying for charm, yells through Belle’s door that she can either eat with him or starve.

He doesn’t know her very well yet. When the castle has gone quiet, and the Beast has retreated to the West Wing to wallow, Belle quietly emerges and looks around until she finds the kitchen. There, Lumiere puts on dinner and a show, because he’s like that. Belle has no good feelings for the Beast, but she’s a bit enchanted by his staff. They are certainly ready to adore her. After the meal, and the spoons’ synchronised swimming routine, Belle asks for a guided tour of the castle and gravitates towards the forbidden West Wing like it’s true north instead. Unlike the rest of the castle, which has been well maintained, these rooms are ravaged. Belle finds a shredded portrait with arresting blue eyes, and a glowing rose upon a table. Reaching out to touch it, she’s interrupted by the Beast, who is horrified – that rose, after all, is his only chance at humanity. Losing his temper yet again, he screams at her to get out and she takes him literally, riding the hell out of there.

But the wolves are still out there, and all she has to fight them off is a broken branch. At the last minute the Beast comes charging to her rescue, finally applying that ferocity of his to a worthwhile cause. Having sent the pack running, he collapses in the snow. Belle takes him home to the castle. He did, after all, save her life – and as she patches him up, she realises he’s really just a huge, sulky, fluffy idiot who is accustomed to getting his own way. They re-establish their relationship on the basis she pretty much always knows better than him.

As things improve in the castle, they grow worse in the village. Everyone believes the inventor to be a bit mad; now Gaston is capitalising on that by bribing the owner of an asylum to forcibly remove him. Not that Belle’s father is hanging around, he’s packed up a few essentials and gone straight back out to look for her.

http://a.dilcdn.com/bl/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/02/Belles-Cape-from-Beauty-and-the-Beast.jpgShe’s quite happy at present, exploring the castle grounds, and the Beast (by now utterly besotted) is racking his brains for nice things he can do for her. Again on Lumiere’s advice, he leads her to the library and announces every one of the books in it – and there are a LOT of books, it’s gorgeous – is hers. She’s overjoyed. The Beast’s enthusiasm is adorable here, you get the feeling he’s probably never given a present before. He’s making a huge effort, trying to eat nicely (and Belle meets him halfway, delicately slurping from her bowl), learning how to feed birds (and loving it) and dressing in handsome suits. They have a snowball fight in the garden and later read together in front of the fire while the servants look on, shipping it hard.

Cogsworth decides the budding romance needs a helpful nudge and marshals the castle’s staff to throw a spectacular ball for two. They are beginning to dream of being human again. There is in fact an entire song number devoted to this in the extended edition. It is worth watching if only for the scene where Belle reads Romeo and Juliet to the Beast and he gazes at her with heart eyes, and then she shows him how to read it himself. If books be the food of love, read on!

But the servants have a mission and these two maybe-almost-a-bit lovebirds are not getting in their way. Belle is given a stunning yellow ballgown; the Beast scrubs up well in a blue frock coat. Lumiere gives him a rousing pep talk while he’s trimmed and combed like a rather recalcitrant pet. He’s been practicing his manners, offering his arm to Belle to guide her down the stairs, and shows he has not lost all his human skills by swirling around on the dancefloor. Admittedly, they are the only couple, there’s no other couples to get in the way.

They drift out onto the balcony. The Beast awkwardly takes Belle’s hands and asks if she’s happy, the answer to which is a conditional yes; she wants to check on her father. It just so happens the Beast has a magical mirror that can show any person or place, and he offers her to use of it. I love Belle even more right now because she talks to the mirror so politely (well, I suppose you’d get in the habit if you knew just about anything could talk back).

She sees her father lying sprawled on the ground, alone, lost, very sick. In that moment she has to leave, and the Beast asks only that she keep the mirror to remember him by. The staff are appalled. The rose, you see, is drooping. Time is almost up.

Belle takes her father home – unknowingly bringing along Chip as a stowaway. But home is not safe any more, and before long Gaston and his bought doctor show up to take the ‘madman’ away. Trying to prove her father’s sanity, Belle produces the mirror and uses it to show the Beast is real. Gaston, suddenly scarily perceptive, notices how soft her voice is when she speaks of her friend’s kindness. Instead of going after her father, Gaston whips up a pitchfork-wielding, all-torches-blazing mob and marches on the castle to take down the biggest trophy he’s ever seen. A frantic Belle and her father are left prisoners in their own home…but they have an unexpected asset on their side. The woodchopping machine! Chip single-handedly gets it going – a remarkable feat considering he does not, in fact, have hands – and hacks open the locked door.

The mob has already reached the castle. Heartbroken, the Beast hardly cares. He’s a sweetie but useless in a crisis. Everyone’s lives are at stake here and the staff arm themselves however they can, setting traps, mounting assaults. The invaders are not prepared for a devilishly grinning oven or streams of boiling water from a furious teapot and her many children. A favourite moment is when the minions think they have the footstool dog cornered, only to be confronted with drawers full of animate knives. If only justice was always so sharp.

Gaston, however, keeps his eyes on the prize. While everyone else flees, he prowls through the empty rooms until he finds the Beast – who will not fight back, even pushed to the edge of the roof with a club above his head, until he hears Belle’s scream from the courtyard below. Now he knows she cares.

The club never connects. Gaston may be a fine hunter, but the Beast is all raw power and he desperately wants to live. He finally gets Gaston by the throat, holding him over thin air. He doesn’t kill him – he lets him go. After all, Belle is here, and all the Beast wants is to be with her. Gaston, instead of running, climbs after them to the balcony and stabs the Beast in the back. In so doing, he falls to his death. No one cares.

The damage is done – the Beast is dying. Belle sobs against his chest. “I love you,” she breathes, as the last rose petal falls.

There’s not much good that can be said for a sniffy enchantress who transformed a child into a monster to teach him manners and cursed his entire household staff as well (including his pets), but she included one hell of an escape clause. True love, in this instance, really does http://images5.fanpop.com/image/photos/25400000/Belle-in-Beauty-and-the-Beast-disney-princess-25447917-1280-720.jpgconquer all. Lights falls everywhere like shooting stars; the Beast floats into the air, radiating beams of magic as his limbs reshape into their true form. A man falls to the ground – a built redhead with very bright, familiar blue eyes. Belle is a little unsure at first, but those eyes confirm it. He’s her Beast.

At their first kiss, the staff are restored and the Beast rushes around giving everybody hugs. They celebrate with another grand ball. Belle’s dad strikes up a friendship with Mrs Potts; Cogsworth and Lumiere bicker wildly, as per usual. A crowd of well-dressed guests have been conjured from nowhere. On the dancefloor, Belle and her prince whirl in their own world.

Spot the Difference: I’ve heard this fairy tale described as a story about Stockholm Syndrome. It’s a valid interpretation of the source material but I could not agree with it less. To me, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a story about isolation, and how everyone needs to be seen for who they truly are. The Disney adaptation emphasises this with the Beast’s passionate self-loathing. His temper is rooted in fear and insecurity; he must learn to accept himself and his own inherent capacity for growth before he can become really loveable. But he needs Belle’s help to get there. That is not a shameful thing. It can be incredibly hard to believe in your own worth when others judge on appearances (especially when you’ve been cursed from the age of eleven, have no family and all your friends work for you plus are literally the furniture. JUST SAYING).

Belle is the Beast’s prisoner in name only and they both know it. Her beauty is what strikes him first but he actively supports her intellectualism, admires her good sense and tries to engage with her on every level he can. Belle is kind and practical, a woman who makes friends easily but takes no nonsense. Her real imprisonment was within the narrow expectations of the town, epitomised by Gaston’s breathtaking arrogance, and she handled it with the calm diplomacy of a born leader.

If you needed help remembering your humanity, why wouldn’t you go to her?

Disney Reflections No.4 – Messing About In Boats

This is Disney Reflections, a series of monthly posts in which I compare Disney animated fairy tales to the original stories.

Made in 1989, The Little Mermaid is the first of the Disney Renaissance fairy tales. I have such feelings about this movie. SUCH FEELINGS.

The fairy tale: While I made reference to ‘The Little Mermaid’ several times during the Fairy Tale Tuesday project, I never posted a full write-up and it’s startling how hard it was to find a book in my collection that had it. The one I eventually found prefaces the story with a black and white sketch of a prince brooding over his lute while the titular mermaid hides in the shrubbery.

This makes it seem like the story will be funny. Be very sure, it’s not.

On her fifteenth birthday, each of the sea king’s six daughters is permitted above the surface for the first time and thereafter whenever she likes. The sisters have been raised on their grandmother’s stories of the strange human world, playing with pretty things fallen from wrecks, and one by one they ascend for their first glimpse. Waiting is torture for the youngest princess. When her day finally comes, it coincides with the sixteenth birthday of a handsome prince and she emerges alongside his floating party – a magnificent sight, the deck bright with lamps and fireworks bursting colour across the sky. The prince’s beauty is what really takes her fancy, however. She lingers for hours, captivated. When the wind of an oncoming storm sets the ship rocking, she thinks it’s fun; it’s only when the mast snaps that she realises how much danger the ship is in. As it breaks apart on the waves, she watches the prince sinking below the sea. Once again, cultural differences are a problem; it takes her a moment to remember humans can’t breathe underwater. Swimming through the wreckage of the ship, she hauls him through the tempest to shore.

She’s cautious enough to retreat to the water once he’s safe, which means he wakes surrounded by anxious girls (yes, really) while the one who rescued him mopes around her father’s palace. She spends a lot of time hugging a statue (yes, really) and returning to the empty beach in the hope of a prince sighting. Eventually, she confides in her sisters. This is an excellent idea, because one of them knows who the prince actually is and where he lives. Arm in arm, they swim to his palace.

So at least she has a more useful place to mope, watching him go about his daily business and listening eagerly to any gossip spoken about him. The more she sees of humanity, the more she likes it. She wants to climb mountains, see beyond the forests and fields. “If men are not drowned,” she asks her grandmother, “do they live for ever? Do they not die, as we here below in the sea?” Oh, sweetie. “Yes,” her grandmother replies, “and their life is even shorter than ours. We may live for three hundred years; but then, when we cease to exist, we only turn to foam on the water, and have not even a grave here below amongst those we love. We have no immortal soul, we never come to life again.” She has a lot to say about souls, gifting her innocent granddaughter a burgeoning existential crisis. Quintessential Hans Christian Andersen!

But wait, there’s more – if the mermaid can snag herself a human husband, that ‘what’s yours is mine’ business apparently applies to souls too so she would ‘have part in the felicity of mankind’. So all that spiritual confusion gets tangled up in the young mermaid’s already obsessive teenage crush and the next night, while her family and friends celebrate at a ball, she sneaks off to see the Water-witch.

This is not a good idea. You can tell, because she has to pass through a whirlpool and a bog of bubbling slime to get there. If those two obstacles don’t deter unwanted visitors, the forest of polypi – ‘half-animal and half-plant’ – should do the trick. The mermaid, while terrified of their grasping fingers, refuses to be driven away. She binds up her hair and swims fast until she reaches the witch’s house, where the witch herself sits feeding toads to her water snakes.

“I know already what you want,” she says baldly to her visitor. “It is foolish of you, but you shall have your wish, since it will bring you to misery, my pretty Princess.” There is a potion that can transform her tail into legs; if she takes it, every step will feel like treading on knives and she will be trapped on land forever, divided from her family. What’s more, if her prince marries another, she’ll die of a broken heart and it will all have been for nothing.

And she’s not even DONE yet – there’s the subject of payment! In exchange for human legs, the mermaid must give up her beautiful voice. The witch cuts out her tongue. When the potion has been brewed, the mutilated mermaid sets off to find her prince. She only drinks when she reaches his palace. The pain of the transformation is like a sword cutting her in half and she passes out; when she wakes, the prince himself is standing over her. Also, she’s naked. It’s awkward.

Being a decent person, he takes her in. Not in a creepy exploitative sense either, which is lucky, because the royal family have slaves to dance and sing for them and that is built-in societal creepiness. Trying to capture the prince’s attention, the little mermaid dances too, though every step is agony. This effort wins her the dubious honour of sleeping on a velvet cushion outside the prince’s door, like a stray puppy. Also like a stray puppy, he takes her everywhere. She gets to explore the forest and climb the mountains, and laugh at the clouds. At night, she bathes her aching feet in the sea and thinks about her family. Though she has her wish, and is living her dream, it hurts.

Her sisters hurt for her. They come to the surface, seeking her; once she is recognised, her grandmother and father follow, too wary to draw close to the shore but loving her too much to stay away.

The prince loves her as well, just not in the right way. He thinks of her as a child. It’s even sadder because she reminds him of the girls he saw when he woke on that beach, and he thinks one of them saved him. AND SHE CAN’T TELL HIM HE’S WRONG. His fondness gives her hope, even as his betrothal to another woman is announced – the mermaid is privy to all his confidences and he’s deeply unenthusiastic about the match, planning to meet the princess but not to marry her. He half-jokes he’d rather marry his ‘foundling’ and kisses her. I want to slap him. Particularly when she accompanies him on the voyage and he tries to explain sea travel to her. I know that’s not fair, since how could he understand? I want to slap him ANYWAY.

In a stunning twist of narrative sadism, that girl from the beach – the one the mermaid looks a little like, the one the prince believes rescued him – is the very princess to whom the prince has become engaged. Of course he completely changes his mind about marriage the minute he sees her. The little mermaid has to watch it happen. Despite her heartbreak, she kisses the prince’s hand, offering congratulations the only way she can. She allows herself to be dressed in courtly clothes, holds the bride’s train at the wedding, follows them aboard the beautiful ship on which they will begin their honeymoon. The lights and dancing make her think of the first time she saw the prince and she dances like a girl who’s about to die.

Not if her sisters can help it, though. They have cut off all their long hair and sold it to the witch in exchange for a knife. If the mermaid stabs her prince before sunrise and drips the blood on her feet, she will once more have a fish’s tail and can return to the sea.

The mermaid goes to her prince one last time and looks down at him, asleep in bed with his new bride. She kisses him on the forehead and throws the dagger far out to sea. Then she throws herself after it.

She does not die! She does not turn into sea foam! Instead she is surrounded by spirits of the air, for she’s become one of them through her good deed. Through centuries of charitable acts and dogged persistence, they are earning themselves souls and now she has a chance at the same goal. The mermaid looks back and sees her prince waking, looking out at the water as he realises she’s gone. Swooping down, she kisses the bride’s forehead too, then lets it all go to soar skyward.

The film: We begin with adorable dolphins, singing sailors and a cute prince messing about like an overexcited little boy. That’s how you know it’s Disney. Underneath, down through fathomless depths of blue, the merfolk are gathering at King Triton’s shimmering palace for a royal gala starring his seven alliteratively-named daughters. It is supposed to be the debut of the youngest princess, Ariel, only she’s blown it off to go explore a wreck with her piscean bestie Flounder. Ariel is a passionate collector of human memorabilia and proves it by going into transports of delight over a bent fork. Even being chased out of the wreck by a rather rabid shark can’t dim her joy. She takes her find to the surface, to the rock where her seagull friend Scuttle lives. He’s her expert on all things human, except he’s not an expert at all, he just offers whatever ridiculous story pops into his head. He also seems dreadfully drunk, or possibly concussed. Ariel eats up every scrap he gives her.

http://i.ytimg.com/vi/dHWOxc7RLjw/maxresdefault.jpgWhat she doesn’t know is that she’s being stalked by electric eels. They are the minions of Ursula, the sea witch, half voluptous femme fatale and half black and purple octopus, keeping up the trend of stylish Disney villainesses with a killer make-up game. Once her life was all power and glamour – then she was exiled from the palace by Triton. She’s still a tad bitter about it.

Triton himself is not at his happiest, hurt by Ariel’s no-show. He’s commiserating at the palace with Sebastian the crab, composer of the gala’s centrepiece symphony and current laughing stock. They are both even angrier when Ariel gets back and in the course of her apologies and excuses, it’s revealed she went to the surface. To Triton, humans are barbarians; any risk of contact with them is unacceptable. He wants Ariel to promise she’ll never go up there again. Ariel, of course, swims off without promising anything at all.

Rather unwisely, Sebastian goes on a rant about the proper control of teenagers, which Triton totally takes to heart. Before you know it, Sebastian is appointed Ariel’s supervisor. He follows her to a hidden grotto where she keeps her collection of human artefacts – everything from jewellery to screwdrivers to mysteriously intact paintings. Ariel is desperate to experience the human world. She wants to dance in the sunshine, walk down a street, see a fire. She wants to EXPLORE. She’s a girl with a dream and I adore her, okay? She deserves nice things.

Sebastian is freaked out. He tries to bring her home but a passing shadow alerts them to a ship passing overhead and like anything could keep her away from that. It is, surprise surprise, the prince’s ship. Fireworks are exploding, filling the sky with colour, while sailors dance on deck. These are the celebrations for Prince Eric’s birthday and Ariel is enchanted – particularly with the prince himself, who she sees first playing with his adorable mop of a dog Max, and later playing the flute. (She thinks it’s a snarfblat, but same difference.) His chamberlain presents, as his gift, a life-size statue of Eric in the pose of a knight. The prince struggles for a polite response. He also ducks out of the pointed conversation his chamberlain is trying to have about the necessity of marriage. “When I find her,” Eric declares, “I’ll know. It’ll hit me like lightning.”

That may well be true, but you know what else feels like being hit by lightning? There’s a storm rolling in and the party is abandoned as everyone hurries to secure the rigging. A direct lightning strike sets the mast on fire; it collapses onto the deck and the ship, spinning wildly out of control, smashes up against rocks. Eric hauls the chamberlain into a lifeboat then goes back for Max. The dog gets away safely. Eric is not so lucky.

http://a.dilcdn.com/bl/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2013/09/romantic_disney_the-little-mermaid_prince-eric.jpgFortunately, Ariel is still watching. She drags him to the surface and gets him safely to land, leaning anxiously over him while she waits for him to wake up. Sebastian looks on, horrified. Scuttle tries to find a pulse. In Eric’s heel. Spying on the tender moment is Ursula, who sees all sorts of possibilities. When Max comes bounding down the beach, followed by the chamberlain and surviving sailors, Eric is just coming around and Ariel slips into the water. She watches with starry-eyed resolve as he walks away.

Being Ariel, she takes a proactive approach to her crush, plotting how to see Eric again. Sebastian does his best to dissuade her. “The human world, it’s a mess,” he insists and throws together an impromptu dance number to confirm it. I love how he can just summon up a ‘hot crustacean band’ at the snap of a claw. Also, some really fantastic world-building is shown here, with it being widely accepted in Triton’s kingdom that fish tanks are just holding cells for underwater captives and humans will eventually eat them too. Sebastian might as well have saved the energy, though. Ariel is already gone.

She’s not even a little bit subtle about her infatuation, her sisters guess in ten seconds flat from all the floating around giggling, and clue in their baffled dad. He’s happy for his daughter but wants to know who the lucky merman is. When he asks Sebastian, the crab flies into a panic and accidentally reveals the truth. Triton’s good mood evaporates; with a roar of rage, he goes after Ariel. The timing is dreadful. Somehow – I have no idea how – Flounder has maneuvered the statue of Prince Eric into Ariel’s grotto as a surprise and she’s squealing over it in delight when Triton arrives to ruin her happiness. Overcome with fury that she could love a ‘spineless, savage, harpooning fish-eater’, he blasts apart her collection with his magical trident and reduces her beloved statue to rubble, then leaves her to cry.

Flounder and Sebastian can do nothing to comfort her. In the moment of vulnerability, she’s easy prey for Ursula’s smooth-talking eels, Flotsam and Jetsam. They suggest she visit the sea-witch, who can make ‘all (her) dreams come true’. It’s official, you can’t trust anyone who delivers that line. Ariel knows enough stories of the sea-witch to be doubtful, but looking around at the ruins of her grotto, she’s willing to take desperate measures. Her friends trail behind, trying to make her change her mind. She’s too angry and hurt to listen. Even the sinister, skeletal architecture of Ursula’s lair can’t make her turn back, though the garden of scared squirmy misery-worms leaves her shaken.

Waiting beyond it all is Ursula herself, all smirks and curves and purring poison. “The only way to get what you want,” she assures Ariel, “is to become a human yourself.” She spins a fiction of herself as the noble do-gooder using her magic for the general populace – but it comes at a price, and if you can’t pay up she turns you into a tortured garden plant. Ariel is given no time to absorb that detail, distracted with the practicalities of her potential bargain. Ursula can make her human for three days. If the prince gives her true love’s kiss before sunset on the third day, she’ll be human permanently; if he doesn’t, she’ll belong to Ursula. Also, in payment for the potion, Ariel must sell her voice.

Sebastian and Flounder can’t say NO fast enough. Ariel is torn. She’ll miss her family – and what can she do ashore without her voice? Ursula whirls around the cave, whipping up the potion and streaming sleazy platitudes about silence being attractive to men. She bullies Ariel into signing a contract that shines too brightly to even read, and that is…that. Ariel’s beautiful voice ihttp://cdnvideo.dolimg.com/cdn_assets/ccbe2bafbd46a9e8ccdd19502059f7742167503a.jpgs trapped inside a seashell. Her tail breaks apart into legs. As the spell takes effect, her friends haul her to the surface, to the same beach where she left Eric. She’s a little stunned but in love with her new toes. Scuttle is raucously supportive, Sebastian is a bit hysterical and it takes all Ariel’s wide-eyed imploring for him to keep the bargain from her father.

Just for the record, Eric’s castle is the most gorgeous beach house ever. He’s not too shabby himself, either, brooding on the identity of his mystery rescuer while playing the snarfblat – sorry, flute – completely unaware that the girl he’s dreaming of has just washed ashore. Luckily, Max is on the ball. He leads Eric to Ariel with an excess of enthusiasm. The prince apologises, checks she’s okay, and she just glows at him. Even wrapped inelegantly in a dress of sail and rope, she’s gorgeous. KISS THE GIRL.

Eric doesn’t. He has manners. I think he wants to, though, he’s sure he recognises her but when he realises she can’t talk he thinks he got it wrong – the girl he remembers was singing to him. Not that he grows one iota less courteous. He takes Ariel home, where she has her first bubblebath and is given a beautiful pink dress. Sebastian’s experience is more traumatic. He gets stuck in the kitchen with a terrifying chef who does his level best to kill him and smashes up the whole kitchen in the process. Meanwhile, in the dining room, Ariel is bumbling her way through dinner. She tries to comb her hair with the fork and steals the chamberlain’s pipe, trying to play a tune on it. Eric is obviously enchanted. The chamberlain ships it. (He ships Eric x marriage in general, but definitely likes Ariel.) They’re both so charmed they don’t notice Ariel hiding Sebastian on her plate.

He proves he’s a fantastic friend by overcoming the distress of his day to plot flirtation strategies when they’re alone later that night. Ariel, as usual, isn’t listening – she’s already fallen asleep, unaware of her father’s anxiety and remorse. He’s ransacking the sea for a sign of her and won’t rest until she’s found.

The next day, Eric shows Ariel around his lands. She’s fascinated by everything, pulling him in her wake as she runs from one discovery to another, taking the reins of the cart and nearly breaking both their necks (though she adapts quickly and Eric lets her keep driving because he’s the best). That evening they go boating in the lagoon. Scuttle, getting antsy for some lip action, tries to warble a ballad. It’s hideously awful and Sebastian is galvanised, pulling together a band out of random ducks and tortoises, crooning a love song in Eric’s ear.

The prince starts trying to guess Ariel’s name. With some prodding from Sebastian, he gets it right and the couple stare at each other while the boat spins idly on the water, encircled by fireflies and flamingos. Just as Eric and Ariel lean towards each other, however, the boat is overturned by Ursula’s eels. She proves she’s the villain by slut-shaming our perfect princess. Turning herself into a beautiful human girl, Ursula dons the seashell necklace and goes walking under Eric’s window. He’s very literally bewitched.

Scuttle wakes Ariel first thing in the morning with clumsy congratulations, thinking that the snap wedding that’s been announced is the culmination of yesterday’s flirting. It’s the first Ariel’s heard of it, but she flies out of the room to find Eric, lit up with hope. Then she sees him – standing beside another woman, ordering the baffled chamberlain to arrange a whole royal wedding in the space of one day. The ceremony is to take place at sunset.

Heartbroken, Ariel is left behind as the wedding ship departs. Sebastian and Flounder do their best to comfort her, but Scuttle, blissfully unaware that anything has gone wrong, is following the ship. Swooping past a window, he sees the prince’s new bride singing triumphantly at a mirror and Ursula’s gloating reflection singing back. Appalled, Scuttle flaps back to Ariel. When she understands what she’s dealing with, Ariel plunges straight into the water – and pretty much sinks, she can’t swim in this shape, she needs Flounder’s help to reach the ship. Sebastian goes to alert King Triton. Scuttle is tasked with stalling the wedding.

He was born for this.

Before you can say ‘enemy of the bride’ he’s summoned up an army of gatecrashers – birds to divebomb the guests, seals leaping on deck – Ursula herself is plastered with crustaceans and thrown into the wedding cake, and amidst the mess the seashell is ripped from her throat. The voice within returns to its true owner. Eric, waking from enchantment, realises he’s found his mystery girl and runs to her, but the sun is already sinking and Ariel is a mermaid once more. Ursula drags her into the sea.

She does not want a lovestruck princess. Ariel is bait and Triton takes it. In order to free his daughter from the terrible bargain, he must take her place and before Ariel’s horrified gaze he is transformed into one of the misery-worm garden plants. Ariel throws herself furiously at Ursula, and receives unexpected support from Eric, who has dived into the water after her. Snatching up the king’s triton and crown, Ursula aims a blast of magic at her ex-fiance, which he escapes only thanks to the efforts of Flounder and Sebastian. The bolt hits Flotsam and Jetsam instead, killing them instantly.

Enraged with grief, Ursula turns herself into a giantess, a queen of the seas. A whirlpool forms as she rises to the surface and wrecks float up with her. Eric, ever the sailor, scrambles aboard one and aims it straight at her. She’s so obsessively focused on trying to kill Ariel that she doesn’t see the jagged prow approaching until it stabs straight through her chest. With a cry, she sinks into the depths. All bargains die with her: the misery-worms are restored into very relieved merfolk, Triton reclaims his property and everyone re-evaluates their lives. “Children got to be free to live their own lives,” Sebastian hints at his king. With only a little sigh of regret, Triton gives Ariel back her legs, no strings attached, and throws in a sparkly blue dress to boot.

Ariel marries her prince. It takes place on board a ship so all her family can watch, and all her friends too (Sebastian wins round two over the homicidal chef. Go Sebastian!). Afterwards Ariel gets a hug from her father, Eric bows to Triton like the dream son-in-law he is and the royal couple sail away under a flawless rainbow. Who needs confetti?

Spot the Difference: Many elements of the original story show up here – the statue, the singing – but the brutal edge is gone. Andersen’s story is one of obsession, rejection and despair, full of religious guilt. His heroine is literally soulless, at least in her own eyes. Disney’s Ariel, by contrast, is vividly optimistic with a decisive sense of self that can withstand the loss of big defining traits like her voice and fishtail. She draws strength from her friendships and falls for a man who is worth her time. Eric has more personality than all the other Disney princes so far put together; he’s attracted to Ariel’s enthusiasm and energy. The Water-witch of the original fairy tale is a malicious cynic who continues to exploit vulnerable girls until the very end, but Ursula has a game plan beyond casual cruelty.

I’ve read criticisms of The Little Mermaid, calling it sanitised – to which I reply, hell yes it is, that’s the point. This is the only film version I’ve ever preferred to the fairy tale. Retellings are not intended to reiterate the source material, they respond to perceived flaws and adapt the story for a different time and/or audience. Ariel is given the agency and confidence her Andersen counterpart could only dream of. Her love story is convincing and the ending allows a healthy balance between both worlds. All the main characters get a ‘hero moment’ during the finale, acknowledging that Ariel needs friends and family as well as her true love in her life. This is a movie for children. It is meant to inspire hope, encourage adventure. Even if it was meant for adults, though, what’s so wrong with a happy ending?

It’s slightly less happy if you acknowledge the existence of The Little Mermaid 2, but I try to pretend that never happened.