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Friday, October 26, 2012

The Reason Why Stepmothers Have a Bad Rep: Lady Tremaine...& Other News

Okay, I misspoke. I had every intention of making separate posts for this, but the stories tied together so nicely that I felt they should be introduced together.

October is not only for Halloween. This year it has also been for Cinderella's anniversary and the many things that have accompanied it. So to finish off my villain spots for the month, I felt that it would be most fitting to include a villain that often gets overlooked - Lady Tremaine.


This is a woman with high standards, a commanding voice and a glare that could stab you in the chest. She is a mother that is overly-biased towards her own daughters and will do anything she can to get ahead in society. While she might not be the first character to come to mind when one thinks of a Disney villain, her mere countenance has rendered her a classic, and continues the social stigma that stepmothers are pure evil. She is the quintessential cruel mother that plays favorites, shouts, glares, and exercises her authority unjustly to simply feel the satisfaction that she can.


Part of the excellence of this character's performance comes from none other than the actress that voiced her. Eleanor Audley was a fantastic stage actress that lent her voice not only to Lady Tremaine but also to Maleficent in later years. In fact, much of Cinderella was actually shot in live-action sequences so that the animators could trace over the footage and speed up the animation process. Disney has generally used live-action footage as reference for animating, but the process on this film had some of the animators rather miffed.


But getting back to Lady Tremaine...why is this woman so hell-bent on making Cinderella's life miserable? You would think that she would honor her late husband by taking care of his surviving daughter, who lived in their French ch√Ęteau long before she and her obnoxious daughters moved in. You would think that she would take pity on this girl, who first lost her mother and then, not too long after, her doting father as well.


As for the once prosperous home, Tremaine and her daughters drove the place into ruin. Upper-class people that lose their wealth often have trouble adjusting to living more simply. Since the fortune was squandered, the help that was once employed was let go, and who better to pick up the slack than Cinderella? It's not like the girl had a choice, really...either she stayed and did whatever she was ordered to do or she would end up on the street.

The film Ever After played with this idea, and I think it connects with Disney's classic telling of Cinderella as well...Lady Tremaine probably harbored resentment towards Cinderella because she was jealous of the love and affection her new husband showed towards his first daughter. This image says everything, I think, and takes place at the same time as the previous image.


While much of the subtly here might fly over children's heads, there is a lot being communicated in this scene, and it is clear that there is a separation between the original family and the new family. Instead of everyone spending time together, the family is already split in two. Perhaps Lady Tremaine and her daughters did not want to go outside and possibly get themselves dirty with the animals. Maybe they were never even asked if they wanted to go outside and Cinderella and her father wanted to spend some special father/daughter time. What we do know is that while most newlyweds are usually joined at the hip and like to spend a lot of time together, they already seem to be very far apart. The use of light and dark in terms of animation also tells us a lot about the moods of the characters. You can almost feel the hatred brewing inside of these girls and their mother.

One other thing we have to remember is that Lady Tremaine came with her own two daughters into the new family. She was probably also a widow, and Cinderella's father probably felt a connection with her in that way - if nothing else, he was seemingly doing something kind for her and her daughters by ensuring that they had a home and future. The marriage would be very beneficial to Tremaine - did she attempt to seduce him into marrying her, or was it a mutual desire? None of us can know for sure, but we do know that the woman is all about brown-nosing in order to elevate her station.


Once Cinderella's father died, Tremaine's true colors were revealed. Obviously a mother wants her daughters to feel pampered and spoiled, and since all three of them harbored resentment towards this girl while the father was alive, Tremaine knows that she can let her daughters "rip and tear" at Cinderella now, completely free from having to worry about getting into trouble over it. The whole thing probably turned into a game for these women.

Tremaine could also be a bit bi-polar with a superiority complex. I'm confident in at least the latter.

I mean, come on...she named her cat Lucifer? Lucifer?! The name of the devil? How evil can this woman be? What's even more disturbing is that her new husband should have known about this, as he is present in the beginning of the film.


Anyhow, if nothing else, Lady Tremaine reminds us of how great our real mothers are (or gives us some tell-tale signs that we are living with a nasty tyrant). And if any of you are or become stepmothers yourself, try to remember to not play favorites and actually do some house cleaning and cooking yourself. Seriously, don't be a jerk.


There's not a whole lot to shop for in terms of this character. The Disney Store did make a limited edition doll that was released with the limited edition Cinderella doll, but she is already sold out. You might be able to find her on ebay. She looks pretty good.


Otherwise you could get her in the Cinderella doll gift set.


The WDCC has a couple of Lady Tremaine figures, including:


But yeah, that's kinda it.


So, what's the other Cinderella story?


Apparently the people running the Disney Parks campaigns needed a new "thing." And this new thing will have new things constantly coming and going, like this giant ice sculpture in Times Square.

The oh-so-clever name that they have given this promotion? "Limited Time Magic."

Yeah, I was being sarcastic. Okay, I understand why they picked that name; it signifies to the audience that all of these really awesome things that are coming only last for so long before they are gone and a new special offering comes in. But I'm going to be honest here - I never want to think of magic as a limited time thing, especially when it comes to Disney. The undertones of that phrase are actually quite disconcerting for long-time fans of the parks.

They announced this promotion this month, along with all of the other big Cinderella-related things. Why couldn't they have used a name relating to the film as well? "When the clock strikes twelve." "Back into a pumpkin." I'm not a promotion name generator, but I firmly believe there is gold in there somewhere to get the right message across. This name that they have chosen sounds awkward at best.

But ignoring all of that, the special offerings sound quite promising. One special thing they talk about in the article is about Friday the 13th, which will occur in September 2013. Since it is a special date that will take place during the Halloween celebrations, Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios are staying open until the 13th hour (meaning 1 a.m.). The Disney Villains are to host a dance party with other tricks and treats occurring that night. It sounds like a lot of fun, though I imagine that crowding will be a nightmare.


Anyhow, that does it for my October Disney villains posts. Maybe I will do more next year! There is still much more to discuss, but as Jack Sparrow would say, I must "wait for the opportune moment." 

In the meantime, tell me - did you enjoy the villains series? What do you think of this new promotion?


Friday, October 19, 2012

The Evil Queen, Disney's OG Baddie!

When Walt Disney decided to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, people said he was crazy. Who would sit through a feature-length film entirely made from hand-drawn animation?

Walt had a knack for one-upping his critics by blowing the general public away, but it was still a meticulous process on his end. When trying out new things, it is often best to utilize elements that the public already loves and slip in the new elements you have created. You also don't want to convolute things too much - keep your key elements simple and easy enough to understand, without dumbing down your product to your audience.


Much like Snow White, the Evil Queen could be criticized for falling into a rather extreme stereotype. But besides recognizing and adapting to social attitudes and circumstances of the times (the film debuted in 1937), Walt had to ensure that his brand new film stuck to a rather basic story with fairly clear character types in order to connect better to audiences.


The Queen's motives for killing Snow White can at first glance seem rather bizarre. Her trusty mirror tells her that her beauty is second to that of the princess she has dressed in rags and doing work. Sure, many women turn life into a competition regarding "who is hotter," and we all know that the claws can come out if a female feels vulnerable in regards to how her beauty is perceived by others. But to kill a girl just because she is considered more beautiful than you? Is this Queen just crazed with ego and power?


But...what if I were to tell you all that in the original story concept for Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Evil Queen actually had a thing for the Prince? As part of the original storyline, she actually proposed to him, he refused, and then took him to her dungeon where she tortured him to try to get him to say yes to her. He would eventually be rescued by Snow White's bird friends. If you would like to hear more about this and the history of the Snow White dark rides in the parks, you should check out this awesome tribute site.

But with that nugget of information, things seem to piece together more easily, don't they? Not only is the Queen insecure about her looks, but there is a younger and more beautiful female that has the affections of the man she wants and thinks she should have. I mean sure, she has some crazy evil tendencies with torture. The moment where she sweeps through her dungeon and says to the sad remains of a skeleton that is reaching for a pitcher of water, "Thirsty? Have a drink!" as she shatters the pitcher makes it pretty clear that this woman is disturbed and crazy. But she does not focus on torturing Snow White - she just wants her out of the way. With her gone, she can be fairest in the land and maybe, just maybe, the Prince will get over Snow White and marry her instead.


So why didn't this story concept make it into the final version of the film? Apparently the animators were having trouble animating the Prince (something that the studio struggled with for decades, and didn't seem to truly tackle until the Disney Renaissance). It is also suggested that, due to the cruel and unusual torturing that would have been depicted, as well as a more extensive look at the Evil Queen's dungeon in general, it would have made the film too dark for audiences. I believe that all of these are strong contributing factors, but I also believe that Walt also felt that while this story concept would have been understood by the audience, it would have diverted the film for too long away from Snow White herself, instead of keeping the film tight and simple. Let's not forget what happened to the extensive footage of the dwarfs (finished in animation in pencil but not color) that was cut from the film. Animation is very time-consuming and expensive, and still Walt cut the footage to tighten up the film as much as he could.


In the end, the Evil Queen does exactly what she needs to do in order to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a clear and concise story. She paved the way for the future of the Disney company, animation, and began a tradition of classic Disney Villains, and because of all these things she is a successful character.


The Disney Store has a few really nice Evil Queen items (some of which are on sale, along with other Villains items!) - my favorite is the pillow.






There is a lot of new Disney news that I'd like to cover. Before the next villains post, I'll be writing about that, so keep an eye open for the next update. See ya real soon!


Friday, October 12, 2012

A Woman Who Takes Matters Into Her Own Tentacles!

The first Disney princess film I was exposed to in a movie theater was none other than The Little Mermaid. I don't remember that day as I was only 2 years old, but my mother certainly does.

Parents like telling stories about their children, and my mother is no exception. A favorite of hers (and mine) is that back when The Little Mermaid came out in 1989, she, my father and I took a trip to the local movie theater to see it.

My father and I didn't stay for very long, though. Unfortunately, early on in the film when Urusla laughed evilly and filled the whole screen, I got scared (as small ones often do) and started crying. My mother wanted to stay and watch the remainder of the film, so my dad took me home while my mother finished watching what became a Disney classic.


Something that not too many people know about Ursula, though, is that she is actually King Triton's sister and therefore Ariel's aunt. In the original score for "Fathoms Below," there is more back-story given to the turmoil brewing between Triton and Ursula, but a sizable chunk of the song was cut from the film. It eventually was brought "to the surface" for the Broadway show, and therefore Ariel and Ursula's familial relationship was further explored.


But that adds in an interesting dimension, doesn't it? It almost adds more urgency in Ursula's drive and plotting. We knew she was used to palace life but it must have hurt that much more to be kicked out of your home by your own brother (even if you were trying to take control of the ocean). Using his precious daughter who gets palace pampering every single day to use as a negotiation tool? Very, very clever. Ursula even feels a little bad about it after she turns her back into a mermaid. "Poor little princess, it's not you I'm after, but a much bigger fish." Triton was cruel to both of them - Ursula could sympathize with this poor unfortunate soul.

Speaking of bigger fish...can I just say how much I love the fact that Ursula isn't some super-skinny character? Her curves are almost empowering to her personality. It adds an extra zest of charm. The animators that worked on the film experimented with all sorts of body types, but said that they just couldn't help but love the fat Ursula concepts.

Original concept art for Ursula. VERY reminiscent of the era!
That's why it kind of disappoints me that they made Ursula thinner for the Broadway show. I mean, I understand Alan Menken's reasoning - he says that Ursula complains about "wasting away" and yet fat Ursula doesn't seem to reflect that visually. But part of Ursula's personality and charm is in her body - her body works harmoniously with her strong, bold voice. A thinner Ursula just isn't, well...Ursula. But that's just my opinion. No disrespect to any of the lovely actresses that have played Ursula on-stage, of course - I just naturally want to hear something akin to Pat Carroll.

Sherie Rene Scott as Ursula.
Disney seems to be on the attack of big and beautiful Ursula, lately. I and many other women that I've talked to (none of us with quite as much curves as Ursula) were pretty disappointed when we saw the look of her Designer Doll.

A nip here, a tuck there...
I mean - what?! Bleh. It's kind of ironic that it feels like Disney is trying to subtly say that Ursula's curves make her ugly when this skinny version is just way more unappealing to the eye (well, mine anyway). And in some ways, it feels like an insult to the animators that created her. I understand artistic licence but you need to also give your audience what they want. (I will say, however, that her outfit is fabulous.)

To be honest, the Disney Villains line surprises me in that Disney is essentially taking the same approach they take with the princess line - I'm not sure that that is the best way to go. Yes, there are Disney fans that love both worlds, but not all of them do. I think that the hardcore villains lovers are different in their tastes in fashion and style...while the outfits the dolls are wearing might fit that direction, I'm unsure about the available fashion for living, breathing women.

A girlfriend of mine said to me that she's always been more of a villains girl her whole life, but upon seeing Disney's designs for fashion felt that they were overall still too frilly and girly for her taste. I can't say that I disagree with her. Sequins, lavender and a floral motif?


Jumping back to skinny Ursulas, though...there has been some recent drama over a certain sexy Ursula costume that doesn't come in plus sizes. I came across the story at the Huffington Post.

The offending costume.
Yes, the costume is officially sanctioned by Disney, though not sold directly under the Disney brand name. It's not the best Ursula costume I've ever seen (to be honest, I really wonder why they thought the tiered crinoline look was a good idea - several have voiced their opinion that the costume was poorly and cheaply made), but the Disney Store isn't offering anything this year. I believe that this costume was available through them last year:

Anyhow...some people are upset that Ursula, a fat character, only has a costume available for people that fit a small, medium or large. That it is sending a message to women everywhere that even Ursula, who seems sexy in her own way as she was originally created, just cannot be sexy enough to warrant a sexy costume without sending her look on an extreme diet, and therefore that fat women just cannot be sexy, or fashionable, if you bring the Designer Doll into the discussion as well.

I think that anyone should be whatever they want to be for Halloween. Certain body types have it hard enough to go shopping for clothes - why take Ursula away from the bigger women? I read a few chauvinistic comments related to the extra curvy wearing more revealing clothing like said costume, but you know what? As long as nothing is being illegally exposed, someone can wear it. You can't tell someone you don't want them to wear something that is okay for other people to wear just because you are not comfortable with it.

Some might even say that this is "stupid" to express outrage over. News flash: no, nothing is stupid to express concern over if it truly hurts someone. Not everyone knows or understands what certain demographics are exposed to when it comes to sensitive issues for themselves, and the truth is that body weight is one of those serious issues for girls. Yesterday was International Girl's Day (the first ever) - it's dismissive attitudes like this that make it necessary for the UN to declare a day like this.

This costume's creation has nothing to do with sending a message of "being healthy" as some might try to excuse it as - no, there is a market for women wanting to dress as naughty versions of Disney characters. I don't necessarily think that Disney is trying to tell women that if they are plus size they are "too ugly" to be allowed to dress in an outfit like that in public - I just think that it was a miscalculation considering who the actual character is.

And don't underestimate the importance of body language!
As for the Designer Doll? Well...that would be part artistic choice but was also probably a financial one. Having to use a different mold just for the Ursula doll would have cost Disney more. But in my honest opinion, if they didn't want to spend the extra money to create a more authentic doll, they probably should not have included Ursula at all.

If you're looking for a great Ursula costume, I'd suggest going to websites like Ebay, Etsy, doing a search for cosplay, or heck, just make it yourself! There are a bunch of women that have already done it and, quite frankly, all of their costumes look fantastic. These options might be more expensive, but you'll have a serious wow factor when you step out in those tentacles! Oh, and speaking of tentacles -


This seller makes earrings like these in all sorts of colors. Check out the Etsy listing here.

Maybe you would rather have something more along the lines of Ursula's actual accessories? Maybe the very nautilus shell carrying Ariel's voice, perhaps?


Besides the Ursula Inspired Sea Shell Necklace, this seller also sells recreations of Ursula's earrings! Very cool.

As for the Disney Store, you can purchase a fat Ursula doll, amongst a few other items. My personal favorite is the ornament (kind of in love with this new character ear line)...

Well, that does it for today. I'm Sea Witch-ed out! So, what do you think about this whole thinned-out Ursula business? Talk about it here!


Friday, October 5, 2012

Maleficent, Mistress of All Evil - Slighted Beauty Queen?

As a slight twist for this blog, I've decided to dedicate a post to a female villain once a week for the month of October. After all, what's a good princess story without a deliciously evil villain?

I'll admit, the Mistress of All Evil has been on my mind. After all, she'll be getting her own live action film in 2014, starring Angelina Jolie. Disney synergy works in mysterious ways, doesn't it? I can't wait to see this movie when it debuts.


Speaking of which, I can't help but think that for Halloween celebrations in the parks the castles should get involved - well, the Sleeping Beauty Castles anyway. I mean, how amazing would it be to enter Disneyland and have your eye drawn immediately to a castle covered in thorns?

Original concept art by Eyvind Earle
Of course, if Disney didn't feel like spending the time and money on physical, 3-dimensional thorns, they could have this be a nighttime-only thing. Utilizing the projection technology they use for the fireworks shows, they could easily project intimidating brambles and thorns with some mood lighting for the desired effect...and if desired further, a show could be built around this where good conquers evil and the castle is restored (and maybe a princess woken by true love's kiss, who knows). Obviously we don't want to copy Fantasmic!, but a little something something might be fun.

Just like those brambles, Maleficent is a bit edgier than the rest of the Disney villains. As far as the film Sleeping Beauty is concerned, the only reason why Maleficent curses the innocent baby Aurora (still fresh in her cradle) is that she wasn't invited to a party. Lesson learned: even if you really don't want a certain someone to come to your bash, if you invite everyone else, word is going to get around and that person is going to be pissed off.

Maleficent's physical design is rather edgy, too. In a complete switcheroo at the studio when this film was being produced, Walt Disney decided that instead of starting with the characters' designs first and then the backgrounds complementing them, that Eyvind Earle's beautiful backgrounds take center stage and the character designs be done after. A lot of the animation artists weren't happy about this, but the film's gorgeous look has ensured it to be a classic and innovative film. The characters are beautiful themselves, and Maleficent is no exception. Marc Davis animated her beautifully.


Okay, yes, she's green...but she wears it well, doesn't she? The purple and black complement her so well. Her facial structure is gorgeous, and she's tall and slender (going on that alone, she is, interestingly enough, similar to Aurora). The horns and collar add a nice touch of drama (and foreshadow what is to come). And on top of it all, she's almost sultry in a mysterious way. She has her very own dark castle with minions, and wherever she goes, her loyal companion, Diablo, accompanies her. On top of all that, being a dark fairy, she has very powerful magic that even the 3 good fairies are nervous to compete with.

It's interesting. Maleficent has so much going for her that one may wonder why she would even care whether she was invited to the newborn princess' celebration. Looking at the situation itself, she must have been extremely embarrassed - Merryweather declares to the entire (very public) room that Maleficent wasn't "wanted" at the celebration. This (and a few visual cues) indicate that Maleficent hasn't exactly had a spotless record that would warrant her an invitation. Still, the last thing anyone (especially one with clearly as much pride as Maleficent has) would want is to be told in front of a large group of people at a party is that no one wanted them there. I mean - who wouldn't try to throw something back in these jerks' faces? The one person who clearly was wanted there was Aurora, so she became Maleficent's target. 

I'm not saying that it is reasonable to curse a newborn baby to die at 16, but Maleficent's behavior (from a generic standpoint) seems slightly more understandable when looked at from a different angle. It seemed like an impulsive and prideful decision more than anything else...and honestly? Perhaps Maleficent is lonely. She probably doesn't get invited to parties. Sure, she can throw her own, but her cronies are there to be cronies, not to be her friends. All she has is Diablo. Diablo can't tell her how pretty she is or how smart she is, or engage in an intelligent conversation wit her. Maleficent might have dedicated aids, but friends? Not really. Maybe she'd be more pleasant if she were invited to dinner once in a while. Sure, it's a little risky, but one does not start out life being evil - life shapes them to become that way, and they see themselves as heroes in their own version of the world.

If things weren't bad enough, Maleficent obsesses for 16 years over the whereabouts of Princess Aurora. If we thought she was unhappy before, imagine being in a dark castle by yourself and obsessing over taking revenge over that one thing that happened at a party this many years ago...that kind of obsessing can drive someone crazy (and in her case, crazy evil). Once Diablo is turned into a statue and her whole plan unravels, her last bit of humanity seems to escape her as she transforms into a dragon.


She is beautiful and terrifying...and no longer herself. All that is left of her is her manic desire to destroy and attack. It is actually rather sad - but it makes for great cinema. Maleficent was a slighted beauty queen that went off the deep end, and remains one of the best Disney villains of all time.

If you're a fan of Maleficent, you may be frustrated at the general lack of merchandise for her usually. Disney has shaken things up recently and is now offering more villains items (and they even went the designer doll route, as they did not too long ago). Here are a few of my favorites.






All of these items (and more) can be found at disneystore.com 

However, if none of these are really your style, and you're in the mood for hip threads, you should check out Threadless - Disney approved the site to allow random artists to come up with their own Disney Villains apparel. But hurry! These items won't be around for very long.

See you next week!