Tag Archives: Disney

Why Mr. Banks Needed Saving

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*This post contains minor spoilers about the film, Saving Mr. Banks, but I question if they count as spoilers since the historical events in the film are well-documented in many Walt Disney biographies or Disney histories.*
*and there are some spoilers about Mary Poppins, but I would like to pretend that everyone has seen that film in this day and age.*

My friend in her review of Oz Great and Powerful observed that Disney has been rewriting its origin myths lately. Indeed, they invested gobs into a redo of Disneyland California Adventure to theme the park to the Los Angeles of Walt’s arrival. When I initially saw the trailers for Saving Mr. Banks, I saw her observation in action to a new level. Here is the first bio-pic of Walt Disney, highlighting a very specific time and turning point in Disney History–the production meetings with P.L. Travers to secure the rights to Mary Poppins.

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Mary Poppins is one of my favorite Disney films. Heck, it may possibly be one of my favorite films of All Time. I found solace in Mary’s guidance when my mother was first hospitalized for her COPD. I still to this day think of the Denver capitol building when I hear “Feed the Birds.” Whenever I feel a little blue, Mary Poppins is one of my cheer-up films. I have such intimacy with the film that I refuse to see it on stage…So I can understand why Mrs. Travers would hesitate to allow Disney to make the film.

Here’s the trailer:

I have always been aware that Mary Poppins arrives at the Banks’ to help put a family back together, which also involves helping Mr. Banks appreciate his family, not just his well-ordered life. Mrs. Banks is a secret suffragette, dividing her time between her husband, children, and her cause. Sometimes she can get overwhelmed, as when she comes home from the meeting and doesn’t initially hear Katie Nanna’s resignation, but she quickly comes around. The children just want to be loved.

There are two distinct storylines, beautifully interwoven in Saving Mr. Banks: Travers’ memories of her childhood at a particularly difficult time and her visit to Disney to negotiate how the film will be made. The underlying theme of the film appears to address the classic Freudian Daddy Issue. The film portrays Travers Goff, Mrs. Travers’ father, as kind and loving, but drunk and falling apart. The young Travers loves her father completely, even defying her mother to get him booze. We see Mrs. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) in the middle of the film meltdown during a production meeting because she feels they are making Mr. Banks into this cruel father who doesn’t even mend the kite (inspiring the “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” sequence, borrowed also from the Sherman Brothers’ relationship with their father). Walt (Tom Hanks) convinces her to give him the rights when he flies to London and explains his own father relationship and that Mary Poppins is actually about saving Mr. Banks.

Who is Mr. Banks but that hyperrational piece of all of us who just needs some play in his life? Regardless of the claim that Walt wanted the rights because of a promise to his daughters, the movie of Mary Poppins reminds us to just stop and play, or fly a kite or just love to laugh. Much of Disney reflects the need for play, ever more so following the opening of Disneyland. Play is the spoonful of medicine, and with the total themed experience of the park, we’re allowed to shut out the outside world and be in the land of Dream. That we can do it consciously and physically is what makes it so potent, provided we are willing to release ourselves to it, captured beautifully in Travers’ (Emma Thompson) hesitation to go to the park, much less ride the carousel.

The business about the origin story? Mary Poppins ushered in a new era for the Disney studio, allowing it to grow and expand in a way it hadn’t done since the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It gave the studio the money to continue developing films and to be able to devote itself to the World’s Fair attractions, expanding Disneyland, and dreaming about the Florida Project. In other words, Mary Poppins made possible the only Disney I and many others know–the Legacy that was able to survive Walt’s death.

Sure, there were some liberties taken in this film (Saving Mr. Banks), some of which may even include the storyline of Travers’ childhood (I know nothing about her). But the film does stay true to the spirit of Poppins and to the spirit of Disney. Travers (Emma Thompson) remarks to Walt, “You mean, Disney didn’t make man in his own image?” Well, no, but those of us who willingly go for the Disney dream share the same attributes: we love to laugh, we happily will fly a kite, and we know how to invest our tuppance.

The Rise of Dark Fairy Tales

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It is probably no surprise to the passive reader of this blog (all two of you) that I am a fairy tale enthusiast. It’s a topic I keep returning to time and time again, and it’s a topic that provides hours of academic muddling for this mythologist. That’s what scholars such as the Jungians find so fascinating about fairy tales. In their simplicity, they speak archetypally, deeply, meaningfully… They can become whatever story the reader or listener wants them to be.

And it’s probably no surprise to the passive reader of this blog (all two of you) that I am also a Disney fan, and that Disney’s versions of fairy tales are hands-down my favorites. Why, you might ask? This is a complicated answer, and one that I don’t have lying around, but part of the answer lies in the fact that Disney’s retelling of these stories captures that magic that attracts readers to them in the first place while also translating the stories to a new medium. There’s something that Disney “gets” in its storytelling that makes these stories speak to the culture. Sure, perhaps 200 years from now, Disney’s fairy tales will be shelved along with Grimm’s as future readers try to find the next new gripping version of a tale that’s already been told 1000 times.

Finally, it’s probably no surprise to the passive reader of this blog (all two of you) that I am also a lover of the Disney parks, notably Disneyland since that’s the only one I’ve visited with any capacity to build memories. The parks do for the experience what the films do for the fairy tales. They capture the magic that attracted us to them in the first place. I’ve been to Universal Studios, Six Flags, and my childhood theme park, Eliches (or however it was spelled). But Disney keeps me coming back time and again because of the experience. I trust the rides to not kill me (even with those few scary stories of accidents); I trust the park to be clean and safe; and I trust that, even if I’m tired, sore, and cranky, that the day in the park will still make me very happy.

I am a product of the Disney mythos.

So here’s my point. My love for all three of the above things are combined in the book series Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson, also known for his adult thrillers and his work on Peter and the Starcatchers. The Kingdom Keepers are a group of teenagers hired by Disney to be the models for DHIs, or Digital Host Interactive, digital tour guides through the parks at Walt Disney World. What these kids don’t know is that they have also been recruited to help the Imagineers fight against the Overtakers, who are Disney villans who come alive when the park closes at night. Villains such as Maleficent, Pirates, and Crash Test Dummies. The other Disney characters come alive as well, but they are powerless by themselves to stop the Overtakers from fulfilling their goal of overtaking the park. So the teens at night, when the fall asleep, become the DHIs, and spend their nights in constant battle against the Overtakers, receiving missions from the Imagineers, and trying very hard not to be caught in Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, which occurs when the DHI is prevented from crossing back over at the end of the night and the human teen is locked in a mysterious coma-like sleep.

These books capture the essences of the park and Disney magic and are thrilling for anyone who is either a fan who knows the parks intimately, enjoys a good sci-fi thriller, or even dreams of going to the park one day.

The most recent installment of the series, Shell Game, begins the process of moving the DHIs and the Overtakers to California from Florida by way of the new cruise ship. Having never been on a cruise, let alone a Disney cruise, I was a little skeptical about reading this book. But, of course, I enjoyed it thoroughly (having read half of it on the airplane to and from my dissertation defense). And, of course, in typical Disney fashion, find myself really wanting to take a Disney cruise now to share in the experience.

But that’s still not my point. In one particularly potent scene, the leader of the DHIs, Finn, confronts Maleficent, who is believed to be the leader of the Overtaker operation (though no one is certain about that). Finn and the other DHIs are in an auditorium doing a presentation for the cruise guests when they are besieged by pirates (of the Caribbean). Maleficent appears on the monitors and makes a rather bold statement:

 “Behold the New Order,” Maleficent said in her eerily calm and grating voice. “The dawning of a new age. [. . .] Enough of all this prince-and-princess spun-sugar nonsense. It’s time for the Grimm in the fairy tales to express itself. The woods are dark, my dears. The beasts within them will eat you for supper, not sing you a song. Wake up and smell the roses.” (484)

Remember up above when I said that Disney “gets it?” There is something happening in fairy tales right now, a sort of paradigm shift. In 2010 Disney claimed they were no longer going to make fairy tale animated features. At the same time several, albeit bad, fairy tale features were released by other studios. In 2011, Disney gave us Once Upon a Time. It’s as though the songs of the princesses in the forests have lost their magic for us. And it’s no wonder, given all of the darkness surrounding us as a culture. We are hungry for the magic; we are hungry for the good hero to defeat the dark evil bad person. But we are also hungry for the darkness to become a part of us, because it already is.

There is a shroud of darkness on American culture today, and it is spreading into other parts of the world. Perhaps this is because of the prevalence of our cultural exchanges, or perhaps this is a darkness that has been trying to take over (the Overtakers) for decades (think Great Depression, atomic bomb, and Cold War), but the American optimism has always kept it at bay. That optimism has taken a vacation, it seems. Even Disney, who always gave us a message of hope and happiness in our darkest hour is putting forth messages that this is the time of monsters (KK) or that the fairy tales have forgotten who they are (OUAT).

Meanwhile, fairy tales are being retold with a vigor that we haven’t seen in a while. New Grimm texts were found. Movies retell the stories. Vampires, werewolves, and zombies are everywhere and literally eating us (though occasionally, they may sing us a song to lure us in their charms).

It’s difficult to describe the change that is happening while being in the middle of it happening. Hindsight is always 20/20, but At-the-moment-sight is typically blind. We’re still looking to the past, expecting it to have all of the answers. Oh but wait, you’ll notice we’re looking at the 1950s for those answers. Just because television and the movies painting the decade as Pleasantville, the decade was anything but. Darkness perpetuating darkness.

We haven’t learned anything from our previous encounters with Darkness in the past, which is why it is still bothering us. Call it the shadow or whatever, but until we start communing with this Darkness and learning something from it, we’ll be on this endless cycle for a while yet.

Lessons we’re learning from today’s myths: 1. Believe in magic. 2. Remembering or finding your true identity or self is the first step toward dealing with the darkness. 3. Listen to your elders–you don’t know how much longer they’ll be around to advise you. 4. Don’t listen to your elders if you know they’re advising you poorly. 5. Saving good from evil has no room for EGO.

That said, I’m looking forward to the last two KK books. If the DHIs are successful in bringing down the Overtakers, perhaps we could stand to learn a thing or two from them?

Mickey and Friends: Psyche’s Formula?

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Working my way through the Disney cartoon canon, it’s interesting to note how the Disney characters don’t only work in concert to entertain us, but they seem to function as components of myth/psyche (depending on how you want to approach this). Furthermore, at any given time, any one of them can function as a hero (especially Mickey, Donald and Goofy) or a group of heroes (especially Mickey, Donald and Goofy). At different times in Disney’s history, some characters have been more popular than others, but because each character has his/her own distinct personality, they can be used to represent different things. I hesitate to make a simple chart of comparison (Mickey is ego, Donald is shadow, etc.), but they each bring a different component to to the Everyman archetype that is dominant to the Disney Doctrine.

Mickey is everyman. He’s the gentle character of good middle American values. He’s a natural leader because he’s so well-put together. As Mickey evolved into a symbol for the Disney Corporation, it became more important that he behave as an upstanding citizen, which lead to the creation of others. Mickey holds it all together, which is where Walt’s reminder rings true: it all started with a Mouse.

Donald is a perfect foil to Mickey, often stealing the scene from the mouse. He is temperamental, mischievous (sometimes malicious), and prone to devilish vices. Because his character was created this way, he was allowed to get away with more questionable behavior than Mickey. As Leonard Maltin(?) says somewhere on the Walt Disney Treasures discs, if Mickey was the star of the 1930s (and thus the Depression), the 1940s (and the war) belonged to Donald. Donald gets drafted and we share his struggles through basic training and interactions with authority figures. This is provided an outlet for some pent-up frustrations culturally, especially toward limitations on the home front because of the war.

Goofy. Well, the name really just says it all doesn’t it?

Pluto seems to be the dog that belongs to everyone. He is the one Disney animal that was created to be an animal, and is so spot-on as a dog, it’s sometimes hard to forget that he’s just a cartoon character. He represents animalistic behavior, but I think he really is more about simplicity, nature, and romanticism. Perhaps we could say that Pluto is Disney’s Green Man?

Minnie/Daisy seem to be the same character and they both are the aspect of the feminine, however you want to read it. They are the balance factors.

There are many different characters to explore, but these are the main ones. In a way, they form the Disney pantheon, which is really just a fancy way of describing psyche.

Fairy Tales and Utopian Ideals

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There are some scholars that, as much as I would like to try, I just cannot avoid. They are the ones that add conversation and dialogue to my research, taking it to a deeper level. Sure, it would be easy to ignore them, but then I’d be just as shallow a researcher as the Shallow Researcher “archetype” at the core of my academic shadow projections. Today’s unavoidable researcher: Jack Zipes.

I discovered Jack Zipes when I was doing the Pacifica preview day, which I’d timed on purpose to coincide with my admissions interview. As part of the preview day, they were giving out a $25 gift certificate for the Pacifica bookstore. One of the unspoken secrets of the Pacifica bookstore is that the really good books all cost exactly $25 or more, and that it is neigh impossible to exit the bookstore without spending at least $45. I blew my travel budget many times in that bookstore… Anyway, I chose Zipes’ Fairy Tale as Myth, Myth as Fairy Tale, because the title seemed to be dealing with some residual questions I had lingering from my MA thesis. I read 3 pages before shelving the book to prepare for Pacifica, and there the book stayed for 3 years until one day I brought home his book, Happy Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the Culture Industry from the Pacifica library. Revisiting Jack Zipes revealed two things: 1. he is no lover of Disney and 2. he fails to make the distinction between Grimmified fairy tales and literary fairy tales in his criticism of the Disneyfication of fairy tales. Before leaving this point, I must emphasize how much it annoys me that people criticize Disney for “sanitizing” or “trivializing” fairy tales, making “the one true version” that most kids today know and realize, but fail to criticize the Brothers Grimm for doing the EXACT same thing. AND, I would further point out, that Disney’s fairy tale films until The Little Mermaid were anything BUT sanitized.

Anyway, the point of this post is a couple of questions that Zipes poses in Happily Ever After that I think need to be addressed, though I’m not sure my dissertation is the place to do it.The quote is this:

Indeed, ever since World War II the fairy tale as live-action film or animation has become one of the most successful genres in the culture industry. Perhaps, given the barbarism of World War II, the need for fairy tales in the mass media became greater afterward, for it is through the fairy tale that hope for happy endings is kept alive. The question we must ask, however, is whether it is a false hope. Do fairy-tale films project false utopias through amusement? Have fairy-tale films contributed to the destruction of community and the deception of the masses? (70).

The hope for happy endings that these films project is not limited to the barbarism that upset the American psyche following World War II. In fact, Snow White and Pinocchio were promising us happy endings before we even entered the war. However, the potency of the genre took off following the war, but I don’t think the war is to blame for this. Instead, I suggest turning to the Cold War. After World War II, America was on a high – we had come out of the war the victors and we were one of the most prosperous nations in the industrialized world. But we were afraid of “communism,” a fear of our individuality being compromised and a fear that still resonates today. We projected this fear onto the Russians, and what followed was an absurd decade of drills, bomb shelters and the illusion that if your school gets hit by a bomb then your school desk will protect you. Out of this fear, we get science fiction films, film noir, suspense thrillers and fairy tale films. The first three deal with confrontation with the unknown, while the last on the list deals with the happier side of the imagination. So it makes sense that Disney would experience a surge of popularity, being one of the few media outlets that gave us fluffy bunnies in a time of constant fear. The Cold War fear led to Vietnam, which was a major blow to the American psyche, from which we sort of recovered from after the fall of the Berlin wall. But as we were leaving our fear of communism behind, we were turning it instead into a fear of “terrorism,” which we believe compromises our identity with oil. This is the mode we’re still deeply swimming in.

Do fairy tale films project false utopias? YES, but these false utopias offer hope. The American Dream is a projection of a false utopia. The country was founded on utopian ideals, conquered by utopian ideals, and industrialized under utopian ideals. We have always attracted immigrants who are searching for utopia. Utopia is at the deep, buried core of American mythos. Since World War II, we have seen an increase in apocalyptic films. Cold War films projecting the fear of our destruction. Then after the fall of the studio system and Woodstock, films reflected a dystopian disillusionment. Films since the 80s have tried to offer hope for a savior hero, but that savior hero has yet to manifest in the culture (another discussion for another day). Throughout all of this, fairy tale films have given us happily ever afters. Sure, there is some saving going on – the princess needs some kind of rescue, or more recently the prince does – but what is being saved is hope for new beginnings. As Doug Brode points out in From Walt to Woodstock: How Disney Created Counterculture, Disney films don’t have happy endings. They don’t end. They offer, instead, new beginnings. One that takes place off screen. “And they lived happily ever after” is very different than “The End.”

Have fairy tale films contributed to the destruction of the community? I think asking this question is blowing everything out of proportion. Many factors contribute to the destruction of the community. If anything, fairy tale films reinforce community. Walt Disney said somewhere that his goal was always the family, which is the core of any community.

Have they contributed to the deception of the masses? Again, I think this is blowing everything out of proportion. Sure, they project false utopias, but they speak to the mythic imagination, not to the reality of our lives. If the masses are deceived, it’s a failing of the education system and community network. America does have a propaganda machine, but it does not operate the same way as other propaganda machines have, fully pulling the mask over our eyes. This country benefits from the fact that we allow both sides of the conversation to happen, but that doesn’t mean we’re listening. That’s not Disney’s fault. If anything, Disney films are more subversive than we realize.

The Importance of Cultural Context

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After my last inspired post, I went semi-consciously offline for awhile – literally and figuratively. I’ve spent the last couple weeks delving into the core research for three dissertation chapters, and have come to the conclusion that too much reading is not conducive to either writing or blogging. But every now and then a question pops up that I feel a need to address, in large part because it ties in so nicely with my dissertation. That said, I’m really looking forward to being able to someday not blog about my dissertation…

Today’s thought was inspired by a post over at Mythic Musings. The author posed the relevant question, Is mythology dangerous? This particular question was raised in response to the author’s exploration of the Pandora and Eve myths. Both of these stories suggest that women are to blame for the hardships of the world, and suggestions have been made by many mythologists that myths such as these are used as tools of oppression, leading to the argument that mythology shouldn’t be taken literally. A very, very valid point.

But I think there’s more to the argument than that. The mythological studies scholarship holds that myth is inspired by something greater than humans. Indeed, the early myth-makers were the great poets, seers, priests, etc., of a particular society. Yet, the scholarship does not hold that modern myth-makers are likewise inspired; rather, they command a really good use of their myth tools (language, music, images, etc.). This disconnect is a matter of perception. Once upon a time, the priests and poets (etc.) were revered by their people as being the voice of the deity. However, in this new-fangled structure of civilization, we’ve separated the deity from the everyday and placed a lot of responsibility upon the individual for their talents. Yet the end result is the same.

It all boils down to cultural context. What I mean by this is that mythologists should take culture into account. On one level, there is the culture that gave birth to the myth. For example, with Eve and Pandora, both emerged from early civilizations that saw women as both inferior and potentially as a danger to men. Myths such as these furthered the cultural mores. And there is the other level: modern mythologists are reading these old myths from their own cultural framework. Thus, it is very easy in our pro-feminist western world to read the myths of Eve and Pandora as “repressive.” As a woman, sure, I don’t appreciate being blamed for all of the ills in the world. But I hesitate to call ancient Greece and the ancient Hebrew world “repressive” in the Feminist sense. Different, definitely.

Myths are some of the best artifacts of a culture we have, because they give us a view into the psychology of the culture. We can glean more from myths and legends than we can, in many cases, from material remains.

The real danger comes when myths are taken out of their context and used to control. For example, ancient Greek myths are ancient Greek myths. They are not modern American (or whatever your home culture is) myths, and should not be used in the same way (and herein, for anyone paying attention, lies my distaste for the works of James Hillman). This is when mythology turns into propaganda, and this is when readers of myth get disillusioned and discouraged (as is happening in America today), or the cultural shadow threatens to destroy a society (as happened in Nazi Germany).

In my own research, also known as “the Scottish Paper on Disneyland,” I’ve had to reconcile the fact that Disneyland is a Cold War era myth, and this has completely reshaped my reading of the lands. It is nonetheless American, and it has been constantly updated such that the Cold War myths are slowly being altered to the new era or are being phased out (and I’m leaving California Adventure out of this consideration). The values that are expressed through Cold War myths are still relevant today, which is why Disneyland is still a potent myth-motif for today’s world; though, the love and praise for America that Walt Disney bled into Disneyland has become less important, which – I will say it honestly – is a damn shame.

Someday, post-doc, I’d love to travel to Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai to compare their Disneylands. I have a suspicion that the removal of the American mythos from the park compromises the potency of the experience. Eventually (i.e., as a graduation present), I’ll make it to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, but knowing that this was designed as Disneyland, part deux, I suspect that I’ll find the richness of the myth alive and well in Florida. After all, Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers series is based in Disney World, not Disneyland.

Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier

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Born on the mountaintop in Tennessee,
Greenest state in the Land of the Free.
Raised in the woods, so’s he knew every tree.
Killed him a b’ar when he was only three!
Davy! Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier!

When it comes to Frontierland, it’s impossible to work on the land without giving some time and noddage to Davy Crockett. Not the Alamo hero, because that’s just one aspect of this heroic character (whose name blankets Texas streets and other landmarks), but to the portrayal by Fess Parker that serves as the most potent mythic version of Crockett to grace the modern century.

The Davy Crockett Adventures were originally broadcast on the Disneyland television show, one per month, beginning in December 1954 and ending in February 1955. There are three episodes in the trilogy: “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter,” “Davy Crockett goes to Congress,” and “Davy Crockett at the Alamo.” Each installment addresses a different theme relevant to the heroism of the character. When we first meet Crockett, he is a settler who volunteers for the American army against the Creek Nation to make settlements safe for “red and white” alike. His goal is never to force the Native Americans off their land, but to find a way for both groups to co-exist. He believes in the treaties between the two nations, and upholds them with liberal nobility. Crockett is the mediator between two groups, and this can be read in two ways. One way I’m going to keep to myself right now because it’s a component of the dissertation, but the other way is the embrace of diversity that only Disney movies were fully conveying at the time. The Land is the issue; it’s the common cause we all share. It’s not worth fighting and dying over when there is a much better alternative: sharing.

He went off to Congress and served a spell,
Fixin’ up the government and the laws as well.
Took over Washington, so we heard tell,
And patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell.
Davy! Davy Crockett, seein’ his duty clear!

File:David Crockett.jpgThe next time we meet Crockett, he gets pulled into politics as a champion of the Western settlers (who, at this point, had not yet crossed too far over the Mississippi). He goes to Washington as Tennessee’s Representative and it’s really like Mr. Smith goes to Washington. Being an honest man, he does not fully recognize the games that politicians play, and is caught off guard when he finds out that he was sent on a “Goodwill Tour” of the states so Congress could try to pass the “Indian Bill” without his involvement. This bill, being pushed by then president Andrew Jackson, would put Manifest Destiny into play, and give force to the Westward Expansion. Crockett, himself a settler, does not have any opposition to the idea of moving West, but he is opposed to the idea of moving West if it is going to harm the locals who already live there. He makes a comment early in this episode before he is sent to Washington that the country is getting “mighty civilized,” and he says this with sorrow in his voice. The mid-1950s were the heyday of Westerns, but Crockett in this one line acknowledges the future of America, the one the Walt Disney inherited, of a fully civilized America, from sea to shining sea, getting ever smaller with the Eisenhower interstate system. What makes America great, Crockett seems to be telling us, is the Land. It’s America, not the people who live on it.

So then, there’s the last installment. The Alamo.

He heard of  Houston, and Austin, and so
To the Texas plains he just had to go -
Where freedom was fighting another foe -
and they needed him at the Alamo!
Davy! Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.

I’ve never really understood why Crockett worked his way to the Alamo, but after his disillusionment with Congress, he packed it up and headed to Texas. There’s a famous quote attributed to him (and one of my favorite ever): “You may all go to Hell and I will go to Texas!” The US was split when it came to Texas. Settlers had moved there as part of the Westward expansion, but Santa Ana sought to reclaim the land for Mexico. Gaining Texas would not be as easy as the Louisiana Purchase – the only way to do so was going to be to fight for it. Yet, oddly enough, no one really wanted to fight for it except the people who were already there. The Alamo is a mission in San Antonio, and it held out against Santa Ana for an impressive amount of time, especially considering that the Texans were outnumbered and lacking sufficient supply. It was a diversion. The real power of the war for Independence was General Sam Houston, and he needed time to build up an army. So Crockett and team stalled Santa Ana’s army in what is recognized as a major turning point in this war (and a major component in the state’s identity). Most people know to “Remember the Alamo!” We lost Crockett there. I never hear “Remember San Jacinto!” when Houston actually defeated Santa Ana. But Sam Houston isn’t a hero like Crockett. He never received the Disney treatment. And he certainly was never dubbed the King of the Wild Frontier.

To be the King of the Wild Frontier is no small task. A core component of our cultural psyche (collective unconscious?) is represented by the plains of the Wild Frontier. Many settlers were the “kings” and “queens” of the frontier. So there is something very liberal in the canonization of Crockett, and I think that it was his lack of fear coupled with his intent to always be right about a cause before getting involved with it. Which makes a lot of sense. He’d be my hero too if I was raised to believe that my school desk would actually protect me from nuclear attack. But I think this is also why Jack Sparrow is so potent today. It’s not the frontier he’s going after; it’s the sea, and all she represents.

Pirate Week Wrap-up: My Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

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The first thing I will comment on is that the film wasn’t as bad as some of the reviewers are saying, but it is clear that the franchise has lost steam. I don’t know how much of this is the doing of the director or how much is due to the fact that one a small number of the characters from the first three movie are present (including the Black Pearl). That said, it was all that I expected it to be and I had a very good time watching the story unfold.

The mission in this movie is to find the Fountain of Youth, as we expected from the very end of the last movie. Three different factions are trying to get to the Fountain, and only two solicit the help of Jack Sparrow, and he jumps back and forth between the two: Captain Barbossa has sided with the Royal Navy to help claim the fountain for England and Blackbeard and his daughter Angelica seek the fountain to avoid a prophecy that Blackbeard would die at the hand of a one-legged man. The fact that this prophecy exists is a testament to the amount of stretching the writers had to do in order to write the script. The One-Legged Man is Barbossa. We figured that out early. The only question is a matter of how, which we figure out long before the final battle. As much as I enjoy the movie, that doesn’t mean I enjoy predictable scripts.

The other party after the Fountain of Youth is the Spanish, but their reasons are less personal and much more noble. Beyond that, I can’t say without giving away too many spoilers.

The Fountain of Youth and Jack’s role in its finding is a really interesting way to end the Pirates franchise. Many of the lines in this film point to the end in ways that they didn’t in the last one. So even though there are rumors of a fifth script out there, it would be a disservice to the franchise to go with it after wrapping it up so nicely. The Fountain of Youth is believed to bring eternal life. In the Pirates mythos, two people are required to drink from the fountain. One person drinks water without the mermaid tear and the other drinks water with the mermaid tear (hence the need for two silver chalices). The one who drinks without the mermaid tear gives their remaining years to the one who drinks with the tear, a sort of age donation. It’s not eternal life, though I guess with enough victims, one could live forever. Or at least longer. And that’s the message of the movie.

The Pirates originally set sail in 1967 with the opening of the Disneyland attraction, and it is by far one of the most popular attractions at all Disney theme parks. They don’t need a Fountain of Youth to live forever. They have a permanent home in our hearts and in our entertainment history. And so will the films.

Afterall, while Dead Men may Tell No Tales (haha), Audio-Animatronics and movie characters tell tales as long as we keep the power turned on.

I saw it in 3D, and like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, this is one of those films that does not require being seen in 3D. So, unless you insist on going to a particular theater that is only showing it in 3D (as I did), then I do recommend watching it the old fashioned way. I like the eye-candy of 3D, but I wish they’d realize that people wear glasses and that the 3D glasses they distribute at the theater are really uncomfortable to wear over regular seeing glasses.

Pirate Week: Pirates Day–Trilogies vs. Quarternities

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it’s here! It’s here! Huzzah! Huzzah!

So yesterday, the fabulous Roger Ebert posted on his Twitter feed, his review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. He begins by saying, “Before seeing ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,’ I had already reached my capacity for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies, and with this fourth installment, my cup runneth over.” Indeed, the franchise started losing steam after the second installment, Dead Man’s Chest, and came to a nice and tidy completion after the third, At World’s End. But the ending of the third movie, left open the possibility of a fourth movie, giving us the hint that – should it happen – it would involve the hunt for the Fountain of Youth. So I’m seeing the movie tonight, meaning that tomorrow I’ll write my review. I’m very ready for the franchise to come to an end, but nonetheless very excited that they gave me one more installment.

In good proper Jungian terms, the franchise should end with this movie. Trilogies are nice containers for mythic stories. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just look at the original Star Wars trilogy or the Lord of the Rings. No one would ever think of making a fourth version of those movies. Indeed, Pirates also was a nice trilogy, if you follow it from the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann subplot. Reading these movies thusly, it becomes quickly apparent that a) Jack Sparrow is a charismatic minor character and b) the ENTIRE point of the series is for both of these characters to realize who they are, who they want to be, and how they intend to do that together. In other words, the point is for Will and Elizabeth to individuate and then conjugate. The first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, established this trajectory: Will had to come to terms with the fact that he’s a pirate’s son, and Elizabeth, in all of her spirit and spunk, could not be confined to the life of a New World aristocrat. Both characters turn to the seas, the classic symbol of the unconscious, to go find themselves. Dead Man’s Chest shows Will embracing more of his pirateness as he works through some daddy issues, while Elizabeth, in the mean time, moves from being helpless maiden to an independent woman. These two journeys nearly tear their relationship apart, but it is more essential that they sort these things out before they’re married, methinks.

Then At World’s End, they travel to the ends of the world, to Davy Jones’ Locker, to bring Jack Sparrow back from the dead. Notice that at the end of the second movie, Elizabeth killed Jack. Jack, for her, represents something, and I’m not going to call it Animus. Jack Sparrow, as pirate, is more of a figurehead of the total abandon of structure. Elizabeth went from an extremely controlled structure with her father to a complete lack of structure with Jack. So she kills him. But he’s an important part of her, or maybe she’s an important part of him, because she, though claiming she is not sorry for killing him, feels profound remorse for doing so. She believes that bringing Jack back will make everything better. But that’s only half of it: Jack is chaos. The East India Trading company and the Royal Navy is control. Elizabeth needs both sides to to balance her out. Yet, in the process of rescuing Jack and heading toward the Brethren Court, she is betrayed by Will and loses her father and Norrington, her socially-acceptable fiancé. Again, by siding with Jack, she loses all sense of control.

Will ultimately embraces his pirateness by becoming captain of the Flying Dutchman (I’ll spare the spoilers), which comes with a price: he has to ferry the dead to the Locker, and can only come ashore once every 10 years to be with his loved one. So, while Will turns into a symbol of chaos (Pirate), he comes with a controlled structure (a very specific schedule), and this makes him the perfect balance to Elizabeth. She still has the chaos of piracy, but she has the control over her own destiny.

A beginning, a middle, and an end, with a lot of growth and development involved. A recurring theme in the series is the idea that the treasure for which one is seeking is only found when one is good and lost.

So now we have a fourth installment, that does not bring Elizabeth and Will back into the fold. This one is entirely Jack’s story, and is necessary because they left Jack’s story hanging. Rumor has it that there is a Pirates 5 floating around, and if the movie on the Lego Pirates of the Caribbean video game is any indication, I can see where it would go. But, for all my love of the franchise, I don’t want to see it happen. 4 is the number of completion. it is the unit that rounds out the trilogy. 5, on the other hand, is the quintessence: the transcendence or the number of discord. Plus, they are looking for the Fountain of Youth. We assume they find it, based on the reviews, and we assume Jack does something heroic with its waters, based on the Lego game. However, if the franchise drinks from the proverbial Fountain, and makes more movies, it will live on forever, but eventually it will lose its flavor, as Barbossa learned when he was cursed by Aztec gold. And, as I tell my Humanities students, art that does not have any staying power is not good art. This is not something I wish for the franchise because it is among my favorites.

I love Pirates because it tickles my psyche, but it is also good escapism. I don’t go to those movies to think, but I wind up thinking anyway, which is why I like them.

Pirate’s Week: Yo Ho and X Atencio

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So I’ve always been profoundly curious just what those pirates were singing on the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction:

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.
We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.
We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot,
Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.
We extort, we pilfer, we filch, and sack,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.
Maraud and embezzle, and even high-jack,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.
We kindle and char, inflame and ignite,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.
We burn up the city, we’re really a fright,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re rascals, scoundrels, villans, and knaves,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.
We’re devils and black sheep, really bad eggs,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.
We’re beggars and blighters, ne’er-do-well cads,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.
Aye, but we’re loved by our mommies and dads,
Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho.

Legend has it that Walt came to X and tapped him to join the Imagineering team in the 60s, including to write the attraction and the music. X was an animator/artist, not one for story and music. But this legend is often used as an example of how Walt could bring the latent talent out of people.

I know that today is totally a cheater post. I have a morning meeting to discuss dissertation-related stuff. I promise to make up for it tomorrow.

Review of a new myth: the Kingdom Keepers Series

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I was at Disneyland the first time I discovered Ridley Pearson’s Kingdom Keepers series. I went to the park after a session at Pacifica, during which my cohort and I were discussing the intricacies of modern fairy tales. During the class, I had the epiphany for the perfect video game, one that would fuse the principles of Kingdom Hearts (i.e. a hero who is assisted by the Disney characters over the course of his adventure) with a murder mystery or some other mystery of some sort, and this particular mystery would be set at Disneyland. Each attraction would hold some clue toward the solution of the mystery. And if you remember that old Nintendo game that was set in the Magic Kingdom (whose name has long left me), then you understand the premise that us, the player, would have to wind our way through the virtual attraction in order to get the clue.

So imagine my happiness that someone had already written the story for me!

The Kingdom Keepers series is about 5 kids who are hired by Disney Imagineering to be turned into DHIs (or Digital Hologram Imaging), which act as digital hosts through Walt Disney World, becoming themselves an attraction. Unbeknownst to the kids, the Imagineers (or rather, at least one key old timer) did some wonky programming that gave the kids the ability to turn into their DHI while they sleep. The reason? The Overtakers, primarily comprised of Disney’s villains and other shady characters, were threatening to, well, over take Walt Disney World to destroy the magic. Being villains, they are easily able to do this, but just can’t get organized enough to actually succeed easily (something about the evil ego). The point of the series seems to be the continual thwarting of the OTs in the interest of preserving the magic. Thus far, there are four books to the series: Disney After Dark, Disney at Dawn, Disney in Shadow, and Power Play. The first three books are set in a different park at on the WDW resort, and the fourth one is currently all over the place. Pearson has hinted on his Twitter (or maybe others have hinted for him) that at least one of the future books will take place on the Disney Cruise line.

Hey, Ridley! When are the OTs going to threaten Disneyland!? Or what about the other resorts around the world?

There are a few different mythic themes at play in this series that makes it so fascinating, and I don’t just mean the obvious setting in Disney:

1. Collective hero/collective villain – In the traditional frame of the ubiquitous (perhaps now cliché) Campbellian hero’s cycle, the hero ventures into a magic “otherworld” and undergoes this journey to get the boon or some other reward, depending on the nature of the quest. While this hero does have magical friends and other helpers, the hero must ultimately conquer the villain alone. However, in recent popular mythologies, we are seeing more and more a trend for a collective hero. While Finn is considered the “leader,” he recognizes that each of the other Keepers has his or her own strength, which always comes in handy to succeed in the task. Recognizing this, the OTs also realize that they have to work as a collective if they are going to overshadow the Keepers. Typically, in Western literature, the evil villain got to that point by being extremely ego-driven, often perceiving his or her helpers as a means to an end, and easily disposable. However, in these books, the OTs are learning (because they’re out for power) that by working together, they become a force that can almost completely trump the Keepers. A collective fighting a collective, not solo hero versus solo villain. That there are a number of stories emphasizing the concept of the collective (hero more often than not) suggests to me that there is a shift happening in our cultural psyche, perhaps even in our collective unconscious, that recognizes that the black-and-white paradigm of previous heroic myths will not restore the balance to our swiftly-tilting planet (as evidenced by Avatar: The Last Airbender).

2. The use of technology – Technology is scary. Many commentators – and you know who they are – are quick to point out that technology is bad for us, pointing to various social issues that underscore this point: movies such as Terminator, Blade Runner, or even Avatar; or the astonishing statistics that technology makes kids stupid (which, let’s be honest, is really the fault of a poor educational system, not that they play video games). The Kingdom Keepers, however, utilize technology as the means by which they can enter into the mythic realm or otherworld and play on the same plane as the OTs. However, they also utilize technology as their primary means to communicate and coordinate. In the first novel, VMK (Virtual Magic Kingdom) was still open (and I wish it would re-open!), and the kids used their virtual avatars to communicate. Despite what one may think, technology is here to stay, and the Kingdom Keepers demonstrates a good use of it, rather than the super scary, apocalyptic use – that’s for the OTs.

3. A meta-fairy-myth setting – Disney theme parks are a fairy tale setting unto themselves. They are a real life otherworld that all of us are capable of visiting, and having that mythic experience that we otherwise can only read about. The Kingdom Keepers are a myth, tackling our culture’s images of “evil villain” and keeping the evil at bay (the whole good versus evil thing). They are acting out the myth in our culture’s fairy tale setting. This is really groovy.

Now there are games you can play at the Kingdom Keepers website, making the books an interactive experience. Next step? Actual DHIs or maybe a virtual Kingdom Keepers attraction at Disney? (BTW, Disney, if you’re interested, I’ll be glad to send you a prospectus of the latter.)

These are the perfect books for any lover of suspense fiction, young adult fiction, and fairy tales/myths. And now, to finish the fourth book.