Friday, November 26, 2010

A Tangled Review

Image from
I love when a new Disney movie comes out. I watch every trailer, every clip, read every blog. I know more half the backstory of the movie long before I ever see it. I have mentioned on this blog that I wasn't as excited for Tangled as I was for The Princess and the Frog. I think deep down I will always adore hand-drawn animation best. I love its feel, its ambiance. There is something about the opening scene of a well made hand-drawn animated film that makes me feel like I'm eight years old again. There is a softness to hand-drawn animation that computer animation has never been able to quite emulate exactly. Pixar gets close; Tangled may even get a little closer if I'm being honest, but it is still missing that magic I associate with the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast, the drama of the fight scene in The Lion King or even the magic Disney animators recaptured with The Princess and the Frog in the bayou scenes especially.

Now that I have waxed poetic about hand-drawn animation, let's get down to brass tacks. I really didn't love Tangled as much as The Princess and the Frog. I mean, don't get me wrong, it was funny, clever, with excellent storytelling and just beautiful to watch. The color palette for the film alone was delicious. But, and this is what usually makes or breaks a movie for me, I just didn't love Rapunzel. I mean, I did love her but not the way I loved Tiana. I watched The Princess and the Frog and found a character I wanted to be more like, who sang a song I adopted as my theme song for my current mid-20s life, a character who immediately became a friend I needed to have in my life. Rapunzel had to grow on me and she did, by the end of the film, she was like girls I knew back in high school. I've had friends like her: flaky, fun-loving, slightly spastic at times, willing to take risks and see where life takes them. They are friends I adore and yet they exasperate me, tire me out now. It's a stage we should have grown out of. And for that, I have to give major props to the storytellers who created an incredibly realistic 18 year old girl. And because of that, I think Rapunzel made me feel old at first. As she grows throughout the film, I came to like her a lot better and recognize the journey the story was taking the character on. But Tiana still wins in my book. I really do think this has to do with my age and where I am in my life. Rapunzel is the dramatic, exasperating teenager on her first adventure; Tiana has been around longer, realized that life isn't going to be handed to her on a silver platter, that she needs to calm down and get to work.

Which brings me to issue number 2 - in a sense, Tangled and The Princess and the Frog are the same story. The heroine on a journey to learn more bout herself and reach a goal; the hero who has to learn to love someone more than he loves himself; the selfish villain who needs something only the heroine or hero can give him. It's the same story arc, just wrapped in the fabric of a different fairy tale. Now, as someone who has studied fairy tales, and before you all cry fowl, yes, most fairy tales have similar plot arcs but I guess maybe I was just expecting someone more, something new.  Which I will obviously be getting since Disney has said they are moving away from fairy tales for their animated movie plots for now. While I am not exactly happy about that at all, I do need to ask why they thought making two such similar fairy tale movies in a row was a good idea. There are other fairy tale plot arcs. I mean look at the order of the original Disney classics: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi. The next princess movie after Snow White? Cinderella in 1950, 13 years later. All I'm saying is maybe spreading the princess love out more instead of eliminating it all together is a better idea. 

However, moving back to the Tangled discussion. And this last issue might really bring out the pitchforks...I didn't care for the songs. I know right? I am the girl who buys Disney film soundtracks the second she leaves the theater usually and has them memorized about a day later but this one didn't have me running to iTunes nor do I think I will be unless on second watching they grow on me. It wasn't Menken's score; that as always was impeccable. It was the song lyrics themselves that jarred me out of the story a bit. I especially found Rapunzel's "When Will My Life Begin" a bit over the top and really didn't hold a candle to a heroine's anthem like "Almost There." That song disappointed and the rest of the movie had to win me back. While I enjoyed "I See the Light," I still am comparing it to the Golden Age songs and finding it lacking.  That said, the songs did fit into the story well and always moved the story forward or told us more about a character so they served purpose (which was not always the case in The Princess and the Frog I will readily admit).

Oh dear, my three issues seem a bit much. It was not that I didn't love Tangled or that I won't buy it the week it comes out on Blu-Ray. I will and I will thoroughly enjoy watching it and laughing at the excellent writing again. And it is, without a doubt, another step in the right direction for Walt Disney Animation Studios. It just didn't thrill me the way The Princess and the Frog did which means audiences everywhere will adore it a lot more than that film probably (I'm not usually that well in-tune with what audiences will like). I think there was just something in The Princess and the Frog that spoke to me, caught me at the right time in the right place that Tangled just didn't get close to and this is why we have favorite movies and songs. I will always say Belle is my favorite princess but she was also the princess of my childhood. Tiana is the princess of my 20s. I think Rapunzel just came a little too late for me to connect with and that is just fine. Please go and see if she's your princess. You won't be disappointed along the way.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Heroine's Bookshelf

Image from Goodreads
I found Erin Blakemore's blog and was reading it for several weeks before it sunk in that she was getting ready for a book to be published. And not just any book. A book that basically made my heart sing when I learned its title, The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was going to buy it when it was released and then stumbled across a giveaway on Goodreads for it. So I waited. And I won! It's the first Goodreads win I literally grinned from ear to ear about. This was a book that would allow me to revisit my favorite fictional heroines and their creators as well as introduce me to ones I haven't quite gotten around to reading yet.

The more I read Blakemore's personal examination of the characters she considered heroic, the more I realized we should be best friends. Though she doesn't always pick obvious ones, or she chooses ones to highlight I might have let pass, I realize that the experience of woman reading is not so unique as people may think. We come to our books as if they are friends, there to help us laugh when we are down, to help us cry when we need to be reminded that it is not just us that reality can sometimes hate, and always there to remind us that we are not alone. This book reminded me of all the things I loved about being an English major. The small seminar classes where we debated our love for Charlotte versus Anne versus Emily, our hatred of Dora Copperfield and about how Peyton Place was more than just a scandalous piece of literature but meant to make a point about the role of women and the options open to them at the time. I have always been drawn to the women in my books and if I cannot relate, I often find them lacking in some way. Blackmore reminded me that sometimes I don't need to relate, I simply need to be able to learn from their experiences and appreciate what they, the characters, and they, their creators, need me to see in their narratives.

That said, I'm not sure I will ever be one to love Scarlett O'Hara but reading the series of circumstances that led Margaret Mitchell to write her at least made me appreciate her more than I ever have before. I was already in love with the ideas of Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Shirley and Mary Lennox but listening to the stories of their authors made me see even further into these characters and what they reflected, or not, of the women who wrote them and sent them out into the world for girls like me to find. Jane Austen wrote Lizzie stifled by her society and resigned to her spinster state. Lucy Maud Montgomery gave birth to the sunny and optimistic Anne Shirley in the midst of a harrowing depression and Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote the redeemed Mary Lennox at the end of a writing career that had fizzled as her marriages had. Blakemore does make the point I have often felt when I learned the stories of the authors who penned the fictional characters I idolized. We are disappointed to find their lives do not match the imaginary ones they give us as readers but always we appreciate them more for what they overcame to give us, the future generations, fictional heroines to return to in our happiest, and darkest, hours. 

Another thing I adored about this book was remembering who I was when I first read about these women. An awkward 6th grader when Anne Shirley arrived in my life, a more cynical 9th grader when I finally read The Secret Garden and realized how much Mary Lennox just needed a hug. An ancient 11th grader when Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy entered my literary world. It would be even longer before someone finally introduced me to Jane Eyre or Jo March. However, I feel like I found these characters, and the women who wrote them, exactly when I was meant to. And they have helped me and I have returned to them as I've kept working and fighting my way through school, work, family issues and just life in general.

One thing I also found comforting was Blakemore's idea of re-reading. That these stories are something we should returned to whenever we need them. She even gives suggestions. Read Pride and Prejudice "as an antidote to deathly seriousness" and read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn "when you have to make do with $5 until your next paycheck." The books on my shelves have always been old friends. The oldest, my Anne books, look like they have survived wars and indeed they have. Anne got me through middle school and junior high. The books from college I re-read and laugh at my marginal notes. Reading Jane Eyre isn't just comforting; it's a conversation with my 20 year old self who commented and underlined throughout the entire book.

As you can probably tell, I loved The Heroine's Bookshelf. It celebrated all the best things about reading and reminded me of the great things women are capable of accomplishing, both in this world and in the fictional world. If you have any women readers in the family, I highly recommend this as a gift for under the tree this Christmas.

Full disclosure: I did win my copy of Heroine's Bookshelf from Goodreads.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why I Cheated a Little Bit

from Bookshelf Porn
OK, my reading goal for the year is officially complete. Please, hold your applause though. I will admit to you. I cheated. Not a lot. But a little. You see I had three books left, two of which were part of a series, and I didn't read them very well.

One thing I have been working on, along with reading all these books I've been holding onto for years, is learning to walk away when a book and I just aren't meshing.Why waste my time? I have books I'd rather be reading and it's not the end of the world if I don't finish a book I don't like.

Which is why I "finished" the last three books on my shelf so quickly. I didn't actually finish them. In fact, one I didn't even open. Before you cry foul, hear me out.

I first started with volume 1 of The Oz Chronicles. Both volumes had been given to me for Christmas years ago and on my shelf they have sat, lovely green volumes that I kept lugging from one place to another. I made it through the third Oz story in the first volume and I had to stop. The stories are lively, entertaining and...about ten pages in, extremely annoying. I could see how children would adore them though. If I had kids around six or seven, these would be go-to bedtime stories. But I don't. And I won't for awhile so I think it's time to send volumes 1 and 2 off to better owners.

My last book (for this challenge - I am not counting two books that got added recently and besides, I will read both easily before the end of the year because I have been dying to read them for months) was The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie. I made it exactly 20 pages into this book before I decided I wasn't interested. If I were more of a puzzle person, I think I would have been in love. The book came with sheets of clues that a reader could lay out and try to decipher. Yeah, not me. While I enjoy the Da Vinci Code et. al. I would not be the person they called to help them figure that stuff out. And this book definitely seemed to need to me more on the ball than I was prepared to be for it.

So ends my reading challenge. I did fizzle out there in the end, it's true but I feel like I learned a lot about myself and my reading habits. Plus, I learned a lot about my book buying habits as well. I need to learn to be more discerning, more critical about what I allow into my book collection. I am a big re-reader. But, if I'm not re-reading a book at least once in a while, why is that book still on my shelf? I used to keep books on my shelf because I thought they made me look smart or sophisticated or I thought certain books should be on the shelves of a former English major. Not so. I am displaying my Brontë novels proudly next to the entire Harry Potter series and have let the copy of Atlas Shrugged go to a more compatible home than mine. I've learned I need to be able to let a book go, even if I haven't finished it and just realize we weren't meant to be. And I think I am doing that more. See Exhibits A, B and C above.

Now onto the good stuff! The Heroine's Bookshelf first and then, one of my all time faves, Ms. Willig has a Christmas-themed story!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My current obsession with Sherlock Holmes

I have always loved a good mystery. However, lately my obsession with a certain English detective (or at least stories surrounding a Sherlock-like hero) has gone a bit off the deep end. I will be the first to admit it. Two weekends ago, I watched three different versions of Sherlock stories,  I also watched hours of a TV show with a Sherlock wannabe like it was my job (in fact, it felt like work was getting in the way of my TV watching).

My first Sherlock Holmes was a Young Sherlock Holmes. A movie made in 1985 starring Nicholas Rowe and Alan Cox as the mystery-solving duo of Holmes and Watson. I was pleasantly surprised by this film. First, that it was written by Chris Columbus and second, that it was as entertaining as it was. Sherlock Holmes tends be an insufferable character (which apparently only makes me like him more) but Rowe's idea of a young Sherlock is someone who is still vulnerable and still learning about his talents. But he is of course still always right and never willing to explain himself to those around him.

After Young Sherlock Holmes, I watched Sherlock on PBS. And promptly feel in love with a 21st century version of the character. Benedict Cumberbatch adds a technological aspect to the famous detective of Baker Street. This is a Sherlock who texts, reads people by their cell phones and is still young enough to make mistakes. Martin Freeman as his Watson is inspired, a war veteran from Afghanistan, this Watson is smart enough to keep with with Holmes but also isn't afraid to stick up for himself against Holmes' erratic behaviors and expectations. I fell in love with the show during its first episode and while the second one wasn't as strong as the first episode, I have high hopes for the last episode playing this evening.

While I have not be able to find a copy of Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock Holmes around here (and I can't seem to find it to rent around here either), I have been enjoying Psych immensely. Shawn Spencer is a hyper-aware observer, trained by his father to notice the littlest details, but the police start to think he is too good at catching the bad guys so to save his skin, he convinces them he's a psychic. Chaos ensures from there and he and his best friend Gus solve cases. I may have watched already into the third season two weeks into watching the show. Netflix is a single girl's best friend. Again, whoever came up with the idea of instant streaming should be sainted or something.

So, mysteries have been ruling my viewing schedule lately. I just finished Castle, season  2 as well so I am all caught on on the fabulousness that is Richard Castle and Kate Beckett. Next up in my Netflix queue through the mail is Chuck, season 3 - more fun mysteries! I cannot wait.