Tag Archives: “The Little Mermaid”

‘The Lion King’ isn’t as regal the second time around

Film review

Is the effeminate, swarthy-looking, villainous Scar gay? Muslim? Or even both?

It was in late 1989 that Disney redeemed itself in the animated film department with “The Little Mermaid.” After a string of animated films in the 1970s and 1980s that were lackluster at best — that are not considered to be Disney classics — with “Mermaid” Disney finally got its mojo back, and followed it up with such other instant classics as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.”

I probably would have gone to see any of these re-released four films (with the possible exception of “Beast,” which never was a great favorite of mine), so when Disney brought back “Lion King,” I was there. In 3-D, no less.

Alas, so much has happened since a much more innocent-feeling 1994, when “Lion King” was released, and today. Things that didn’t bother me much — if I noticed them at all — in 1994 practically scream out at me today.

The symbolism that is contained in “The Lion King” — wow.

The good king must be a fairer-haired lion, apparently. Protagonists King Mufasa and Prince/King-to-Be Simba, with their fair-haired manes, apparently are physically and morally stronger than others — because of their fair-haired manes, pretty much.

The villain, Mufasa’s brother Scar, of course, has a black mane and is swarthy-looking, as opposed to the Aryan-looking good guys.

Of course this difference is more pronounced in the post-9/11 world than it was in 1994. Today, “The Lion King,” in my book, unwittingly reinforces the oppressive, white supremacist myth that fairer-haired individuals are morally and physically superior to the darker-haired.

The villainous character of Scar is different from the fair-haired monarchs, and thus he is, pretty much by definition, evil. Hell, Disney could have made Scar a Muslim — surely Mufasa and Simba are great Christians (in one scene, the Earth-departed Mufasa appears to Simba in the night sky in a very grand, dramatic, even celestial, manner, as though he were God Himself [which, I suppose, would make Simba Jesus Christ…]) — but instead, Disney more or less made Scar into an Adolf Hitler character, replete with troops of hyenas that, in one quite memorable scene, march in lockstep just like Nazis.

Add to all of this Scar’s rather effeminate manner. The British accent of the voice of Scar, Jeremy Irons, as opposed to the deep and robust American-English accent of Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, for fuck’s sake), adds to the characterization of Scar as being different and effeminate.

In at least a few scenes Scar bemoans the fact that although he possesses (at least in his own estimation) an intellect that is superior to Mufasa’s, Mufasa is king primarily because of Mufasa’s physical superiority. And Scar probably is correct — he probably is Mufasa’s intellectual superior, and Mufasa probably is king primarily because of his physical strength (and his lighter-colored mane, of course).

In “The Lion King” Scar is presented as just being bad to the bone — which is how the “Christo”fascist hypocrites of today depict many if not most Arabs and Muslims (and other non-Aryans) — but was Scar born evil or did Scar become evil over time because of the unjust way that he was treated by his supposed moral superiors? 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Scar is “just” a Disney character, I know, but the kiddies in the audience sure the fuck pick up on this kind of shit: Light hair good. Dark hair bad. Masculine good. Effeminate bad. Different bad. And, perhaps worst of all: being smart is bad. (Which pretty much is the presidential campaign platform of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and which no doubt has gained him millions of mouth-breathing fans.)

So “The Lion King,” in my book, (most likely) unwittingly reinforces Aryanism (in which I include white supremacy and “Christo”fascism, since those who subscribe to this sick belief system themselves conflate being white and being “Christian”), anti-intellectualism, heterosexism, gender conformity and homophobia, as well as posits that rulership by birth — monarchy — is an acceptable form of governance (King Mufasa and King Simba are, after all, the film’s heroes).

And don’t let me forget the feminists: The lionesses in “The Lion King” play primarily supportive roles to the male lions. I mean, the world of “The Lion King” is a patriarchal monarchy, of course.

These just aren’t cultural symbols and therefore cultural messages that I’d want any child for whom I had responsibility to consume as “entertainment.” Just sayin’.

Not to say that “The Lion King” is a total failure. Of course it isn’t. The characters of Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa still give us comic relief, the character of Simba (voiced first by Jonathan Taylor Thomas and then by Matthew Broderick) is likeable enough (although he is, let’s face it, privileged by birth, is favored by his DNA), and the hyenas (two of them voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin*) are still good, and I think that I’d watch “The Lion King” for the character of the monkey mystic Rafiki (voiced by Robert Guillame) alone. (Rafiki adds some depth to a movie that needs it — otherwise, “The Lion King” would remain pretty much only a tale of genetic privilege, a tale in which the good-by-definition fair-haired defeat the evil-by-definition dark-haired.)

Unfortunately, “The Lion King’s” animation is not as great as I had remembered it to be. (Odd how we can remember things to have been better than they apparently actually were, isn’t it?) The newly added 3-D adds a little bit of spice to the old film, but there are long stretches of the film that don’t appear to be in 3-D, or the 3-D effects in these segments are so lackluster that you don’t really notice them at all.

I suppose that the kiddies would like “The Lion King’s” visuals, vocals and songs, but again, if I were a parent or guardian I’d be concerned about what toxic cultural messages my littlun almost assuredly were picking up by that curious form of cultural osmosis that children possess.

My grade: B-

*Lest you think that no one else on the planet picks up on symbolism, I seem to recall that at the time of “The Lion King’s” original release, some blacks and Latinos weren’t pleased that a black woman and a Latino man provided the voices of two of the evil hyenas.

However, one could, I suppose, counter-argue that James Earl Jones is black, and the character of Mufasa certainly strikes me as a Great White Hero.

Also, I don’t remember any widespread complaints from the gay community that the character of Scar, the intellectual, effete, effeminate “bachelor,” apparently is gay — and that he is Adolf-Hitler-level evil.

Too bad. There should have been. 

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‘Princess’ belongs among Disney royalty

Film review

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In stills from Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog,” a young Tiana, our heroine, is shown with her parents, and, with a touch of “Fantasia,” is shown dancing with Prince Naveen after both of them were turned into frogs by dark voodoo. Surprisingly, “The Princess and the Frog,” in addition to its visual and auditory elements that will delight the kiddies (as well as the adults), seems to make progressive sociopolitical statements almost as boldly as Disney’s “WALL-E” makes.

I’m such a fag. I love Disney movies.

Not the live-action Disney movies. Most of them suck. The animated Disney movies. Most of them rock.

Disney lost its mojo with its animated films for a while from the 1960s to the 1980s and then regained it with 1989’s “The Little Mermaid.” Since then we’ve seen a string of modern classics from Disney, including “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” all worthy to be categorized with Disney’s classic animated films from the 1930s to the 1950s. (I’m not including in this list some of the other excellent animated films by Disney, such as “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E” and even the current “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” since they are computer animated, and computer technology wasn’t available to the Disney artisans way back in the day.) 

“The Princess and the Frog” is worthy of Disney’s finest, such as “Pinocchio,” “Cinderella,” “Peter Pan” and “The Jungle Book,” and while “Princess and the Frog” has many elements of past animated Disney films — such as the charming prince, the damsel who dreams of a better life, the spoiled brat who competes with our heroine for the hand of the prince, the evil sorcerer (although it’s usually an evil sorceress), and even the wishing upon a star – it modernizes the genre as well.

“The Princess and the Frog” gives us Disney’s first black heroine at the time that we have the nation’s first black president. “Princess and the Frog” also shows us New Orleans, and we can’t help but think of Hurricane Katrina when we are shown New Orleans these days, and I have to wonder whether “Princess” was conceptualized before or after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

Moreover, “The Princess and the Frog” doesn’t flinch in showing us the raced-based class differences in New Orleans.

The heroine, Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), is the daughter of poor black parents. Her father (voiced by Terrence Howard) works hard but can barely keep the family afloat, while her mother (voiced by Oprah Winfrey) is a seamstress to a spoiled rich white girl whose father, Big Daddy La Bouff (voiced by John Goodman), buys her whatever she demands.

In one memorable scene, the “camera” pans from the rich area of New Orleans to the slums of New Orleans, a striking contrast that seems to be a political statement, except how can simply portraying things as they are be deemed “political”?

While “Princess and the Frog” shows these socioconomic differences based upon race, and makes it clear that Tiana’s main obstacle in achieving her dreams is the color of her skin, it at least somewhat sanitizes the racism, too. Tiana’s mother is portrayed as healthier and happier and brighter than someone in her station in life probably would be, and even the spoiled rich white brat (whose tantrums and loud-mouthed antics, even as an adult, lend the film a lot of laughs) ends up redeeming herself, which is unlikely in the real world.

Unlike most of Disney’s princes, the prince in “Princess and the Frog,” Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos), isn’t noble and admirable, but is a playboy who needs to grow up; he’s more like Peter Pan than he’s like “The Little Mermaid’s” Prince Erik. The chemistry between the responsible Tiana and the irresponsible Prince Naveen is inevitable, of course, and a bit reminiscent of the chemistry between the responsible Princess Leia and the irresponsible Han Sol0 (if I may geek out for a moment). 

Ray the Cajun firefly (get it? Ray of light?) reminds me a bit too much of Sebastian the crab of “The Little Mermaid” (Roger Ebert compares Ray to Jiminy Cricket, but I think that’s a weak comparison), but the character of Ray nonetheless works wonderfully, and his seemingly unrequited love affair with Evangeline (I won’t go into any detail about that) gives the already poignant film even more poignancy.

Louis the alligator, who, with Ray, helps Tiana and Prince Naveen in their quest to be turned from frogs back into human beings, also wants to be human so that he can be a jazz musician, and this is a bit reminiscent of wooden puppet Pinocchio’s desire to be a real little boy.

“The Princess and the Frog” also takes on the subject of good food, not to the extent that “Ratatouille” does, but to a significant extent, as Tiana’s dream is to open a restaurant — one that brings people together, she proclaims — and the one thing that she inherits from her father is his gumbo pot.

The villain in “The Princess and the Frog” who is responsible for the protagonists’ amphibianization is Dr. Facilier, also called the “Shadow Man.” He’s a wonderfully conceived villain – I love his purple eyes — even if he is a bit too reminiscent of the X-Men character of Gambit (a.k.a. Remy LeBeau), who also hails from New Orleans and who also possesses a black top hat and cane and, especially, a flying deck of cards.

And it’s nice to see a male Disney villain for a change. Most of Disney’s villains seem to be women — think of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “One Hundred and One Dalmations” and “The Little Mermaid” (and in “The Lion King” the villain was an effeminate male [come on, now, Scar is gay, and come to think of it, Captain Hook seems to be a bit light in the loafers as well…]).  

The “Shadow Man’s” voodoo opposite is the good voodoo practitioner Mama Odie, of whom we don’t get enough. (She’s a bit too reminiscent of the good voodoo priestess Minerva portrayed in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” however.)

If Disney’s portrayal of the stark socioeconomic differences between blacks and whites in New Orleans doesn’t get the wingnuts going (crying “class warfare”), then Disney’s unapologetic portrayal of voodoo and occultism – with even silouetted evil spirits conjured by the villain to pursue our protagonists – will get them going (crying “Satanism” or “witchcraft” or the like).

If the wingnuts hate it, then it must be good.

With all of the apparent progressive sociopolitical statements that we didn’t see in the earlier Disney animated films but that we surprisingly saw in “WALL-E” (with “WALL-E’s” anti-corporate, pro-planet and apparent anti-baby-boomer messages), in “The Princess and the Frog” we also get excellent, infectious music (the setting is New Orleans, after all) that made me tap my feet like Larry Craig on crack. (My favorite song is titled “Dig a Little Deeper,” which delivers a timely message.) We also get some breathtaking Fourth-of-July-like visuals, not only with the purples and greens and blues of the watery settings, but the whites and the yellows of the fireflies and even the Halloween-like purples and greens of the voodoo magic.  

While it often feels derivative, which might be unavoidable, given the number of films that precede it, “The Princess and the Frog” is undeniably entertaining and is a near-perfect film.

My grade: A

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