Category Archives: reviews

Judge a Movie on Its Own Terms.

Hollywood makes polemical movies all the time.  When they’re liberal, everyone says, “Great movie.”  When they’re Christian and/or politically conservative, suddenly they’re “preachy.”  When a “Christian” movie has bad theology (_Noah_), Christian critics (rightly) complain. When a “Christian” movie has theology, it’s “Bible thumping” or “boring” or “unrealistic.”  When a movie has language, sex & violence, Christian critics complain.  When it has none of those, it’s too unrealistic or insipid.  . . .

Meanwhile, Hollywood has taken its agenda full-steam the past 8 years and has gone beyond brainwashing to using its economic might to strongarm elected officials.

Seeing on the horizon what the late Justice Antonin Scalia predicted last summer, several states have recently drafted legislation trying to back up the First Amendment protection of religion.  Bills that say, for example, that ministers cannot be forced to participate in weddings that go against their faith, or that religious organizations cannot be forced to hire people who do not practice their faith, have been cast by the media as “anti-LGBT hate laws,” and the consistent, age old principle that marriage is between a man and a woman for the sake of procreation is now being cast as equivalent to some Christians’ previous justifications of opposing miscegenation and supporting slavery.

So, Disney headlined a list of major corporations that threatened to boycott the entire state of Georgia if Gov. Nathan Deal signed its religious freedom bill.  Whatever happened to “big business” being supposedly “conservative”?  I know people who still cling to the myth that “Republicans are the party of the Rich,” even while Hollywood elites are using their money to pressure elected officials and manipulate the Democratic Primary itself (with those “superdelegates”).

So, speaking of “super” people, while Disney made headlines, Warner was another company behind the threatened boycott.  Last month, I bought a restaurant.com deal that came with 2 emovie tickets that expired March 31.  I saved them for Easter break.  I hoped the opportunity would come up for a “date,” or else I’d planned to see _Batman v. Superman_ and let my wife see whatever she wanted, as we did when the kids were really little.  Instead, I decided I didn’t want to see _Dawn of Justice_ in the theatre because I’d rather watch it when I can fast forward or multitask through the violence.  I didn’t want to see _Zootopia_ because I don’t want to give Disney any money, and as with most “kids” movie trailers, I was uncomfortable with some of the jokes they highlweighted.

 

So that left _God’s Not Dead 2″ and “Miracles from Heaven.”  Since I’d put it off so long, we had to go together and bring the kids.  We also had some fantastic news on a few fronts this week, and a bit of family celebration was in order.

Since we saw the first one, and all the kids enjoyed it and paid attention (which is unusual for them with live action movies that aren’t in the superhero, sci-fi or musical genres), we figured #GodsNotDead2 was “safe.”  We’re glad we went, and glad we spent the money on the extra tickets, instead of spending it on Disney.

1) ok, it’s not “high cinema.”  It doesn’t pretend to be.  It has its place.
2) As Eliot said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”  As a character in _Twin Peaks_ says, voicing David Lynch’s Eliotic formalism, “This is a formica table.” Much of what makes the pilot and first season of _Twin Peaks_ “quirky” and “strange” is that it’s not.  I was struck, rewatching the series a few years ago, by a scene where Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman are in the hospital to interview a suspect, and the sheriff tries to adjust a rolling desk chair to his height, and he struggles with it.  It’s funny to watch.  It disturbs our sense of narrative structure, so we call it weird, but it’s actually *real*.  It’s what really happens to real people.  People in movies toss ropes across ravines and catch them perfectly.  I toss a dog leash across the room to one of my kids, and it falls in the middle between us.  If the latter happens in a movie, though, we call it “unrealistic,” and depending upon what amounts to a biased perspective, that may or may not be “artistic.”

So with both _God’s Not Dead_ movies and similar Christian films.  They might be unrealistic from a fiction-writer’s or a cynic’s perspective.  They might not do the best job of depicting their characters, but they do reflect the real experiences of real people.  I read an article yesterday that looked back on the first movie and said it’s unrealistic for a freshman to take on a college professor. *I* did.  This movie is about a teacher.  I know several educators, myself included, who have had incidents in their careers like what happens in the movie.

So view them as quasi-documentaries of us weirdos who do think our faith should be more than just 1 hour on Sundays and should impact other parts of our lives.

3) Maybe they will attract or convince non-Christians to convert.  Maybe they’ll provide fodder for cynical non-Christians to mock or deride Christianity (but so wouldec, for example, an honset adaptation of _Narnia_).

But that’s not the audience.

Sometimes the choir *does* need to be preached to.  When we face challenges in the workplace or the classroom, we need to be prepared to give an account of what we believe in.

Action Movies tell us that one guy can take down a group of terrorists, aliens or supervillains.  Romantic movies tell us that it’s simple for the guy to get the girl or vice versa.  Dinosaurs, zombies, vampires, or people who get superpowers instead of cancer from radiation run amok, and that’s fine.  But when a  movie tells us that a Christian can stand up and witness his or her faith in public and win the challenge, suddenly that’s escapist and unrealistic.

I appreciate the critique.  I appreciate the call for movies that do what the works of O’Connor, Tolkien, etc., do.  But we also need the cinematic equivalents of C. S. Lewis and A. J. Cronin. So I don’t get the absolute vitriol directed at this genre by Christian critics, especially the ones whom I otherwise respect.

The goal of the movie is to encourage its intended audience, and I think it achieves that goal.  I came out not only strengthened and encouraged but also having learned a few things.

Meanwhile, there’s the wider economic front looming in the culture wars.

Hollywood has now made its complete contempt for Christianity public with this campaign against Christian freedom.  We’re told we’re paranoid and backwards and hateful and ignorant and accused of violating every principle of the Inverted Natural Law for saying that bathrooms should be about plumbing, and that having gender-assigned bathrooms and locker rooms is about people’s privacy and safety.  If a feminist complains about ogling, she’s speaking out for human rights.  If a Christian does so, she’s being outmoded and bigoted.

By pressuring governors not to protect ministers, they’re saying–by implication or even overtly–that they *do* plan to go after ministers and churches directly.

And we want to give these people our money *why*?

If you go to the movies this weekend, see _God’s Not Dead 2_ or _Miracles from Heaven_.  Better yet, put the money in the collection basket.

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The Abominable Bride: Did Sherlock Jump the Shark?

Sherlock: Since when have you had any kind of imagination?
John: Perhaps since I convinced the reading public that an unprincipled drug addict was some kind of gentleman hero.
Sherlock: Yes, now you come to mention it, that was quite impressive.
(From Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Read more at: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/viewtopic.php?f=51&t=24430

It’s hardly the first time I’ve inspired a writer, Watson. I am actually the basis for several fictional characters across various media. It’s one of the by-products of my success as a detective.
(From Elementary, season 04, episode 07, “Miss Taken”)
Read more at: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=24516

After two years, fans of BBC’s Sherlock have finally seen the long-anticipated special The Abominable Bride (you can watch it online here for the next week or so.

Now, as we wait at least another year for Season 4, I’m left wondering whether Sherlock has jumped the proverbial shark, presented a deconstructionist masterpiece, or both.

I included the quote from this past week’s Elementary because both series seem to be necessarily self-aware at times.  Last year, it touched on it with the necessity of “One Watson, One Holmes,” where their roles are referred to as almost a thing of destiny.  In an earlier episode, “End of Watch,” a member of Holmes’s Narcotics Anonymous group publishes a blog with quotations of Sherlock’s wisdom shared at meetings–thus resulting an in-universe explanation for popular Sherlock Holmes quotations like, “When we have eliminated the impossible, . . .”

One problem with such series, like Once Upon a Time, is the constant question of how these people attained such legendary status while being our contemporaries.  Sherlock addresses the question overtly via Watson’s blog, the equivalent of Conan Doyle’s conceit of the stories being written by Watson.

The idea of Sherlock Holmes being contemporary is nothing new.  Previous adaptations, most notably the mid-1940s Universal Studios/Basil Rathbone movies, have been set in whatever era they were made (the 2 1939 Fox-produced Rathbone films, and the Rathbone radio drama, were all set in the original era).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were really the first series in the modern sense.  While therehad been serialized novels like Les Miserables that could have been made into multi-year TV series today, and many sequels, the 56 short stories and 4 novels Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes were unprecedented.  Further, starting with the infamous ten-year letter-writing campaign that pressured Conan Doyle to bring the character back from the dead in 1903 when he’d intended 1894’s “The Final Problem” to be just that, to early commentaries that attempted to reconcile problems with the continuity, Conan Doyle inspired both the concept of the “series” and the concept of fandom.

Elementary may have been CBS’s attempt to capitalize on Sherlock’s popularity, but it also interestingly premiered the Fall after House, MD, ended, and Johnny Lee Miller’s approach to Holmes, more like Jeremy Brett than Cumberbatch has been to date (see below), also evokes Hugh Laurie’s Holmes-based doctor.

The first episode of Sherlock in 2010 seems to evoke elements of House (the ambiguity of Watson’s leg and cane usage, recalling both House and the original Watson; and Martin Freeman’s Watson reminds me more of Robert Sean Leonard’s James Wilson than any previous Watson) and Monk (inducing a police detective’s relationship status based upon similar clues).

Thus, like some movies like The Seven Per-Cent Solution and They Might Be Giants, both the current series, but Sherlock, in particular, have always played on the mythic status of the characters to explore questions of myth versus reality.  Though it is overtly  an attempt to pay homage to the original stories, and to the Jeremy Brett series (including a variation on the Brett Sherlock Holmes theme song, sets that recalled that interpretation of 221B Baker Street, and even a slight different in Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting style), “The Abominable Bride” definitely evokes both those films’ themes of paranoia and addiction, fantasy and reality.

In so doing, “The Abominable Bride” creates a conundrum.  Like every episode of Sherlock, it packs a lot into one episode, and it seems designed for repeat viewing.  However, while the first six episodes/movies do so by packing a lot of clues, Easter Eggs and humor, and cases that are resolved, this episode works more like an episode of Doctor Who.

The more I think about the special, the more it seems to “work,” but if it “works,” it undermines the whole series.  It’s like the Tommy Westphall hypothesis.  The theory, originally a satire of fans’ (myself included) obsession about “continuity,” meant to show how difficult it is to expect continuity of a single series (Ben Matlock lives in the same house for 9 seasons but three different houses are used for the outside), much less shows (or comic books) that cross-over.   Thus, the originally joking theory (which eventually grew into being what it was mocking) holds that every show ever is the wrapped up in the hallucination of Tommy Westphall on St. Elsewhere, since so many shows crossed over with it during its run or after, in a variant of 6 Degrees of Separation.  Any show that can be shown to “cross over” with a show that crossed over with St. Elsewhere is all part of the vast hallucination.

Thus, “The Abominable Bride” leaves the viewer with a similar dilemma.  In the first two seasons, Sherlock had seemingly substituted the character’s classic addictions with caffeine and nicotine, yet opium and other drugs were shown in season 3, and now at last the “seven per-cent solution” of cocaine.  We’re told that, shortly before boarding a plane to exile as a spy in “His Last Vow,” Sherlock took a cocktail of dangerous drugs.  When the episode ends, we see Moriarty, seemingly alive and having taken over all the media in the UK.  Mycroft calls for the plane to return.  In this episode, we see the 1890s versions of the characters, and in the middle find out we’re in Sherlock’s “mind palace”: he has supposedly concocted an elaborate supposition of himself in a different era trying to solve an old case of someone who had died in a similar way to Moriarty to try and figure out how he survived.  You may recall that even “The Great Game” had undermined our confidence in the character by Moriarty’s suggestion that he was just an actor, hired to make Sherlock Holmes look good.

Now, we see Holmes hallucinating the famous incident of the Reichenbach Falls, confronting Moriarty there as in Conan Doyle, with them engaging in a dialogue about how it “always ends here,” or some such.  As “our” Sherlock keeps coming in and out of his “hallucination,” we are faced with a rift in the show’s “reality.”  In the end, we see Holmes and Watson in the 1890s talking, and Holmes suggests that he is telling Watson a supposition about what life might be like in the 2010s!

It’s a worthy mystery: is the whole series just the fantasy of the “real” Sherlock Holmes in the 1890s?  Is the whole series a drug-induced paranoid fantasy of the “real” Sherlock Holmes in the 2010s?  Is most of it real, but the last few moments of Season 3 and all of “The Abominable Bride” a delusion?
Is the whole episode undermining us as fans and viewers and readers, trusting in the lie that an “unprincipled drug addict is a gentleman hero”?

Or has the show gone too far into the Fourth Wall?  One of the most infamous examples of “shark jumping” besides the Happy Days episode that inspired the term is season 9 of Dallas, the “Dream Season.”  Since Bobby Ewing had been visibly killed on screen at the end of season 8, when Patrick Duffy came back a year later, the producers made the entire year a dream Pam had about him being killed, and the show attempted to pick up where season 8 ended, with the storylines following different paths.  Though there were 5 seasons after “the dream,” it undermined fan confidence.

The genius of “The Abominable Bride” is that it takes that whole questioning of “fictional reality” to a new level.  The risk is it’s too obscure.  What is the point of watching Season 4 or the alleged season 5 if the whole thing is potentially the drug induced fantasy of either Holmes?

I want to talk about Star Wars Theories

Not about spoilers for Episode VII: The Force Awakens, mind you: the theories themselves, their existence.

It now seems a long time ago (for some of us, it was) that Disney bought LucasFilm  and announced not only a new “trilogy,” but a set of tied in one-off films in the manner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so there will be at least one Star Wars movie a year for the foreseeable future.

Even before that, though, Star Wars was, of course, a very popular topic online, generally of course why the “original trilogy” was good, why Empire Strikes Back was great, why the prequel trilogy was bad, or else how the original trilogy has some weaknesses and the prequels have strength.

A common theme that shows up is that the “Dark Side” of the Force are actually the good guys.  The prequels show the Republic and its Jedi secret police to be corrupt and incompetent.  The Empire just wants to bring order and governance.  The destruction of Alderaan was, in the galactic perspective, a legitimate military target.
The Rebellion wants to restore the chaos.

More importantly, Yoda, the “oldest and wisest of the Jedi” allows a Sith Lord to not only escape his notice but to work closely with him for *years* without getting a hint.  Yoda and Obi-wan are a couple of  liars who deceive Luke about his father *and* his sister (spoiler alert!).   Almost everything Obi-wan says in the “first” movie is revealed to be a lie by the end of Return of the Jedi and definitely by the end of Revenge of the Sith:
1e1ef7a2a306a969483c08658dc082dfdd8edfe9dd3bb02f431d93d71c08454f

lukes-lightsaber

Are these moral ambiguities merely plot holes?

Or is there a deeper problem with the series’ Gnosticism?

C. S. Lewis, after St. Augustine and many others, argues that the inherent flaw of a Dualistic worldview is that we’re told that “good” and “evil” are equal, opposing forces, and there’s no reason to say, “this side is good” and “this side is bad,” other than subjective perspective.

The same Obi-Wan Kenobi who described Vader as “Twisted and evil” earlier told Vader, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” (itself one of the statements used in evidence against the Jedi as the “good guys”).

On the other hand, when Darth Tyrannus is talking to Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones, he is telling the truth: the Republic is under the control of a Sith Lord; the Republic is riddled with corruption.

Many Star Wars fans argue that the terms “good” and “evil” should not be applied, that it’s “light” and “dark,” because the Force is not even dualistic: there is one Force, not a “Good Force” and a “Bad Force”; just one Force with two sides.  The Force can be accessed using different emotions, like the Lanterns in the DC universe.  The “light” side uses emotions generally considered “positive,” and the “dark” side is fueled by anger, revenge, hate, etc.

Watching The Force Awakens, while I enjoyed it and believe it has many strengths, I tended to agree with the L’Osservatore Romano review that evil is not clear in the film.  It’s kind of gloomy and pessimistic–which makes sense in a movie that’s supposed to be the inversion of “A New Hope,” but there’s also an even greater sense of that lack of clear lines of what is good and what is evil, because the characters lack a clear motivation or guideline.

The “Force” does not give moral laws; it just gives powers.  In real life, this is the problem of a dualistic worldview.  As soon as you say, “That is evil,” unless you mean it as, “I find that unpleasant,” you’re really saying there has to be one God who tells us what is evil.

On Riots, Racism, and Standardized Testing: All you need is Love, and that means Christ

Our nation is in turmoil.  Everything distopian novelists and “crazy conspiracy theorists” have written about seems to be coming true.  Early in the Obama administration, for example, people said he’d create a national crisis to declare Martial Law and establish a dictatorship.  Well, the tensions are arising, and Obama  established aprogram under everyone’s noses to begin nationalizing local police forces.  Major cities keep erupting in race riots.  The Supreme Court is likely to overturn every state law on marriage and establish yet another fictious constitutional “Right.” Some people are being driven out of business for expressing thir Christian beliefs while other businesses are denying Christians their services.   Hillary Clinton says if (and when) she’s “elected” President, she wants to force all religions to accept abortion.

All of it just shows society’ need for Christ.   

Attempts to “fix” broken schools with more money and more legislative interference for 50-60 years have only made things worse.  All we have is a “race to nowhere” with high stakes standardized tests that demonstrate nothing about real learning, line the pockets of educational conglomerates, and cause students to burn out, or worse, from the stress.  When I was in elementary school, the teachers would say, discussing the differences between the US and Communist countries, taht Communists made students take tests that determined their entire lives.  When I was a young adult, a teacher friend went through a few years where a faculty member had a heart attack or stroke during standardized testing, because it was so stressful.  

We can’t fix something unless we know why it’s broken, and what’s broken is a lack of transcendent values.   
If the reason people riot is lack of advantage, or discrimination by police, what is served by looting or burning small businesses and charities?  One of the reasons the July 1832 revolt that Hugo immortalized failed was that most of “the people” were mad at the students for stealing their stuff.  But, at least they knew whom they were revolting against (a just, Catholic king who was popular for giving he people more rights than the “Republic” or Napoleon) and why (they believed that secular government could and should end poverty). I saw a meme pointing out how people riot over sports games, and implying that race riots at least have a point.  The way I see it, it’s equally meaningless: unbridled anger, expressed in random violence.  If revolution is ever effective or just–and the Church has always been wary of revolution, even in the case of the Cristeros–it needs to be focused on the right enemy.  

I often refer to Catechism 676, the passage that tells us to beware of any movement that claims to try and solve all the world’s problems through  secular means because that is the “spirit of Antichrist.”  This was the reason the Church condemned Freemasonry.  It’s what Pope Benedict XVI expounded on in _Caritas in Veritate_, saying taht charity must be from love and truth, both of which are personfied in Christ, and that since the Church is the arbiter of Christ’s teachings and the Natural Law, economic justice cannot be divorced from the Church.

Prayer, fasting and forgiveness are the only solutions to these crises.  The more we abandon Christ as a society, the worse thigns will get.  If as 1 Samuel warns us, we choose a “King” over God, the warnings Samuel gave to the Israelites will continue to be proven. 

Cindee-relly

Having discussed people’s criticisms of the recent “revisionist” trends in Disney movies, and how they are celebrating Branagh’s Cinderella for a fairly straight-up remake of the classic Disney animated version, I’d like to express my agreement with “catholic All Year” that _Cinderella_ is probably the best movie I’ve seen since _Les Miserables_.

When I was in graduate school, in my Shakespeare course, we had a unit on “Shakespeare in film,” and one of the things we did was compare the Olivier and Branagh versions of _Henry V_. The professor talked about Branagh’s use of cinematic allusions. She showed us Branagh’s version of Act I, scene 2 and said how it’s an homage to a scene in _Citizen Kane_. She asked us to see if we could catch any other references. I’d seen the film many times before, but I never thought of it till she asked. As soon as the black figure of Henry’s silhouette entered, his cape flowing around him, and he began stalking through the line of soldiers, with Patrick Doyle’s score dramatically thumping, I raised my hand. The professor paused the video, and I said, “Darth Vader!”
Thus, I was pleased to catch at least one self-reference, besides the presence of Derek Jacobi as the king and Doyle as the composer. Without giving away spoilers, it’s in the climax.

Then there are the fairy tale archetypes. Surprisingly, Branagh cuts out the Three tasks, a motif dating back to the Cupid and Psyche archetype from which most European princess fairy tales derive. However, he introduces the hunt for a stag, a common motif in many stories, using it as an opportunity for the characters to meet before the ball. They actually have a sincere conversation, and their love is based on something more than superficial attraction but rather shared values.

This Cinderella is not the animated version, flying to a man for escape–indeed, she’s happy to return to her life of slavery just to know she has a friend. She’s not Rapunzel, falling head over heels for the first man she meets. She’s more like the animated Aurora–indeed, it’s a very similar scene–having a brief but meaningful conversation.

Another element the folklorist in me liked was the part derived from “Beauty and the Beast”–Ella’s request to her father when he leaves on his last business trip.

As far as fitting with 21st century sensibilities while remaining fairly traditional (or, as I noted in my previous post, returning somewhat to what real fairy tales are like), the film does make Lady Tremaine a more sympathetic figure without going all-out _Maleficent_. There is a slight disjoint, though, in the final act. We see her pain watching her new husband ignore her, favoring his daughter over her and even agreeing with his daughter that her stepmother and stepsisters are “trying.” She tells Cinderella how she herself married for love, had her heart broken, and then married for money and lost that. She never really explains, though, why she’s quite so antagonistic to Ella. They say that a well-written and acted villain is the hero of his or her own story. This was supposedly the goal of _Maleficent_, and while it was nice that they kept her evil, one of the film’s few real flaws was *not* falling into “cookie cutter” mode. In general, the characters’ motivations are better developed.

The other element of the film that plays on post-_Shrek_ approaches is the repeated use of the adjective “charming.”
It was fun picking out the who’s-who of Disney movies, Branagh movies and/or movie musicals.

Perhaps the best part of all, though, is how the feminists are ticked off by the film. That alone was reason to pay to see it.
Some are criticizing how “unrealistically thin” her waist is, and how it’s obviously modified with CGI (I think the actual movie is a bit wider than some of the promotional images or trailers).
Cinderella Poster
But you know what else is unrealistic? Anthropomorphic mice and fairy godmothers. Depictions of women’s bodies are a matter for another discussion, but think about this: 

 

 Meanwhile, in the context of the film, I’d say her waist is fine; it’s the rest of her that doesn’t make sense. She’s doing an entire household of manual labor 16+ hours a day, sleeping either in the attic or on the floor in front of the fireplace. She’s fed table scraps and shares them with her mice friends (she is apparently a bit nutty, a trait shared by all our shut-in princesses). She *should* be completely emaciated.
Of course, to the “progressives,” it’s not just her appearance but her behavior they find revolting: she offers up her suffering. She follows her mother’ dying advice to “have courage and be kind.” Normally, I would be suspicious of “kindness” as the standard for virtue, but her understanding of kindness is far more like the virtue of caritas. She understands, like C. S. Lewis’s presentation of Psyche, the Christian values of humility and self-sacrifice. Those who love the philosophy of “no right, no wrong, no rules,” who agree with Satan’s “non serviam,” find Mary’s “fiat mihi” repulsive and oppressive. Christianity is seen as a tool of “oppression” by those who say, with Milton’s Beelzebub, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” Yet the lie, as Elsa realizes in _Frozen_, is that no one really reigns in Hell–one either becomes a slave, or imprisoned in frozen isolation.
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. . . . ” In the Orwellian society we live in, these teachings are condemned as “evil.” Whether either the writer-director or his character are aware, Cinderella epitomizes Christlike behavior, and this is why those who celebrate _Maleficent_ hate _Cinderella_, and vice versa.

If I were to suggest one thing to movie studios about remakes and adaptations, it would be to have Shakespearians write and/or direct them. The amazing thing about Shakespeare is how open to interpretation his characters are, and Shakespeare adaptations often tell very different stories from the same texts just by switching or deleting certain lines, and by how the characters are acted.

On Tangled, Frozen and Maleficent Hearts.

Not since _Harry Potter_ has the Catholic commentariat been so hotly divided over whether a pop culture franchise is profoundly Christian or profoundly dangerous as the controversy over Frozen. This controversy has re-erupted a bit since the release of Kenneth Branagh’s live action Cinderella, both because it contains the _Frozen_ short “Frozen Fever,” which seems to resolve a few of the issues with the first film (e.g., Kristoff and Anna are clearly a “couple”), and because it is being hailed as a positive change from the recent trajectory of Disney fairy tale movies–most notably its live-action predecessor Maleficent and, to some writers, Disney’s adaptation of Sondheim’s _Into the Woods_.
Those who take a dim view of Frozen rightly point to similar parallels between it and Maleficent. Both movies attempt revisionist approaches to fairy tales. Both involve a sympathetic backstory to a “villainess”. Both undermine the familiar notion of a “True Love’s kiss.” Ironically, in very few stories is a “kiss” the saving act, anyway. That’s a classic example of Disneyfication.

In “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” the title character is saved, not by a kiss, but by the dwarves dropping her coffin. While popular culture has the “Frog Prince” changed back by a “true love’s kiss,” in the “original” Grimm story, while he tries to get the princess to kiss him, she throws him against a wall in disgust. Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” fails. The Beast is transformed, in the “original” as well as the Disney version, by Beauty’s tears. Most “Fairy Tales” have more sophisticated endings than the modern day re-appropriations as folk tales. The notion that it’s always “true love’s kiss” is really Disney’s fault to begin with. Rapunzel and her prince end up happy ever after, but not before she bears him two children out of wedlock, and he is blinded.

Ironically, though, Andersen’s “Snow Queen” is one of the few where the spell is actually broken by a kiss. While Disney’s _Frozen_ began as an adaptation of Andersen’s story, it took on a life of its own in development, and is arguably a different story, as suggested by Disney-ABC’s _Once Upon A Time_.

While _Frozen_ and _Maleficent_ both deal with slightly revisionist themes (at least as far as Disney goes), they handle the same themes quite differently (I haven’t seen _Maleficent_ yet, but have read enough reviews and summaries to work with here). 1) _Maleficient_ takes one of the most truly evil characters in Disney, a character whose name *means* “evil,” and makes her a sympathetic character who started off “good”. Now, this in and of itself might be seen as profoundly Catholic, yet she remains the heroine. This is a contrast to Elsa, who’s never really evil. She has many parallels as a character to Erik, the Phantom of the Opera, but doesn’t even rise to his level of evil. She’s remarkably moral for someone raised in isolation who rebels and says, “no right, no wrong no rules for me” (more on that later). Elsa’s only “evil deeds” are accidental. In a slightly different narrative, she wouldn’t even be considered evil at all. For a story that is so departed from Andersen as to be an original story, and not a remake of an existing Disney property, it is hard to even call _Frozen_ revisionist. It might undermine some of the ideas taught by conventional Disney fairy tales, but it is more in keeping with the moral ambiguity and psychological complexity of the works of Perrault, Andersen and the Grimms.
2) Both _Maleficent_ and _Frozen_ betray the naivete of “two random people meet in the forest, fall in love at first sight, and live happily ever after.” Both seemingly say, “A woman doesn’t need a man to be happy,” and that men can’t be trusted. However, while in _Frozen_, Hans is a liar and scoundrel (a change made relatively late in development but hinted at throughout the film), he is contrasted to Kristoff. Though there are innuendos about the relationship between Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, the most overt line is that it “is a little outside of nature’s laws,” which suggests that Nature *has* laws–when was the last time you saw a movie, much less a kids’ movie, *mention* Natural Law, even jokingly?
For decades, Disney movies have taught little girls that a moment’s infatuation can mean the love of their life, and Christian educators and social critics have tried to emphasize that marriage should not be entered into lightly. Finally we have a fairy tale movie that shows the dangers of basing one’s decisions on emotion and infatuation, that has the main couple in a chaste relationship, and people are claiming it’s promoting homosexuality??
I have already written an extensive argument in favor of _Frozen_, so rather than repeating the points I made there, I’ll just refer you to it.
Now, all that said, this post was inspired by reading this commentary, which compares the four recent “Princess” movies and puts _Tangled_ and _Cinderella_ on one side, but _Frozen_ and _Maleficent_ on the other.
I’d say the reverse. _Tangled_, while an OK movie, is far more morally problematic than _Cinderella_: Rapunzel is kidnapped and horrifically brainwashed, yet this is brushed over. Rapunzel, who has to be suffering from Stockholm syndrome, PTSD, and any number of disorders related to being raised alone in a tower and lied to her entire life–how does she speak so eloquently?–falls in love with the first man she ever sees, like Miranda in _The Tempest_.
This “hero,” rather than a prince, is a criminal. The first time I saw _Tangled_, I kept expecting him to be an exiled prince like Aragorn in _Lord of the Rings_, but while he’s ostensibly based upon characters like Han Solo, his career is totally brushed over. He is not a rebel like Robin Hood. He doesn’t really appear to change his ways the way Han Solo does. There is no justification or repentance. He is not stealing bread to save his sister’s starving children. He’s just stealing. He takes Rapunzel to a den of thieves, and they turn out to be nice guys who are OK because they have dreams, even though they’re living in mortal sin.
The criticism of _Frozen_ is that there’s no overt “repentance” for Elsa’s attitude expressed in “Let it Go”–yet why should she? It’s a soliloquy. Nobody hears her. She herself learns the dangers of her attitudes, and her instincts about Hans–the only “mean” or “evil” thing she does is refuse to allow the engagement–turn out to be on the money. The whole point of “Let it Go” is it fulfills the first part and serves as the climax in the Aristotelian sense: the story itself shows the change in Elsa’s attitude and her realization that she is trading one imprisonment for another.

What were the writers of _The Middle_ thinking?

To the Writers and Producers of <em>The Middle</em>
What were you thinking?

In the summer of 2012, a priest-friend on Facebook suggested your program as an example of one of the few truly wholesome, family-friendly sitcoms on the air today.

For the most part, we’ve found that to be true and have become huge fans of the show.  We’ve now seen every episode in reruns or first run and have watched most of them with our children.

However, the previous two episodes  (“Valentine’s Day VI” and “The Answer”) have left us scratching our heads.

There was a very clear contrast between the wholesome relationship of Darrin and Sue, and the implied fornication of Axl and Devin.  Axl, a stereotypical “millennial” college student, attending college just because he’s expected to, with no real career goals, surprises his girlfriend with a rented bounce house, paid for by what?  Credit card debt? Then comes home the next day to brag about having “celebrated” the night before.  Darrin, who already has a decent, well-paying job, surprises Sue with a “micro-house” that is paid for, and proposes marriage.

So, what happens?  Frankie sarcastically dismisses Axl’s “bragging,” and Mike hypocritically gives him a thumbs up over fornicating with some other man’s daughter while getting enraged that Axl’s friend has proposed marriage to *his* daughter.  Frankie and Mike convince Sue that’s she’s right to want to “experience” the world and accumulate a lifelong burden of debt rather than settling down with a man who loves her and has already demonstrated the ability to provide for her?

I suppose it’s sadly realistic to how most parents think in this culture, but it was so very disappointing.