Saturday, December 24, 2016

Most Over Rated Disney Movie

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and fluffed it out to 31 entries (since December has 31 days).  I have done a 30-day challenge before for movies, though that one was poorly executed (I started it in the middle of a month, at one point I posted 2 entries on one day, it is a mess).  I did another one just this year in August on Video Games, that one was better, go read it after this one, all of it.  Or don’t, no pressure.

            Today is day 24 and the topic is “Most Overrated Movie”.
I almost gave this to “James and the Giant Peach” but then I recalled that a good 20% of that movie is in live action and decided that DQ’d the mean spirited thing.  I only went for it initially so I wouldn’t keep talking about the same damn thing again.  The ultra-mega hit that so dominated the world that they are redoing the theme parks to better incorporate the IP into them.  Who has a song that everyone has heard a million times—because the song is the best thing in the movie.  Of course I am talking about “Frozen”.
BUT I’M TIRED OF TALKING ABOUT “Frozen”.  I can’t even turn this into a top 5 in an interesting way, or find some new angle to come at the topic.  Disney is a pretty up-front about itself company and I can’t really scratch any deeper on this.  “Frozen” has awful bad guys, mediocre protagonists, stupid decisions driving the plot, and while the animation at first struck me as awesome—the snow looks great—it did not hold up to scrutiny as the character models (especially the women) are interchangeable and the houses look almost like doll houses (They look fake in the sense that they were poorly animated).

She cries funny.
This thing made a billion dollars.  It is in the top 50 for animated movies on Rotten Tomatoes.  IT IS A MERCHANDISING EMPIRE ALL ITS OWN.  I can’t see a movie with a greater disparity between its quality and the amount of praise it received.  IT WON BEST ANIMATED FEATURE.


            What about high hopes?  While “Frozen” was reworked around some ideas (it has actually been workshopped since Walt was alive) I don’t think that Disney thought it would be the titan that it is.  What did they imagine to be their crowning achievement that amounted to little?  What was the most overrated by the company that ultimately underperformed because of inflated expectations?  Well, the answer is just around the riverbend.

            At the time of its creation “Pocahontas” was being seen as the sort of classic, “we’ve done this right before, we’ll do it right again” romance that would certainly be the hit of its era.  Animators jumped ship from working on “The Lion King” to work on what was sure to be the more successful project.  Jeffery Katzenberg, one of the most important and powerful entities in all of animation held this belief.  IT WAS A RARE MISSED MARK FOR HIM.
            I am a child that grew up in the 90’s, and if there is one thing I remember about going to school in the 90’s it was the ever present specter of white guilt that hovered over all of the curriculum of the era.  I remember learning all of the different tribes of North America in elementary school, how there were longhouses, teepees, and the sandstone Pueblo housing in the south west.  I recall learning about gender roles, property rights, some of the managerial styles of tribal life.  I went to field trips that emphasized Indian mounds.

This was no fun.
In Middle School we spent so much time dwelling on the Trail of Tears, by which I mean I learned that it was a sad and morally repugnant event in history, but I couldn’t tell you the year it happened, the events that led up to it, the events that followed, or who was president at the time, but I knew white people should feel bad about it.  It was a shallow view of history to say the least and I would even say it made me more of a bigot growing up.  You know what fought back against that idea?  The positive and inclusive steps pop-culture was taking to make minorities more prevalent and respected, which is why I don’t bitch about it now when they cast minority actors in more and more blockbuster movies.
            Keep in mind I know that my white forefathers were absolute bastards toward the Native Americans, and that there were many tribes and cultures that populated the Americas before they got there, but the strange BS mysticism and reverence of a vague Native American spiritualism that sprung up and the odd revulsion toward the explorers and pioneers of white America, that was doing no one any favors.  “Pocahontas” has that shit in spades.

"What the hell tree has purple leaves?" -Pocahontas
            There are a few good—albeit preachy—songs to complement the flowing animation, but overall you should NOT make a movie about the longest term genocide in history and frame it as a bullshit simplistic miscommunication between two people because of WANTING GOLD.  Ultimately the tension is resolved by… I honestly have no idea.  No substantial resolution to the underlying tensions are reached.  You can point to Pocahontas stopping the execution, but that didn’t answer any of the issues that still existed… Which I guess is a good explanation for why the Indians would ultimately be wiped out.
            “Pocahontas” is not the cultural touchstone that “The Lion King” became, and compared to “Beauty and the Beast”, who it was emulating—with an epic romance and tons of sidekicks— “Pocahontas” is a joke.  I am sorry, but the best romances are about strong FLAWED characters going thru arcs via contact with one another and becoming better people.  Having two perfect characters—John Smith and Pocahontas are annoyingly flawless—politely talk out the issues existing between two sides in a war because they want to bone each other IS NOT GOOD DRAMA.

"Want to see if my carpet matches my drapes?" asked Jon.
"What's carpet?  What're drapes?" asked the mysterious native woman.
"Oh yeah, gonna have to use different pick up lines in this country," realized John.
            There are about a trillion tumblr nerds wanting to talk about how this movie is sexist or racist but you can ignore all of that because the real problem as far as I am concerned is how flat everything is.  Pocahontas is a pretty princess whose biggest concern when not frolicking in the forest is that she is being pressured to marry a guy who is noble, good looking, and liked by her entire community.  Boo-fuckity-hoo.  John Smith is the swarthy adventurer who has seen the world and conquered it all with his good looks, skill, and bravery, the guy probably has a trail of bastards and broken hearts from Cairo to Santiago.  I’m having déjà vu as it is another case of Boo-fuckity-hoo.  NEITHER OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE ANYTHING TO OVERCOME!
            I don’t even know these characters’ motivations.  Let’s compare a few protagonists from other movies.
Belle, “I want to see the world, the one beyond the little village I live in”.  How does she do this?  “All I can afford is to read books about that world”.
Hercules, “I want to prove myself worthy of my birthright as a god”.  How does he do this?  “I will fight evil, protect the innocent, and bring glory to my name.”
Rapunzel, “I want to go outside.”  How does she go about this?  “I go outside as soon as I have a—let’s call him ‘willing’—guide so that I will be relatively safe.”

"Tangled" sure as hell has a greater grasp on the idea of romance than "Pocahontas".
These Characters have goals and do things to accomplish those goals.  What is the goal of each of the leads in “Pocahontas”?  I don’t know.  What do their actions indicate might be their goal?  Getting some strange from an ethnicity they haven’t been with before.  Capital.  Wonderful protagonists.

            Share your own thoughts on this in the comments.  I know I am not the only person out there who is nostalgic for Disney products, and I am sure many people disagree with my selection for today’s entry. 
I picked Disney stuff just because I knew there was so much of it to talk about and it lends itself to discussion in the comments.  So please, tell me how my opinion about cartoon movies is biased and how your opinion on cartoon movies is objectively right.


If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

1 comment:

  1. "Noble savage" is what you're aiming for. The idea that the Native Americans were perfectly respectful of all nature to the extent that they had supernatural connections with it. Especially when it's used to put them up on a pedestal, it can be really awkward. The native peoples that the European settlers encountered DID have different values and a better understanding of the land (because they lived there!), but they weren't demigods. (And yes, the settlers did some bad things--although there's no record of anyone actually giving smallpox blankets, the diseases just spread rapidly through populations with little to no immunities)

    My main problem with Pocahontas is that I already knew the actual history and it was bizarre to see them changing so much. Pairing her with John Smith as a love interest? But she married John Rolfe...and was pretty young when she met Smith, who was grown.

    But the music is nice, and the artwork.