Tag Archives: Disney

Disney Tarot: The Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune might present the very core of Tarot. The depiction of the wheel itself varies greatly, but when it has inscriptions, it usually displays the letters T-A-R-O which can naturally be read like a constant circle of Tarot, but also as rota, which is the Latin word for “wheel”. I left those out, but I found the perfect “wheel” to symbolize the notion of fate in a Disney Princess movies:

10-Wheel-of-Fortune
Since Aurora’s fate literally hinges on a (spinning) wheel, there was no doubt what the motive of this card would be from the get go. This card is a little bit unusual, since it is more unpredictable than most. Sometimes it is read upright as good luck and in reverse as bad luck, but that is a little bit too simplistic for my taste. To me it symbolizes karma, life cycles and destiny in its upright position. And that can be as well as the good karma to be gifted with beauty as well as the bad karma of being fated to die. In reverse though, it can show a resistance to change, but also a breaking of the cycle. Because at the end of the day, we do have a degree of control over our own fortune. When the three fairies break the curse on Aurora, they not just rescue her, she is also finally free of the restricting fate which up to this point has controlled her whole life. She is still restricted due to being a princess, but she now has a future which will be shaped by her, not by decisions the three fairies make to protect her.

And those are my (admittingly very surface) thoughts about The Wheel of Fortune. Frankly, this is a card you always have to read in context, but I am very happy with my interpretation of it. The next card will be Justice, though I can’t promise that the article will be up next week. The busy time of the year starts, and I haven’t even decided yet if I will manage to do a fairy tale month this time around. But I promise, I’ll try.

 

Advertisements

Disney Tarot: The Hermit

This is one of the cards where I went a little bit more creative. It might be a little bit of a leap to get from an old man with a lantern to a young woman with a book, but I still felt that this picture was perfect to capture the spirit of The Hermit:

09-The-Hermit

This is one of those cards which is often renamed: The Monk, Time or The Sage are all possible alternative names. I considered going for The Reader, but then I felt that keeping the title would be more specific.

Usually The Hermit holds a lantern which guides his path, but only lights the next steps and not the whole journey. He needs to take steps forward in order to see where to go next because knowledge won’t be revealed to him all at once. Reading a book is similar, you have to take it page by page and even when you have finished it, there is still the next book to add to your knowledge.

The Hermit stands for soul-searching, introspection and inner guidance, but also for being alone. Belle trusts her own moral compass and the knowledge she gains through reading, but she is also utterly disconnected from the village due to walking her own path. Consequently she is also experiencing the reverse meaning of the card: Isolation, loneliness and withdrawal from the world.

So, hopefully that helped to explain why I made this leap. My pick for the next card will be a little bit more obvious, though. See you next week.

 

 


Disney Tarot: The Strength

Historically The Strength was the card number XI in the deck, but I went with the now popularized Raider Waite Tarot numbering and put it on number VIII. And I have to admit: This might have been the easiest card of all of them, at least in terms of concept. Just looking at the usual arrangement of this card, I was immediately reminded of this scene:

08-The-Strength

Everything about this moment embodies strength. Walking away peaceful from an alteration is strength. Convincing someone to do so just with a kind word is strength. The Card stands for courage, persuasion, influence and compassion, and there is no story and no character which embodies all those ideas better than Cinderella. To quote from Wikipedia:

“The Strength card was originally named Fortitude, and accompanies two of the other cardinal virtues in the Major Arcana: Temperance and Justice. The meaning of Fortitude was different from the interpretation of the card: it meant moderation in attitudes toward pain and danger, with neither being avoided at all costs, nor actively wanted.”

That is exactly what Cinderella does. She picks her battles. I put the bells in the background of the card as a reminder of the pressure she is under in this scene. She knows that if Bruno actually hurts Lucifer badly, she would no longer be able to protect him. So she let’s Lucifer “win” in this particular situation, but she also rescues Gus from him just a few scenes later. Cinderella’s interaction with her family is similar. Most of the time she is following orders but if an opportunity presents itself to her – be it an excuse to interrupt “music” lessons or to go on a ball – she will take it. That is in a lot of ways true strength, the ability to endure while keeping an eye out for opportunities.

The low point of Cinderella, when her dress gets destroyed, is a cumulation of everything the card stands for in reverse: Self-doubt, lack of energy and raw emotion.

The Strength is usually my favourite card in every Tarot deck, because there is something dignified and powerful about it. Next week we will discuss the maybe most introspective card of them all: The Hermit.

 

 


Disney Tarot: The Traveller

Sorry for the delay. I had to deal with some very stressful RL issues which simply didn’t put me in the right mind-set to delve into Tarot of all things. But hopefully the situation has evened out enough to that I’ll now be able to go back on schedule.

Anyway, the card I’ll discuss today is The Chariot which I renamed The Traveller. Mostly because there is no picture of John Smith riding a chariot and I feel that the ship is a better fit for him anyway. So the card ended up looking like this:

07-The-Traveller

A few elements of the card are missing. There are no sphinxes, but then, a ship doesn’t need to be pulled by anything. Though I did add the shadow of an eagle on John Smith’s armour (btw, what is the deal with it, it is as if the animators couldn’t decide if it was an armour or a shirt). The cards also has usually a canopy of stars above the charioteer’s head, indicating celestial influences, but I felt that there is enough sky in my take on it to replace it, even if is is stormy sky.

What was really important for me was to find a picture of John Smith which both indicates his status as a Traveller, someone who is constantly on the move, but also expresses control, willpower, success and determination. Him as captain at he helm of his own ship was perfect for what I had in mind.

In reverse the card usually stands for opposition and lack of direction – which actually works better with a ship than a chariot, because a ship can literally be “adrift” while a chariot can’t. But I would add another reverse meaning to this version of this card: harmful overconfidence. Not harmful to yourself, but to others, people whose life you impact without truly thinking about what you are doing.

And that is all for today. I should be back on schedule now. So, until next week.

.

 


The top ten worst Disney Songs

I am usually not prone to negativity. I tend to prefer writing positive articles in order to praise movies, even though tearing something down usually gets you more clicks. That doesn’t mean that I don’t indulge once a while in a little bit of venting, too, but as a general rule, I consider it more helpful to point out why something works than why something doesn’t work, even though it is way harder to articulate the former.

But when I started to think about doing something along the line of a best Disney songs list, I soon started to realize that this would be an impossible task. Disney has created so many outstanding songs, even doing a ten best soundtrack list would be difficult, never mind doing one praising the best songs. Even if you keep it to the animated canon, there should be something between 300 and 400 songs.

In the end I decided to do something which might be even more challenging: Finding the ten worst Disney Songs. Usually you can trust that any song which turns up in a Disney movie is at the very least decent. So I had to dig really deep to even find ten I felt I could put on a “worst” list without feeling too bad about it. What made my search especially difficult, though, was that I completely limited myself to Disney Animation Studios movies. For two reasons: Had I included the cheapquels, this would have been too easy. Bad music in a direct-to-video production is kind of a given, even when Disney is producing it. And while I could have included Pixar, their movies use music in a very different way than the standard Disney movie does.

For the same reason I made my live even more difficult by excluding the package movies, too, even though there was a lot of dated and boring music I could have mined out of them. I can hardly complain a song not adding anything to the story if there isn’t really a story to be told after all. I also excluded end-credit songs and songs not created by Disney for this specific movie (which only applies to Chicken Little and Lilo and Stitch anyway).


Which brings me to the criteria under which I will judge the songs:

1. How much do I like the song?

This should be a given. Any song which has a catchy tune and a great text had a good chance to not make the list, unless it failed the other two categories.

2. How well does it fit the scene and the movie?

This is the big one. There are a number of songs which failed the first category, but didn’t end up on the list because they did exactly what they were supposed to. So I won’t ding the “Canine Crunchies” song for being a relentless annoying jingle, because that is exactly what it is supposed to be. And I won’t complain about “Scales and Arpeggios” for having the most simplistic melody possible, because the song is supposed to present something a child might learn during the first piano lessons. On the flip-side, there are also a few songs which more or less passed the first category, but failed to elevate the movie in question. And yes, one or two of them made the list.

3. How much does its quality impact the movie in general?

Basically the more the song ruined the mood of the movie and the more annoying it was, the higher it ended up on the list. So, to explain my elimination process, here a few songs which I seriously considered, but which didn’t make the list in the end.


One of the first things I did when I decided to make this list was taking a close look at Home on the Range again. Because I just couldn’t remember any songs from the movie except the villain song. But after listening to all of them, I just couldn’t bring myself to hate any of them. They are a little bit forgettable, but none of them are outright bad, and they fit the movie pretty well overall. I ended up really liking “Will the Sun ever Shine again”, the ballade had so much feeling behind it. To be frank, I just wasn’t sure if it is really the fault of the songs that I couldn’t remember most of them, or if it was simply a combination of the movie itself being such a disappointment and me not being into this style of music. In the end the fact that none of the songs impacted the quality of the movie itself in any way lead me to leaving them all off the list. At least this soundtrack fits the movie, and they add to the story.

The same can’t be said for the Soundtrack of The Princess and the Frog. This movie has a serious issue with having songs which are just re-establishing what the audience already knows instead of moving the story forward. Especially “When we’re human” is guilty of this. And there is also a lot to be said about the notion of two frogs dancing under the light of a butt, while the owner of said butt is singing about his love towards the star. But in the end, the quality of the songs themselves just kept them off the list. “Ma Belle Evangeline” is such a nice tune,  and while I do think that the songs of the movies overall are a little bit less catchy than the truly great Disney soundtracks, the style is a perfect fit for New Orleans.

Brother Bear was taken into close consideration because in this case, the songs don’t fit the setting at all, and the way they are used are sometimes downright distracting. But this was another case in which the quality of the songs just kept it off the list. To be completely clear here, I have no issue whatsoever with Phil Collin’s music. I like the songs he did for Brother Bear, and just don’t think that they were a good choice for this particular movie and I really, really enjoy his work for Tarzan. The only song from Tarzan which I even considered for this list was “Trashing the Camp”, but I felt while the execution is lacking, the conception was strong enough to warrant some leeway.

And finally there was “Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dun”. I tend to be a little bit more forgiving towards Snow White and the Seven Dwarves regarding its various filler songs, mostly because the whole movie was exploring new ground. But a four minute song about washing for dinner is a little bit much. When I watched the scene again, though, I realized that the song itself isn’t really four minutes long, for most its running time it is pure score while the dwarves perform physical humour. It kind of felt wrong to ding the song for it, because the issue here is the overlong washing scene in itself and the song makes it at least somewhat bearable.


So, if anyone is still reading this after the overlong explanation, here are my top ten worst Disney Songs to date.

10. Wine/The Drinking Song

Sleeping Beauty has one of my favourite soundtracks. I have said it before, but the score was quite an unique challenge because it was based on pre-existing music which then had to be rearranged painstakingly to fit the movie and the style. And I guess the most difficult part was to turn music which was written for a ballet into song. In some instances, the result is just beautiful. I mean, who doesn’t like “Once Upon a Dream”? But “The Drinking Song” is where the movie truly stumbles. It is barely a song at all, and the parts of it which are kind of like singing, well, it is just obvious that the melody was never meant to be part of a song.

9. The Gospel Truth

Yeah, speaking of ill-fitting soundtracks, Hercules might take the cake there. I mean, how the hell does one start with Greek mythology, and then ends up with Gospel? Those two things aren’t even remotely related to each other. I guess you can do an overly complicated explanation that Gospel can by considered the modern take of a hymn, except that they are a modern take on Christian music, and we are talking here about Greek mythology. Which, I guess, one could argue is a religion too, but, well, would you want to see a story about Jesus being represented by Native American chants? Or Hindu prayers? Yeah, exactly.

On top of this, the soundtrack doesn’t even stick to the style. If you put “The Gospel Truth” beside “I’ll go the Distance” and “Can’t tell I’m in love” without knowing anything about them, would you think that they all belong to the same movie?  And, to add insult to injury, it is basically taking the role of a villain song. Don’t tell me that you wouldn’t have loved to see Hades going all evil in verse?

In the end the only good thing I can say about “The Gospel Truth” is that I don’t necessarily dislike the song in itself and it has a purpose in the story. That wasn’t enough to keep it off this list, though.

8. In Summer

Speaking of purpose, “In Summer” has none. I actually had quite a number of songs from Frozen up for this list.  No, “Let it Go” wasn’t one of them. The song is overplayed by now, but it is overplayed for a reason. In general, though, should I ever decide to write an article about how good songs can be used to the detriment of a movie, Frozen would be the example to use. “In Summer” makes the list because it is utterly pointless. It feels as if the directors suddenly realized “oh, we have crammed all our songs in the first quarter of our movie, what should we do now?” and then threw in the most boring of all side-kick songs. It doesn’t tell us anything new about the character, it doesn’t move the story forward, the joke that Olaf wants exactly what will destroy him is not as funny as the song writers apparently thought and it really, really overstays its welcome. Which runs out after the first verse.

7. We’ll Smoke the Blighter out

Speaking of cramming in songs, Alice in Wonderland takes the cake. There are 19 songs in the movie and the only reason this kind of works is because most of them are only a few lines long. That’s true for “We’ll Smoke the Blighter out”, too, it is so short and unassuming is that I nearly gave it a pass. Until I remembered that it an upbeat tune about burning the lead character alive. Alice in Wonderland has a few songs which are way too cheerful about terrible events – I am looking at you, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” – but only this one manages to confuse me. It is like the movie itself can’t decide if it should be dramatic or play the danger of the scene in question down. The result is kind of uncomfortable to watch, even if it lasts barely a minute.

6. Perfect World

Oh, I know I will get flak for this one.  A lot of people are into the bolt choice  The Emperor’s New Groove made with its music. And yes, if they had stuck to the original concept of the movie, it might have worked. But once the movie became more and more a Buddy comedy spiked with jokes about Disney tropes, it is kind of unforgivable to have a music number which is not in one way or another a commentary about Disney’s typical musicals. It also kind of feels misplaced. Not because it is modern, but because it it doesn’t really seem to relate to, well, anything in this movie. Though I admit, I also simply don’t like the song itself. It doesn’t do anything for me and, even worse, I am unable to see what other people might enjoy about it.

5. Lack of Education

Frankly, this talk-singing barely counts as a song. But that is not the reason why it made the list. The Fox and the Hound uses this style a few times, but this is the one scene in which it bothers me, because of what the scene is about. Big Mama explains to Tod that his best friend might kill him one day – in an upbeat rhyme. Again, this is about explaining a little fox what hunting dogs do to him and his family, and they decided to use an upbeat rhyme for the scene. What, did they think that they had to soften the blow for the younger audience this way? Wouldn’t be surprised if that was the reason, in any case though, this big nothing of a song is completely ill-fitting.

4. Perfect isn’t Easy

Has there ever been a more prophetic title? So far I have talked about songs which ruin the mood for one reason or another. But, for all the criticism I piled on the songs so far, I can’t bring myself to really dislike them. Being slightly annoyed by them, yes, feeling resentment towards them, yes, being bored by them, yes, but not true dislike. But I admit, I really, rally don’t care for the soundtrack of Oliver and Company. It just oozes the 1980s, making the whole movie incredible dated. But at least most songs have a catchy tune and actually add to the story, which rescued them from turning up on this list. “Perfect isn’t easy” though is just another case of a time filler with very little in substance. Which would be okay if the song were at least fun to watch. Considering the talent involved, I really, really tried to like it, but no, I can’t. There is something about Bette Middler’s performance which just hurts my ears.
What put this one so high on the list, though, is the content of the song. There is something really screwed up about the character of Georgette for the whole movie, and this song is just one example of it. It basically praises the virtue of confidence and spending a lot of time in improving your appearance. Which is really not a message I would want to send my child. Granted, Georgette is an antagonist for most of the movie but the song itself still plays it pretty straight – Georgette gets the attention she wants – and at no point her self-obsessed ways are portrayed as problematic. She is perfectly happy with being the object of desire for many. But I am not happy with hearing her screech about it.

3. A guy like you

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is infamous for its switching moods and ill-advised use of the Gargoyles as comic relief. But that’s not what landed this song so high on the list. It’s it relentless undercutting of the theme of the movie. I get the intention: The idea is that Quasimodo’s look is unique and therefore should be appreciated. But that is not really what the song brings across. It looks more like the Gargoyles are lying to Quasimodo to make him feel better about being “shaped like a croissant”. And isn’t the point of the movie that yes, Quasimodo is misshaped, but that this doesn’t mean that he should be closed off from society? That there is a need to look behind his, well, ugliness? Plus, the pedestrian nature of the song itself really doesn’t match the epic tunes of the “Belles of Notre Dome” or “God save the outcasts”. It sounds like it wandered in from one of the better Disney cheapquels.

2. Good Company

This song is so bad makes me think that the 1980s style music they used for the rest of Oliver and Company is actually a blessing. Remember what I said about “Scales and Arpeggios” being completely appropriate for the scene it was used for in Aristocats? Yeah, “Good Company” goes for the same vibe of the kind of music a child would play on the piano, but it is too simplistic even for this setting. The kicker is the text, though. It’s basically “You and me will be together in good company” put in verses and then repeated with slight variations three times. That’s it. No wonder they needed the help of Howard Ashman to finish the soundtrack of the movie if THAT is the kind of texts they had to deal with up to this point. There is charmingly understated and insultingly simplistic. This is clearly the latter.

1. Fixer Upper

Well, this might not be a surprised for those who know me a little bit. I have ranted about how much I hate, hate, hate “Fixer Upper” multiple times. It scores high (or low) on every single criterium. The soundtrack of Frozen in general sounds like it is from at least three different movies, but “Fixer Upper” sounds like it is not from a movie at all, but from a particularly grating school performance. If you listen to the song out of context (just the idea of having to do that lead to me nearly scrapping the article), the idea that you can shape a man to the ideal partner just by investing enough time in “fixing” him is just misguided. I know that the song is based on the personal experience of the song writers, but while being in love and saying to your friends “yeah, he is my fixer upper” is still kind of cute, telling someone else that you can improve a man by just investing enough time into him is just not a good message.  And yes, I know that what is meant in the song is most likely that ideally we improve each other while being in a relationship, but that is not what comes across.

So, the song is annoying, the text not half as clever as the song writer apparently thinks (which seems to be a pattern with Frozen songs), the message poisonous – this song is already a strong contender for this list before I even get to its placement in the movie. So, Anna is in the process of dying, Kristof has brought her to the Trolls in order to get help and in that situation they start to sing about her starting a relationship with Kristof? And if all this isn’t bad enough already, when they learn that Anna is already engaged, they basically ignore it and then try to forcible marrying those two. Just…what were the directors thinking?

Yes, Hans turns out to be the villain of the movie eventually, but the Trolls can’t know that. Even the audience isn’t supposed to know that at this point. But in any case, the Trolls just ignore any notion of consent, going so far to nearly forcible marry Anna and Kristof. In the end, a song which is already terrible in itself ticks off all boxes and actively makes the movie even worse. It makes the Trolls unlikable, breaks the tension of the moment, and even manages to undermine the themes of the movie. Remember, the whole “you shouldn’t marry a guy you just meet” thing? That is exactly what the Trolls are advocating here, robbing Anna of any agency whatsoever (not that she had much to begin with, but that is a rant for another day).


And those are my least favourite Disney songs. Sorry for not including any samples, but I kind of don’t want to advertise any of those songs further. And sorry for the little bit of ranting in the end. To be honest, for all the complaining I did, my search for the worst Disney songs made me appreciate Disney even more. One would think that after so many movies, most of which being musicals, it would be pretty easy to find a couple of duds, but nope, Disney’s musical output is just as strong as its animation. More often than not it pushes a scene and the animation in it to an even higher level. Animation and music tend to compliment and elevate each other, and I guess Walt Disney recognized this early on. Remember what the first sound Mickey uttered in Steamboat Willie is? Whistling. And this moment is still one of the most iconic ones in Disney and animation history. Now, decades later, it’s still often musical numbers which provide the most memorable scenes. May this never change.


Disney Tarot: The Lovers

Well, there was certainly no shortage of candidates to represent the card of The Lovers. But I actually settled pretty early on having Snow White and her Prince in the role. Hence the card ended up looking like this:

06-The-Lovers

Well, it is not perfect, because the original card is very intricate and I left out most of the symbols. For starters, there are three figures in it instead of just two, and there are other elements like a flaming tree, which is considered the tree of live in some readings, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

I admit, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the initial reason why my mind jumped to Snow White pretty much immediately. After all, her mistake was to take a bite of an apple, too. But there was more to it, than that. To me, the card of The Lovers is about love in its most innocent form, and who is more innocent than Snow White?

Upright the card can stand for true love, but also for an union or for a good choice. In reverse, it stands logically for bad choices, eventually made out of passion ( it can stand for infidelity) as well as attraction which is purely physical and doesn’t go past the surface. But I chose to believe that Snow White and her Prince lived happily ever after anyway.

Next in line is another card I renamed. The Traveller will take the place of The Chariot in my Tarot. So, until next week.

 


Disney Tarot: The Hierarchy

Or, to be a little bit more precise, the higher power. Yes, I renamed The Hierophant, too. To be frank, there was no card of the Major Arkana I had as much trouble with as with The Hierophant. In a way it would have been logical to put a character related to Pocahontas on it, since I picked her to symbolize the High Priestess/The Spirits, but I felt that John Smith is a terrible fit for this particular card. I considered the Shaman for a moment, since he is some kind of religious leader, too, but I didn’t think that he would represent the rigidity of the card. Finally, I ended up with this:

05-The-Power

See, I really wanted to transport the hierarchical aspect of the card.  In the Raider Waite Tarot three levels of power are displayed. The clergy, in itself a powerful body when the card was designed, is kneeling in front of the pope who in is supposed to represent the highest power of all, god, indicated by the way one of his hands points towards heaven. In the end, I recreated a similar situation from Cinderella: The Step Sisters, who have the absolute power over Cinderella bow in front of Prince Charming, who himself has to obey a higher power, his father.

When the card is upright, is is supposed to represent commitment, the continuation of tradition, conformity, the identification of a group with one principle, but also loving intentions. I think you can find all this in the situation at hand. The general acceptance of the authority of the royal family, the desire of the king to have grandchildren, and Prince Charming standing between those fractions, fulfilling his commitment, while also representing a power on his own. His father can force him to participate in the ball, he can’t force him to fall in love. He himself has a standing above the guests at the ball, who want his favour, and yet he also owes them to fulfil his role.

This plays also in the reverse reading of the card. Then it stands for restrictions, a commitment the reader doesn’t want, for outdated traditions someone needs to break out. We all know that next Prince Charming will break away from protocol in order to walk towards Cinderella. So if you get this card in reverse, it might be time for the reader to walk away from something, too.

Next week The Lovers are up. Three guesses which Disney Princess pair I picked for this particular card.

 


Disney Tarot: The Emperor

As much as The Empress is in a lot of ways a maternal authority figure, The Emperor is supposed to symbolize a patriarchal authority. Now, there are many fathers in Disney Canon, but only one case in which the relationship between father and daughter as a major plot point. Hence my take on The Emperor ended up looking like this:

04-The-Emperor

I felt that Triton was perfect to represent a strict but well-meaning ruler, whose beard hints at live experience and wisdom. I picked in this case a promo picture instead of one from the movie, because Triton’s gesture shows exactly the kind of strict but paternal authority I was going for. The swirls on top of the throne are reminiscent to the rams which adore the one in the original card.

I added the trident to replace the Ank and the orb as an ancient symbol of power and I kept the background empty, because in the original card, there are only barren mountains, and I felt an empty sea would work just as well. I think the end result expresses exactly powerful but reliable influence the card stands for. This is also Triton’s role in the movie itself, someone who will jump in for his daughter to protect from the consequences of her actions no matter what she has done.

But the reverse meaning of the card is also reflected Triton’s character arc. Depending on position and reading, the card can stand for a controlling influence becoming too restricting – like Triton does by trying to keep Ariel under the sea at all cost – but also for a lack of a stabilizing influence. It might sound strange to say that Triton is both too restrictive and too absent, but if you think about it, if he had supported Ariel, she would have never gone to Ursula in the first place.

Well, this card was actually pretty easy to put together for me. I had a clear picture of it in my mind from day one. The next one was more difficult, as you will see in one week.


Disney Tarot: The Empress

I admit, the main reason why I decided to add Brave to the Deck after all was this card. Because, who could be a better figure to represent The Empress than Queen Elinor? In her you have the connection between the power and the motherly aspect of the card. I made a few adjustments, though, partly due to the pictures I could choose from, partly because I wasn’t satisfied with having just a picture of Elinor sitting on her throne. So in the end I picked a picture which featured a throne-like stool in which Elinor sits and her crown to symbolize her high status, but which is a little bit less stiff than the pictures in which she sits in her actual throne.

 

03-The-Empress

Usually, there is a strong emphasis on nature and grown in The Empress card. Though the productive aspect is still there in the waved basked and the hand-made blanket, my take on the card focusses more on the notion of motherhood and history.

One aspect I was originally not quite happy about is that the card is supposed to be connected to water, but this one is illuminated by the shine of the fire. Water stands for feelings in the Tarot language, while fire is usually connected with the action someone takes. But then I felt that the feeling aspect is already shown in the way Elinor holds Merida. Combined with the warm shine of the fire it gives the picture a sense of protective motherhood, meaning action taken out of feelings, which makes the card a little bit more dynamic by suggesting more agency for The Empress.

Another detail I like is that Elinor and Merida are both literally covered in the history of their ancestors, symbolizing the family line and the stories which shaped their view on the world. But if you read the card in reverse this history is a burden. It shows someone being so dedicated to the expectations placed on her (or him, but since we are talking about Elinor, let’s stick with “her”) that she effectively trapped herself. It’s an indicator to think about your own desires for once and to reconsider if there might be responsibilities one can let go of.

I think after this it is easy to figure out who I picked for The Emperor. But feel free to guess.  Until next week.


Double Take: The Jungle Book 1967 vs 2016

So, like I promised, here is my second article about Disney’s two best takes on The Jungle Book. Last time I discussed the changes made compared to the source material and to each other. This time I will focus on how those two movies stack up to each other on a narrative level.

1. The Protagonist

Despite the title I choose for this section, I am actually not sure if Mowgli even if the protagonist of the animated movie. Yes, the story is about his journey, the villain is hunting him and his decisions largely drive the plot. But he also comes off like a living McGuffin for large stretches of the story, and I don’t use that word lightly. Nowadays it is thrown around at every opportunity, but it kind of fits in this case. Between no less that three characters wanting to either eat or possess Mowgli as well as two characters trying to rescue him all the time, there is a lot of passing around of Mowgli between the different players, sometimes literally. Add to this that the story is told from Bagheera’s point of view and that he is the one who accomplishes his goal in the end by bringing his charge to the village, and one has to question if the story isn’t more about him than Mowgli.

Consequently there is way more to Mowgli’s character in the remake. He has a clear desire – to be like the other wolves – he has a close relationship to a number of characters and above all, he is very self-reliant. I never quite bought into the Mowgli from the animated movie being so helpless. Yes, he is a child, but he is a child growing up in the jungle. He should have some basic self-preservation skills. The Mowgli in the remake does. He is still very vulnerable, but he also has some tools he can use and knows what to do when he ends up in danger. And he has an actual character arc. Kind of. In a way, it is still more Bagheera’s arc, because he goes from refusing Mowgli the freedom to use his humans abilities to allowing it within reason. But at the very least the movie examines  Mowgli’s struggle to fit in, and to obey the laws of the jungle. It allows him agency, and that is a welcome change.

2. The Mentors19 Baloo Mowgli

On a first glance, the two takes on Bagheera and Baloo are very similar in the sense that they differ from the book in the same way. Bagheera in the book has a whole backstory which explains his dedication to Mowgli, but is never relevant in either adaptation. And Baloo is portrayed as a wise animal and often strict teacher instead of the lazy joker Disney created.

Thus said, Baloo in the animated movie actually has something close to an arc in that he has to learn that his irresponsible actions have consequences, which eventually leads to him having to “betray” Mowgli in order to protect him, nearly dying fighting Shere Kahn and finally letting go of Mowgli. In the live action movie, the arc is still there, but it is kind of muddled because it is Baloo himself who first convinces Mowgli to not go to the village just yet, and they have an agreement that Mowgli will go there should it be necessary. What the live action take does better though is their first meeting. In the animated movie, Baloo befriends Mowgli just because they happen to bump in each other. The live action take gives Baloo a reason for his initial interest and takes the time to show how their friendship develops.

On the flip side though the live action take gives Bagheera an arc by allowing him to accept Mowgli’s human talents eventually instead of forcing him to act like a wolf in everything. In the animated movie he doesn’t change or develop at all despite his struggle to protect Mowgli being the focal point of the plot. He is right at the start of the movie and he stays being right towards the end of it. The only thing which can be considered somewhat of a change is that he has loosened up a little bit and is now appreciating Baloo a little bit more.

Both Bagheera and Baloo work the best in the remake whenever their characters are taken in a new direction and more fleshed out, but whenever it tries to recreate scenes from the animated movies, they fall flat because the they are lacking the same kind of built-up. It also does a better job to explore their relationship to Mowgli and to each other. By the end of it, the three characters feel like a true family unity.

3. The Elephants

I think the aspect which was changed the most from the original animated movie to the remake is the role of the elephants. In the animated movie, they acted as comic relief and are maybe the one time in which Disney shows some awareness about the larger context in the which the original book was written. Meaning Haiti ends up behaving like a stereotypical english officer during colonial times: Clueless but convinced of his own importance. Which is a stereotype we might want to rethink nowadays. Because I feel we kind of let the English off the hook if we we act as if what they did was just ignorance and not above all the attempt to squeeze foreign countries for their own benefit.

Hence I am kind of glad that the remake decides to go back to the roots and portray the elephants more like the nearly mythical creatures they are in the book. For one, it is more respectful towards Indian Culture in which the elephant is considered to be a royal animal, but I also love the moments of awe whenever they turn up. It gives the movie a very different vibe.

Plus, the remake actually utilizes the elephants as important part of the plot. In the animated movie they are only around for two reason: For some quick jokes and so that Shere Kahn can overhear Bagheera talking to Haiti about Mowgli. That’s it. But in the remake, they rescue the day in the end.

4. The Villains

Speaking of Shere Khan: He is sufficiently threatening in both versions. I have to say though, that his motivation in the animated movie makes more sense because it is simpler. He was away, he is back, and once he realizes that Mowgli is living in the Jungle, he will look for him and kill him because he hates humans in general. There is even an explanation why he hates humans: Because they are the one beings which are usually dangerous to him.

This seems to be initially the story with which the remake goes, too. Due to a hot summer, all animals meet at the watering hole, which leads to Shere Khan discovering Mowgli. But then they add this overly complicated story about Shere Khan killing Mowgli’s father and gotten scared in the process. I appreciate the effort to add a more personal note into their conflict, but for one, the story is unnecessarily convoluted and two, it kind of undermines the larger theme in the movie about acceptance. Because hatred against outsiders is rarely based on personal experience, it is usually the fear of the unknown which causes it.

Speaking of convoluted, the same is true for Kaa. In the animated movie, the story is simple, Kaa sees something tasty and wants it. This happens in the remake, too, but for some reason Kaa feels the need to tell Mowgli his whole backstory before eating him. That creates so many questions, starting with how Kaa even knows about it. This could have worked if they had created Kaa closer to the book (where she is actually a third mentor for Mowgli), but they somehow ended on some sort of mix between the wise snake and the dangerous predator which doesn’t work at all.

What works better is King Louis. In that the version in the remake is truly threatening. It’s a step away from the animated movie which really works because as enjoyable King Louis is as a character there, I never really got the sense that Mowgli is in actual danger with the apes. In the remake, King Louis acts more like some sort of mob boss instead of a silly king, whose own minions aren’t really afraid of him.

5. The Themes

Both movies ask basically the same question – where does Mowgli belong- , but come up with a very different answer. The animated movie falls firmly on the side that Mowgli finding his way back to other humans is unavoidable. Which, frankly, carries some really unfortunate implications from today’s perspective. Consequently the remake bakes a message about accepting each other differences while also following the law of society into the movie.

Society is also a big theme in the original stories. More often than not Mowgli learns some sort of lesson through his encounters with different animals. But this element is so watered down in the animated movie that any resemblance of a broader message is lost outside of Mowgli not being able to truly be like another animal, no matter how much he tries to fit in. Which frankly creates a very questionable Aesop by accident. And I am saying “by accident” because I don’t think that the animated movie even had the ambition to address some sort of larger theme. It just wanted to provide some fun time with a bunch of memorable characters.

The remake on the other hand clearly wants to examine Mowgli’s relationship with the other animals and his need to get acceptance. At the same time it celebrates not just Mowgli’s attempts to fit in, but also his differences, the abilities which give him an edge in certain situations. It is a concept one can easily translate to any stranger in any society and I don’t think that the Aesop is accidental at all in this case. It feels like a very deliberate commentary about recent events and anti-immigration politics.

6. The Animation

Yes, we need to talk about animation, because no matter how much the newest Jungle Book is tooted as a live action movie, in reality the only thing actually “real” in it is Mowgli himself. In the end, it basically is an animated movie, but one which goes for a hyper-realistic style. And it is an impressive achievement. If there is one point of criticism I have than that seeing the animals talking initially plunged me into uncanny valley territory, but I got used to it pretty quickly. And more than once I was very impressed about the movie managing to translate designs from the animated movie into CGI. Especially the moment in which Mowgli encounters Junior the first time made me smile, they got the expression of the little elephant spot on.

Junglebook-key-art-6000x3205

Who would have guessed that the only thing real in this picture is the boy?

 

Speaking of the animated movie: It looks great for the era in which it was made. As I pointed out before, what I call the Disney Impressionism was limited by the need of making an affordable movie, so it never was as ambitious as the Disney eras which came beforehand, nor can it compete with the Disney renaissance, which allowed the animators to reach new highs due to the use of computers. But The Jungle Book was also a pet project of Walt Disney, which ensured that the animation ended up one of the best the era has to offer. The jungle itself looks lush, and while there are still very notable lines in the animation itself, the character designs belong to Disney’s best work.

7. The Music

The music of the two movies is more or less the same, at least regarding the songs, except it isn’t. But let’s take this from the top. The soundtrack of the animated version is iconic. While the score wasn’t originally written for The Jungle Book (yes, that is true, the main theme is one of the unused pieces of the Sherman Brothers originally created for The Sword in the Stone), it creates the secretive mood around the jungle, making it both threatening and exiting. To be honest here, the songs are the main reason why this movie is so successful in the first place. All the iconic scenes in it involve the characters singing and dancing.

Ironically the use of the songs is mostly to the detriment of the remake. It works whenever a song is played mostly in the background like in the scene with Kaa, or when a character just hums a few lines, like Baloo does at one point. But whenever they break out in a musical number it is awkward and interrupts the flow of the movie. Or, to put it differently, having Baloo singing about the easiest way to get food while demonstrating his abilities to Mowgli is very dynamic and a lot of fun. Having him do it while floating in the water ruins the feel of the scene.

But I think the worst example of it is King Louie starting to sing. The song simply doesn’t fit the character as it is represented in the movie, and having this threatening figure break out in lyrics is just really, really jarring. I get that Disney wanted to appeal to the fans of the animated movie, but I think it would have been better to tone it down a little bit regarding the songs. CGI just can’t create the same kind of dynamic movies traditional animation is able to offer, and tonally it is very jarring when a movie which doesn’t start as a musical suddenly becomes one out of nowhere.

8. The Sequel

Let’s cover this fast: The sequel to the animated movie was a huge let down. I actually saw this one in theatres, back when I was unaware of what a cheapquel even was. I thought it was a genuine attempt to continue the story by the animation studio itself and was frankly stunned by what I saw, a tired rehash of the highlights of the first movie barely connected through a very uninspired plot.

But if there is a story for which a sequel makes sense, it is The Jungle Book. It shouldn’t be too difficult to carve out a solid trilogy out of stories in it. Which is why I look forward to the seeing a sequel of the remake, especially since it would no longer be beholden to the animated movie.

9. The Big Difference

Those are two movies which were made with a very different goal in mind. Rumour is that Walt Disney assembled a new team of animators and told them to not read the book after he was dissatisfied with the original storyboards for the movie. His take on the story was never meant to reflect the story, it was meant to be a Disney movie first and foremost.

The Remake had a way more challenging task. It had to create something which would satisfy fans of this animated movie, but would also please a modern audience. On top of this there was some effort made to reintroduce aspects from the book back into the story, as well as having a thematic underpinning. Meaning that in a lot of ways, the remake is the more ambitious movie.

10. The Conclusion

The animated Jungle Book is just a piece of good natured fun and has no intention to be anything more than that. It succeeds in being just that, making it one of those cases in which a movie is not a particular good adaptation, but an enjoyable watch anyway on its own terms. The songs are catchy, the character animation impressive, and while it is far from being one of my personal favourite Disney movie, it is beloved by many for a reason.

The remake struggles between being a remake and trying to tell its own take on the story. But in the end, it mostly succeeds, mostly because their version of Mowgli is a way more compelling character. This would be a must-watch movie for the technical aspects alone, but it also offers a modern take on The Jungle Book which is well worth watching.

You can’t really go wrong with either movie. They both provide a valid take on the original story in their own way. Making this the first (and so far only) Disney remake I would recommend.