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Tangled: Before Ever After

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Disclaimer: Tangled is my favorite movie. Not just my favorite Disney movie. My favorite movie. So when Disney announced they were making an animated TV show, I was very excited and very skeptical. I couldn’t wait to watch it.

So, was it good? The short answer is yes. If you like Disney and cuteness and badass female characters, it is definitely worth a watch.

The series opens with an hour-long special set six months after the end of the movie. It’s finally time for Rapunzel’s coronation, but she’s feeling stifled by her “happily ever after.” She dreamed of being able to go and see the world once she left Mother Gothel’s tower, but instead, she’s locked up behind another wall for her protection, learning all the rules on how to be a good princess. After spending eighteen years with very little social interaction, she struggles to interact with strangers, as well to adapt to strange inventions like shoes, and clearly misses the one single day of adventure she had in the movie. She wants her escape from Mother Gothel to mean freedom, while her father sees it as a second chance to keep her safe.

Which leads to an interesting setup, because although the show does provide a more traditional villain, the real enemy is still Mother Gothel and the after-effects of her cruelty. Rapunzel’s father is terrified that something is going to happen to her again. Rapunzel is terrified of what happens when someone gets too much control over you and walls you off from the world. And the conflict between these two fears, and between Rapunzel’s dreams and the reality of “happily ever after,” appears to be the driving force of the series.

That said, the TV movie is a lot of fun as well. The writing is sharp and funny, and the animation is gorgeous, although the change in style takes some getting used to. Obviously, there’s a shift in feel as the story moves from the context of a feature length Disney movie to a TV cartoon, and so, despite what I mentioned above, it does often have the light tone similar to Disney’s mini-sequels like Frozen Fever. I’ve never really enjoyed those that much, but there are enough clever jokes and thoughtful emotional arcs here to make it work.

Not to mention the show’s great cast of female characters. I already love Cassandra, Rapunzel’s “lady in waiting” who has picked up a trick or two as the daughter of the captain of the guard. Rapunzel’s mother also gets her own backstory and important role to play, and even the one-off villain is the incredibly cool-looking Lady Caine.

The shippiness between Rapunzel and Eugene is also A+. No spoilers here, but… it’s so good, y’all. I especially like the contrasting perspectives of Rapunzel and Eugene. Eugene wants to stay in the palace forever, because he’s been out and seen the world, and struggled in it, and so this luxury and permanence is appealing. For Rapunzel, who has only ever been in one “safe” and comfortable place, the same set-up is stifling.

Oh, and did I mention Alan Menken is back to write songs for the show? I am obsessed with them already.

If you want a fun cartoon, I really recommend it. It’s clearly a kids’ show — we’re not talking Adventure Time here — but it’s really enjoyable to watch, at least so far. I could definitely see myself binge watching the first season after it all comes out, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m not going to be able to wait. It’s fun, it’s true to the movie, and it has songs by Alan Menken. I can’t wait for more.

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Moana

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Moana is a difficult movie for me to review. The music is amazing. The animation is stunning. I am beyond in love with this film. But, and I hate to say this, at times, I was also kind of bored while watching it.

Really, I think my feelings on Moana comes down to one question: are people singing? If they are, then I think is one of the most beautiful, heartfelt, engaging, wonderful movies. But if people aren’t singing… ehhh.

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Family in Disney’s Lilo and Stitch

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I just saw Lilo and Stitch for the very first time.

I know, I know, I should have seen it before. But it came out during a misguided teenage “too grown up for Disney” phase, and I never got around to watching it.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Because Lilo and Stitch was possibly the most heartbreaking Disney movie I’ve ever seen.

You know how most Disney/Pixar movies have that one tear-jerking moment, when a character seems dead and all hope seems lost, but then something quickly swoops in to save the day and they all live happily ever after? The writers of Lilo and Stitch seemed to decide that making viewers cry once simply wasn’t enough, and made it their mission to make a movie that is an ever-growing ball of pain and heartbreak that makes the viewer choke on their tears until it finally reaches a bittersweet happy-ish conclusion.

Maybe I’m overstating it. But oh god, it hurt. And the reason it hurt so much was its heart-wrenching look at family.

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The Modern Cinderella

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2015 seems to be the Year of the Cinderella Retelling, with book and movie versions of the classic tale cropping up everywhere.

Disney released two Cinderella adaptations this year — the live action versions starring Lily James, and the new adaptation of Into the Woods starring Anna Kendricks. The first is a rather earnest, traditional retelling of the story, while Into the Woods seems dedicated to showing how mistaken such fairy tale dreams are. With such drastically different approaches in mind, it seems like the movies should have entirely different messages at their conclusions. And yet in both stories, the different Cinderellas find happiness, can find family, by learning to accept who they are.

And this is a thread I see in almost every modern Cinderella adaptation I find. Whether the adaptation is traditional or radical, the modern Cinderella is reframed as a story of self-discovery, rather than prince discovery, where she needs to have the courage to be truly herself to find her happily ever after.

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Cinderella: The Feminism of Kindness

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Despite being generally praised by the media, the new live-action Cinderella movie has faced a lot of criticism for being anti-feminist. Cinderella, it’s been said, is too weak, is a terrible role model, is “more of a doormat than an actual doormat.” Her movie is an insipid attempt to sell little girls the idea of princess feminine perfection, tiny waist and all.

What absolute rubbish. Once again, the idea of “feminist media” has been twisted around, so that anything short of sassy female characters dishing out one-liners and kicking butt is seen as “weak” and “anti-feminist.”

This movie is not flawless. But it utterly enchanted me, and the more I think on it, the more powerful and important that sweeping sense of magic and romance seems to me.

The movie’s key message is “Have courage, and be kind,” an important and inspiring message that isn’t heard often enough. Some might focus on the “be kind” part and argue that it encourages girls to always be sweet and put themselves second, even in the face of cruelty, but, as the movie shows, there are many ways a person can have courage, and many ways a person can be kind.

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Big Hero 6

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Big Hero 6 was finally released in the UK last week, which means that I finally got to see it. And it was almost as good as the hype from America suggested it would be. Almost.

Because Big Hero 6 is a fun movie, and a sad movie, and a wonderfully animated movie, and even a fantastically diverse movie, but it is slightly lacking in narrative structure.

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A Year of Frozen

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It’s officially been a year since Frozen was released into the world, and judging by the Christmas shopping frenzy, the movie is more popular than ever.

Some people are probably tired of Frozen fever by now. But the fact that Frozen and Elsa in particular are so popular with young girls is really heartening. People might comment that the movie doesn’t always have the tightest plot, or isn’t the most beautifully animated thing we’ve ever seen, but it does provide a lot of really powerful things that have been missing, or at least under-appreciated. In a bleak environment of boy-focused cartoons and a dearth of compelling female characters in any media, the popularity of Frozen is an absolute godsend.

Let It Go is an inspiring song

Let It Go is one of the first Disney princess songs to go nuclear that isn’t about the central romance. It’s a song of self-affirmation and self-confidence, a song about deciding to leave criticism behind and be entirely yourself. When little girls sing Let It Go incessantly and emulate Elsa — her footstomp, her declaration of her own independence, her delight in using her magic to create a place of her own — they’re emulating a female character who is taking control of her life and declaring who she is and who she wants to be. It’s a powerful message, and one that young fans must internalize as the sing the song again and again.

Elsa is a very flawed character

Although Anna is sweet and energetic and adorable, Elsa is the character that has won people’s hearts. And this really matters, because Elsa is an imperfect and quite fearful character — she makes many mistakes, she gets scared, she has lots of fears and self-doubt and arguably suffers from severe anxiety after a lifetime of self-repression. Her journey isn’t one of a happy but different girl finding adventure and happiness and true love. It’s an unhappy young woman learning to accept who she is, to control her power, and to become a queen who is free to be herself without isolating herself from everyone and everything she knows. Less glamorous, perhaps, and definitely less traditionally fairy tale, but a far more useful narrative for girls looking for fictional role models and heroines. She feels real, and she conquers real, relatable issues, wrapped up in magic.

Sisters form the heart of the story

Sure, there’s romance, and sure, there’s a couple of cute animal companions and wacky hijinks ensuing, but the central focus of the story is two sisters who became estranged and fight to rebuild their relationship. It’s sisterly love that saves Anna, and the same sisterly love that saves Elsa. It’s unconditional “true love,” and it explores how that doesn’t have to mean finding a handsome prince and living happily ever after.

Love won’t change someone — but it brings out their better side

Although the trolls have some strange moments, their big music number emphasizes the central message of the movie — that although you can’t take a horrible person and change them into a better one by loving them, people will be their better selves if you treat them with love and kindness. Bad choices don’t necessarily make a bad person, just a scared or stressed one, and if you react to them with kindness and patience, you might just be surprised by who they can be.

It’s not been branded as “Disney princess”

Which might be a strange thing for me to say, since I kind of love Disney Princess stuff. But Frozen has been branded as a separate entity, and I think that’s really significant. Girls deserve more choice in their toys and in things marketed towards them — not just princesses, not just pink, not just this pre-selected range of Disney heroines redesigned to be extra-pretty. The fact that Anna and Elsa have yet to be mixed in with the other “Disney Princesses” means that they haven’t undergone pinkification. Their dolls and branded items actually look like the characters do in the movies, rather than being prettied up. They’re themed around blue, not pink. The fact that they’re royalty isn’t emphasized. Anna and Elsa often appear in branding as a pair, or with the other main characters in the movie, and the branding is driven by their characters and by Elsa’s magic. It’s presented as another option for girls (and for boys), and not just an extension of the existing brand aimed at them.

It proves that all these things are profitable

People had written off princess movies as a thing of the past. Companies declared that female protagonists aren’t as profitable as male protagonists, and that girls don’t buy merchandise as much as boys. Better to market a movie with an equal male lead (like Tangled) or just make it all about boys, because then both boys and girls will watch it. But movies about female characters and female relationships are profitable. They can become cultural zeitgeists. And with Frozen being so unbelievable successful, why would the movie companies not wish to capitalize on this “new trend” for female-led movies and children’s brands, and create more?

Add in how fun the songs are and the unbearable cuteness of Sven, and I hope Frozen‘s reign continues for a long time yet.

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Aladdin

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Aladdin is a strange movie to discuss in the context of Disney Princesses. Unless I’ve forgotten something, it’s the only official Disney Princess movie where the princess isn’t the protagonist. In fact, although she has a couple of scenes without Aladdin, Jasmine’s role in the movie isn’t that significant, and she’s absent for many of the important scenes. But I think it’s interesting to look at how Disney treats its female characters when they’re not the protagonist of the story.

And it looks like Disney put a lot of effort into giving Jasmine “girl power” and independence, at least in her dialogue and attitude. Unfortunately, they didn’t follow through and give her strength in the plot itself.

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Beauty and the Beast

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Beauty and the Beast is the ultimate “not like other girls” Disney movie.

Make no mistake, the animation and the music are gorgeous, Belle is a great character, and the dynamic between Belle and Gaston gives us some interesting scenes. But although Belle is intelligent and ambitious and wanting adventure, she’s explicitly set up as being different because of it. She doesn’t fit in, because nobody else she knows could possibly also like reading, or dreaming, or want their life to come to something.

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The Little Mermaid

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I may be a tiny bit biased when it comes to The Little Mermaid. This was my favorite movie as a child. I would sing Part of Your World at the top of my lungs and carry my Ariel doll around with me and recreate the dramatic “emerging from the ocean” moment in the bath… it was a pretty big deal to me.

So when The Little Mermaid comes under fire for being one of the most “anti-feminist” Disney princess movies, I take it a little bit personally. The movie that they criticize is not the movie that I remember adoring. Although I’ve written before about how Ariel is a great protagonist, and how these criticisms are off-base, I felt some trepidation about rewatching the movie and writing about it again. I didn’t think I was wrong, but what if I was?

And did I find the movie to be all I remembered? Well… yes and no. People are wrong to criticize Ariel as an “anti-feminist” protagonist, and the first two thirds of the movie are fantastic to watch. But as we approach the movie’s conclusion, things start to fall apart.

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