Final Thoughts on The Princess Bride

We all have movies that we’ve watched either growing up or even recently that become favorites. Sometimes when we revisit these movies they don’t live up to the memories we had of them. Other times they do live up to the memories and are just as enjoyable now, if not more enjoyable. The Princess Bride is one of my personal favorite movies, and continues to live up to memories I have of it.

The Princess BrideFor those who haven’t seen it or heard anything about it, The Princess Bride is a story within a story. The story you begin with is that of a boy staying home sick from school. His Grandfather comes over to read him a book. That book is the bulk of the story, although you do sometimes cut back to the boy and his grandfather at certain parts of the story.

The main story focuses on the love between Buttercup and Westley. While love is definitely the uniting theme the story has a bit of everything. There is comedy, action, fantasy, and of course romance. Over the course of the movie the idea is that true love will conquer everything this is in the way. Which is good as there are a number of things that get in the way of Buttercup and Westley; one of them believed to be death, arranged marriage to the prince, a kidnapping, the fire swamp, and even being mostly dead.

The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies, but to be honest it’s not because it is a particularly deep movie. It is just a fun movie with memorable characters, quotable lines, and a mostly lighthearted storyline. I’m sure you can nitpick the movie’s view of “true love” and everything, but a lot of the fun of the movie is that it’s not particularly serious. It is basically a modern (however modern 1987 might be considered today) fairy tale with a happy ending.

This movie has been one I enjoyed watching growing up and in all honesty is still just as enjoyable today. I’ve watched other movies that I had good memories of growing up that just didn’t really hold up to the memory upon re-watch. I’m happy to say that The Princess Bride wasn’t one of them. It will be a movie that I’ll enjoy showing to my kids when they get a little older and hope they’ll enjoy as much as their parents do.

Final Thoughts on Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind is one of those movies I had heard a lot about. I knew that it was highly regarded by movie critics and maintained high ratings on websites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, but I had never watched it. To be honest, it probably wasn’t going to be a movie that I necessarily sought out on my own. Kristen was a fan of the book and had seen the movie before and wound up getting it last Christmas, so I somewhat reluctantly agreed to watch it.

Gone With the WindI must say that Gone With the Wind didn’t quite wind up being what I had expected in both good and bad ways. For one I didn’t expect the movie to be so long. The movie is over 3 1/2 hours long. For some reason, probably my experience with older Disney animated movies, I expected an older movie to be substantially shorter for some reason, so I was very surprised by an almost four hour running time.

Most of what I had heard about Gone With the Wind made it seem like a romance movie with an unhappy ending, but that’s only a small part. It is more of a chronicle of the south before, during, and after the Civil War through the eyes of Scarlett O’Hara. I found the setting and story to be very engaging and captivating. In some ways, the setting itself seems like a character that changes and develops just like the other characters in the story.

As I said the story follows Scarlett O’Hara who starts out the tale a spoiled rich girl, who¬† has practically all the men around her eating out of her hand. Her world changes though when the Civil War begins and steals her life of leisure and luxury away from her. While you follow her throughout her trials and tribulations, I found it hard to find Scarlett a likable character. There are times you feel bad for her and kind of understand why she is doing what she is doing, and a good number of other times where you don’t. I liked her resilience, strength and will, but disliked how that played out in rather selfish and manipulative ways. She may be an interesting character, but she was not one that I really liked.

My favorite character was Rhett Butler, particularly in the first three quarters of the movie. He was charming and witty, was able to read people rather well and saw past the facades of the southern way of life. This combination made him very wealthy, but also made him a bit of an outcast from high society. He was a rascal and had rather ambiguous morals, but seemed to take pride in that fact. His one downfall was that he seemed unable to see Scarlett for who she truly was, and I felt that he overestimated her quite often. This of course leads the famous ending scene of the movie, which was about all I knew about the movie before watching it.

I found that although the movie draws you in, you can’t help but feel mixed about the events that go on. The plantation culture that many of the main characters relied on was not something that really should have been extended. Even after the war was over, many of the male characters are part of the KKK and that puts a strange angle on what develops. These kind of issues, plus the annoyance I felt towards Scarlett, made for a strange kind of dissonance.

On the one hand I was drawn into the world presented by Gone With the Wind. As I said the world was almost a character itself was deeply engaging and well presented. On the other I struggled to completely relate with the actions and viewpoints of the characters. Issues like a high view of plantation era south, slavery, and the southern perspective of the Civil War made it hard to fully embrace the characters. The often selfish and sometimes even childish actions of Scarlett frustrated me and made it hard to even want her to have a happy ending, even though in the end I still did wish for her to have one.

Despite one’s wish for a happy ending, Gone With the Wind is a rather depressing affair. Even with the dissonance between the characters and a modern, particularly northern viewpoint, it is hard not to feel bad for the characters who seem to go from one disaster to the next. The last quarter of the movie particularly hit me, perhaps because it seemed like there was at least the potential to have a happy ending, unlike dealing with the Civil War because you knew that would bring no good for the South. Unfortunately they seem to pack a good deal of loss and sorrow into the last portion of the movie and end on a rather bleak note, with a tiny bit of hope.

The whole movie just left me asking, “What is the message of this story?” It’s hard to call it a coming-of-age story, because I don’t feel that Scarlett really grows up that much. What little she does grow up is forced by circumstances beyond her control. It is more that she survives and that survival is a central message of the story.

Yet I can’t help but feel that while survival may a major theme, the cost of survival is perhaps an even more significant theme. We see it with Scarlett who loses her way of life, her parents, and struggles to keep Tara, her family home. Her will to survive causes her to use people, focus solely on money, and act in ways that, in that day, were looked down upon for a lady. It can be seen with some of the men, like Ashley Wilkes, who seem broken by the loss of the war and unable to cope. Even Rhett who is perhaps the most well off after the war is unable to secure happiness despite his rather secure position after the war. They move on because they have to, even though they all lose important parts of their lives by the end, they still survive on.

Now it may seem that I’m being overly hard on Gone With the Wind and I’m not really trying to be. I really did enjoy the movie. In some ways the movie only made me think about some of these issues because it was good. By no means would I call it my favorite movie or a movie that I would desire to re-watch over and over again (that 3 1/2 hour running time doesn’t help), but it is a movie I would recommend to be watched at least once. It is not the most uplifting movie, you may even be annoyed with some of the characters (maybe you’re even supposed to be a bit?), but I’d say it is a classic for a reason and definitely deserves a chance.

Final Thoughts on Mulan

So let’s talk about Mulan. I know it’s another Disney movie and that pretty much all of my movies have been family movies so far. This will change for at least the next couple of weeks, but for this week we get another Disney movie. We have kids and we happen to like kid’s movies too that’s just the way it goes.

There is a lot of talk lately about how movies that have a woman lead have been subverting the typical Disney formula. It’s at least something I heard in the buzz surrounding Frozen, but I’ve also heard it with Tangled and Brave only I have yet to see those movies. In some ways though one of the first to do this was Mulan when it was released in 1998.

MulanMulan does not fit the Disney “princess” archetype. In part the whole story focuses around this fact. Mulan feels like a disgrace to her family because she is not the ideal bride. Her meeting with a matchmaker to help her gain a suitor is a disaster. She is outspoken, intelligent, and sometimes a bit clumsy which is not valued in her society. This causes her to feel like a disgrace to the family and a disappointment to her mother and father.

So when the Huns invade and a conscription order goes out, Mulan pretends to be a man to replace her father who is badly injured. It is through her time with the army that her intelligence and bravery help her the most, when she isn’t being misguided by Mushu, a former family guardian “sent” to help her. So it is mostly these traits that we see in the movie. Even when the inevitable outing of her true identity comes to light she is still able to help save the day.

Now you might say that other women leads before Mulan were smart, outspoken or brave. I would agree, but there is just something a bit different about Mulan. Perhaps it is that while there is a romantic interest that does develop, that is not central to the plot. The plot is more focused on Mulan’s attempt to be a man and preparing to protect China against the Huns. This really isn’t the case in other stories from the time like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas. The romantic relationship is either central to the plot or given equal share with the other events that are transpiring.

Mulan might even be better in terms of having a strong heroine, because it never felt that Mulan had to poke fun at earlier titles in order to do so. While yes it is still a Disney movie and has its silly moments, I’d still place Mulan as one of the strongest female leads of the Disney movies I’ve watched. I mean she does the most when it comes to stopping the Huns of anyone and even takes out the main villain herself.

Some like to make the argument that Mulan has to get over being a woman and be like a man in order to be strong, but I don’t really see that. Mulan was hiding her gender for certain, but she is able to retain her feminine side and kick butt both before and after her true identity was discovered. It is ultimately Mulan who is strong and not simply a result of her pretending to not be a woman.

Most of what I’ve said is positive. That’s not to say there weren’t aspects of Mulan that I felt weren’t quite as good. Overall the music was somewhat lacking, which is okay, but tends to be something that really defines a Disney animated feature to me. Overall, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is easily the strongest and most memorable song in the movie. It is also an incredibly ironic song considering the main plot. However, other than that the songs aren’t terribly memorable. “Reflection” would probably be my next favorite, but “Honor to Us All” and “Girl Worth Fighting For” while fitting just aren’t on par with some of Disney’s other movies.

I also have mixed feelings on Mushu. I get that he’s the comic relief, but I found him annoying at times. I think that is because so much of his motivation is so self-centered that it grates after awhile. He does have his funny moments, and comes through in the end, but I didn’t find him as likable as some of the other comic reliefs in Disney movies. I did enjoy the cricket though, he was pretty funny.

Overall though I thought Mulan was an enjoyable movie. It is a movie that produces a strong female lead and an enjoyable, but fairly simple, plot. It does lack on the music front and the comic relief can be a bit annoying, but I found Mulan worthy to sit among some of the best Disney movies before and after it.

 

Final Thoughts on Frozen

It feels kind of weird when watching a movie that is over a year old makes you feel a bit more relevant. Frozen released in 2013 and seemed to explode everywhere. It has become a rather powerful force spawning a popular soundtrack, toys, books, an attraction at Walt Disney World, and is even being adapted for Broadway. Needless to say even if you hadn’t watched Frozen it was hard to escape hearing and knowing at least a little about it. All this acclaim made us want to check out what all the fuss was about.

FROZN_014M_G_ENG-GB_70x100.inddThe story of Frozen centers around two sisters Elsa and Anna. Elsa was born with the power to create snow and ice and the power is enjoyed immensely by both Elsa and her younger sister. An accident while playing causes Anna’s memories of her sister’s power to be removed by the Troll King, the castle to be closed up, and Elsa isolated even from her sister until she is able to control her powers.

This method doesn’t really work and Elsa is afraid of her powers and her inability to control them like she wants to. This all comes to a head after Elsa’s and Anna’s parents die at sea and Elsa’s coronation means the castle will be open. During the coronation celebrations emotions come to a head when Anna tries to get engaged to Hans, a prince she has just met, and also confronts Elsa on shutting her out of her life for so long. This causes Elsa to flee and accidentally freeze their kingdom in a magical winter. Anna chases after Elsa to try to get her to come back and undo what she has done.

That’s the basic plot for those who actually need it. So let’s get to what I thought were the strong and weak points of the movie shall we?

The overall story for Frozen is very enjoyable. It takes some of the themes from earlier Disney movies like “love at first sight” or “marrying someone you just met” and flips them. While this obvious rejection of cliches seems to be a popular way of making entertainment lately, I think that Frozen does it extremely well. As Frozen’s plot moves on you’re not sure if you’re going to be watching a romantic movie or a movie focused on the bond between sisters.

As much as people like to say that Frozen is all about the bond between sisters I found that to be only mostly true. The primary focus is about the bond between Elsa and Anna, but there is a secondary focus on romance. This plays out very differently between the two male interests of Anna. One follows the “marrying a man you just met” path and the other is more of a development over time. It’s still there and if you hadn’t heard that Frozen is about the relationship between sisters, you wouldn’t know until the end what the story’s dominant theme was going to wind up being.

Even with that acknowledgment, the strongest theme is still the love and bond between sisters, or siblings if you want to generalize it more. This appears in different ways throughout the movie. The laughing and giggling while playing as younger kids, the desire of Anna to reconnect with Elsa while growing up and going through the death of their parents found in the song “Do You Want to Build a Snowman”, and in Anna’s quest to find Elsa and attempt to have her return home.

In addition to this theme of relationship between sisters, there are other good themes at play here. One such theme seems to be that fear is a terrible motivator. You see Elsa at the beginning of the movie with good control over her powers. The accident that takes place regarding Anna early in the movie, is more to do with Anna not listening and getting lost in play than Elsa’s lack of control. However, because this incident leads Elsa and her parents to be afraid of further incidents the idea of needing to control the powers is front and center. Not that there weren’t legitimate concerns but it seemed that the fear was greater than needed and impeded Elsa’s ability to control her powers.You see this during the song “Let It Go” because now that she is not afraid she is able to use her powers to do some rather amazing things.

The story and themes are both good and I also found the music rather enjoyable too. Some songs are more serious and focused on the plot than others, but I still enjoyed them all. The only ones that were a bit out of place were Olaf’s song “In Summer” and the song the trolls sang, “Fixer Upper”. Still these were fun little songs that were still enjoyable even if they didn’t fit maybe as good as they could have.

How about some weak points? Honestly, I don’t really have too many. The ones I do are just nitpicky ideas like wondering how nobody but the King and Queen (and Anna before the accident) knew Elsa had her powers. Or wondering how Elsa got rid of the snow when they played together as kids. These aren’t really big issues and they were more things I thought about after the movie rather than during it.

Overall I’d say that the hype around Frozen is largely deserved. It’s a fun movie that is funny, charming, and even contains a pretty significant twist that I didn’t really see coming at all (I’m not one of those people who always spots twist though for the record). Emphasizing the love and relationship of sisters is a nice change of pace, and while it does pick on the emphasis of romance and particularly marrying someone you just met a la Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White it still contains a bit of romance as well. I’m just hoping they don’t try to cash in too much on the movie by making sub-par sequels like they’ve done with some of the other Disney movies.