Tag Archives: “The Princess and the Frog”

In James Cameron’s magnum opus ‘Avatar,’ the Bad Guys R Us

Film review

In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, Jake ...

Above: Jake Sully (played by the rather yummy Sam Worthington) inspects his brand-new “avatar” in the James Cameron epic (that’s redundant, isn’t it?) “Avatar.” Below: Jake, in his avatar, bonds with native Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana.

In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, the ...

James Cameron’s “Avatar,” which I finally saw yesterday (I was waiting for the crowds to die down), is pissing off everyone, right and left. Cameron must have done something right.

Being such a political creature, if a film has the least bit possible sociopolitical bent to it, I’m going to notice it right off. In “Avatar,” such a bent abounds.

Most notably, in “Avatar,” we — the United States of America — are the bad guys. Well, not we, not really. “We” as in the military-industrial complex that has come to represent the United States of America around the world is the bad guy in “Avatar.”

I have read that, unsurprisingly, the wingnuts are not happy about this, especially given the film’s wild commercial success. (Fuck ’em.)

The villains of “Avatar” are an over-the-top corporate hack and an over-the-top colonel who work in tandem — not unlike how the Catholic church’s missionaries and the Spanish crown’s soldiers worked in tandem to conquer the “new world” — to conquer the lush planet of Pandora, which has an element (called “unobtainium,” ha ha ha) that the invading Earthlings want. (The Spanish monarchy wanted gold, of course, and the Catholic church wanted converts. We’re never told in “Avatar” what practical application, if any, “unobtainium” has, so my guess is that, like with gold, “unobtainium’s” main value is that it is, um, valuable…)

To conquer the tall, blue, feline-faced, tail-possessing people of Pandora — the Na’vi — the Earthlings (whom the Na’vi call the “sky people”) decide to infiltrate them with “avatars,” biologically fabricated Na’vi bodies that are inhabited by the consciousness of human beings controlling the biologically fabricated Na’vi bodies.

Now, the Na’vi natives are a bit too accepting of these “avatars,” whom the natives know aren’t fellow natives. If you weren’t born into and raised by the tribe, why would the tribe just accept you at all as one of them? I mean, if it were clear to us human beings that some alien race were coming to us in human bodies, would we embrace these aliens in human bodies as one of us? Prolly not.

But it would ruin “Avatar” if the avatars didn’t get some degree of acceptance from the Na’vi, and so they do.

Anyway, in “Avatar” the invading Earthlings clearly are the bad guys, and while watching what’s probably the biggest, loudest scene in “Avatar,” the Earthlings’ military forces destroying a site that is very sacred to the Na’vi, I couldn’t help but think of the internationally televised so-called “shock and awe” that many if not most of my fellow Americans got off on when the unelected Bush regime (yeah, the same regime that my fellow Americans just allowed to steal the White House in late 2000) illegally, immorally, unprovokedly and unjustly invaded Iraq, which had had nothing to do with 9/11 and which of course never possessed the weapons of mass destruction that the members of the Bush regime had lied through their fangs about, in March 2003.  

Yeah, it takes a big, tough, studly nation to attack a relatively defenseless one.

In the middle of all of this, the conflict between the rapacious Earthlings, who are represented by a very American-like military-industrial complex, and the Native-American-like Na’vi (they even wear warpaint and let out war cries), is Marine Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington, who appears to be in just about every movie these days, which is OK with me, since he has a definite certain sexiness about him), who unexpectedly finds himself recruited to man an avatar. (Of course, he has to make a deal with the devil: for infiltrating the Na’vi and helping to subdue them, the wheelchair-bound Jake is promised that his paraplegia will be cured.)

As you already know from the previews, after he’s been manning his avatar, Jake changes his allegiance from the military-industrial complex to the Na’vi.

You probably already suspect that Jake ends up being the big hero of the film, and that of course he and his female Na’vi companion, Neytiri (wonderfully played by Zoe Saldana), go from their initially tense relationship (which showcases some great dialogue) to becoming lifemates.

That the white Marine, instead of one of the Na’vi natives, becomes the big hero of “Avatar” has pissed some people off, I read in today’s news. Reports The Associated Press:

Near the end of the hit film “Avatar,” the villain snarls at the hero, “How does it feel to betray your own race?” Both men are white — although the hero is inhabiting a blue-skinned, 9-foot-tall, long-tailed alien.

Strange as it may seem for a film that pits greedy, immoral humans against noble denizens of a faraway moon, “Avatar” is being criticized by a small but vocal group of people who allege it contains racist themes — the white hero once again saving the primitive natives.

Since the film opened to widespread critical acclaim three weeks ago, hundreds of blog posts, newspaper articles, tweets and YouTube videos have said things such as the film is “a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people” and that it reinforces “the white Messiah fable.”

The film’s writer and director, James Cameron, says the real theme is about respecting others’ differences….

Adding to the racial dynamic [of “Avatar”] is that the main Na’vi characters are played by actors of color, led by a Dominican, Zoe Saldana, as the princess. The film also is an obvious metaphor for how European settlers in America wiped out the Indians.

Robinne Lee, an actress in such recent films as “Seven Pounds” and “Hotel for Dogs,” said that “Avatar” was “beautiful” and that she understood the economic logic of casting a white lead if most of the audience is white.

But she said the film, which so far has the second-highest worldwide box-office gross ever, still reminded her of Hollywood’s “Pocahontas” story — “the Indian woman leads the white man into the wilderness, and he learns the way of the people and becomes the savior.”

“It’s really upsetting in many ways,” said Lee, who is black with Jamaican and Chinese ancestry. “It would be nice if we could save ourselves.” …

Yes, come to think of it, “Avatar” is basically a futuristic “Pocahontas” in which Jake Sully would be John Smith and Neytiri would be Pocahontas.

And it did occur to me while I was watching “Avatar” that it seemed off that a a white guy who wasn’t even one of the Na’vi would end up as their savior.

I understand why historically oppressed peoples wouldn’t be pleased to see a white guy emerge as the hero, but I think that “Avatar’s” surprisingly subversive message succeeds as it does because it’s the white guy who realizes that what the military-industrial complex that he has been a member of has been doing is wrong, and so he decides to fight for the other side.

And it’s not just the character of Jake whose allegiance changes; there’s the character of a great Latina fighter pilot (played by Michelle Rodriguez, of whom I’d like to have seen more of in “Avatar”) and a few others whose allegiance changes, and this kind of pop-culture image in which the “turncoats” are the heroes can’t be good for the U.S. military-industrial complex, which expects its soldiers to be blindly obedient cannon fodder who die for rich white men’s fortunes while believing that they are fighting for such noble causes as “freedom” and “democracy” and “God” and “Jesus” and puppies and kittens, for fuck’s sake.

I mean, fuck. Before “Avatar” began, I had to watch an endless fucking recruitment advertisement for the National Fucking Guard. (The recruitment ad didn’t show any maimed or dead soldiers, of course, but looked like something out of “Top Gun,” as usual.) The U.S. military-industrial complex has millions if not billions of dollars — our tax dollars — at its disposal to brainwash our young people into believing that the U.S. military really is about defense and patriotism instead of about what it really is about: war profiteering, feeding the endless greed of the military-industrial complex and the greedy fucking white men who run it and who personally profit from it.

Trust me, oppressed peoples of the world, “Avatar” does much more for your cause by having its hero a white guy — a Marine, for fuck’s sake — who realizes that he’s been fighting on the wrong side and then switches sides, than it would have done for your cause had its hero been one of the Na’vi natives.

The millions of young American males (and females) who see “Avatar” might think twice before joining the U.S. military, and that’s a good thing for a planet that probably cannot survive a World War III.

Indeed, Cameron’s intent, I believe, was to send a message of peace, and it’s whitey, with his (and her) beloved military-industrial complex, who needs to get that message more than does anyone else. Those long oppressed by whitey already know the value of peace.

The Associated Press reports that Cameron wrote the AP in an e-mail that “Avatar” “asks us to open our eyes and truly see others, respecting them even though they are different, in the hope that we may find a way to prevent conflict and live more harmoniously on this world. I hardly think that is a racist message.”

Agreed.

The AP also reports of “Avatar”:

“Can’t people just enjoy movies anymore?” a person named Michelle posted on the website for Essence, the magazine for black women, which had 371 comments on a story debating the issue [of whether “Avatar” is racist].

OK, that’s a valid question.

Although it’s a rhetorical question, the answer to the question, for me, anyway, is no, I can’t just enjoy a movie anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed “Avatar.” It is a visually stunning film, and I love its profuse use of greens and blues and purples, which, actually, reminded me a lot of “The Princess and the Frog,” which, come to think of it, is a bit like “Avatar”: Both films have heroines with African blood in them (Zoe Saldana apparently has African blood in her) who meet up with bumbling men whom the heroines have to turn into heroes, and both films largely take place in green, blue and purple, swampy, lush settings.

“Avatar” succeeds on the sensory level (as it should, given the millions and millions of dollars that were put into it ) — although the ubiquitous DayGlo stuff does get a little bit tiresome after a while and although Pandora’s plethora of creatures, including its Na’vi, look way too much like Earth’s creatures, including its human beings — but sue me if I am able to enjoy a movie on more than one level.

I can multi-task; I can take in all of the technical achievements of a film like “Avatar” while seeing its obvious sociopolitical statements, statements that I can’t be accused of having pulled out of my moonbatty ass because James Cameron himself says are his intended statements.

It’s a rare film that can entertain and that can stimulate public debate on important sociopolitical issues, so kudos to Cameron for having achieved that with “Avatar.”

“Avatar” is such a cultural achievement that I have to wonder if from now on people are going to go around saying to each other, in all seriousness: “I see you.” (Even though it’s a bit cheesy, I kind of hope so…)

Yes, “Avatar” is a bit derivative of other films, not just of “Pocahontas” but also of Cameron’s past films — we even get the “Alien” series’ Sigourney Weaver as a protagonist in “Avatar” (I have to say that I found Weaver’s avatar to be a bit creepy-looking, to look a bit too much like Weaver), we get the manned robots that we saw in “Aliens,” and we even get “The Company” in “Avatar” (is the amoral, profit-piggy, generic “The Company” in “Avatar” the same one that was in the “Alien” series, I wonder?).

But “Avatar” succeeds on its own and probably will be Cameron’s magnum opus. 

My grade: A

P.S. I read a news account that President Barack Obama took his girls to see “Avatar” recently. Mr. President, I sure the fuck hope that you learned something, and that having your girls there with you drove the point home.

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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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