Tag Archives: animation

Songs for Dad: Animation Style

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Tomorrow is Father’s Day so have a Dad Themed meta! What better way to express your love for Dad than with music? There are two Disney songs and one non-Disney song that are Dad centered. Let’s dive in!

Father and Son

In the third Aladdin movie, Aladdin finally met his long lost father. They have a strained relationship on account of Cassim being absent (and the fact that he’s The King of Thieves—minor detail). In this song, Genie tries to help them make some positive progress in their relationship.

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And boy do they need it…

This song is different than the ones we’re gonna talk about because it’s not the kid and parent singing. Instead it is someone else commenting on a father/son relationship.

It’s a big bright beautiful future

Thank you your lucky stars, you’re alive

You’ve got someone special to talk to

A friend that you can trust for life

I love the optimism here, the notion that any relationship can be fixed or mended. Sometimes families become estranged and there’s bad blood there forever, which is just really sad. But Genie is here to tell you that as long as you’re both alive, there’s always a chance things can get better.

The second line also literally relates to Aladdin and Cassim, since Aladdin did think his dad was dead for basically his whole life. Shame on Disney for killing family so often or keeping them alive and separating them.

Next, “special someone to talk to” is a really sweet line. Usually moms are the parent you’re supposed to turn to with your problems because women are more interested in sharing their feelings, but here, dads are friends and trustworthy and they’ll have your back forever. This is similar with the idea that no one will ever love you as much as your family.

You’ve been on your own with no family ties

But those solo days are done

You’ll be two of a kind

Spending quality time

Together as father and son

Again, this stanza starts with referencing the estrangement and this becomes more pronounced as the song goes on. Aladdin and Cassim have both been separated, alone, and while their reconciliation will make them two of a kind since they’ll be together, they already are. They’re both thieves (or, Aladdin was) and they’ve both been alone. They already have things in common. Once they spend some time together, they’ll be able to see how similar they are and become two peas in a pod, basically.

aladdin king cassim

Building model ships

Taking fishing trips

Working hand in hand

Painting the palace and moving the sand

First ten to go, with your daddy-o

Once you break the ice

You can postulate paternal advice

Here is a list of typical “Dad Things.” Building things, fishing, the visuals also show them playing football together. But then we’re back to the estrangement (“break the ice”) and that good can come out of it if they just work through it.

It’s a fine fantobulous future

I see fruit on the family tree

You’ll be great as the grumpy old grand-pa

Bouncing babies on your knee

You can fall asleep on the comfy couch

After playing one on one

Dreaming back to back

That you walloped the Shaq

Together as father and son

There’s a bunch going on here. The Shaq reference at the end again ties back to sports and things Aladdin and his dad can do together. But I like this idea of family continuing to expand and that one day, Aladdin and Jasmine will have kids so not only is Cassim gaining his son, he’s also gaining grandkids and a daughter-in-law and father-in-law. Cassim may have missed all of this with his son, but he gets to watch his son do what he couldn’t and be supportive and have a relationship with him now. Plus he gets to meet his adorable grandkids and love them. Estranged family members miss out on those big moments in life when they let things get in the way. The genie does not want that for Aladdin and Cassim.

Maybe a bumpy ride

We’ll make it side by side

Good afternoon, I’ll be your travel guide

Move over, laddie,

Make room for Daddy

Gotta whole new shoulder to cry on

“Bumpy ride” takes us back to the fact that this isn’t gonna happen overnight. There’s probably a lot of anger, resentment, and sadness to work through. All relationships take time. They’re messy. They’re hard and painful. But the benefits, like gaining someone to build model ships with. 😉

We talked about earlier how a father here gets to be someone you can talk to and in this stanza we also see he’s a shoulder you can cry on. That’s really nice, especially to tell boys. Our society conditions boys not to cry, which is really damaging. This song includes all the masculine things like sports and fishing and also says you can talk and you can cry and that’s perfectly normal. Props to you, Disney. You did something good.

Take a chance now give it a spin

You’ve had chums for palin’ around with

But you’ve never had a friend like him

Put your checkered past behind you now

No more living on the run

Face the big bright beautiful future

Together as father and son

We’ve reached the end! So let’s just start with the callback to movie one, Friend Like Me. The song purposefully classifies family and friends differently. We like to say friends are the family you choose for yourself, or friends feel like family, but there’s also the saying blood is thicker than water. And since this is a song about how awesome a relationship with your dad is, of course, they’re going with the latter.

aladdin king end

We end right back where we started, with the future and all the possibilities that lie ahead. The estrangement and isolation doesn’t need to be permanent. They just need to make the choice.

On My Father’s Wings

Our next song selection is from Quest for Camelot. This one is different from above since Kayley sings this just after her father has died. What you need to know is: Kayley adored her father. Her dad = who she wanted to be. So now her hero has literally died/been murdered. This is where Kayley affirms her mission to live up to the man her father was, to be like him, to remember him.

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This song is very straightforward. The visuals are really what matters. Kayley goes back to the beach she used to visit her with dad. She draws the symbol of the knights, the three intertwined rings, and actually has a flashback to when they would play together.

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Quest for Camelot is all about Kayley wanting to be a knight, but being told she can’t because she’s a girl. Her father was the only person that believed she could be a knight and when she loses him, she doesn’t know how to escape society’s expectations, but knows she still wants to.

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And I will fly on my father’s wings

To places I have never been

There is so much I’ve never seen

And I can feel his heart beat still

And I will do great things

On my father’s wings

This world I’ll never see

My dreams that just won’t be

This horse’s stride, with one day’s ride

Will have covered more distance than me

Kayley still feels her father with her, which is a beautiful message about the people we love never leaving us.

Someday, with his spirit to guide me

And his memory beside me

I will be free

To fly on my father’s wings

To places I have never been

Kayley is trapped tending a farm, what she’s supposed to do. So she turns it into an adventure, using the pitchfork as pole vault, a jousting stick, and finally hitting the bulls eye with it. She uses a spoon and bucket cover as a sword and shield.

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Kayley’s inspiration to be a knight stems from her father. If he wasn’t her father, she seriously would not be the person we see on film.

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This tells us that dads matter so much to the development of a child. Even Aladdin was affected by not having a father since earlier in the film he tells Jasmine that he feels like he comes from nowhere, like he just appeared out of thin air. Even in movie one he hated being referred to as a street rat, like he was worthless. He didn’t have a father in his life to take care of him or build up his self-esteem like Kayley did.

Nobody Else But You

Do you remember this Goofy Movie tune? I did not. (Props to Mel for reminding me!)

Before the song starts, Max and Goofy are mid-fight and they are really going at it. Max resent being treated like a kid, but to Goofy, Max is his kid. Goofy’s just trying to figure out what his role is now that Max is growing up and doesn’t want him around as much. Cue the sad feels.

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But then the song starts and all the happy feels! They totally make peace and love each other to bits.

Max

There are times you drive me, shall we say, bananas

And your mind is missing, no offense, a screw

Still, whatever mess I land in

Who is always understandin’?

Nobody else but you

Goofy

Oh, your moodiness is now and then, bewilderin’

And your values may be, so to speak, askew

I love how it’s Max that makes the effort to go first and it takes him a few tries to get it going. Goofy and Max both have their differences, but none of that really matters in the long run. Family and dads in particular, are there for you when you mess up. Say you impersonate a pop star to get the girl and then tell her you know that pop star and will be on stage at his concert and give her a shout out and then have to highjack your father/son bonding trip to make it happen.

Goofy, for his part, is just dealing with what all parents do: that shift that happens when kids become teenagers. Parents have a hard game to play because they need to give their kids space to learn on their own, figure out who they are, and let them make their own choices. Teenage years are that inbetween phase and it’s hard for everyone involved.

goofy movie always my son

Nobody else but you

It’s just our luck

We’re stuck together

Nobody else but you

Is crazy enough to believe we’ll come through

Parents pretty much always have your back. Even when it doesn’t seem like it, sometimes my mom flat out has to tell me, “I’m always on your side.” We don’t get to pick our parents and parents do not get to pick their kid. It really is luck, pretty much, that got us here. That’s what family is. There are hard times and confusing times and sad times, but family are the people you’re always supposed to have in your corner. They’re automatically there for you.

Max

So your jokes are all, let’s face it, pre-historic 

Goofy

And your music sounds like monkeys in a zoo

Both

But when life becomes distressin’

Who’ll I be S.O.S’in? 

See, your automatic. They’re who you call when shit goes to hell. No matter what your differences, big or small, material or moral, you’re stuck with them so suck it up. No, kidding. But it’s nice. Sadly, not everyone does have their automatic. But adoptive parents and siblings and grandparents and aunts and uncles and even good friends can be that automatic, too. Because really, it was luck you got them, too.

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Both

Hard times we’ve had a few

Goofy

Like we’re thrown in the drink

Max

Like we’re tossed outta town

Both

But when I start to sink, than I’d rather go down

With nobody else but Y-O-U!

The visuals here have them actually sinking since they get sucked in a whirlpool, which is a silly animation touch. This ending section is pretty much everything I’ve been saying. Like Aladdin and Cassim and their hard times, Goofy and Max have had something more akin to ‘normal problems’ but if all you have are ‘normal problems’ then well… they feel like big problems. But both pairs of fathers and sons were able to work it out in the end. Cause, family.

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Conclusion

In what was probably the cheesiest meta in AM history…

No, but seriously. Okay all these songs are nice and all, but why are they all between fathers and sons? There are way more daughter/dad duos in animation. Especially in Disney with their KILL THE MOM fetish. That leaves so many princesses with fathers (Snow White, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, & Pocahontas) (Aurora, Hercules, Mulan all had moms also, but their dads arguably played a much larger role in their stories.) The Lion King was also largely about Mufasa and Simba, while Sarabi had a very minor role. If you go the Pixar route, look at The Incredibles which yes, featured a family, but the dad had the biggest storyline.

Turn to Dreamworks and The Croods is about a family, but again largely revolves around the father character. Even in the Shrek franchise we meet Fiona’s dad and Shrek 2 is largely about Shrek and Fiona’s dad finding common ground. How to Train Your Dragon finds Hiccup without a mother, though this is rectified in part two (so amazing), but the dad so far has played a much larger role in the story. Maybe this will be different in movie 3 (if we get one/are we getting one?).

From other studios, we have Despicable Me, which focuses on a foster/adoptive father. Could Gru have been a woman? In The Swan Princess, Odette’s mother dies in the very beginning and though her father dies a bit later into the film, she was still raised by him and seemingly close. Look at how many more father figures feature prominently in animated movies. Anastasia is mostly about Anya and her grandma, but in the beginning, before it all goes to shit, Anya dances with her father and then imagines dancing with him again in Once Upon a December.

While I am unhappy with the lack of mom-rep, the amount of dad-rep is overwhelming. So why few songs about dad and family? Why does romance get all the best songs?

However, for the songs we do get, they’re all positive. It’s good. All is happy in animated-dad land. Unless you’re Kayley’s dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

Who is your fave animated dad?

Follow AM on Twitter and Tumblr.

Cheers,

M&M

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10 Animated Women That Inspire Us to Epicness: Mel Edition

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Since this month is Women’s History Month, I decided to take a trip through animated history and talk about some of the animated women who have inspired me over the years, and what it is that makes them truly amazing.

1. Kim Possible

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A cheerleader who saves the world? Whoever thought of Kim deserves all of the awards, because she is awesome and super fleshed out. We don’t often get heroines with realistic life skills, but Kim’s cheerleading and gymnastics background is part of why she’s so adept at the world-saving business.

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Selfless, bold and determined, Kim inspires us to take a stand and embrace what makes us unique. She also has an amazing sense of fashion, especially when it comes to saving the world, and having a heroine who doesn’t have to sacrifice her femininity to be perceived as tough is amazing.

2. Ginger Foutley

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I think Ginger Foutley is one of the most underrated ladies in animation. Ginger isn’t the typical protagonist: she’s an introvert and writer, which we don’t see too often, and uses her writing to both express herself and be creative. Two of the show’s best episodes (Hello Stranger, And She was Gone) hone in on Ginger’s writing, and how it ties into her personal life in a fantastic way.

Other reasons Ginger is awesome: she’s stubborn, endearing in how she handles the chaos life throws at her, and she cares deeply for her friends and family, even if they drive her crazy at times. Her growth throughout the series is fantastic, and she’s definitely a character I can go back to even now and still relate to, because she reminds me of a younger time in my life when I went through similar struggles. Basically, Ginger’s just awesome, and the grass really is greener for her, even if it takes her a while to realize that.

3. Katara

katara's water armskatara thinks his rules suck (1.18)

Katara is a force to be reckoned with. You can’t knock her down, no matter how hard you try. She’s so many things rolled into one awesome person. She’s a healer, a motherly figure, a fighter, a teacher, a friend, a sister… She’s not only physically strong, she’s also emotionally strong; she’s the rock of the Aang Gaang, who holds everyone together when the going gets tough. She’s the one who keeps hope, no matter how grim and dark the circumstances. She sees the best in others, even when they can’t see it in themselves, and she won’t give up on the people who need her most, even if it puts herself at risk. Her compassion, empathy and fighter’s spirit make her an inspiration, and someone many people could learn from.

4. Princess Jasmine

aladdin jasminealaddin done w your shit

Like I’ve said before, Jasmine is one of the most underrated Disney princesses ever. She’s politically savvy, has a strong sense of self, is snarky and refuses to settle for jerks who only want her for her money. She has a great sense of adventure, isn’t afraid to rebel in order to find the freedom and agency she desires.

She’s someone who will only accept someone who respects her and treats her as an equal for a future husband. Anyone who would dare treat her like a prize to be won is not worth her time. She shows us that agency and equality are two important things for women to strive for, and that settling for someone who doesn’t appreciate your worth is ridiculous. Her relationship with Aladdin shows us that honesty and respect are the two foremost foundations of what a relationship should be, and her determination to decide her own future despite the rules that oppress her is super admirable. Remind me again why she’s so underrated? Because she really shouldn’t be.

5. Belle

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A princess who reads, dreams big and refuses to conform to society’s standards for her because she knows that she is worth so much more and deserves so much more = one amazing Disney princess.

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Belle is intelligent, kind-hearted, and doesn’t care what people think of her. No matter how many people in her small town scoff at her oddities, she really doesn’t care. She also refuses to let anyone harass her or push her around, as evidenced by her smoothness in evading Gaston’s advances, and her yelling at the Beast and calling him out on his jerky behavior. She’s just awesome, and I think if we were all a little more like Belle and followed our dreams, we’d certainly be happier. (Also a good thing to emulate from Belle: her book-buying habits. Or better yet, marry a prince and get your own personal library.)

6. Asami Sato

asami and her gf

lok asami kicking ass

Asami is a girly heiress who also happens to be a savvy businesswoman, a smart girl who loves flashy cars, and a fighter who’s handy with an electric glove against enemies. She is someone with integrity and lots of inner strength, who was strong enough to stand up against her father when his own integrity was lost, and who built up his company from the ground up after his imprisonment.

asami bitch I'm fabulous

She is also a rare representation of bisexuality in animation, which is really important. People of all orientations, races, genders, exc deserve to be shown, and Asami’s relationships with Mako and Korra are exactly that.

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Kudos to the creators for letting someone as amazing as Asami get some spotlight, and giving us a character who doesn’t have to sacrifice her femininity to be strong, who can  take the world by storm, and is just generally an awesome influence.

7. Ariel

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I know, this is like my third Disney princess on the list, but hey, I was a Disney kid. I grew up on Disney movies, and the Disney Renaissance was in its prime when I was little, so I had some amazing influences because of that. One of these is Ariel, who is one of the most proactive Disney princesses ever.

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She needs cool knickknacks for the grotto? Easy: she’ll go explore that sunken ship and take down any sharks that get in the way. She wants to explore the shores up above, so she goes up there herself and later makes a deal with a sea witch to find a more permanent place on land. The prince she likes is in danger? Ariel dives down without any hesitation and saves him from drowning, and then later saves him (again) from being forced into a marriage with an evil sea witch. This girl is a total determinator: nothing gets in her way, not even losing her voice. She never gives up, never lets anyone break her spirit, and fights for what she wants, no matter how hard it is to achieve. If you want something, make like Ariel and be proactive. Fight to achieve your dreams.

8. Cinderella

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Cinderella was my favorite princess when I was little, and inspired me a lot growing up. Her perseverance, strength, and strong sense of self-worth make her an amazing role model for young girls. She’s always putting other people before herself, so when she finally puts herself first, it’s such a wonderful thing to watch. She teaches us that while it’s good to be kind to others, we need to be kind and value ourselves as well. She also teaches us to never give up on our dreams, because if you believe and work hard, whatever you wish for will be.

9. The Totally Spies

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I can’t just pick one of them, so I’m doing all of them: the Totally Spies! I used to love this show so much, especially because it was nice to get three completely different girls who all kicked butt and saved the world on a daily basis. Plus, they used amazing girly gadgets, like laser lipsticks and weaponized hairdryers. A few examples:

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totally spies sam

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The best thing about the Totally Spies for me was that they all brought something different to the team, and always managed to save each other from trouble. Sam, Alex and Clover are all awesome in their own way, and each has their own strengths that make them an integral part of the team. Take one girl away, and something was lost from the team. How can you compete with that brand of awesome?

10. Jazz and Maddie Fenton

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Brilliant women are really underrated in fiction, and Jazz and Maddie Fenton are two super savvy, super smart ladies. Maddie is an inventor, whipping up amazing ghost-fighting tools every week, and Jazz is both book smart and a sneaky plotter, as evidenced by how she repeatedly tricks Vlad in Secret Weapons, and how long she manages to keep her knowledge of Danny’s secret a secret, even from him. Their brilliance results in lots of awesome moments in-series, and both inspire us to seek knowledge and put it to an epic use, such as ghost-hunting or plotting to take down evil antagonists.

Which animated girl inspires you the most and why? Let us know in the comments!

Follow Animated Meta on Twitter and Tumblr. Have an epic Tuesday! (And happy St. Patrick’s Day as well!)

Cheers,

M&M

10 Reasons ATLA is Amazing

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If you can believe it, it’s been 10 years to the day since Avatar: The Last Airbender sprang onto TV screens and made an impact. This show is one of my absolute favorite animated shows ever and this milestone is worth celebrating. Thus, I’ve created a list of the top ten reasons why Avatar: The Last Airbender is both revolutionary and also quite amazing. Enjoy!

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1. The cast is incredibly diverse.

Despite what the white-washed movie adaptation may have you believe, ATLA does a remarkable job of being diverse. Each nation draws from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, resulting in wonderfully diverse characters of all molds. The Air Nomads are based on Tibetan monks. The Fire Nation draws from many Eastern cultures, most prominently imperialist Japan. The Water Tribe draws from Inuit and aboriginal cultures, among others. The Earth Kingdom is mainly based on China, but also contains other influences, since it’s the ‘melting pot’ of the four nations.

This diversity extends to the cast. For example, Katara and Sokka, our two secondary leads, are people of color. Toph is blind. Teo is in a wheelchair. But just as Sokka and Katara’s skin color does not define them, Toph and Teo’s disabilities do not define them. Toph learned to use her other senses to enhance her bending experience and fight in a way that no one had ever considered, while Teo uses his inventiveness to fight and navigate without ever having to use his legs.

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And while the scales were a bit unbalanced gender-wise in season 1, season 2 turns the tide and introduces us to a stream of amazing female characters. And by the end of season 3, the final Gaang is split 3:3 gender-wise.

ATLA’s diversity is absolutely one of its biggest strengths, but it’s not its only strength.

2. The show routinely tackled hard topics with grace.

For being a children’s show, ATLA tackles a lot of heavy topics. Some examples:

Katara tackles a cesspool of sexism in the Northern Water Tribe in order to gain a waterbending teacher, while Sokka overcomes his own internalized sexism and learns to see women as equals.

Aang must deal with the genocide of the Air Nomads, and his own feelings when a group of non-benders attempts to rehabilitate one of the Air Temples, essentially erasing parts of his culture from existence in the process.

Sexism, abuse, the harsh realities of war and warfare, genocide, culture erasure…the show tackles so many amazing things, and it tackles them with such class and an unflinching strength.

It doesn’t forget that the main characters are survivors of a Hundred Year War: rather, it hones in on what they’ve lost, and how the war has shaped them as individuals.

Everyone’s lost something. Katara and Sokka have lost their mother to a Fire Nation raid and their father left to fight in the war, leaving them adrift to raise themselves. Zuko was banished from his home and lost a mother and a cousin. Aang has lost his entire culture.

Something else important the show also doesn’t forget: the characters aren’t just fighting a losing war. They’re children fighting in a losing war.

There’s this amazing line in the second episode of the show, when Zuko and Aang encounter each other, and Zuko is shocked that Aang of all people is the Avatar. Since the Avatar has been missing for 100 years, he was expecting a frail old man. Instead, he finds a determined preteen.

“You’re just a boy,” Zuko says, a look of disbelief on his face.

Aang, unnerved, retorts, “And you’re just a teenager.”

The main cast is made up of kids, and like most kids, they don’t always know what they’re doing. They’re lost. They don’t know how to cope with the harsh reality of their situation. They make huge mistakes, and they fight, and they can be immature and insensitive. But ultimately, their youth is also a benefit, because they have a hope that the older generation, hardened by years of conflict, doesn’t share. Their hope and determination is what turns the tide and wins them the war, and it’s what saves their world from utter annihilation as well. Pretty good for some kids trying to fight a war, huh?

3. There was no black and white, only shades of gray.

In tackling war in media, it’s easy to be very one-sided, and focus on good vs. evil, rather than fleshing out both sides.

ATLA focuses on both sides of the war.

While Firelord Ozai is undisputedly the absolute worst, the show time and time again proves to us that the Fire Nation itself is not purely evil. Characters like Zuko and Iroh show us grayer members of the Fire Nation, and season 3 takes time to give us a glimpse of Fire Nation citizens and show us the propaganda that fuels the war, and that not everyone is all for it.

The show also takes time to show us that the other nations aren’t always purely good either. Antagonists like Long Feng and General Fong are opportunists, who use the war and the main characters for their own purposes to further their agenda. Other characters, like Jet and Hama, seek revenge against others for wrongdoings, but in ways that aren’t always morally right.

Even the main characters are forced to deal with morality. For Aang, deciding whether he can kill the Fire Lord or not to end the war is one of his biggest moral dilemmas. For Katara, it’s deciding what to do when she finds out that her mother’s murderer is still alive. Even Zuko is forced to decide more than once between his family and his beliefs. Their decisions help shape who they are as characters, and showcase their own mortality.

4. The show is inspired by Eastern culture and mythology, rather than Western culture and Western myths, giving it a distinct and unique palette.

One of the fascinating things about ATLA is that unlike many shows, it’s inspired mainly by Eastern culture and mythology. Bryke (aka  Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, the show’s creators) purposely wanted to tackle a different side of the world on their show, and focused on Eastern philosophies and mythology in order to craft the world of ATLA.

The three main Eastern philosophies ATLA draws from are Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. The main idea of the show is actually derived straight from Hindu mythology. The term “Avatar” comes from a Sanskirt word (Avatāra) which means descent. Why is that important? Well…

“In Hindu mythology, deities manifest themselves into Avatars to restore balance on earth, usually during a period of great evil” (Influences on the Avatar series).

Hmm, now that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s the entire concept of the show. 😉

The four elements the show focuses on are also exactly the same as those used in Hinduism, although the fifth element, space – or the Aether – is different than energy. However, the concept itself is quite similar to an element introduced late in the show: energy-bending. And let’s take a look at something Aang sees while exploring his chakras:

atla spaceeee

The imagery is very cosmic, which might be a reference to space. Creative little shout-out to where the writers got their inspiration from.

Speaking of chakras, the concept of chakras comes from both Hinduism and Buddhism. Chakras are centers of life force and energy, and guess what? That’s one of the issues Aang deals with as an Avatar: unblocking some chakras in order to unlock the Avatar State freely.

Guess what else is inspired by Buddhism? The process of finding the new Avatar, surprisingly enough, which reflects that of finding the new Dalai Lama. Items are presented to, and choosing the right ones unearths who the future Dalai Lama is. There’s a similar situation shown on the show, when Aang is told of his Avatar status: the monks tell him about how they presented toys to young Airbenders, and Aang picked the four that belonged to past Avatars, thus showing his connection to them and his familiarity with them.

Taoism influences a lot of the characters’ ideals, including the ‘go with the flow’ mentality waterbenders hold dear, the concept of chi as energy, the Taoist concept of wuwei (“doing nothing” or rather, acting without direct action), which both Bumi and Toph utilize, the existence of a spirit world, and the concept of yin and yang (Influences on the Avatar series).

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Pretty interesting, how ideals can shape a show into something so diverse.

5. The bending!

Like I mentioned above, there are four main elements that the characters can manipulate: water, earth, fire, and air. Each facet of bending comes with its own unique traits and strengths – and, going off of that Eastern influence, each style is based on a different style of Chinese martial arts. Bryke even consulted a martial arts expert, Sifu Kisu, to make sure that each one was portrayed accurately and to find styles that would ideally fit the style of the bending and element itself.

For Airbending, the creators chose Ba Gua, also known as “circle walking.” Essentially, this means airbenders use circular movements when bending. This causes the style to be more about defense rather than offense.

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Since they’re always moving, no one can get in a hit. Air could easily be a deadly element, so thankfully it’s wielded by pacifists like Aang. 😉

 

Waterbending draws from Tai Chi. It’s “less about strength, more about body alignment, structure, breath, and visualization” according to Sifu Kisu. Water is used like a whip. Waterbending is such an interesting element, because it can heal, but it can also hurt.

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Katara herself is both a warrior and a healer, and manages to represent both sides of water: its beauty and its strength.

 

Earthbending is mainly influenced by the HunGar style of Kung-Fu. It’s a style “known for its strong stances and its rooting to the ground.”

atla earthbending bumi

atla toph

Interestingly, we also get a second style – Chu Gar – used for Toph. Because of Toph’s blindness, she uses her other senses to compensate and thus bends in a way that other earthbenders don’t. She listens and then acts, using her other senses as a sort of Spider sense or echolocation in order to root out attacks before they happen. It’s quite fascinating to watch.

 

Finally, firebending draws inspiration from Northern Shaolin Kung-Fu. It’s a “strong, dominant style that uses powerful hand and leg movements” and “[emphasizes] long-range techniques; wide stances, quick advances and retreats, kick and leaping techniques…” along with “quickness, agility, and aggressive attacks.”

atla firebending

atla zhao

Fire is often painted as an element of aggression, but bending lightning, a much harder sub-skill, is defined by peace of mind.

atla azula

Much like waterbending, firebending has dual sides to it. Both aggression and peace are required, and keeping emotions in check can be handy, but knowing how to unleash them is just as necessary. Zuko has plenty of issues with this, especially when it comes to conquering his temper. Lucky for him, he has the master of Zen to instruct him, who is willing to put up with his outbursts (and offer him tea.)

atla calming jasmine teaatla zuko season one

 

 

6. The fight scenes!

Okay, this might seem directly connected to the point above, and it kind of is, but every time I rewatch this show, the fight scenes suck me in. They’re choreographed in such a masterful, beautiful way, and whether it’s an Agni Kai, a water-fire duel, or just two swordsmen sparring, it’s beautiful to watch. Instead of going on a long ramble, I’ll just post some glorious gifs, so you can see what I mean:

atla blue and orange agni kaiatla fire dancing

atla threeway fightatla threeway fight continues

atla mai katara fightatla katara mai fight

atla katara-pakku fight (1.18) atla ty lee's fight style

atla suki tylee fightatla katara season 3

Beauteous, isn’t it? You know what aids those fight scenes? The show’s score.

7. The score!

The score of this show is so, so pretty. There are intense instrumentals for fight scenes, somber sounds for the show’s darker moments, lighter-hearted melodies for when things are going good…

The score of the show is something that really defines it. It really fits the Eastern high-fantasy epic feeling of the show, and certain bits come to mind whenever I think of the show. In order for you to get the ATLA score experience I’m posting one of my favorite bits of the score below. Enjoy! I hope it leads you to search for more. 😉

 

8. The writers showed us all kinds of women.

ATLA’s dedication to developing its female side of the cast and giving us lots of amazing, diverse ladies is one of my absolute favorite elements of the show. We get all kinds of women on ATLA.

atla ursaatla sibling fun

Grandmothers. Mothers. Daughters. Sisters. Wives.

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Girlfriends. Best friends. Girly-girls. Tomboys. Fierce warriors. Ruthless antagonists. Stoic women, who hide their emotions behind a mask.

atla ty leeatla mai's knife twirlingatla azulaaaa

Emotional women, who aren’t afraid to let people see them cry. Strong women – and not just Strong Female Characters.

I’m talking about women who are strong in all sorts of ways.

Women who are physically strong: the ones who can lift mountains and channel lightning through their veins, or the ones that fight with fans and knives and bare hands, not letting their lack of bending deter them from success.

Women that are emotionally strong: the ones that are the rock of the group, and hold everyone together when the world is falling apart around them. These are the women whose strength lies in their compassion and empathy for others.

Women who are mentally strong: whose determination and wit and peace of mind allow them to be more than anyone could ever imagine. Smart women, who bury themselves in books and plot and manipulate and influence the world in profound ways. They’re the ones who stop and think before they act, and thus keep others out of harm’s way.

The women of ATLA are all these things and more!

9. The characters!

I have such a strong love for the characters on this show. Everyone is so wonderful and so fleshed out and so just…ugh, I have so many feelings about them. I could probably write a whole meta about the characters, but I’ll try and be brief here.

In ATLA, every character has a purpose. More importantly, every main character has a point. Just like the Golden Trio in Harry Potter, each member of the Aang Gaang holds the group together and brings something to it that would leave a void if they were gone. For the sake of avoiding a ton of spoilers for those who haven’t watched the show, I’ll stick with the main trio that we start out with in season 1.

Sokka is the group’s strategist. He calls himself “the plan man” and really, that’s what he is, because without him, they would be ambling around without much direction. He has a very analytical mind, which leads him to spot things that others can’t. He can also think on his feet, which is a very handy trait to have during conflict. It helps that he’s handy with a boomerang. He’s also the humorous one, although his wit tends to be more sarcastic than anything, and people don’t always quite get it.

atla sokka calculating

Katara is the one who holds everything together. She’s the hopeful one. She’s a healer. She’s compassionate. She’s the one who always tries to find the best in people, no matter what, and refuses to give up on the people she loves. Without her, there’s a lot that wouldn’t have happened. She’s also an amazing waterbender, who basically teaches herself and ends up becoming a waterbending master and teaching the Avatar himself the intricacies of waterbending. She’s stubborn, motherly, and wonderful. Like Hermione, she can be a bit of a know-it-all, but even she’ll fold when she’s wrong and admit it.

atla katara as the painted lady

Aang is our hero, but he’s so much more than that. He’s the innocent pacifist caught up in a Hundred Year War, with great power waiting to be unlocked. As the Avatar, he can bend all four elements, which is pretty handy, except at the start of the show, he hasn’t learned them all yet, which is part of why he ends up with Katara and Sokka in the first place. Aang is impulsive and naïve, silly and kind-hearted, with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Without Katara and Sokka, Aang wouldn’t have a support system, and he’d also be missing out on some pretty amazing friends as well. 😉

atla aang

The Aang Gaang holds each other together and aids each other in amazing ways. And the more members they take on, the stronger they grow and the more they learn. But enough about that. Let’s get to the last element…

10. The shipping!

The shipping on this show is actually really cute. The main canon relationships are built up in a wonderfully healthy, unique way, and all three main ships are slow-burn to some degree. During the airing of the show (and even now, I’m pretty sure), people got fired up about their ships. Zutara or Kaatang? Taang or Tokka? I’ll admit that I wasn’t too bad in the shipping wars, and I’ve grown to the point where I accept all ships. Well, except the incest ships, which kind of give me the willies.

So I’ll give a quick glimpse of my favorite ships.

Katara/Aang (which makes Kataang) is one of those ships that gradually grows on you over time until the cuteness gets to you and you finally give up and start waving the shipping flag for it. It’s slow-burn (aka, it takes them forever to get together), but the slow-burn effect works well, considering all that’s going on in-show. They’re a very cute couple, and they’re unique in a way because it’s one of those few ships where we get an older female character with a younger male character. Also, just look at these two!

atla cutiesatla babies

atla kataanggggatla cave kiss

I shipped Zuko/Katara as well, mainly because like Mic, I sometimes like shipping those characters who start out disliking one another and grow to understand each other. The fact that they’re opposites in a lot of ways, but also very similar in others, makes them an interesting match to me. And they have some great moments together.

atla zutara face touchatla zutara hugatla zukoandkatara

Suki/Sokka is one of those underrated ships that everyone seems to like no matter what, and I’ve really grown to appreciate them when re-watching the show. Suki is a character who’s very confident in her sense of self. She’s a warrior who is proud of her femininity and finds strength in it. She’s also the one that knocks some sense into Sokka and takes his ego down a notch, which leads to him respecting her and also starting to respect women in general more than he did before.

atla sokka gets pwned by sukiatla sokka freaking out

atla Sokka-and-suki

Like Aang and Katara, their relationship is a slow-burn one, and it takes time for them to find their way back to one another. But once they do, it’s a beautiful thing.

atla fan and sword

atla george

ATLA handles their relationship in a wonderful way, especially in consideration of Sokka’s previous relationship, and makes it less of a competition and more Sokka learning how to get past what happened with Yue and finding love again with Suki. It’s very sweet and realistic, and in the end, very adorable.

It also leads to hilarious moments like this:

atla awkwarddd

What do you think guys? If you haven’t seen the show: has my post inspired you to check out Avatar: The Last Airbender? If you’re already a fan: what is your favorite aspect of ATLA? What are your ships? And who is your favorite character? Let us know in the comments!

Remember, you can follow Animated Meta on Tumblr and Twitter. I hope you all have a happy Saturday!

Cheers,

M&M

Works Cited

Influences on the Avatar series. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2015, from Avatar Wikia: http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Influences_on_the_Avatar_series

(Note: the quotes used in #5 were all derived from the ATLA: Creating the Legend videos embedded in the post.)

Peter Pan and Gender Roles

Standard

In 1953, Disney brought us Peter Pan, its fourteenth animated feature. It is based on the play by JM Barrie, which was first produced in 1904. Gender roles are hard enough to overcome today, but they were also a problem during Barrie’s time. Pan is a story steeped in gender roles, so it only makes sense to discuss them.

I went into my re-watch of Peter Pan expecting to be hit over the head with this notion of women as mothers and that is where all our worth comes from. I was feeling this way since I had just watched NBC’s Peter Pan Live and there was so much talk of mothers and pockets I was trying to remember the novel I loved so much with lines like:

-“Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.”

-“For Wendy?” John said, aghast. “Why, she is only a girl!”
“That,” explained Curly, “is why we are her servants.”

-Peter explains that the Lost Boys are babies that have fallen out of their carriages. Wendy then asks if there are any girls and he replies with, “Oh no; girls, you know, are much too clever to fall out of their prams.”

peter pan THIS

Do you see? Don’t you see the respect for women? Women are clever and wonderful and we get shit done. Not that being a mother means you don’t deserve respect, of course not. But women can be more than professional mess picker uppers, our only job to trail after little boys and make them look good.

So while I warred with the novel’s portrayal vs what I was seeing on my tv Thursday night, I started thinking about the animated film. It was, of course, my first introduction to the story of Pan. I couldn’t recall if Wendy’s role was emphasized so heavily as a caregiver and nothing else, who was supposed to clean up after Pan and tell stories nonstop and then her future daughters were to do the same thing. To solve this problem, I decided to pull out my copy and watch.

Because this is Animated Meta, I will limit myself to discussing gender roles at play—or subverted—by the Disney feature. However, I recommend Barrie’s novel highly and make no guarantees I won’t be slipping in more quotes throughout this meta. I mean, I made sure the first thing I did when I landed in London last year was find the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park, okay? My love cannot be contained.

(Okay, we had breakfast, picked up our London Pass, and left our bags at the hotel. Then we went to Hyde Park. Same thing.)

Captain Hook

We’re starting with Hook cause you all expected me to start with Peter or Wendy, right?

We all have an image of the elegant Captain Hook: those luscious permed locks, the red coat, the feathered hat, the twirl-able mustache, pointed hook…

Look, Hook’s a nasty little prat, make no mistake. He shoots one of his men for having an awful singing voice and he throws another one overboard for expressing concern that there was no “splash” after Wendy walked the plank. He’s got anger management issues to the max: throwing tables around, threatening Smee with his hook, kicking Smee’s row boat back into Skull Cove.

peter pan hook threatening smee

He talks fondly of all the different torture tactics he can use on Tiger Lily to make her give away the location of Pan’s hideout. Hook, in many ways, fits the role of the hyper macho masculine pirate captain, meant to strike fear into our hearts.

What do I mean by “hyper macho masculine?” I’m talking about this idea that men need to be TOUGH, they can’t cry or be afraid, or express their feelings.

peter pan no me gusta copy

Captain Hook is certainly someone not to be trifled with, but he also has another side to him. Hook subverts his gender role completely by being freaking terrified of the crocodile that wants to eat the rest of him. This was probably overdone in Disney’s film to provide some slapstick humor for the kiddies, but it does not negate the fact that we’re given a man that cowers openly in the face of fear.

With the merest inkling of the ticking crocodile, Hook is in a frenzy. He hides under a sheet, he trembles, he screams for “SMEEEEEE!” He jumps into Smee’s arms multiple times!


But his fear does not negate the fact that he’s a cunning and murderous man. He leaves Tiger Lily to drown, he frequently tries to kill Peter, dueling with him at Skull Rock, and later successfully planting a bomb—preying on a child’s love for presents. Hook’s willingness to express distress does not make him any less terrifying to his crew, they answer to his beck and call. They all want to leave Neverland, his first mate Smee most of all, evidenced by the fact the he advocates for this move the entire film. But none of the crew leave or try to stage a mutiny.

Besides his violent streak, Hook also prides himself on being a gentleman. He isn’t really, considering he tried to stab Peter in the back, among other things. But Hook values his appearance highly, something usually reserved for women in films. He gets a shave from Smee—which goes horribly wrong.

peter pan smee

He puts on his coat and hat when Pan arrives so that he can fight in his best clothes.

peter pan hook looking his best

His outfit is colorful and frilly. He’s certainly trying to make a statement. When he attempts to woo Tinker Bell to his side, he again tries to look his best, trading the silver hook for a gold one with a shiny ring. What’s nice about Hook is that he goes againt the usual “fashionable = flamboyant” tradition with men. His care in his appearance is just one aspect of his character; it doesn’t at all take away from his violence and villainy.

peter pan gold hook

Hook is ruthless and a hateful man, consumed with wanting revenge. He hates the Indians simply because they won’t betray Pan to him. He manipulates Tinker Bell into helping him, something we’ll discuss later, and craftily promises not to lay a hand (or hook) on Peter. So he’ll just use a bomb instead! He smokes two cigars at once just cause he can. He threatens to have Wendy and all the Lost Boys walk the plank and follows through with it—until Pan spoils his fun. He is The World’s Most Famous Crook.

Costuming in Peter Pan

What are the stereotypical colors for girls and boys?

Girls = pink

Boys = blue

Take a look at what the characters are wearing below.

peter pan picpeter pan flying peter pan hookpeter pan hook pink shirt

peter pan pirates

Do you see it?

Hook wears pink and red. His crew is a rainbow.

Wendy wears blue.

Micheal wears pink.

I like to think Peter and Tink wear green to signify they are part of the island. They are connected to nature in a way no one else on the island is. They will always be in Neverland. As the novel says, “Feeling that Peter was on his way back, the Neverland had again woke into life. We ought to use the pluperfect and say wakened, but woke is better and was always used by Peter.”

I’m not saying Disney just did something incredible by dressing a girl in blue and dressing a little boy and some pirates in pink.

But look below at the famous Cathy Rigby version:

peter pan stage costume

Michael wears blue.

Wendy wears pink.

A simple costuming decision that flies in the face of gender roles. Pink for girls and blue for boys is so ingrained today that baby clothes especially follow this pattern. Color labeling is still a massive problem today. However, it is easier for women to wear typical boy colors—we have no problem finding blue clothes. But boy clothes in pink are much harder to find.

Mothers, Mothers, Mothers

Here’s some Barrie trivia for you. Caution, is will break your heart.

JM Barrie had an older brother named David. David died just before he turned fourteen—Barrie was six at the time. It was an ice-skating accident. Their mother was so distraught she fell into a deep depression. Barrie tried to fill his brother’s shoes, wearing his brother’s clothes and such. But his mother could not be moved. One time he went into her room and she mistook him for David. She found comfort in the fact that David had died a boy and would never grow up to leave her. Barrie suffered from stress dwarfism and his marriage was never consummated—perhaps a way to never grow up.

peter pani can't handle these feels copy

I told you. Sad tale. Which of course led to Peter Pan, the boy who would never grow up, the boy who wanted a mother so bad, but also left his.

George Darling, John Darling, Michael Darling, and Peter Pan were all named after the Davies boys, whom Barrie became the legal guardian of. This is the focus of the film Finding Neverland. Much like Barrie’s early years, there is a sad end—not the film, I just mean in real life. George was killed in WW1 and in 1921, Michael drowned in a lake while away at boarding school with a friend. It is unknown if they were lovers and had done it as a suicide pact. Peter committed suicide in 1960.

I’m sorry I had to traumatize you all.

peter pan sorry not sorry

But mothers. Mothers are super important to the story of Peter Pan. Disney puts less of a stress on this aspect, perhaps because they wanted to avoid such stark gender roles. The film opens with, “Peter Pan chose this particular house because there were people here who believed in him.” Our focus switches instantly to belief and the strength of the imagination, which is mostly prevalent in childhood. Next we hear that Mrs. Darling believed Pan to be the spirit of youth.

Cue my heart breaking for JM Barrie, his brother David, and his mother.

“Mr. Darling was practical.”

John and Michael made Pan the hero of all their stories.

Wendy was the supreme authority on all things Pan.

When Peter arrives in search of his shadow, Wendy tells him that she’s so happy he came tonight because she has to grow up tomorrow, aka, no more stories. Peter is horrified. No more stories? He wants to take her to Neverland so she can keep telling stories, mainly to him and the Lost Boys. Do you hear the word “mother” mentioned? I don’t. Wendy is more than happy to go, but first she needs to pack and leave a note for her mother—

Oh, mother. There it is. Hold that thought.

Wendy’s not just about to run off with to a strange land with a boy. She knows her family will worry and she should probably bring a change of clothes and maybe some snacks for the trip. She’s, in a word, practical. Wendy is already very grown up. She’s poised. She’s “the supreme authority.” Mr. Darling really had nothing to worry about.

Okay, so mother. Peter asks Wendy what a mother is. She tells him that a mother loves and cares for you, but none of that interests him.

peter pan couldn't care less

Once she says it’s someone that tells stories, Peter is all over that, cause the boy loves his stories—mostly cause he’s the star of all of them.

A mother is seen primarily as a storyteller for most of the film. When they arrive in Neverland, Peter says to the Lost Boys, “I bring you a mother to tell you stories and you shoot her down!” Wendy is not seen as a maid. She is seen as creative, a source of knowledge (she knows how the stories end!), the supreme authority.

The role of a mother is later fleshed out, when Wendy sings her song:

The helping hand that guides you along


Whether you’re right, whether you’re wrong

Everyone gets emotional over this. Even the pirates stop their schemes and listen. Smee starts bawling and Hook shushes him cause he’s ruining the song! John cries, another example of Disney breaking the mold of what A Man should be.

Wendy

Wendy’s a lot of things. She’s kind, even in the face of animosity. Pan tells her Tink thinks she’s a big ugly girl and Wendy replies with, “I think she’s lovely.” Tink tries to have her murdered, Wendy does not want to see her banished.

She’s nurturing and comforting, naturally fitting the Jungian archetype of The Mother. She voices concern repeatedly for her brothers and Peter. “Oh, NAME, do be careful,” she says A LOT. She even shows concern for Hook in the Skull Rock duel and says, “Oh how dreadful,” when it appears he’s died. She then voices her disapproval like a mother when Pan has Hook hanging off the cliff and is mocking him.

Parts of her character do conform to the typical female role, though. When Peter comes for his shadow, she does say, “I saved your shadow for you… hope it’s not rumpled.” If it wasn’t, it sounded like she would iron it for him. At the Indian dance party she doesn’t want to take a hit of what everyone’s smoking, this very Victorian model of women being “pure” and men getting to engage in all manners of debauchery. (I’m labeling this Victorian since Barrie’s tale is circa 1900 and Queen Victoria died in 1901. It just made it.)

She also follows the damsel in distress mold a lot of people associate Disney females with. She gets saved by Pan. A lot. Or she wants his help all the time.

peter pan saves wendy

  1. Tink has the Lost Boys shoot stuff at her. She loses her focus and can’t fly anymore. Peter saves her.
  2. Peter saves her when she walks the plank.
  3. The mermaids are attacking her: “PETERRRRRRRR!”
  4. “Peter! WAIT FOR ME!” When he flies off with Tiger Lily.
  5. Stands behind John’s umbrella when they first meet the Lost Boys in fear.

However, when they’re all captured on Hook’s ship, Wendy is the bravest of them all. She refuses to become a pirate when everyone is tripping over themselves to join the crew.

But she’s also insanely jealous. I was never a fan of Wendy, but watching this now, I did warm to her. Wendy is kind. She’s not snarky or sarcastic. She believes the best in people. She worries about people. She grounds Peter—ie, he nearly leaves Tiger Lily to drown, forgetting about her in the midst of celebrating his humiliating Hook. Wendy reminds him.

But she’s also flawed. Jealousy brings us to our next topic.

The Love Square: Peter, Wendy, Tink, Tiger Lily

There are three prominent women in this film (Mrs. Darling makes it four, but even she thinks highly of Peter) and they are all madly obsessed with Peter Pan.

Tink and Wendy are the jealous type. Meanwhile, Tiger Lily is a princess and has too much going on to worry about that.

peter pan tiger lily

This conflict plays itself out throughout the entire film. Hook uses it to his advantage. Disney actually plays up this stereotype more than anything else: The Jealous Woman.

“A jealous female can be tricked into anything,” he says. Basically, women are ruled by their emotions and go ga ga over guys. Even the mermaids in this film are all swoony over Peter and try to drown Wendy the moment they meet her.

“Who’s she?” They cry.

Hook’s manipulation of Tink sounds so much like arguments used by girlfriends trying to cheer up their friends after a man either cheated on them or dumped them. Hook tells her that Pan took the best years of her life and then cast her aside! How familiar does that sound? He tells her it’s all Wendy’s fault, that if they get rid of Wendy everything will be as it was before. Basically, Wendy is the “other woman” in this situation. And how often does the Other Woman get blamed instead of the man?

But it begins long before this. From the moment Peter wants to take Wendy to Neverland, Tink is furious. You think she’d be used to this since the film makes a point to say that all of this has happened before and it will happen again, but this time it happened in London. We can infer that Peter has been taking kids on adventures in Neverland for a very long time. Regardless, Tink is jealous and is livid when Wendy wants to give Peter a kiss. She turns bright red—a nice homage to Barrie’s work where he says pixies are so small they can only feel one emotion at once. So Tink feels her jealousy 110%. She also acts on it, pulling Wendy’s hair.

peter pan jealous tink

When they’re flying to Neverland and Wendy is admiring her reflection in the water, Tink messes it up.

For Wendy’s part, she’s never jealous of Tinker Bell. Instead, her jealous side does not flare up until she sees Tiger Lily dancing for Peter. Not to mention their eskimo kiss. She’s so jealous she leaves the party early and that’s when she decides they have to go home.

peter pan jealous wendy

Peter knows she’s mad and doesn’t understand, saying, “Everyone thinks I’m wonderful.”

Wendy, envious, quips, “Yes, especially Tiger Lily.”

Tink’s jealousy is the worst out of the three women. And she is the one that gets taken advantage of. Hook’s line about a jealous woman speaks to gender roles more than the mother storyline of Peter Pan and that surprised me more than anything as I did this rewatch. As did every woman fawning over Peter and being incapable of doing anything else.

The Darlings

There’s not much to say about The Darlings except they fulfill typical gender roles.

Mr. Darling is hyper masculine. He’s stern, not fun, and the breadwinner. He’s stressed about his job and money, providing for the family. He goes on a ramble to his wife about what’ll happen if they don’t go to the party, or the party’s a disaster and their family will end up on the streets.

He calls Wendy’s stories “silly” and “poppycock.” He’s the one that starts with the grown-up idea and says Wendy has to move out of the nursery. When Mrs. Darling is concerned for Wendy and that her stories may be true, he mocks her. He’s exasperated with childrearing—telling his kids to be quiet and annoyed with their games.

The nursery is overseen by Nana, the nurse dog. I found it interesting they called her Nana, a feminine term. She’s a dog that takes care of the children. She did not have to be female. But she was by nature of what she does. A woman’s job to raise the family.

Mrs. Darling, for her part, is the typical feminine, mother figure. She scolds the children, but does not yell like her husband. She tucks them in and whispers comforting words—the nightlight comment. She defends her husband to their kids, trying to be the peacemaker. She gets her husband ready for the party, ties his tie, cleans his shirtfront.

And in usual fashion, Mr. Darling bent to the will of his wife. By the end of the evening, as they get home from the party, Mr. Darling regrets his yelling and ordering around and general pigheadedness. He’s a big softie on the inside, “You know I never mean those things.” But because of the social status, because of what men have been conditioned to be, Mr. Darling has to be soft on the inside, not on the out. He has to yell. He has to be loud. He has to be strict.

In the end, when he sees Pan captaining the Jolly Roger, he is reminded of his childhood and says touchingly, “You know, I have the strangest feeling that I’ve seen that ship before, a long time ago, when I was very young.”

i need a moment

Peter Pan

Pan is a boy. And you know what they all say, boys will be boys.

(I hate this saying. So much.)

peter pan no flaws detected

The very first note I made during my re-watch was when Pan says “I’m not crying.”

He’s not crying in this version. He is in the book.

Barrie wrote a boy that cried. Barrie also wrote a boy that recognized he was not supposed to cry.

Disney gave us a boy that did not cry, period. And did not want to be mistaken for crying, either.

He’s also unaware of the effect his actions have, making a ruckus and a mess of the nursery trying to find and reattach his shadow. Later, moments after meeting Wendy, the girl he’s been stalking listening to for some time, he says, “Girls talk too much.” Honestly, I was holding my breath waiting for someone to call Wendy bossy. Nobody did, to my immense pleasure. He does take that comment to the next level, though, when he forcibly shushes her, putting his hand over her mouth just before the Skull Rock sequence. Pan has no filter and doesn’t value anyone’s opinion but his own.

Peter plays the role of the leader. He is the leader of the Lost Boys, he leads the Darlings to Neverland. As leader, he tells them to go to safety and he’ll stay to deal with Hook.

Something that irked me was the way he refers to people. The Lost Boys have BOYS in their title, but Peter refers them as men frequently. When Wendy expresses interest in seeing the mermaids, all the boys are like, we want to hunt! MASCULINE, HUH. LETS KILL STUFF.

Pan says, “All right, MEN, go out and CAPTURE a few Indians.”

Meanwhile, when they go to see the mermaids, he says, “Hello, GIRLS.” When Wendy defers him to later to back her up after the mermaids attack, he says, “They were just having a little fun, weren’t ya, GIRLS?”

really? not impressed

There’s a discrepancy, here, clearly.

Pan’s other traits fall into the boys will be boys idea. He’s a show off, (“Watch this Wendy!”), he’s arrogant, he thinks he’s indestructible. He has his weird bird call he does. He can’t wait 12 more seconds to open a present. He forgets he’s mad at Tink the moment he sees her again.

“Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked.”

“…and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.”

(Novel excerpts)

Peter is innocent and heartless. He wants a mother to tell him stories, unaware of what a mother truly is. He wants everyone to adore him. He wants to play games with Hook.

However, Disney does have Pan grow by the end of the film.

“Wendy… the boys…? Well I have to save you first. Hold on Tink, hold on. Don’t go out. Don’t you understand? You mean more to me than anything in this whole world.” He’s not playing like when he saved Tiger Lily. He’s actually scared and concerned. After they defeat Hook, Peter is open to Wendy and her brothers going home. Before where he was angry and resentful she wanted to leave—but ultimately shrugged it off and said she would be back—now he recognizes her seriousness and respects her wishes.

Wrapping Up

Wendy: Sir, you are both ungallant and deficient!
Peter: How am I deficient?
Wendy: You’re just a boy.

Novel love!

I think this 1953 version does a pretty solid job of subverting gender roles. Hook is a coward, but he’s also so unhinged you’ve no idea what he’s gonna do next. He has no qualms about making kids walk the plank or planting a bomb in your bedroom. Wendy gets to wear blue and her brother wears pink, she is kind, but also flawed with her jealousy. John cries!

high five

It also falls prey to some: girls are slaves to their feelings for a man, Peter does not cry, Mr. Darling and Mrs. Darling are reflective of gender roles they are expected to play.

Peter Pan Live bothered me with this emphasis Peter had with his mothers and pockets and making Wendy and her descendants clean up after him. The novel I remembered gave women way more credit and had much deeper undertones. The animated film instead played The Jealous Woman card.

Ultimately, though, Wendy said goodbye, Tinker Bell found satisfaction in her role as Peter’s friend (or she was just more than happy to dose the ship in pixie dust so she could get rid of Wendy) and confidence in herself (she was very looks obsessed in the beginning), and Tiger Lily never really cared.

What I think I’m most proud of is Hook, though. When I was little I just laughed at him, but now I’m so glad there’s a male villain out there that struts around in red and pink and flips the hell out every time he hears the ticking of a clock, cowering like nobody’s business but kills is crew whenever feels like it and is a manipulative little swine.

Also, one of his crew has a tattoo of a heart that says Love and another that says Lulu among ships and sea monsters. That’s pretty freaking awesome. If only he also had an I Love My Mom one.

DSCN1538

Truth: this picture isn’t from my first day in London. They’re from my last. The Pan statue was the first and last thing I saw. And I don’t like any of my pictures with it from the first day, so here you go.

Leave a comment and let us know what you think! Did Disney do a good job subverting gender roles? Are you a Peter Pan fan?

Cheers!
-M&M

People of Color in Animation

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Today we’re going to talk about people of color (POC) in animation. POC, for our purposes, refers to anyone who is not white.

Here is a compilation of POC characters in animation:

  • Pocahontas [Native American] [Disney]
  • Esmeralda [race not identified] [Disney]
  • Tiana [African American—but not officially identified] [Disney]
  • Little Creek [Native American] [Dreamworks]
  • Chel [a native of Central or South America] [Dreamworks]
  • Lucius/Frozone [presumably African American] [Pixar/Disney]
  • Lilo [Hawaiian] [Disney]
  • Aladdin [Arab] [Disney]
  • Mulan [Asian] [Disney]
  • Kuzco [Incan Empire/Native South American—modern day Peru] [Disney]
  • Tiger Lily [Native American] [Disney]
  • Mowgli [Indian] [Disney]
  • The Prince of Egypt [Dreamworks]

(Note: I’ve included Native Americans and Hispanics in the list because Native Americans are currently a miniscule population due to atrocities committed during the forming of this nation and Hispanics currently face great hardships like immigration laws. I’m also including Lilo because “Hawaiian/Pacific Islander” has its own box on job applications/standardized tests/etc. Also, if I didn’t, there’d be, like, no one on this list.)

(Other note: I’ve not seen Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt, so I don’t feel confident talking about it.)

This discussion has been building for a very long time. Disney has faced criticism for their all white casts and the usual defense has been, well, these stories take place in Europe back in the day, so everyone was white.

Yeah, no.

I’m here to burst your bubble because: you can see people of color represented in Medieval European art and considering the Iberian peninsula was conquered by Muslims in the 700s, I’d say Europeans were no stranger to people of color. Marco Polo traveled to Asia in the 1200s. And if you still doubt, my Tudor era professor confirmed that England, namely London, was already a mixed metropolis in the 1500 and 1600s.

To curb this backlash, Disney released The Princess and the Frog. I enjoy this film and the return to 2D, and I love the humor. However, this offering was meant to halt the criticism, but it only spurned more. Our first black princess and she’s a FROG for 70% of the film?

reaction do you feel the judgement

I don’t know if any other animation house has faced as much backlash as Disney. Presumably they are the target because they are the most successful and influential. However, it appears Disney may have the best track record compared to some of the other houses—though there is room for drastic improvement. Tallied from the above list, Disney has 10 characters of color. That’s a minuscule number compared to their collection of 50+ films, but when Disney does utilize diversity, they do so richly and create compelling stories (mostly, we’ll see exceptions below).

In addition to mounting movement in the animation world, this meta was also brought on by the senseless shootings of unarmed black adults and children at the hands of police officers.

From 2006 to 2012 a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country. [x]

I am saddened and angered by what’s been happening around us. This meta was always coming, so lets get to it.


The most shocking thing I noted was every story featuring a person a color is extremely dated.

  • Pocahontas = Age of Exploration (specifically 1607)
  • Esmeralda = Hugo’s novel was published in the 1800s, though the book is set in the 1400s
  • Tiana = 1912
  • Aladdin = unspecified, but based on the very old One Thousand and One Nights (though the genie loves his pop culture references)
  • Mulan = I really don’t know because the Huns were burning shit since the dawn of time, but Mulan first appeared in poems between the 300s and 600s
  • Kuzco = 16th century
  • Little Creek = Around the time railroads were being built, so 1800s
  • Chel = Age of Exploration (Spanish conquistadors—1519)
  • Lucius/Frozone = CONTEMPORARY (FINALLY)
  • Lilo = CONTEMPORARY (YAY!)
  • Mowgli = date unknown
  • Tiger Lily = exists in a world where time does not pass, but The Darlings’ interaction with Pan happens in the 1900s

The majority of stories being told here are set in very vivid time periods, as if the only story worth telling of people of color are their trials and tribulations in history, which are clearly over now because we live in a post-racial, globalized world. We know this is untrue. There may not be Jim Crow laws or homelands being overrun by industrialization, but there is still plenty of injustice.

Many Disney films give off old timey feels, but none are really held back by their time period. Beauty and the Beast has no identifying marker of what year it is, nor does the very recent Frozen, or Lady and Tramp, or Cinderella (in my opinion). But when you throw in the Age of Exploration, that dates your film. That sets the story firmly in one universe.

Next, lets look at who the protagonists of these films are:

  • Pocahontas, check
  • Tiana, check
  • Lilo, check
  • Mulan, check
  • Aladdin, check
  • Kuzco, check
  • Mowgli, grey area, but check
  • Tiger Lily, no
  • Esmeralda, no
  • Little Creek, no
  • Chel, no
  • Lucius/Frozone, no

Pocahontas owns her story and while Tiana is a frog for most of it, she does not cease being black (literally, she’s green, fine, but her character does not change). Kuzco is the male Tiana (or a prototype of Naveen, since those two are more similar) where he’s stuck as a llama for the majority of the movie.

emperor's new groove llama face copy

Lilo and her sister Nani are too wonderful for words (best sisters ever–sorry Anna and Elsa) and make me sob, sob, sob.

lilo and stitch sad copy

Aladdin is populated with other people of the same race. And Mulan just needs no introduction.

mulan tea

The fact is, only seven cases can be made for an animated movie led by a person of color. Maybe even four if you don’t want to include The Princess and the Frog, Emperor’s New Groove, or The Jungle Book.

Esmeralda plays an integral role in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, for sure, but it’s not her story. Ultimately it is about Quasi learning how to love himself and be confident. Little Creek, likewise, is super important in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, but it’s not his story, either. The film is about Spirit making his way home and becoming a leader. If you catch my drift here, Chel’s role in The Road to El Dorado is one of a love interest and ally to the two main characters. Lucius/Frozone is a wonderful friend and sidekick, but he’s absent for the entire middle portion of The Incredibles.

They are players, but not major players.

Pocahontas, Lilo, Tiana, Aladdin, Kuzco and Mulan: Taking Names and Kicking Butt

pocahontas indignant lookliloprincess and the frog tianaaladdin copyemperor's new groove dancingmulan

 

Disney gave us six POC leads. Each of them are strong, flawed heroes. We have a very diverse list of races/cultures/ethnicities here: Native American, African American, Hawaiian, and Arabic. In addition, we also have supporting characters to reflect this, too.

It’s clear when Disney sets a story within a particular framework, they usually go all the way to actualize the worlds.

In Pocahontas we see the Powhatan tribe farming the land and praying to spirits for guidance. Healing practices, transportation, customs and homes are all shown to us. Their way of life contrasts with the settlers so starkly. Pocahontas teaches John Smith many things, most importantly that land is not something to own. But she also teaches him about her culture, such as how their tribe says hello and goodbye.

Lilo and Stitch takes us to Hawaii, where we have Lilo, Nani, and David and wonderful world building. The perception is that contemporary stories are easier since there is no fantasy world or past to explain, but that’s not true. Contemporary stories require just as much work to get right and Disney was not afraid of the challenge.

lilo and stitch 2

In addition to our sisters and a couple aliens, we have the social worker, Cobra Bubbles. He is darker skinned than the others and clearly holds a higher position of power (I point this out because of the power structure in Frog). Surfing and hula are all integral to creating Lilo, Nani, and David’s pastimes. David and Nani work at a resort and tourism has the biggest influence on the GDP of Hawaii. I’m sure this movie taught everyone the meaning of Ohana and several other Hawaiian words. Nani also sings a song in Hawaiian when she’s forced to say goodbye to Lilo.

lilo and stich hands

The flowers they send into the wind are also the same flowers shown on leis throughout the film.

Next we move onto The Princess and the Frog, which may have the weakest world building of them all. This is not a surprise if Tiana’s skin was colored just to appease outcries. Mardi Gras really grounds the city as New Orleans and jazz and gumbo tie us back to the African American culture. But that’s really all that can be said, sadly.

princess and the frog exhausted

As for supporting characters, Dr. Facilier is clearly not white and Mama Odie, Tiana’s mom (and dearly departed dad), and Prince Naveen are all dark skinned.

princess and the frog reaction  basic bitch

This is offset by the white characters like Charlotte, her father, and Naveen’s evil minion, Lawrence. We are presented with a diverse New Orleans, brimming with French influence and lively jazz. Frog presents us with the uncomfortable image of an all white power structure: Charlotte’s dad being rich, the two men Tiana wants to buy the restaurant from being white, and Tiana’s mother working as a seamstress. As mentioned above, this is not the case in Lilo and Stitch, a film made before Frog. However, Frog is set about hundred years before Lilo, so that could be one argument in favor of the movie.

Then, we have Aladdin. We open on a desert, which right away sets the story. The marketplace, the sand, the palace, they all present a clear picture. The strength in Aladdin’s world building really comes from visuals: clothes, places, animals. There’s nothing that the characters do that really identify them, besides, to say it again, their clothes. The custom of a princess needing to marry does not differentiate it from other princess films. The art of the movie is really what saves it.

Mulan trumps all in terms of world building.

mulan reflection

The fact that Mulan is Chinese is very important to her story. Mulan, like Pocahontas, is a historical figure so it is not shocking her race matters to the story. Chinese culture is presented to us everywhere: praying to the ancestors, the matchmaker, the clothes, the writing. Gender roles, especially, and honor thy father all influence Mulan’s arc and the story Disney is telling. Mulan and Gender Roles is its own meta, but Disney consciously created a Chinese character and set her in her world, effectively showing us a new culture and race.

Finally, there’s Kuzco. While Aladdin sets us up visually and The Princess and the Frog is relatively weak, but still a decent effort, Kuzco isn’t anything special. Yes, he’s a native South American, but the only cultural addition to the film are llamas. Of course, there’s jungles and nature and the contrast between poorer homes on the hilltops vs Kuzco’s palace. Besides the llamas, though, this film could be set anywhere and it wouldn’t matter. Props to Disney for reimagining Mr. Andersen’s Danish fairy tale in this way, but the world isn’t strong enough.

I haven’t spoken much on The Jungle Book. Mowgli is Indian, but besides his name and the names of all the animals around him, that’s not very obvious. He certainly does not have an Indian accent, nor does he even possess any understanding of the concept of “Indian.” The girl in the village wearing the tilak (or bindi) at the end of the film is the only real connection we have to this culture.

Esmeralda, Little Creek, Chel, Lucius: Lets Be Honest, Taking Names and Kicking Butt, Too

hunchback seeing him spirit little creekel dorado chel idiots face incredibles frozone

Esmeralda is the leading female of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She is one of my all-time favorite characters. She’s idealistic, loyal, brave, kind. As a gypsy, she’s hunted by Frollo and made to feel unworthy.

I don’t know if you would listen to a gypsy’s prayer… Yes, I know I’m just an outcast, I shouldn’t speak to you…
–God Help the Outcasts

She represents discrimination and persecution. She’s hunted for being a gypsy, for being a woman, and for being a person of color. But she’s prepared to become a martyr, to die for what she believes in.

She’s Quasi’s first example of a decent human being and becomes his first human friend (gargoyles, anyone?). She helps bring him out of his shell and quell his fears about being feared. She would know, too, since she’s used to mothers frequently telling their children not to go near her (see: the beginning of the film).

Esmeralda is another example of a Disney woman saving her man, but her and Phoebus may also be the first interracial couple (and they make me swoon)!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a very brave film. It doesn’t shy away from personal issues like religion and hate and sexual undertones. But it also tackles race and bias and unfair persecution. Esmeralda is an amazing character, she’s strong in the best sense of the word and brings amazing representation to the Disney animated universe.

I’ve been talking about Disney a lot, so lets turn to Dreamworks.

Little Creek is my baby. He’s a Lakota Native American and we first meet him when Spirit is captured by US soldiers. Little Creek was caught trying to free the cavalry’s horses and as the film shows us, Little Creek and his tribe care very much about horses. They don’t want to see them saddled, branded, or whipped. When he and Spirit escape, Spirit is brought back to Little Creek’s tribe and nourished back to health after The Colonel tried to starve him that way he would become milder and easier to tame (spoiler alert: not happening).

Little Creek becomes the most important human Spirit meets. He is the embodiment of kindness and they become good friends. He is the opposite of the regiment’s men, the ones who want to destroy the land and nature and build roads and railways. He wants to train Spirit, but he also is in awe of his power and respects him.

spirit 5

who wouldn’t be in awe of Spirit? look at that pretty horsie

Little Creek’s version of training is of course very different from the soldiers, but when Spirit still resists, he lets go. He does not try to wield power over Spirit. And when Spirit sees that, that is when he lets Little Creek ride him.

spirit 3spirit who could not be broken

In the Road to El Dorado, we meet Chel. She is not a Disney princess, but like most of them she has dreams of going on adventure and discovering something new. In fact, the first time we see her she’s running away from home with some gold she stole.

el dorado chel copy

She’s native to El Dorado, the city of gold, somewhere in Central or South America. Where The Emperor’s New Groove failed, El Dorado excels. El Dorado is a fully real, actualized city. There is an opposing ruling force and tension within the community (the chief vs the high priest), distinct artwork and games that are played. Visually, also, the movie stuns, creating a rich world to contrast with Spain.

Chel’s role is fairly straightforward. If this was Disney, she’d have an “I Want” song and a love song with Tulio. She doesn’t have either of those here, though they are important aspects of her character. As the story goes on, we see her helping Miguel and Tulio pass off their con about being gods. She is vital to their success, filling them in on customs and traditions and getting them out of sticky situations.

el dorado chel idiots face

Chel’s face every time the idiot boys don’t listen to her

And when the chance to leave El Dorado and travel with them to Spain is presented, of course she’s ready to go for it.

el dorado end

Lucius/Frozone is a wonderful bestie in The Incredibles. His scene at the end of the film–

incredibles wheres my super suit

–is one of everyone’s favorites. His wife is never seen, but even she’s legendary (I am the greatest good you are ever gonna get). There’s nothing about him to emphasize his race, but it doesn’t matter because that’s how life is. Your friends are your friends. We know all kinds of different people.

Also, the list of black superheroes is slim. Frozone does have a small role, but he is a splash of diversity in an otherwise all white film.


Do I think this is suitable? Of course not. More can and should be done to bring diverse characters into the mainstream animation houses. As we’ve seen with Mulan and Aladdin and Lilo and Stitch, amazing movies happen!

But, I wanted to highlight the fact that Disney, who largely faces the most criticism for their all white stories, have brought us people of color in their films. They’ve given us the biggest majority of POCs as protagonists, too.

I left out the film Brother Bear by Disney because there’s not much to add–it follows the standard interpretation of Native Americans we’ve seen in Pocahontas and Spirit, plus POC being an animal for most of the film.

brother bear new in town copy

I also left out Ice Age by 20th Century because 1, I forgot about the nomadic tribe, and 2, because they are a tiny facet of the film. But by the nature of the film, it dates itself back millions of years, which ties into a point made above. Also not mentioned are The Croods, which follows the same logic for Ice Age. The Book of Life, I have yet to see, but it seems Hispanic culture plays a bigger role there than Emperor. Big Hero 6 features an Asian protagonist, but I’ve not yet seen it yet, either.

People of color have stories to tell! Historical OR contemporary, their lives matter. Their lives in reality and their lives in art and animation.

If you take anything away from this post I hope it is either:

  • Disney has given us the most diversity of any animation house
  • But: we should still be critical of Disney and encourage more diversity among all animators
  • The majority of stories about POCs focus on historical aspects, which is great, but there needs to be more of a balance between past and present

Leave your thoughts and opinions below! How do you feel about diversity in animation?

Cheers!
-M&M