Friday, August 28, 2020

Kelly Marie Tran To Voice Raya in _Raya and the Last Dragon_


Woke up to this news this morning:

Star Wars star Kelly Marie Tran is voicing the main character in Disney’s newest animated film, “Raya and the Last Dragon”

Posted by Variety on Thursday, August 27, 2020

 And honestly? I am here for it. 👏 👏 👏

While I'm not the biggest Star Wars fan, I did really enjoy Tran's role in Rian Johnson's Episode VIII; to see her "more than sidelined," to use Julia Alexander's words, in Episode IX, was more than disappointing. 

But what's interesting to me is that this film, despite the plot summary, is being billed (and marketed, I'm sure) as a princess film

Let's take a look at the plot summary from IMDB: 

"In a realm known as Lumandra, a re-imagined Earth inhabited by an ancient civilization, a warrior named Raya is determined to find the last dragon." 

And from Wikipedia:

  "A lone warrior sets out to find the last dragon in existence and save the kingdom of Kumandra from the villainous Drunn." 

With the exception of Mulan, and *maybe* Moana, Disney movies don't usually focus on warriors. That is, typically, Disney Animations studios films skew female-centric, with the Disney Princess, Disney Fairies and Frozen franchises anchoring the studio. Pixar, on the other hand, skews predominantly male. While there are exceptions to both of course (e.g., The Lion King for Disney; Brave and Inside Out for Pixar), the generalizations hold true. 

And, for better or for worse (and people love to point out the "worse"), Disney princess movies are a staple of American childhood and culture. So it's interesting to me that Raya and the Last Dragon is being billed as a princess movie. 

Look at this post from The Mary Sue, for example: 

Get money!

Posted by The Mary Sue on Thursday, August 27, 2020

This movie, then, has the potential to be groundbreaking for Disney. Awkwafina, who will co-start with Tran, has already praised the movie's "sisterhood":


Two things to note:
(1) the clip features Cassie Steele, a British-Filipino actress who was originally cast in the role -- wonder what happened there? and

(2) sisterhood, on the heels of Frozen, is nothing new for Disney. It's worth pointing out that of 14 (un)official princesses -- only four of them have biological siblings (Ariel, Merida, and Anna & Elsa)  and only three of them have sisters (Merida has brothers). The only film where sisterhood features a significant role is, of course, Frozen, as Ariel's sisters are largely irrelevant to the plot. And even in Frozen, Anna was intended to be the lead, with Elsa originally slated for the villain role. Jennifer Lee, thankfully, updated that narrative, and we have the two empowered characters we know and love today. 

And while I don't think that Raya and Sisu are biological sisters (plot twist?!), this might actually be *more* important -- because Disney Princesses don't really get "friends." Sure, they get animal sidekicks and they may even get magical helpers, but not *real* friends. The only two princesses who have female friends are Pocahontas (Nakoma) and Tiana (Charlotte) and I would argue that only Tiana and Charlotte are *real* friends (Nakoma is largely a plot device), however historically unlikely their friendship would be. 

So if this film deliberately features two female leads (as opposed to an accidental female lead with Elsa), who aren't biologically related, and focuses on their friendship/dynamic and both of them are Asian women? Like I said -- groundbreaking. 

But here's where it gets a bit tricky for an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kelly Marie Tran revealed, 

"She is someone who is technically a princess, but I think that what's really cool about this project, about this character specifically, is that everyone's trying to flip the narrative on what it means to be a princess...Raya is totally a warrior. When she was a kid, she was excited to get her sword. And she grows up to be a really badass, gritty warrior and can really take care of herself."

Okay, what's the problem? How could this be anything less than great? 

Fair question. I agree -- Tran's points about Disney trying to "flip the narrative on what it means to be a princess" is important -- and definitely in line with their recent marketing campaigns for the Princess franchise. And trust me -- I am all for strong, empowered, warrior characters.

My concern is that Disney has a tendency to Otherize its Princesses of Color -- to mark them as different from the typical white, European Princesses in significant ways. As early as 2004, Celeste Lacroix was pointing out that Disney's non-white heroines -- Pocahontas, Esmeralda, and, to some extent, Jasmine. Lacroix's point is that the non-White Princesses are often more sexualized and more associated with nature than the White Princesses, reinforcing the normative superiority of Whites. That is -- non-white Princesses don't get to just be princesses: they don't get to wear floofy ballgowns and have servants.

We can see this trend continue in the films that were released even after Lacroix's publication: Rapunzel, Merida, and Anna & Elsa, while all more active and empowered women, still wear ballgowns and live in castles. While Tiana and Moana may not be hypersexualized, they are definitely associated with Nature (Tiana turns into a frog and spends a good deal of time in the Louisiana bayou, and Moana is chosen by the Ocean to restore the heart of Te Fiti and give new life to a barren lava field) and don't wear ballgowns or live in castles. 

Raya, it seems, would continue this disparity: I'm guessing she won't be wearing a ballgown as a warrior or living in a castle, as Entertainment Weekly also reveals that "Raya (voiced by Tran) is the daughter of the Chief of the Heart Lands, one of the five lands in the fictional kingdom of Kumandra. Years ago, dragons and humans lived in harmony, until monsters known as Druun invaded, forcing the dragons to sacrifice themselves and save humanity. Raya's father was also killed, and the film follows her journey as a warrior to find the last dragon, who she believes can save Kumandra." 

This is where it gets tricky: on the one hand, I'm definitely not advocating that we continue telling solely European fairy tales, and the fact that this is a story deeply rooted in Southeast Asian culture is so very important. I'm also not saying that we should impose cultural inaccuracies as an empty gesture just for the sake of "equality." That is, we shouldn't impose castles and ballgowns and pretty passive princesses on a culture where castles and ballgowns simply don't exist. And I'm also not necessarily advocating for a return to pretty princess stories. 

But I would maybe like to see some blurring of the boundaries: a White warrior Princess in the vein of Mulan and Moana and a Non-White Princess who does live in a castle and maybe doesn't wear ballgowns, but is unabashedly royal. And those Princesses of Color don't necessarily have to represent a real culture: while Pocahontas and Mulan are based on real people/people of legend, and Moana seeks to explain The Long Pause in Polynesian culture, Jasmine's Agrabah is fictional (sort of) as is Naveen's Maldonia. 

Disney can create fictional worlds which can be ruled by characters of any color -- which I think I would like to see a bit more of. Maybe it would raise questions I haven't yet thought of...

The bottom line is that I'm still really excited about this movie, and I'm probably even more excited about Kelly Marie Tran's starring role. After all the hate and vitriol she received from toxic Star Wars fans, she's deserves a bit of pixie dust. 

Friday, July 17, 2020

Happy 65th Birthday, Disneyland!

On July 17th, 1955, Disneyland Park opened in Anaheim, California.

And the world got a little bit more magical. 
📷: Get Away Today
Sentimental? Definitely.

Hyperbolic? Perhaps, but given the impact that Disney Parks has had on a national and international level, I don't really believe that.

So, in honor of Disneyland's 65th birthday -- especially since she isn't celebrating with anyone today -- I thought I'd share a few pictures of our last trip there, in November of 2019. My husband had a conference out in California, and, if you have to go all the way to the West Coast, which is a lengthy trip for us East Coasters, why not tack on a few days and make a vacation out of it? And the fact that we could be in the park on my birthday


Plus, I now have a Bucket List Item crossed off: I was in Magic Kingdom for my birthday in November 2017, and in Disneyland for my birthday in November 2019. 🎉

It was just a short trip, 2.5 days, but we made it count. We got to see Galaxy's Edge (my husband has been to the one in Orlando, and I've never been), had drinks at Oga's Cantina, experienced the Festival of the Holidays in California Adventure, rode the new Guardians of the Galaxy themed Tower of Terror, saw a sneak peek of Frozen II (which literally give me goosebumps), and had an amazing dinner at the Chef's Counter in Napa Rose. 

All of that, and my favorite part was probably Rope Drop on Monday morning.
Sidebar: My family has been doing Rope Drop before I even knew that was a thing or that it had a name. In an effort to manage crowds, Disney will let guests inside the parks, up to a certain point. Usually about 10-15 minutes before the park opens, they'll open the gates, and guests can scan their tickets and enter the parks. (This is, of course, usually dependent on crowd volume and independent of Extra Magic Hours, which allow resort guests to get in an hour before everyone else.) In Disneyland/Magic Kingdom, you can go up to the Hub, the area in front of the castle. Shops and some restaurants are open, of course, so you can spend money before the park officially opens. And the name comes from the rope that cast members hold up, preventing you from going further. Then, when the park is just about to open, they'll be a countdown, the cast members will "drop the rope," and guests can make a beeline to whatever attraction they want to go to first. (You're not supposed to run, but people always do.)
And, when Something New has opened, cast members will usually walk the rope down to the ride entrance -- to prevent mobs of people running and bumping into each other. I have such vivid memories of doing rope drop with my family down to Tower of Terror...and if you run, the Cast Members will call you out

Back to 2019. Making it to Rope Drop usually means getting up extremely early, which can be a struggle if you've stayed up to watch fireworks and made it back to your hotel room after 11:00 at night. But my husband gamely got up with me, walked from our hotel to the entrance, and then went to grab coffee at the Downtown Disney Starbucks (which takes mobile orders!) while I waited in line. 

And it was so worth it:


We were some of the first people into the park that day, and it's just magical. Cast members are outside, waving, saying "Good Morning" and "Happy Birthday" and "Welcome," and it's amazing. The parks are usually so crowded, that it's rare that you get to experience them as "quiet" and "still" places. First thing in the morning, and late at night, are almost surreal experiences.
(Also: shoutout to Once Upon Apparel for my "Rope Drop to Fireworks" shirts. Absolutely perfect!)

Few more from the day -- obligatory Dole Whips & Minnie Ears:


And finally, one of my biggest Disney regrets (and I don't have many): Mickey was hanging out in front of the Main Street Fire Station, taking photos. My husband asked if I wanted to wait (it wasn't that long of a line), but I said "no." It was late, we were exhausted and we had a long-ish walk back to the hotel. I regret that, so much. 

You see, the light in the window above the fire station is lit in Walt Disney's apartment (which you can only visit if you take the Walk in Walt's Footsteps Tour, which is 100% worth it for that experience alone). That window is where Walt would watch guests enter the park, full of hope and happiness, to experience a little Disney magic. (I know, I know, I'm getting sentimental again.) But the light is always lit to symbolize that Walt's spirit and memory are still alive and in the park. And to have a photo, with the mouse that started it all, underneath that light? Would have been amazing. 

Because, in Walt's immortal words:
"I only hope we never lose sight of one thing...that it was all started by a mouse."


Happy Birthday, Disneyland. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Jude Law To Play Captain Hook?


How many film adaptations have there been of Peter Pan at this point?

Like, I get it, Disney. You're remaking everything. But Peter Pan, more than any other Disney film has just been done many. times. And it's really hard to (1) do something different -- like Hook, which I don't care how it did at the box office, is an absolute treasure and (2) to be faithful to Barrie's original script/vision for the story. Because then Hook would have to be quasi sympathetic (not an out-and-out villain), and Peter would have to be a bit evil, since Barrie's point was that children can be callous and cruel and selfish. 

So...yeah. Variety didn't offer many details on the plot/story, or even if Jude Law would also be playing Mr. Darling -- which if he isn't, is a travesty. 

Also...I feel like Jude Law is just casting Jason Isaacs 2.0?

via StoryWarren*

Like, doesn't Isaacs-as-Mr.-Darling look like Jude Law?! I haven't seen the 2003 version of Peter Pan in a while, but I remember really enjoying it...

*Sidebar: If you visit the link for the photo credit, the author, Helena Sorenson, seems blown away that the producers decided to cast Jason Isaacs as both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, like it was some amazingly inventive idea. Which....Nope. (She also reduces Peter Pan to a story about "the wonder of childhood and the bittersweet beauty of growing up" so...) There's been some debate over the deeper meaning behind the dual-casting, but Peter Pan was originally a stage play, with Gerald du Maurier (uncle to the boys who partly inspired Peter Pan) playing both roles. On the one hand, this was purely for financial reasons -- pay one actor to play both parts -- but it also works like the dual casting in Hamilton. Daveed Diggs plays both LaFayette and Jefferson because (1) they're not on stage at the same time; and (2) the audience has already established a connection with the actor. It might be more akin to Anthony Ramos playing both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton, as the audience is already mourning Laurens at the end of Act I, and that connection spills over (given Philip's ultimate fate).
But on the other hand: Peter Pan is inherently about growing up -- specifically Peter's fear of growing up and being a "man" -- and both Mr. Darling and Hook represent the exact type of adult Peter fears growing into: ineffectual and dishonorable. Whether Barrie realized that or whether it was a subconscious, Freudian decision isn't fully clear...

Friday, July 3, 2020

Ruminating on Princess and the Frog Retheming Logistics...

Ever since Disney announced that it would be retheming Splash Mountain with a Princess and the Frog overlay, I've found myself thinking about the logistics of this.

What does it mean for the areas around the ride?

After all, it's rare for an area of a Disney Park to be disjointed and not "cohesive" anymore. Take Tower of Terror in Disney World, for instance. The abandoned 1930s era Hollywood hotel is next to Rock n' Roller coaster with it's "contemporary" LA freeway race to get to an Aerosmith concert, both of which are at the end of Sunset Boulevard, itself lined mainly with shops, quick service restaurants and two amphitheaters. Not exactly as unified as Galaxy's Edge or Toy Story Land. (Although, to be fair, MGM's original "purpose" was to compete with Universal Studios by offering a "behind-the-scenes" look at Hollywood. So in that sense, they're all united by that vague California-theme.)

Especially now, since it has the catalog to do so, it seems as if Disney doesn't just plop a random ride into the middle of a park -- it has to be part of a larger narrative. This is what happened to outdated and undervisited parts of MGM (or, Hollywood Studios I GUESS; it will always be MGM to me) -- they became Galaxy's Edge and Toy Story Land. In a move I'm still not ready to talk about, The Great Movie Ride *sob* became Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway. In Disneyland, Paradise Pier became Pixar Pier -- with all the rides, themes, and restaurants renovated to fit that theme.
[Sidebar: if you ever visit California Adventure, and go to Pixar Pier, eat at Lamplight Lounge and get the lobster nachos. You will NOT regret it!]
The most recent casualty is, of course, A Bug's Land playground, which has been absorbed in order to make way for a whole Marvel area of California Adventure, centered around Mission Breakout (formerly DL's Tower of Terror. RIP.).

So, yeah.

How's this new Princess and the Frog ride going to work? And the answer, I think, depends on which park you're talking about.

1. Disneyland (Anaheim, California)
This one is the easiest, I think. And here's why:

via DisneyAvenue

Here's a map of Disneyland from 1989 -- obviously the park doesn't look much like this now, but this is how it looked when the ride opened, and you can easily read the names of the different lands. 

Splash Mountain is located in "Critter Country" -- it's pretty much this ride + Winnie-the-Pooh -- tucked away in a liminal space between Frontierland (part of which has now been repurposed for Galaxy's Edge) and New Orleans Square. In Disneyland, Splash Mountain is kind of its own thing -- not really connected to either of the lands it sits between, although it is aesthetically connected to Frontierland.

Since one of those lands is New Orleans Square -- that's why I think it will be fairly easy to integrate a new Splash Mountain. After all, Princess and the Frog -- for better or for worse -- is set in 1920's New Orleans. 

Now, it's important to note that New Orleans Square is pretty much the only area that is unique to Disneyland (as compared to the Magic Kingdom -- I'm not counting the other 4 parks here) -- at least in the basic renderings of the park. Both parks have a central Main Street leading to the castle in the center, which then branches off into Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Frontierland. Disneyland has New Orleans Square and Disney World has Liberty Square -- yes, they've expanded since then, but that was originally the only difference. (Like, Disneyland still has a Toontown, where Disney World doesn't.)

I'm not entirely sure why Disney World created a Liberty Square, but I do know that New Orleans Square was one of Walt's favorite parts of the park. He had a bit of a love affair with New Orleans, and also Mark-Twain-esque Riverboats. The only place you used to be able to get Mickey pancakes -- NOT the ubiquitous Mickey waffles but Mickey shaped pancakes -- was River Belle Terrace (a.k.a. Aunt Jemima's Pancake House, but that's a story for another day) which, much to my great dismay, no longer serves breakfast but instead serves Southern barbecue type stuff for lunch and dinner. (Which...having lived in the South for 2/3 of my life now, and even knowing how amazing Disney food is...I'm pretty sure it won't compare to the stuff I've had here.)

On the other side of New Orleans Square is Adventureland, so that Pirates of the Caribbean sort of lies in between the two lands of the park. The entrance to the line lies closer to Adventureland, but (1) the ride entrance actually takes you through Blue Bayou restaurant (Disney World peeps: think of the way the Gran Fiesta Tour goes past the San Angel Inn in the Mexico pavilion); and (2) the exit spits you out (after the Gift Shop!) in New Orleans Square. Blue Bayou is the pricey sit-down restaurant, but there's also Cafe Orleans (which has an amazing Monte Cristo sandwich) and Mint Julep bar, a quick service restaurant serving beignets and non-alcoholic cocktails which often rotate seasonal flavors. (The candy cane beignets are apparently amazing.) 

Then you have the Haunted Mansion. And if you want to argue that New Orleans Square glorifies slavery, well, I won't stop you, but I will challenge your ability to use the Haunted Mansion as part of your argument. Yes, the original concept for the attraction was "an antebellum manor overgrown with weeds, dead trees, swarms of bats and boarded doors and windows." But Walt Disney rejected this idea -- the aesthetic of run-down and overgrown just wasn't compatible with the planned perfection of Disneyland. Instead, Walt was inspired by the Winchester Mystery House (itself built in 1884, decidedly not antebellum) and wanted it to be a sort of Ripley/Museum of the Weird type thing. I don't think the ghosts there are the ghosts of slaves or anything so political.

All of this to say: it would be fairly easy to extend the New Orleans vibe past the Haunted Mansion, especially since the Rivers of America, which the Mark Twain Riverboat traverses, winds down to the end of what is now Critter Country. 

As the concept art shows, it should be fairly easy to blend Splash Mountain in once it's been rethemed. 

2. Disney World (Magic Kingdom, Orlando Florida)

Over in Disney World, however, things get a little bit trickier. 
via NavFile
You can see this on the map, but in Disney World, Frontierland is tucked away into a back corner of the park. In fact, one of the reasons it's a Congestion Point is that there's really only one way into and out of it. (You can take the railroad, but I don't count that.) Thunder Mountain is all the way at the edge, with Splash Mountain next to it. 

On the other side of Splash Mountain, you can go straight, into Adventureland and headed towards Pirates of the Caribbean, or you can turn left, and head back down the Frontierland themed street, past Pecos Bills (excellent taco salad, by the way), the shooting gallery, and the Country Bear Jamboree. Go down far enough, and you'll hit Liberty Square with the Hall of Presidents and Disney World's Haunted Mansion (an upstate NY colonial mansion -- because Liberty Square is designed to represent a tour across America, both historically and geographically). 

The design problem here should be apparent: on one side of Splash you have a California mining train attraction, and on the other, a Western saloon type vibe -- neither of which fits the Louisiana bayou aesthetic. The vibe is definitely Southwestern, not Deep South. 

via Best of Orlando

Does the ride have to match the land it's located in?

Of course not. 

Could this present an interesting opportunity for Disney? 

Of course. After all, I've never been a fan of the shooting gallery or the Country Bear Jamboree. (I know this is blasphemous to some die-hard Disney fans, but the bears have always kinda creeped me out. I'm sure this dates to some childhood interaction that I've blocked out of my memory.) And, as much as I love Pecos Bill's and their taco salads, that restaurant could easily (I imagine) be re-imagined as Tiana's Place.

In fact, that whole "street" could be redesigned and repurposed. I'm not sure first instinct would be to just make the whole street a New Orleans kind of vibe, but I love that New Orleans Square is unique to Disneyland, and wouldn't want a carbon copy in Orlando. There's a way -- I'm sure there is -- to maintain the geographic panorama of America...maybe a gradual shift from colonial New England to the Deep South. It wouldn't necessarily tie into any property directly, since so few of Disney's animated films are located specifically in America. (And we definitely do not want to touch on Pocahontas and appropriate that for profit/fun. NOPE.)

Of course, Disney could just decide to forego thematic consistency and retheme the ride alone, leaving everything else as it is. But that's not very Disney, is it? 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Disney To Retheme Splash Mountain With Princess and the Frog Overlay

About three weeks ago, there were several Twitter threads that went viral over petitions to retheme Disney's Splash Mountain, and some concept art that showed how Disney could do it. I've been working on a post responding to that, and I'll hopefully finish it and post it anyway, since we now have a decision about what Disney is doing.

Yep, that's right. The Internet won actually won. Well -- maybe. According to the Disney Parks Blog, this retheme is a project "Imagineers have been working on since last year."

Okay. Let's pause for a second.

Before we go any further, let's make one thing explicitly clear. There are many things Disney does well -- their customer service is the industry standard and their animated films have won 13 out of the 19 Academy Awards given to feature-length animated films. They are trailblazers and innovators in many ways -- but not really when it comes to cultural politics. Angharad N. Valdivia says it best:
" be sure, Disney does not pursue new representational strategies unless it is certain that profits will increase without alienating the bulk of its audience." 
"Unless it is certain that profits will increase without alienating the bulk of its audience." Hold on to that thought.

Let's go back a bit further.

via Etsy
Splash Mountain is one of the "three Disney Mountains": Space, Thunder, and Splash. For as far back as my memory goes (which isn't 100% reliable, mind you) -- they were the only three "real" coasters in Disney World, certainly in Magic Kingdom. [There was a push in the late 1990s-early 2000s to open bigger thrill rides as Disney tried to compete with other parks and attract "older" crowds: Rock n' Roller Coaster and Test Track opened in 1999; Tower of Terror opened in 1994, and Expedition Everest in 2006.]

But Splash Mountain has been in Magic Kingdom since 1992 (!!!), and even longer in Disneyland, since 1989. It's a testament to my Dad's love for Disney, that I remember when Splash Mountain opened at Disney World. We weren't there for opening day or anything, but I remember that it was still new enough for the lines to be insanely long. Perhaps not Galaxy's Edge long, but long enough for the early '90s. I think we must have waited at least 2 hours in line -- I remember the sticky Florida heat, the fans and misters Disney had set up to cool guests snaking through the queue, and I remember being grateful every time the queue wound around into a shady spot. (I also remember my dad grumbling that no ride could be worth a wait this long, but at least it was better than the Thunder Mountain line, which packs guests in like sardine with little ventilation/air circulation.)

The basic premise of Splash Mountain -- as one of the things that sets Disney apart from other amusement parks is that rides, and queues, actually tell a story -- is that Br'er Rabbit, bored at home, leaves the Briar Patch to go on adventures. He's constantly pursued by Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear, who through typical villainous trickery, try to capture him -- but the wily Br'er Rabbit escapes every time. Until the last -- when he's caught in the Laughing Place. Br'er Fox ties him up and makes to roast him -- with Br'er Rabbit desperately trying to escape. Cue the big drop of the log flume ride, and when you make it to the bottom, drenched and giddy, everything ends happily, with "Zip A Dee Do Dah" playing as you coast past a riverboat celebration and Br'er Rabbit content at home. (It is a Disney ride, after all.) At ~10 minutes, it's one of the longest rides/attractions in a Disney park, which usually means it's worth the wait.

Disney scholars and aficionados will know, of course, that this isn't an independent, original ride -- like, say, Figment's Journey Into Imagination, which exists outside of any Disney movie or TV show.
[Sidebar: Don't you dare touch this ride, Disney! Between Figment and the Sherman Brothers' "One Little Spark," this is pure Disney magic.]
It's hard for me to guess at what the average Disney-goes knows about this ride -- that is, if they know that Splash Mountain is tied to a Disney film; if they know that "Zip A Dee Do Dah" comes from that film and not this ride; if they know that film is 1946's Song of the South; if they know anything about the controversy and legacy surrounding that film.

Suffice it to say, and this is what that other post deals with, Song of the South is a controversial film and one of the only films to remain in the Disney Vault after Disney moved their entire catalog to Disney+. The film is set in the Reconstruction Era -- not an antebellum one -- and is loosely based on the Br'er Rabbit stories of Joel Chandler Harris. On the one hand, the film portrays black people happily working on a plantation, even after they've been freed, echoing Br'er Rabbit's sentiment of, "Home sweet home is the lesson today. Oh, I'm thru with moving on now..." On the other hand, Walt though the film would be a cornerstone of his legacy, and paints the "outsider" characters -- and the storytellers -- as the positives ones, and implicitly criticizes the upper-class whites and their lifestyle.

Like, I said. Controversial.

Okay, back to June 2020 -- a firestorm of a year if ever there was one -- and the Black Lives Matter movement has shifted national attention away from the Coronavirus Pandemic. Rightfully so. Change is slowly burning -- like Mississippi changing it's state flag, Quaker Oats is "retiring" Aunt Jemima, and Ben & Jerry's offered us both a powerful statement about dismantling white supremacy AND a new flavor of ice cream, Empower Mint. And while this change is good, long overdue, and sorely needed -- it has to be just the beginning.

Which brings us back to Valdivia: Disney will not pursue new representational strategies unless it is certain that profits will increase without alienating the bulk of its audience." Meaning: Disney isn't going to be progressive unless they know it's a fiscally sound decision.
Exhibit A: Disney has been making feature-length animated films since 1937 -- but they didn't feature a black protagonist until 2009's The Princess and the Frog. And I genuinely don't believe that it's a coincidence that Obama was elected POTUS in 2008. It seems a bit reductive to equate being ready for a black Disney Princess with being ready for a black president, but I think they are related.

So, yes. I believe that the Very Important People at Disney have been discussing this retheme for at least a year -- I'd even bet that it's been longer than that, as the calls to retheme Splash Mountain certainly aren't new.

But the timing....just seems too "perfect." The tweets and concept art went viral around June 9, 2020. The Disney Parks Blog announcement is from June 25th. A little over two weeks is just about the amount of time it seems is needed to draw up concept art and draft the press release. After all, if it had been in the works, why not release the news immediately after the tweets went viral? I don't doubt that this was in the works -- and it's not like Disney execs haven't been busy with other things like a global pandemic disrupting their billion dollar daily operations -- but now they have "proof" that they won't alienate the bulk of their audience .

As for my personal feelings...well, as far as they matter, there is a part of me that's sad that I won't experience with my kids the Splash Mountain that I first experienced with my family -- and remember so vividly. That being said, (1) there are plenty of other rides that are still the exact same as they were in the 1990s when I first rode them -- again, DON'T TAKE MY FIGMENT, DISNEY. And (2) my kids have no idea who Br'er Rabbit or Br'er Fox are -- but they know and love Tiana. So the ride will probably be more meaningful for them with the new storyline.

As a general rule, I'm reluctant to endorse Disney's retheming of classic rides. In particular, I'm thinking of Maelstrom in the Norway pavilion, which was totally revamped to meet the success of and demands for Frozen. Don't get me wrong -- it's a great ride, with amazing animatronics, but...I loved Maelstrom. And I loved that EPCOT was always just a little bit disconnected from the entertainment side. Not everything has to be synergistically connected to a film or TV show -- look at Figment, look at Tower of Terror, look at Expedition Everest. They're all successful and all independent of Intellectual Properties (IPs).

And, yes. Expecting a park that was established in 1955 (or, 1971) to remain unchanged is naive and unfeasible -- and even counter to Walt's own dreams for the parks. So I think this change is needed -- and will be a good one. I just hope that it doesn't open the flood gates for unnecessary changes. (I know there may be other conversations, like this one, about other rides. I don't mean those changes.)

Friday, June 26, 2020

Happy Stitch Day!

Happy Stitch Day, everyone!

Since Stitch was unaffectionately known as Experiment 626, Disney fans have dubbed June 26th -- 6/26 -- as Stitch Day.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Cinderella Castle? More Like Briar Rose (Gold) Castle

With Summer Term II and a new Disney seminar about to start, I thought it was high time I dipped my toes back into blogging. If I'll be asking my students to write on a semi-regular basis, I should be doing the same.

I've got a couple of longer posts in the works, but I thought I'd start with a quick update.

Now, disclaimer: I *love* me some rose gold. After a violent anti-pink phases that lasted through the majority of my childhood and adolescence, I came to the realization that, yes, I actually like the color and I could trounce gender stereotypes and still embrace the color. And what I love about rose gold -- particularly Disney's sparkly version -- is that it's feminine without being too bold:

So, objectively speaking, I love the rose gold vibes.

What I do not love, however, is the rose gold look on my iconic Cinderella castle. Now that I've visited both parks, I'm admittedly torn on which is actually my favorite -- but I think Disneyland might have a slight edge, so much so that our first family trip to Disney (now postponed indefinitely) was going to be there, rather than to (the geographically closer) Disney World.

But when it comes to castle? Hands down, Cinderella Castle in WDW is my favorite.

I mean, LOOK AT HER.

She is stunning and turning that corner on Main Street, catching that first glimpse -- never fails to give me goosebumps.

Also? That silver/blue color scheme with a hint of gold? Perfectly captures Cinderella -- whose dress I'm never sure if it's actually blue or silver.

 That's not to say that Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland isn't beautiful -- just beautiful in her own way.

She's smaller, of course, as is Disneyland (comparatively). She has to be -- she's plopped in the middle of Anaheim. Turning that corner on Main Street, I still get goosebumps, but my initial thought is always, "Gosh, I forgot just how small she actually is."

The color scheme though? The pink and blue refresh works -- it embodies Sleeping Beauty (and Flora and Merrywether) perfectly.

The castles -- and their color schemes -- match both their respective parks and their namesake princesses.

So...I am confused by -- and not happy about -- this new makeover Cinderella Castle received for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Check it out:

via The Laughing Place


What is this?!

I get that 50th anniversaries are symbolized by gold, but this is decidedly rose gold and not, you know, traditional gold, which would have worked given the original color scheme of the castle. It's a bold choice -- and one which makes my iconic castle look she's trying too much to emulate her older sister. 

Look, I know it's probably (hopefully?) temporary, and after the 2+ years of anniversary celebrations (because Disney loves to milk a celebration), it will go back to normal. It better. 
I know that the Birthday Cake Castle for the 25th Anniversary was loathed by many -- my 12 year old self thought it was fun -- and everything went back to normal. I know people hated the Sorcerer's Hat in MGM, the Mickey Hands on top of Spaceship Earth -- and it was all temporary. 

So this had better be temporary too. 🤞