strange_complex: (Kida Atlantis meep!)
I watched this on Saturday evening while staying with my sister, largely on the basis that we all fancied a quiet night in with the kittens, and she happened to have it recorded on their hard drive. And it's a good thing that we had the kittens to distract us, because the film itself was dire.

It's not that I am simplistically anti-Disney. I love The Little Mermaid for its bright optimism and sing-a-long soundtrack, and love Hercules for its witty, knowing take on Classical mythology. I also saw the first Mulan film with my sister when it first came out, and we both thought it was all right - typically Disneyfied, obviously, but nicely drawn and with at least a moderately feminist message.

This, though, is a straight-to-video sequel, and it shows. It looks cheaper, the songs are dreadful, there's barely any plot, and in fact most of the film really just consists of the characters being goofy or starry-eyed. There were also parts of it that I found grossly culturally offensive - particularly the song Like Other Girls, sung by three princesses who are being sent to marry three princes they have never met in order to cement a political alliance.

The essence of this song is that princesses have to be dutiful and do things that they don't want to do, whereas 'other girls' get to be free. Freedom includes eating cakes, running around, getting dirty, not worrying about manners, not being fussed over by nurses, and (the bit that really shocked me) not wearing pinchy shoes. Yes, that's right people - not wearing pinchy shoes.

In an effort to check whether this really was as culturally insensitive as I thought it was, I tried to work out when the Mulan films are meant to be set - i.e. were they really situated in a world when ordinary Chinese girls enjoyed almost total personal liberty, and princesses merely had to wear slightly pinchy shoes? It's not as simple a question as I thought. Apparently, the story of Hua Mulan, on which the films are based, first emerged in the 6th century AD, purporting to tell a story set in the 4th century. So far, so good, as actually the practice of foot-binding did not emerge until the 10th century. Maybe 4th-century princesses really did just wear slightly pinchy shoes?

But the story was also significantly re-worked during the Ming Dynasty (spanning our late medieval to early modern periods), by which time foot-binding certainly was practised. And in any case, the story as presented by Disney is clearly basically a fairy-tale, set in a Chinese equivalent to the generically 'olden times' which also form the setting for most of our European fairy-tales. The princesses singing the song are portrayed as belonging to a highly traditionalistic society, and surely it ought to occur to any western viewer with the slightest grasp of Chinese culture that that might well include the practice of foot-binding?

So I don't think it is appropriate to present cheap and cheerful songs featuring such princesses aspiring to a 21st-century western model of personal freedom, implying that this is something they might be familiar with, or indeed that even while they don't have it, the worst of the impositions which they have to put up with is having to wear slightly uncomfortable shoes sometimes. It seems to me a total denial of the culture the film is supposed to be portraying, to the point that it becomes grossly offensive, and you may as well not bother attempting to show a different culture at all.

OK, so it's a straight-to-video Disney film, and I should have known better. I doubt any of you are in much immediate danger of accidentally falling into the trap of watching it. But this one really is particularly well avoided. I've had the displeasure so that you don't have to.

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strange_complex: (TT Baby Helios)
One of those films I didn't really 'watch', so much as be in the room while it was on. My attention was primarily focussed on writing Doctor Who reviews on my laptop - but the plot is hardly difficult to follow, so I think I can be said to have seen the film as well.

The main reason I let it play, rather than switching to some other channel, is that the Pollyanna phenomenon is a cultural trope, and I wanted to be clear what it was all about. I pretty much knew it revolved around cheesy sentimentalism, and that's true. The version I watched was a Disney film, and it's no surprise they picked it up, as it oozes with favourite Disney themes such as patriotism, sugary piety and chaste romance.

Above all, though, Pollyannaism is about the Power of Optimism. Pollyanna, a little blonde orphan, wins the hearts of a small town by always looking for the bright side in everything (the 'glad game'). Then, when she is paralysed in an accident and loses her sunny outlook, they give it right back to her by coming to show their support and appreciation for all she's done for them. Wrongs are Righted, the miserable and misanthropic become kind and loving human beings, and all is right with the world.

It's easy to be cynical, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find even a child nowadays who would swallow this film entirely. But there's a place for stuff like this, and I hope that never ceases entirely to be the case. And at least I'll now be able to 'get' all those references which used to puzzle me.

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strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
So, dusk has fallen on Christmas Eve, and here I am, up in Brum with my family. It's somehow taken me a while to 'slot in' to the Christmas spirit this year. Too distracted with book stuff and the unpleasant prospect of term starting again on January 4th, I guess. But it's falling into place now that we're all together here, the tree's been decorated and I've made my usual spray of winter greenery to go over the fireplace. Later on, we'll be going off to sing carols on Bournville Village Green, just as we did last year, so I'm sure that'll do the trick.

Last night, we attended "Christmas by Candlelight", an annual choral concert given by Ex Cathedra in St. Paul's Church, Birmingham. It was OK, but while Ex Cathedra usually tend to gravitate towards early / Baroque music, the repertoire last night was for some reason about 80% modern, and hence not entirely to my tastes. I knew we were in trouble when I scanned down the list of pieces, and noticed how many of the composers had birth-dates after their names, but not death-dates. Bully for them, but I like my composers dead, thanks. I couldn't help but sit there thinking of the concert of bawdy 17th-century Christmas music performed by the Oxford Waits which I was missing in order to be there...

And the night before, I went to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23. I enjoyed it, but wasn't as bowled over as I'd expected to be. The special effects were great, obviously, and certainly much better than the poor old BBC could manage back in 1988. I also very much liked the handling of the battle sequences, and both the home of the White Witch and the castle at Cair Paravel, while I felt that all four children were well-characterised, well-cast and well-acted. But, while Disney have made stellar leaps forward in recent years in terms of recognising that sometimes preserving the inherent Britishness in a story can actually be a good thing (compare their shabby treatment of Winnie the Pooh, which sadly is still ongoing), all the same there was a little more 'Disneyfication' going on than I'd really have liked. I just don't need wise-cracking animals. Ever. Thanks. In that respect, the old BBC series scores more highly. What a pity they just never had the budget or the slick production values of the new film.

Well, Fleur WINOLJ has just rung to say she and her mother will be meeting us on the Green at Bournville. I'm pretty excited now! Time to go off and make sure we have a decent lantern to take with us.

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