Monday, December 14, 2009

Disney's Lost Film

Disney's Lost Film

I suppose I have to eat some crow right about now. Well, not a huge bite, but a slice none the less. Over the weekend I was sure that The Frog Princess would only push the typical Disney Princess standard and brand some more. It would live up to the idea that there's the fairy tale dream of every five year old girl that Prince Charming would come along and everything will be perfect.

Well, the movie came out and it was almost a return to classic Disney 2d animation except for one thing.. they modernized the concept of the "fairy tale". Disney has taken a lot of shit for promoting the "Princess" concept, which basically teaches little girls to be very materialistic and expect things to be handed to them or to have all of life's problems solved when a rich guy on a horse rides up and proposes marriage. The Princess & The Frog is almost a direct challenge to that entire concept - an antidote. Here's why:

Tiana is a hardworking, self-made woman who works 3 jobs to raise money to start up her own restaurant. Throughout the course of the film, she reluctantly falls in love with Prince Naveen, who starts out as a lovable philandering playboy whose sole interest is having a good time and playing music, but he slowly falls in love with her and starts to understand her work ethic, and thus wants to marry her specifically so he can help her open her restaurant, realize her dreams, all that.

Pointedly, Naveen is completely broke. There's no trace of "she's a princess, I'm a prince, let's get married so I can do everything for you" - it's presented as an equal partnership. Hell, the two get married at the end of the film and there's a big fairytale wedding, but then it cuts to Tiana using her savings to finally buy a place, which she fixes up together with Naveen, who performs at the restaurant. It is absolutely a progressive message about healthy, equal relationships.

There is no bullshit about waiting around for a rich guy to solve your problems for you. In fact, the film actively works against that concept and tears it down. There's a great scene that directly satirizes the old "blank-faced mute prince shows up and immediately dances with the princess and happily ever after" trope.

Thematically the film rejects the notion of marrying into money and being swept away by a rich guy on a white horse; instead, ambition supported by hard work is presented as the chief virtue. A very progressive, equal and supportive relationship between two people in love is presented as the fairytale dream come true. Which was, uh, fuckin' fantastic to see in a Disney movie, gotta say.

While you think it's taken a long time for a Black Disney Princess to come around, let alone one that is actually able to bootstrap her way to the top, there's a lot more to think about in terms of Disney films that should have been.. that are simply "What Could Have Been", I present to you, Fraidy Cat:

Basically, a Hitchcockian thriller with that Disney comedy twist, starring a cat. From the guys who brought you such classics as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Great Mouse Detective, and Hercules. Oh, and Treasure Planet too, but that got Eisnered. The simple story of a housecat thrown into a wild adventure, all because he was accused of a crime he didn't commit.

Of course, there's a reason you haven't seen this movie. We have the executives at Disney Feature Animation to thank for that. They couldn't find enough commercial value in the movie, no Happy Meal toys, no DTV sequels, no large action figure line, so they told the head of DFA to can it. And he did. Asshole.

There is, of course, the chance that John Lasseter, who in my opinion is a trillion times better than Stainton (former head of DFA) and Eisner, could breath some life back into this quirky looking picture, but I wouldn't hold your breath. I had really been looking forward to it as I love all things Hitchcockian and I think Musker/Clements would have done a great job on this.

2002-2005 was really an awful time for Disney Feature Animation, with films being axed, East and West coast departments being shut down, people leaving the Disney studios, and the Disney Co. stockholders trying to oust Eisner. It was very depressing. That's what made Princess seem like such a calculated stylistic regression to me. Disney seemed to have concluded that their latest animations failed for being too un-conventional. So even though Lilo and Stitch was a financial success, it's also a very personal film and not part of the Disney "brand" that was established with the Little Mermaid and the subsequent 9-'s hits who had a very specific formula in terms of aesthetic and narrative/thematic content.

The whole existence of a "Disney Princesses" brand tells you everything you really need to know. Lilo doesn't fit into the homogeneous mass of roughly interchangeable story lines about pretty teen outsiders seeking 'freedom' by changing their identites, with the help of some jive-talking animal sidekicks.

But then again, Walt Disney got a bucket load of change last week, not only with this new movie but with the news that Walt Disney's grandson was arrested.

Patrick Disney Miller, grandson of the late Walt Disney, has been arrested on suspicion of illegal gun possession, authorities said Thursday.

Miller, 42, was taken into custody about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday at his home in Woodland Hills, said Officer Rosario Herrera of the Los Angeles Police Department's Media Relations unit.

Miller was booked for "possession of a firearm by a felon" and selling ammunition, Herrera said. Information on Miller's felony background was not immediately known.

Times must be time when Walt's grandson is hard up for cash that he's selling ammunition. So hey, it looks like Disney has some change going on.

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