Sunday, March 23, 2008

Somewhere, Walt is smiling...

This is going to be a bit awkward -- I’m about to gush. About a Disney movie. A Disney Princess movie. The movie is Enchanted, and I’m, well, enchanted. 

   Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Walt Disney -- the man. He is one of my heroes. Walt Disney was a man with a dream, and he made it come true, then he proceeded to try and make other people’s dreams come true, as well. He was a man concerned about the details. It was the quality of the product that set Disney -- the man and his company -- apart from the crowd. And that reputation meant everything to Walt Disney. So, when I see what has happened to Walt Disney -- the conglomerate -- I think Walt must be rolling over in his grave. Until late in his life, Walt Disney was not comfortably wealthy, despite the success of so many of his ventures. Why? Because, he nearly bankrupted his company several times in the pursuit of excellence. Maybe that’s not the best business sense, but he did it for you and me -- those who would buy his product. Ultimately, he set the standard for excellence. 

   So, what happened? Disney has always come in waves of success. The last wave started in 1990 with the Little Mermaid and crested in 1994, with the release of the Lion King. There were a few decent movies after that, but the decline was obvious. Now, let me digress for just a moment to say that I only consider Pixar movies to be a Disney product in the broadest sense -- they were, in the beginning, essentially a separate company. Everything Pixar has done has been a home run. 

   It’s okay that Disney doesn’t knock them out of the park every time, but, in the pursuit of nothing more than cheap money, the company -- under Michael Eisner -- finally broke Walt’s cardinal rule -- NO SEQUELS! Walt Disney’s first major success was The Three Pigs. It was a runaway hit. The world clamored for more pigs, but Walt refused. He said, “You can’t top pigs with pigs.” Instead he moved on to bigger and better things -- Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio etc. So, when the company bearing his name began to  produce sequels -- it began with the Rescuers Down Under, and descended rapidly into straight to video garbage like Cinderella 2, Peter Pan 2 etc etc -- I wanted to gag. Nearly every Disney classic -- with the exception of, as far as I can tell, Snow White, Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty -- now has at least one sequel, made for one reason -- to get gullible people to shell out good money for a cheap product that masquerades as a Walt Disney movie. 

   So, on to my real reason for writing here: Enchanted is the best thing Disney has done in a VERY LONG time. I was so affected by this movie, that it’s a little startling to me. It is the story of Giselle, a cartoon Disney Princess, in the tradition of Ariel from the Little Mermaid, Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, as well as classic Disney heroines, Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora. She spends her days singing to her furry woodland friends and waiting to swept off her feet by the obligatory Prince, at which point they will be married, share love’s first kiss and live happily ever after. She runs afoul of the wicked step mother -- of course -- and before she can live happily ever after, finds herself banished to reality -- modern day New York City, no longer a cartoon princess, but a flesh and blood human being. I don’t want to give the movie away, so, suffice it to say, through the course of the story, Giselle experiences the ups and downs of life and love as a human being.

   There are constant references and homages -- both subtle and obvious -- to many of the preceding Disney films, as well as other cinematic treasures, like The Sound of Music. In fact, each time you watch it, you’ll see more. And that was the danger that Enchanted faced. This movie could have been SO bad. It could have descended into wink and nod parody. It could have been a joke, something along the lines of the cotton candy dreck that they run on the Disney Channel (I’m sorry, but even High School Musical wouldn’t have cut it as a theatrical release). But, Enchanted works, and here’s why: Amy Adams.

   The rest of the cast -- Patrick Dempsey as Robert, the love interest, James Marsden as Prince Edward/comic relief and Susan Sarandon as the evil Queen -- are superb, but Amy Adams, as Giselle, sparkles. From beginning to end you believe that Giselle is a cartoon princess, brought to life. More than portraying a cartoon princess in the flesh (you can see that at Disney on Ice) Amy Adams task is to give life to a character who begins as two-dimensional in every way -- not just the way she is drawn, but in her understanding of life and love -- and show the transformation to a fully three dimensional person. She does it, and does it with a refreshing, wide eyed, innocence. She really is the embodiment of the character. 

   I’m a romantic at heart. I’m not afraid of happily ever after, but my reaction to this movie has been a little shocking, even to myself. Here’s what happened: There’s a feeling that we get, only a couple of times in our lives. It’s that wonderful feeling, that starts somewhere near the heart and spreads out to your whole being. It’s the way we feel when we begin to fall in love with someone. I got that feeling when I watched this movie -- not through the whole thing, but at one particular point. There is a scene near the end, where all of the characters are at a ball, and Giselle and Robert are dancing (it’s a beautiful homage to the waltzing scene in Beauty and the Beast), and they look into each others eyes and realize, for the first time, that this is really where they belong. They are falling in love. And I bought it. I got that feeling. I was feeling what the characters were supposed to be feeling. That does not happen to me -- not to that degree -- when I watch movies. It was so startling to me, that I said out loud -- to an empty room --  “What is happening to me?” That moment is the highlight of the movie for me -- it makes the story (this story about a cartoon princess) personal to me. 

   The only thing that could ruin this experience for me would be if they decided to make a sequel. I loved the characters. I love watching the movie. This movie. This story. I don’t need to know what else happens to them. Happily ever after is a good ending.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

An Ode to the Y Chromosome

   Someone has said that boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails. Well, maybe. But I think there’s a little more to it...

   Being a boy is having shoes that make you run faster and jump higher. It is building backyard fortresses of scrap plywood. It is exploring outer space, sailing the high seas, and battling monsters -- all at the same time. It is being chased by the girls, secretly hoping (and scheming) to get caught, but being willing to take that secret to the grave. 

   When you’re a boy, every football you throw is a touchdown pass, every shot with a basketball is a buzzer beating, game winner, every baseball hit, a home run. A boy is sure that his dad could easily take any of the other guy’s dads - and isn’t afraid to say so. A boy can admire Han Solo and Luke Skywalker and still thrill when Darth Vader comes on screen. 

   Being a boy is digging for dinosaur bones in your backyard -- and being pretty sure that one was the real thing. It is going down the river with Huck Finn and whitewashing the fence with Tom Sawyer. It is having more fun planning exploits, than actually carrying them out. It is having a crush on the girl next door. And the babysitter. And your fifth grade teacher. 

   Boys know that video game scores are important. Boys are as interested in tricks as they are in treats. A boy carries everything he needs to survive in  his pockets. When you are a boy, playground swings become rocket ships, and jet fighters. You dress in cowboy boots, a Superman cape, and a space helmet -- just to cover all of your bases. 

   Being a boy is burying “treasure” in your backyard, just so you will have some to dig up -- then forgetting where you buried it anyway. It is taking a bath and wondering where all the scrapes and bruises came from (I honestly don’t remember falling down that often). It is being afraid of the high dive, but being mortified that you might be the only one who is. It is pledging “blood brotherhood” with your best friend, but being a little squeamish about the actual “blood” part. Being a boy is wanting to grow up to be a fireman. And an archaeologist. And an astronaut. And just like your dad. 

   Boys conduct “scientific” experiments, by tying firecrackers to various toys “just to see what will happen.” Boys play tennis -- with rocks. Boys know how to get a double missile  on Space Invaders. Boys have an endless fascination with bugs and body noises, and anything else that grosses out little girls. A boy knows that no one makes a better peanut butter and jelly sandwich than his mom. 

   Being a boy is climbing higher and riding faster than you would ever admit to your mother. 

   Being a boy is putting on backyard concerts, with tennis racket guitars and trash can drums. 

   Being a boy is being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. 

   Being a boy is being prepared. 

   Being a boy is imagining that you are the only thing that stands between your third grade class and an entire fleet of alien invaders -- and liking the odds.

   Then again, maybe that’s just me.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


A few changes. So, if it wasn't obvious before, I'm in full Indiana Jones mode now. I changed the template of the blog to a more Indy appropriate color scheme. I also changed the title. At first, I wanted it to be instantly recognizable as an Indiana Jones reference, but I'm not sure that I have succeeded, but that's ok. "This is Serious!" of course is  what Indy yells at Willie Scott in the Temple of Doom, as he attempts to motivate her to save him from certain death. Actually, the better quote from that sequence is "WE ARE GOING TO DIE!", but it somehow didn't seem appropriate as the title of a  blog. 
   Also, you'll notice off to the side here a segment called "Fortune and Glory". I'll be adding some of the best quotes from Indiana Jones, from time to time. Hope you enjoy (all three of you that read this blog). Oh, and by the way, I'm typing this with my new fedora on.