Saturday, January 25, 2014

Growing up at the Movies: The Lion King

The Lion King

     “The Lion King” is the first movie I remember seeing in theaters. Apparently my parents had taken me to movies before, but this is the first one I actually remember. No one can forget that opening! I came away with eyes wider than than my gigantic glasses. This Disney classic may very well have started my obsession with film.

   Ask my parents. I was obsessed. I owned the VHS, the soundtrack, and as much Nala merchandise as I could get my hands on.

   I would beg my friends to re-enact my favorite scenes and could practically recite the screenplay verbatim.

   And you thought my obsession with Les Mis was bad!

   Yes, “The Lion King” touched something pretty deep inside my six-year-old soul. I think it did that for a lot of people. After all it’s considered one of the greatest animated films of all time!

   Even though I can basically play the movie in my head, every so often I like to sit down and actually watch “The Lion King”.

   As I started putting this list of childhood favorites together- well “Lion King” was at the top. I knew I had to write about it, but I wasn’t sure exactly which aspect I would expound upon.
   This movie shaped my world in a ton of ways. It brought exotic Africa into my home, the brilliance of good cinema to my imagination, and actually introduced me to one of my favorite composers- Hans Zimmer.

  The part where Simba makes the decision to return to his home never really stood out to me, but now that I’m older I’m beginning to appreciate Simba’s journey on a whole new level.

   I left home for the first time five years ago. It was kind of a big deal. Between then and now, I’ve spent months, and even a year or two living “at home”, but ever since that first move to Orlando, it was never “home home” anymore.

   I’m sure a lot of young adults can understand when I say: it is really hard to go back to old places. I’ve done it several times- and it doesn’t get any easier.

   Every time I’m away- spreading my wings- as it were, I find myself growing and changing. It’s like I start a new life, and almost become a new and different person.

   Then I go home for a few months and I turn back into a fifteen-year-old.

   I’ve been told that this is normal.

   Sometimes I don’t even have to go to my old neighborhood. Even when I’m living somewhere else, I will meet someone, or be faced with some situation from my past.

   Compared to Simba, my past is kind of boring. However, there’s a lot of things I did and said way back when (meaning during my teenage years) that I’m not proud about.

  Nothing horrible, just stupid comments or selfish actions that I regret and wish I could take back. When I meet someone who was around during those times, I’m embarrassed. I wonder if when they look at me, they just see that moody teen who always talked people’s ears off about movies. 

   Okay... maybe some things never change.

   The point is: I feel a desperate need to prove that I’m not that kid anymore. That I’ve grown up and (hopefully) changed for the better. In reality, this is just petty, but that doesn’t help snuff out the voice inside telling me I’m just a little kid who messes up all the time.

   What does this have to do with the “Lion King”? Well, if you haven’t made the connection already, Simba has to return to a place where he’s pretty sure his loved ones believe that he killed his father! 

  And I worry about those times I screwed up my lines in theater class. I got nothing on Simba.

  The cool thing? Simba goes back. It’s only now that I can appreciate just how difficult it is to make that kind of decision. He goes back, and immediately Scar accuses him for Mufasa’s death.  What does Simba do? He takes it. He acknowledges bad things happened, but he doesn’t want to let that hold the lion pride from a better future.

   I should back up.... When I was six, the most boring part of the movie was when Rafiki has that long (seemingly endless) conversation with Simba about the Past. To a kid, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and I always felt slightly inclined to skip ahead to the cool fight scene.

   Now as an adult, that part hit me to the core, like Mufasa’s death hit me to the core when I was a kid.

  I have a Past now. It’s not incredibly long, but long enough for me to have made mistakes. When I was a moody, agnst-y teen, there were a lot of things that I wanted to run away from. And in a way, I saw moving to Orlando as my escape. What did I run away from? Mostly a lot of fears. That, and the fact I was tired of cold Colorado winters. A big fear was watching my sister enter adolescence. Growing up was scary for me, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to help my sister if she started developing depression issues like I did. 

   In the end it doesn’t really matter if my reasons were legit or not. In my mind I called it “running away”, so that’s what it was.

   And it was awesome! I was living in a place where no one knew who I was. No one remembered the goofy buck-toothed kid or the overly dramatic teen I used to be. I had the space to explore who I could be, and that helped me grow a lot.

   Yeah, it was great, but after a few months I had to return to Colorado.

   Ever since, I’ve had to face bits of those fears that I ran from. I had to own up to my sister that I felt like I’d abandoned her. I had to apologize for running away. It wasn’t simply moving to a different place, it was the way I’d dealt with the situation- and I did it poorly.

   I’ve lived in a lot of different places, and am constantly making mistakes, and working through fears. Now I look at my time in Orlando and am embarrassed at being a dramatic twenty-year-old who talked everyone’s ear off about movies.

   So the last time I watched “The Lion King”, when Rafiki starts talking about the Past, my ears perked up.

   “The past can hurt, but you can either run from it.. or learn from it.”

   Who says stuff like that in a kid’s movie? Suddenly that scene was far from boring, and I finally understood why people of all ages love “The Lion King”.

   I have a feeling no matter where I live or what I do, I will make embarrassing mistakes.

   After a while, you get really tired of running, and so I’ve started trying to learn.

   The past can hurt an awful lot. In the past few years I made some hard choices, and lost friends. It hurts. I’m not proud of some of the things I did and said- to the point where I can’t even really write any good solid examples for this review. It’s just too embarrassing.

   I’m kind of a perfectionist, so when I mess up I either want to climb into a hole for a decade, or run away to Australia.

   I can’t really afford a ticket to Australia right now, so I’m going to have to start learning from my mistakes instead. Part of that is admitting they happened.

   Apparently when you’re an adult you see things differently than when you did as a child. In a lot of ways this is really awesome, because I can look back at some of my angst-y teenage mistakes and say “Nah, that’s not a big deal anymore.”
   In the same way, I can look at the “Lion King” and see new and touching aspects that I could never comprehend as a kid.

   You just can’t beat that opening though. That never changes.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Growing up at the Movies: The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn

   I love unicorns! This may surprise those who know me. My sister loves all things equine, so naturally it’s expected that she should be the one to recommend this movie. Indeed, she does, and probably knows it much better than I. And for good reason- you see, I love this movie, but I couldn’t watch it for almost ten years.

   In the good old days before my little sis even existed, my family didn’t own a television. Every now and then I was allowed to rent one VHS from Blockbuster which we would watch on a small set at our church. More often than not, I would choose The Last Unicorn, and wow, was it awesome! For a while, all I understood about it was that it had adventure, unicorns, and that the Red Bull was the main villain.

   Then when I was about fourteen, I re-watched it with my horse obsessed sister. 

   I’m going to be very blunt here. Being a teenager was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

    Maybe someone out there thought that growing up was fun- but I didn’t. I swore I wouldn’t, but I couldn’t stop the clock from ticking, and try as hard as I might, I couldn’t stop my body from growing and changing.

   During this vulnerable and confusing time, I was exposed to a new aspect of my favorite unicorn movie.

   Halfway through the movie, the unicorn is turned into a human. What? I didn’t remember that part!

   The change upsets her. She cries because she is an immortal being placed in a mortal body. She can feel the body dying around her- and she’s afraid.

   That struck a little too close to home for me. Like her, I felt trapped in a form that I didn’t feel was me anymore. 

    Suddenly I started identifying with this character- and not in a “Hey, I have brown hair like Belle” kind of way. 

   For whatever reason, part of “not growing-up” in my mind meant that anything romantic was stupid and should be shunned.

   Well, guess what. The unicorn- in human form- falls in love with a human prince. The worst part is that this guy isn’t even that interesting. I hate him only slightly less than Marius (and anyone who’s read my reviews on Les Mis knows this is about as much as I can despise a character). 

   So here I am, barely a teen, already disillusioned with the whole thing, and now my magical fantasy escape is challenging me with ideas and concepts that make me feel uncomfortable.

   I couldn’t watch The Last Unicorn again until I was twenty-three.

   On the other hand, my sister- being about eight- got really excited, because hey, unicorns!

   She would watch it over and over- like I used to- and every time she forgot to put the VHS away, I would stare at the box disdainfully. I hated that the unicorn had to become a human, I hated that she fell in love with a stupid human, and worst of all I felt betrayed by the story I used to love so much.

   Well, time wears away at things, and having gone through some difficult growing-up, I finally decided to watch The Last Unicorn again.

  It was just as I’d remembered, but even though the story hadn’t changed- I had, and I saw it with new eyes.

   In a sense, the Last Unicorn is a story about growing up. If you really think about it, each of us is an odd blend of eternal soul and frail flesh. That’s what being human is all about, and sometimes it’s awful. Growing up is about having to do hard things and face old fears. The characters in the Last Unicorn have some very interesting discussions about fairy tales and happy endings. Schmendrick, the magician muses that “There are no happy endings, because nothing ever ends.”

   That’s some heavy stuff for a kid’s movie! Molly Grue is an older woman, and when she first meets the unicorn, she is angry because the unicorn didn’t come to her when she was young and beautiful.

    I’m only twenty-five, but I understand that anger. Rarely do things happen according to my time table. Sometimes I rant and rage because life is nothing like I expected it to be. I was supposed to be a world famous director by now. Where is my oscar? And forget Molly Grue... I still need to meet a unicorn! Where is my unicorn?

  This next piece is really hard to admit, but it has to be said....I am no longer “anti-romance”. There. I said it. I still don’t like Prince Lear, but at the end of the movie, during the final battle, I realized something important.

   The unicorn can’t defeat the Red Bull by herself. Even the goal of saving her fellow unicorns isn’t enough to give her the strength to take him down. It’s only when the Red Bull turns on the prince is she able to fight back and win.

    It’s interesting to think about. Had she not been turned into a human- which wasn’t part of the plan- she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish her goal. That sheds some new light on the times I took the wandering path that “wasn’t part of the plan”. Sometimes those side-roads have seemed rather painful and pointless.

   Maybe even the pointless pain will prove worth while in the long run. It’s something to hope for. 

   Some people might smile that I get so much deep stuff from an adventure about a magical horned beast, but I think part of the power comes from its simplicity.

   Unicorns have always represented purity, and magic. I always feared growing up because I was afraid that I would somehow lose my innocence and my ability to see wonder in the world around me. The hard truth is that in some ways I am definitely not the cute little girl who first fell in love with The Last Unicorn. I know things about this world that I wish I didn’t know. Sometimes The Last Unicorn can seem like a harsh reminder that things aren’t always perfect and beautiful.

   In the end, the unicorn isn’t immortal anymore. She knows she will grow old and die because of what happened to her. There is also the heartache that she will never be able to be with the one she loves. It’s kind of sad- but it’s magical too. With her sacrifice, she freed the other unicorns and brought magic back to the world.

   I’m not a magician, and I can’t fix a lot of the bad things in the world around me. However, growing-up didn’t destroy my sense of wonder. I appreciate beauty even more now, because I know what the darkness looks like. 

   As I watched The Last Unicorn for the first time in years, I noticed just how pretty it is. The animation is striking, and the music is beautiful. It is truly magical. Best of all, I am so happy to finally be able to watch it and not feel upset. It’s like being reunited with an old friend, and that is one of the most magical things I can think of. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Growing up at the Movies: An Introduction

Kid movies that made me the Adult I am today

   C.S. Lewis was a great champion of fairy tales and children’s stories. He was often quoted saying things like, “sometimes fairy stories say best what needs to be said” and “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again”.

   I never really stopped being into fantasy, fairytales and far off lands. It’s quite interesting to me as I revisit some of my favorite “kid” movies, that they are still as magical and awe inspiring as they were when I first saw them. There’s a saying that goes something like, “good art should be enjoyed at every stage of life”.

   For the first time in my life, I’m actually old enough to have more than one stage to look back on! 

   Now as I watch, I start wondering why these movies mean so much to me. What was it that caught my attention as a little girl, and why do I still want to watch them over and over?

   I started compiling this list as a bunch of fun favorites, but as I started writing, I realized that many of these films helped shape my perception of the world- or gave me a new perception to ponder.

  That’s cool! That’s good Art!

   Some of these movies brought out some very deep thoughts that I never imagined I’d cover in a series comprised of animated features. I fell in love with them as a kid- latched on to them as a teen, and now I’m viewing them as a young adult. In each stage   I keep seeing new things, old things, and am finding out a lot about myself.

   Kid movies... who knew, right?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I like “The Hunger Games”. I’m not a rabid fan or anything, but I like it. I saw the first movie when it came out in theaters, and now I’ve just watched the second movie and enjoyed it very much. So, I will share a few thoughts, hopefully without incurring the wrath of anyone who’s read all the books.

I will begin by saying: I have not read Catching Fire! 

I don’t know what the filmmakers kept from the original text, changed or threw out. But as I see as an entertaining film with a premise that keeps my mind whirring long after I’ve left the theater. 

Dystopian societies fascinate me these days, so the world building of the “Hunger Games” can send me into a geeky frenzy. 

I should point out now, that I don’t like this movie for the usual reasons. I don’t particularly find any of the main characters very compelling. Nor do I think the story arch is especially interesting or unique. What draws me to this franchise is... the idea of a world in which society pivots around a gigantic televised gladiator game. Teens aged twelve to eighteen are sent to an isolated arena and set loose. Last one alive wins.

It’s almost like ancient Rome, but on tv... and hey, isn’t that kind of like a super dark version of “Survivor”?

As a young adult, I’m becoming more aware of my society which can also be a rude awakening to some of the nastier sides of life.

When I was a kid -being a major history buff- I would read books about ancient Rome. While it’s exciting to read about the gladiators, I am very glad I do not live during those times.

That was before I was introduced to reality television....

As far as I know, it is still illegal to have reality show combatants actually murder each other. However, it is perfectly acceptable to show them yell, curse, and sarcastically beat each other down with words.

I once read a book called “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV” by Jennifer L. Pozner. If you’re curious about the abundance of reality shows and why they seem to be so popular, you should check it out.

After reading this book, I began to think about what happens offscreen versus onscreen in reality shows. 

The fact is, there is very little “reality” in reality TV. These shows have scripts. Participants aren’t picked at random, but are chosen based on their ability to create drama onscreen -which indicates some may have some severe personality disorders. Before the show airs, everything is carefully edited to create a story arch for each episode. It blurs the line between what is real and what isn’t.

So with that in mind, “Hunger Games” can be seen as a commentary on our own weird pitfalls within society and media. 

The first movie introduced us to dual Hunger Game winners, Katniss and Peeta. In the second, we see how their fame plays out. They continue to dominate the spotlight, as rich victors and sweethearts.

Behind the camera it’s quite a different story. They’re both suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and Katniss doesn’t care for Peeta romantically. She only pretended to in order to gain popularity with the public- which also gave her and Peeta extra equipment- necessary to their survival during the first games.

Now they’re trapped in a lie, and it’s wearing thin.

There’s not a lot of screen time devoted to the inner workings of this particular society, but from what I can gather, the whole thing is set up around the “Hunger Games”. The Capitol governs over several “Districts” which are only distinguished by numbers. Apparently as the numbers get bigger, the living situations get poorer. Katniss comes from the last one, District 12.

To keep the others in line, Capitol City demands contestants each year for the brutal Hunger Games. Each district has to give up two children, and the poorer the district- the less likely they’ll ever see those kids again.

In the previous film, resourceful Katniss defied the rules and forced the Capitol’s hand to allow two Hunger Game contestants to win instead of one.

So in “Catching Fire”, Katniss seems to be a threat to Capitol City’s top dog status.

Which... seems like a weak plot thread- at least in my opinion. However, that doesn’t ruin the story for me.

There is a lot going on in the Hunger Games, and it would be difficult for me to touch on each subject. 

The relationship between Katniss and Peeta seems to be one of the more popular themes. You’re never quite sure exactly how they feel about each other, because what they do and say in public differs greatly from what is said in private.

However, I wish that the “maybe, maybe not” romance could take a back seat to the politics and culture of Panem.  For this review, I looked up stuff online about the Hunger Games and found a slew of interesting information that doesn’t really come out in the movies.

For instance, I found a map of Panem, which is blocked out in a suspiciously North American shape.

So... that means that The Huger Games is speculative fiction. It takes place in our world, and a possible future America!

This concept intrigues me. Apparently, The Capitol is placed in the general vicinity of my home state, Colorado, while Katniss’s District 12 seems to be located on the east coast in the Appalachian mountains.

I want to know more about this Panem place. What are the other districts like? How did everything end up like this? We mostly view the Hunger Games from the viewpoint of the combatants, but I wish we could also see what’s going on outside the arena.

The Capitol is presented as a sort of “Evil Empire” - except instead of white clad stormtroopers- the evil lawmakers sally forth in metallic, garish clothes and lots of eyeliner. 

Maybe I just watch too many historical dramas, but I’d like to spend more time among these foppish politicians.

What do the Capitol elite think of the barbaric practice that is The Hunger Games? Are there any anti-Games activists among the rich and bizarrely dressed?

Also, the only Hunger Game contestants we really get to know are Katniss and Peeta. What about the others? In “Catching Fire”, all the Game players are former winners, and we barely get to know any of them! The audience knows that most of them have to die, but still, I felt slightly jipped.

I find  “The Hunger Games” a fascinating conundrum. To me it is trying to be two things at once, and usually that would annoy me. However, in this case it just... fascinates me.

On one hand, this story seems to speak out as a warning against the dangers  of a society structured on violence and impartial media. However, the filmmakers are filling theater seats by promising an exciting amount of action and gore. This is a film that graphically shows children slaughtering each other.

One wonders if “The Hunger Games” is just perpetuating the dangerous trends it is attempting to condemn.

Here is another interesting thought:
In the “Hunger Games” movies, the elite Capitol residents (aka: the people who instituted the annual child slaughter fest) are shown to have outlandish fashion taste. They wear ridiculous amounts of make-up and unnaturally colored wigs. This is in stark contrast to the poor of District 12 who are clothed in plain work-worn attire. Basically you get the idea that the people in the Capitol are dripping in wealth and squander it on silly trends. 

Recently I have seen a lot of banners and online spots that advertise a new line of make-up from CoverGirl featuring looks from The Hunger Games. The first sign I saw, stated: “Find your Capitol Style”.

Now, I’m not going to condemn them for selling merchandise based off the “bad guys”. If I were going to do that, I would have to return my double-bladed Darth Maul lightsaber. Still... it’s odd to me that the film itself seems to look down on opulent consumerism, yet it’s marketing is supporting our real life cosmetic market. 

To conclude.... I can’t rightly conclude anything. “The Hunger Games”, as an idea, and as a film have given me a lot of different thought threads to explore.

I am a huge critic of reality TV, and “The Hunger Games” could be seen as a dark warning of what those shows could become. I appreciate and applaud that. 

However, this movie shows kids hacking each other to pieces, and gets a PG-13 rating, where I think R may have been more appropriate. 

But who can I judge? While I criticize the violence, I myself still go to see a large number of violent films- including the “Hunger Games”. Am I helping perpetuate the violence?

It’s something I need to think about.

Even so, I’m curious to see what the next film will bring, and in the meantime, I hope to read the books.