Romances

In honor of Valentines, I’m reposting this blog for my writing on Wednesday feature.

Disney handles romance well.

That may be the most controversial sentence I’ve ever written. But when it comes to crafting romances from a plot perspective, they know what they’re doing.

The romantic plot arc is a simple one. That’s why it tends to run as a subplot. That doesn’t make it less important, it just means that the plot points of a romance line up with the plot points of the external conflict.

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Like it or not, this is the basic plot structure for every romance ever. “But what about–” you may protest. No, seriously. This is like the monomyth for romance. If a story has a romantic element in it at all, ever, it follows these points, maybe not in this order, but they’re there. Even if the author didn’t do it consciously.

Disney used to get to simplify the attraction stage. Boy sees girl, girl sees boy, boom. Expectations set. Because the early days of Ariel just happening to spot Prince Eric on the boat were done so well, they’ve become cliche. So lately they’ve been poking fun at that expectation with movies like Enchanted or Frozen. Oddly enough in doing so, they created the best example of the initial attraction yet in “Love is an Open Door” simply because they didn’t have the rest of the movie to develop it.

Love is an open door meets all the best requirements for the initial attraction. The characters don’t just connect on a physical level, they see each other. The name of the song has meaning to Anna in that this relationship embodies everything she’s been denied growing up. It’s simultaneously an escape and the thing she’s been missing from her life. Ignoring the whole marriage thing, by the end of the song the audience is rooting for this couple.

The next stage, conflict keeps them apart tends to be where the main plot line rears its ugly head. Ariel is a mermaid not a human, Aladdin is a street rat, not a prince, Anna is already engaged, the spell wears off at midnight, or my favorite, they disagree on fundamentally different levels. Best example of this, the absolute best version of Peter Pan ever made (not disney but included due to awesomeness).

Wendy loves him, she’s pretty sure he loves her, but fear and a fundamentally different outlook on life keep them apart. You’ll notice all my favorite examples come out of movies that did something different with the scenes. Like I said, they can be in different order or be used for a different purpose. Understanding the plot points that are being changed makes those choices stronger.

First kiss is often tied into the resolution of children’s movies and many YA books because  true love’s kiss has become a symbol of finding your one true love. Once you’ve established the characters are together, the tension for that subplot is gone. It’s no longer a building romance. But there are some examples of this. However there are no examples of first kiss coming before the discovery/growing closer stage and few in YA for obvious reasons so I’m gonna tie those together. My favorite example is Aladdin. Their initial attraction was when they were both in Aladdin’s hovel. Their initial conflict keeping them apart was a difference in station, resolving that conflict led to another when Aladdin just kept screwing up, and he finally fixed it by finding common ground in their growing closer scene which was the magic carper ride, which ended with their first kiss.

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Worsening conflict is Wendy being taken by Pirates, Aladdin almost drowning, Ursula impersonating Ariel, Kokoum getting shot, Anna discovering Hans betrayed her. In the children and YA romance structure, there’s almost no breathing room between worsening conflict and black moment, because one leads to another. Aladdin finds himself helpless, powerless and flung far from Jasmine, Ariel finds herself alone on a dock while she watches her love go off to marry another. Anna is freezing to death behind a locked door, Pocahontas hears her love sentenced to death. Pan falling out of the sky. It’s in these moments the characters find their inner strength or break completely. The dark moment leads straight to the climax because finally the characters have what they need to fight and in romance that strength comes from each other. The movie that handled this the best romance wise is Tangled. You think her darkest moment is when she thinks Flynn betrayed her, but that was just worsening conflict. She finds her inner core of strength “Did I mumble, Mother? Or should I even call you that?” But none of that matters when Flynn is stabbed. She breaks. She sacrifices her newfound backbone, her ability to fight to save him and she does it in a strong way. But what makes this scene great is that it’s not just her moment of strength. It’s his. He arcs. The selfish thief is every bit as willing to sacrifice his life to save hers as she is to save his. And for a romance, that’s pretty awesome.

The happily ever after in most romances is true loves kiss, wedding bells in the future, and a happy resolution on all plot points. But sometimes that’s not the case. Peter Pan has Wendy growing up while Peter stays behind and her knowing a part of her will always be with him. UP’s romance ends with the knowledge that Ellie (symbolically the house) is waiting for Carl in paradise and he’ll always miss her but he still has things to live for. Pocahontas ends with John Smith sailing away. Sometimes the best romances are bittersweet.

The ending is never, should never feel like a given. That’s what makes a great romance.

If the Daughters of Zeus were Disney Princesses

I’m sure one of these lists has been done for Greek goddesses, but not my version of the Greek goddesses from the Daughters of Zeus series. So why not join in on the fun?

These are my characters, represented by disney princesses.

Persephone

 

Small and fluffy, but mighty. I probably was channeling a good bit of Tangled while I wrote Persephone. Persephone was also kept from the world she belonged in by a deceptive (though considerably more well-intentioned) parent. She dove into that world with bravery and determination, even though it frightened her. She mastered powers that would otherwise be used to control her. Plus she’s all about sunshine and flowers. Rapunzel makes the perfect Persephone.

Aphrodite

This one was too easy. A redhead that emerged from the sea who is completely new at this whole acting human thing? She uses bad guys as a means to an end, trusts people way too fast, and has a fiery temper. The Little Mermaid is absolutely the best disney princess to represent Aphrodite.

 Athena

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This is probably the biggest stretch,  but hear me out. Belle is book smart, but not that great with people. If you take her romance with the Beast completely out of the equation, she’s a perfect Athena.

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Artemis

Artemis was tough. I kept wanting to cast her as Merida because of the arrows and the aversion to marriage, but she’s so much more kick-but than that. So consider her a cross between Merida and Mulan.

largeHelen of Troy

Plagued by powers she doesn’t understand and can’t control, used as a scapegoat for a political takeover, fiercely pragmatic and more than a little sad, Elsa is a perfect Helen of Troy. I do wish mine had gotten a better ending.

 

 

 

 

And of course, I can’t forget these guys

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Which disney character would you cast as your favorite god or goddess?

 

For Real Friday: In Defense of Disney

My daughter turned six last month and we went to Disneyland for her birthday. I love Disney, she loves Disney, we are a Disney family. I know disney isn’t perfect, but frankly, I’m getting tired of hearing about how letting my daughter look up to princesses is going to make her weak, needy, entitled, or obsessed with princesses.

First of all, my daughter is a modern six year old. Yes, she loves princesses but she also loves Toothless and Darth Vader. But even if she didn’t I wouldn’t be worried about her looking up to Disney characters, and here’s why.

These are the Disney princesses and notable female characters (not from sequels or minor characters. I’m also not counting Studio Ghibli, Marvel, or Star Wars because Disney only recently acquired them) that have existed in her lifetime.

All  of these women made things happen. They weren’t passive. They all exhibited bravery, intelligence, a good work ethic, and all kinds of positive character traits for a young girl to model herself after. They all have flaws, yes, but overall not horrible female role models. And they aren’t cookie cutters of each other when it comes to being feminine or tough or having identical caring and sweet attitudes.

But, yes, they have flaws. I don’t just mean character flaws, I mean there are some flaws in the choices that were made when constructing these characters. And since these movies were made for today’s children, by all means pick them apart for the messages they send. It’s important to do so because there’s always room for improvement.

I turned 29 last month. This set of princesses and notable characters came out between my birth and Bella’s.


I had an awesome childhood.A bit more passive, but for the most part, strong, brave female characters who get stuff done. Less so with Belle, Ariel, and Jenny, but they were created REALLY early in my lifetime. These can be picked apart for content because they are new enough in terms of messages sent, but with the fact that many of them are over 20 years old in kind. So yes, when we watch these movies, I’ll pause and talk to Bella about misconceptions and foolish choices.

My mom is 56. The third set of princesses and notable female characters came out when my mom was a little girl.

 

Aurora is pretty passive as are the vast majority of these characters. But can we maybe agree that a princess intended for the audience my mother belonged to as an infant maybe won’t hold up to the feminist values of today? Why would a princess intended for an audience in 1959 meet today’s standards of ANYTHING? When Bella watches these movies, we have LONG talks about how princesses can do anything princes can, but that not everyone is like Rapunzel or Tiana. Some people are more passive and that’s okay to. They still deserve to live.

My Grandmother is 80. The fourth set of pictures is from my grandmother’s pre-kid lifetime. Snow White came out when she was four. 1937.

We talk a lot about manners and being nice when Bella manages to sit through one of these movies. We watch the 2003 Peter Pan instead of the Disney one, we talk about how Cinderella was brave because she survived a really negative situation with grace. When she’s older we’ll talk a bit more about how Cinderella lived through some pretty serious emotional abuse and as one awesome blogger pointed out, sometimes being strong is just surviving until you can get out of a really bad situation. We watched Once Upon a Time in Wonderland and talked about how Alice grew up and kept her curiosity and wonder. And we haven’t made it through Lady and the Tramp because it’s in the vault and I honestly don’t remember it, but I bet there’s a dialogue we can have.

Look, I get that Cinderella, Aurora, and Snow White are on every piece of disney merchandise, but every time I hear someone start in on how horrible disney princesses are as feminist role models and that person starts talking about those three, I feel like hitting my head against a wall. 1937. Times have changed a bit since then. Compare Rapunzel to Snow White and you’re going to see a massive difference. I couldn’t even sit through Snow White as a kid. My daughter definitely won’t. Again, there are some issues with disney princesses, but can we stick to the ones intended for kids born this decade to pull those examples from since we’re talking about their impact on children?
That whole “Cinderella ate My daughter” thing drives me nuts because seriously, why would you expect a princess created in 1950 to teach your daughter anything other than the ideals of 1950?! Just have a dialogue with your kids and stop expecting Disney to do it for you. If you honestly can’t see SOMETHING in each of these women to hold up as a positive attribute, that’s a real problem because it’s not like any of these characters are bad people.

Also, why don’t we hold boy characters to the same standards? “Most girls aren’t princesses.” Yeah, most boys aren’t written by radioactive spiders, but you know, at least princesses EXIST. “They just wait around for their princes to save them.” Not since the 50’s. “They all revolve around relationships.” So does life, but okay, name me a super hero who doesn’t have a girlfriend/or a tortured backstory completely defining his character that involves a girlfriend. “They’re pretty.” And every super hero is hot and strong, or a hot nerd. But we don’t pick them apart. “They’re too girly.” No. First of all, no they aren’t. Not even in my grandmother’s generation were the princesses/female characters uniformly anything. But secondly, what is wrong with girly? I’m girly. My daughter’s girly. Girly is a spectrum. The existence of girly shouldn’t offend us, being limited to only being “girly” should.

Super heroes are allowed to exist without constant criticism. What does it say to our girls that their heroes are constantly being thrown under the bus for being too girly while their male counterparts are never called into question? What does it say to our BOYS that female protagonists are constantly being criticized while their heroes actions and attributes are never called into question.

 

Movie Monday: Return of Jafar

Until I can safely venture back into the realm of Mythology Monday’s (I’m out of myths that don’t pertain to the book AFTER my next book is released), I’m changing up my blog a little bit. Wednesdays I’ll be writing about writing, Fridays will still be about real world issues, they just won’t be linked to myths, and Mondays…I’m still playing around with. But for right now, how about Movie Mondays, where I overanalyze one of my daughter’s movies.

See here’s the thing. As a parent, I find myself watching the same movies over and over and over again. And as a writer, that gives me a lot of time to stare into the gaping plot holes and grumble. Since these grumblings amuse me, I figured why not use it for a blog post in case it amuses you too? So as I watch a movie for the umpteenth time, I’ll summarize and record my thoughts in these blog entries. Let me know what you think.

And to show you how little control I have over these movies, rather than this blog feature starting with the Little Mermaid, Tangled, or Aladdin, we’re starting with The Return of Jafar. Because THAT’S what my daughter wants to watch for some reason. *grumble grumble*

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Return of Jafar starts exactly like Aladdin. SO much like Aladdin, I thought I was starting the wrong movie, until I noticed just how jerky the animation is. It took me a few seconds to convince Bella I hadn’t just made a mistake and restarted Aladdin, but she caught on when a group of thieves started counting their loot. A small furry hand darts in and takes a piece of treasure while Abis Mal shows off his poor leadership skills. Aladdin shows up to steal the loot and for a moment, I got really confused. Why is he stealing when he’s essentially a prince? Is this just setting up how he and Abis Mal know each other and in a few seconds we’ll flash for–nope, because there’s Carpet. What’s going on? It’s been a while since I saw this movie, but I didn’t expect to be so confused.
Meanwhile, Jafar and Iago are bickering and Iago, after singing a song that sparked a ton of random memories (seriously, I remembered every word, how weird is that), decides to go take over Agrabah by becoming friends with Aladdin.

Back to Aladdin, he’s playing Robin Hood and throwing stolen gold to starving children on the streets. Very impractical solution that’s no doubt wreaking havoc with Agrahbah’s economy, putting those street children in danger by giving them something bigger, stronger, meaner people can take, and/or getting them in trouble with the over zealous guards. Kind of surprised that there hasn’t been a lot of reform since Jafar was deposed. Jasmine clearly didn’t know how bad things were on the streets in the first movie, and how much the Sultan was told was questionable given his advisor, but what’s the excuse for the rampant starvation and homelessness now? And why is Aladdin the only one doing anything about it?

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This will totally last us until the next time Aladdin decides to go on an adventure.

Aladdin and Iago meet up just as Aladdin bumps into the group of thieves. They bicker but eventually Aladdin and Iago team up after Iago convinces Aladdin Jafar hypnotized him into being bad and saved Aladdin from the thieves. Aladdin realizes he owes Iago his life, but says he still has to turn him over to the Sultan. First he’ll soften the royals up though so they won’t kill Iago on site.

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Jasmine pops up, and my god, her voice is so…I don’t know why it annoys me so much, but I really don’t like it. Also, her character has done a total 180. She used to be such a spitfire and now she’s all “Oh darling, you rescued a princess.” I guess love “softened” her, but she didn’t need to be softened. Also, she had a pretty big hand in saving the day in the first movie and that’s swept totally under the rug here.

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“I’m even more useless now!”

Genie comes back for a visit because he missed his friends and sings a song I had literally no memory of. He also manages to establish that as a free genie he’s not as strong as he used to be. Nicely done on avoiding the God Complex, Disney. Though honestly, Genie never seemed to be truly powerful. After all, he technically never granted Aladdin his original wish, to BE a prince. Not to pretend to be a prince, not to impersonate a prince, but to be one. Genie’s always been real good with illusion, not so much in actual delivery. The main characters depart for dinner and the scene switches to Abis Mal discovering Jafar’s lamp.

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You aint never had a friend like me!

The sequence where Jafar takes Mal through his wishes is the reason I spent more hours than I can count as a child perfecting the phrasing of my three wishes should I ever find a genie. Honestly, that scene had a much more profound impact on my life than it should have. It’s probably influenced why my characters can’t lie and all my practice getting them to say things so specifically. Language games are fun 🙂

The Sultan makes Aladdin his royal advisor but then all hell breaks loose when the royals discover that Aladdin was harboring Iago. Jasmine and Aladdin argue about Aladdin hiding things from her again, and then Iago helps them patch things up with the “Forget about Romance” song. Another song I knew every word of. I loved this song. I honestly think they wrote this movie because they didn’t include Iago in enough songs in the first movie.
Speaking of Iago, it’s really amazing how much more  common sense he has than genie. He gets hints that Al and Jas want to be alone. He picks up on nuances. It’s really refreshing having a side kick that isn’t clueless so the protagonist can look good and he really rounds out the team for the TV series. This movie did a really good job setting the tone for the TV series over all.

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Anyway, Jasmine is appeased, but her father’s still pissed, so the group decides that Aladdin just needs to spend more time with him to win him over. Aladdin, Iago, Carpet, and Sultan fly off for a picnic the next day, which is of course a trap. Jafar and Abis Mal attack. For some reason the carpet doesn’t just sweep up the Sultan and fly away with him, and instead tries to defend the Sultan by tripping the bad guys. Can I just say how much better Jafar is as a genie than Genie. I mean, he’s obviously evil, but in terms of using powers he puts Genie to shame. Anyway, Aladdin is tossed into a raging river and the Sultan is carried away and Jafar congratulates Iago on his betrayal.
Aladdin wakes up, yells at Iago and returns to Agrabah only to realize he’s been framed for killing the Sultan (apparently torn hats = bodies? I don’t know, I feel like a more ambitious palace guard would…like…search for their missing ruler.) Jasmine comes in, acting all not Jasmine like at all, and yells at Aladdin for killing her father, sentences him to death, and runs off in tears before morphing into Jafar and revealing dun-dun-dun! The real Jasmine and Sultan chained up in another part of the castle (great job searching, guards) and Genie trapped in a magical bubble.

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Disturbing on so many levels

Meanwhile, my daughter is experiencing major sympathy pains for Iago. “He didn’t have a choice, Mommy. Why are they so mad?” I’m struggling for the words to explain how people often blame the victims in emotionally abusive relationships and how she’s right, it’s not fair. Iago is a tiny, helpless bird. All he has is his attitude and what’s that against an evil wizard, much less an all powerful genie. Jafar, as a human, put a full grown man-child of a king under his thumb. What exactly could a bird have done differently? Maybe the characters are so angry at Iago because he represents their helplessness?

Although, to be fair, first movie Iago had no nuance. He delighted in Jafar’s evil plans.And he started this movie out to take over Agrabah…so…. Some pre-planning would have made this whole transition a lot more believable.

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LOL,  JK!

Anyway, Iago flies to the dungeon and while ignoring all Jasmine and the Sultan’s bashing, frees the genie first, because he’s the most intelligent member of team Aladdin. The others realize what he’s doing and have a change of heart regarding their alliance with Iago just in time for them to be freed as well. Genie announces that if they destroy Jafar’s lamp, they destroy Jafar. And here I pause the movie and stare dumbly for a second because…what?
What?!

 

I’m sorry….destroying the lamp was an option? WHY DIDN’T THEY DESTROY IT AT THE END OF THE FIRST MOVIE? Why would they rely on the cave of Wonders? By the way, how did Jafar escape from the Cave of Wonders? That was kind of unclear. I mean, the start of the movie shows Iago digging the lamp out of the sand, but um…was it really that easy? Why couldn’t Jafar have dug INTO the cave of wonders to get the lamp in the first movie then? And why would Jafar sitting in a lamp for 10,000 years before being released into the world with major powers be a good thing? This completely undid the cleverness of the end of the first movie.

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Itty Bitty Brain

Anyway, they release Aladdin, and team Aladdin go on a mission to destroy the lamp. Mal is supposed to use his third wish to release Jafar, but he hesitates because what if all of his wishes go away without the genie there (nice call back to Aladdin’s hesitation in movie one, although, again I maintain that if the genies actually granted the wishes, not the illusion of them,this wouldn’t be an issue). During their argument, team Aladdin makes a play for the lamp,but failed to reach it. Iago swoops in to save the day and flys off with the lamp (instead of just dropping it in the lava, but okay, and gets critically hit by Jafar. The lamp and Iago land on a rock. Aladdin tries to knock it off the rock, but can’t reach, and Iago summons just enough strength to kick the lamp into the lava. The ground starts to shake, Aladdin is somehow magically able to reach Iago on the same rock he couldn’t reach the lamp on, and takes him to safety. Iago looks dead,but this is Disney, so they manage to work in the phrase “you’d be surprised what you can live through” into the movie 10001 times, Aladdin turns down the position of royal advisor and goes off to see the world with Jasmine.

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We don’t give a flying f*ck about out people!

Um…okay, selfish much? First of all, royal advisor was part of the Sultan’s slow plan to legitimize Aladdin in the eyes of his subjects so he could marry his daughter. Secondly, as a former street rat who better than anyone in the palace know how the subjects feel about their king and what they need, he could do a lot of good? Maybe instead of stealing treasure, he could point out that…I don’t know, the sultan’s people are STARVING.

Eh, at least I know why I only watched this movie once as a kid. And it entertained Bella for a while. 3 Stars.