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Disney’s “Frozen”: A Step in the Right Direction

On Christmas, in lieu of buying everyone presents to set aside and forget about by next week, my husband and I took the whole family to see a movie.  We chose Disney’s “Frozen,” as we thought it would appeal to everyone from children to grandparents.  Of course, on the level of pure entertainment, it delivered as expected.  We all had a great time.  What I didn’t expect (especially given the negative reviews I’d seen from “Snow Queen” purists) was how powerfully it would resonate.

If you have not seen this movie, please stop reading nowThere will be spoilers, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone.  If you don’t care or have seen it, read on. Continue reading

What Ariel taught me about feminism

Last week, Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere exploded after Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show.  I’m not really interested in revisiting the subject or trying to defend her.  I’m not going to reopen the conversation about whether or not her performance was inappropriate.  What I am actually interested in is a side topic that came up as a result: Women taking back our bodies and claiming our right to defy the cultural expectations on our womanhood, and how that looks for different people.

Bear with me, I need to make a side venture.  Those who know me well know that I love Disney movies.  I’m particularly fond of the newer Pixar films, but I do love some of the classic animated features.  I even enjoy the old fairy tale movies, complete with Prince Charmings, fairy godmothers, and Princesses-in-the-Making.  Within that context, there are definitely some stories I enjoy more than others.

To this day, The Little Mermaid remains one of my favorite films of all time*.  As I’ve ventured deeper into feminist waters, I finally recognize what it is about Ariel that I find so compelling.  She is, in a way, a picture of a woman claiming her power over herself and her future.  Sure, we could (and should) have a conversation about the more problematic elements of the movie, including Ariel’s rail-thin body and the fact that the Sea Witch’s use of overt sexuality is viewed as negative.  But ultimately, what matters to me is that there are some striking metaphors that make the feminist in me do her happy dance.

Ariel is not a plucky or spunky “tomboy princess.”  She is intelligent and curious, cultivating a hobby of her own rather than being confined to the role she’s been given.  She bucks the patriarchal norms set for her and seeks to create her own destiny.  She is physically fit and strong, rescuing Prince Eric from drowning and pulling him to safety–but instead of feeling emasculated by this, he is enchanted.  When Ariel is voiceless, she still retains her ingenuity and creativity.  Her true friends accept her for who she is and trust her to make her own decisions.  They help her–and she accepts their help–when the occasion arises.  She and Prince Eric are equals; when they have to fight for their lives and the lives of those they love, they do it together (which is a rare thing in Disney films).  And in the end, instead of her father continuing to make choices for her, he accepts that she is her own woman and capable of knowing what she wants.  (Unlike in Aladdin, where the Sultan simply changes the rules to suit his daughter–while still having to have rules–Triton actually acknowledges Ariel’s decision-making skills have merit of their own.)

Although Ariel isn’t directly asserting her control over her sexuality (it’s a children’s cartoon movie, after all), she is challenging the standards to which women are held when it comes to autonomy.  This was the takeaway for me from Beyoncé’s performance as well.  Here is a woman–bright, creative, and with solid knowledge of who she is–claiming her power over her own body.

There are so many ways that we, as women, can reclaim ourselves.  This might be in terms of bodily autonomy and sexuality; it might be our functional roles within marriage, family, and the church; it might be a challenge to what is considered ladylike behavior.  Sarah Moon said it best in regard to “flaunting” our sexuality and expressing ownership of ourselves:

When I feel defiant, I usually chose my baggy cargo pants. Yeah, world. Don’t care if women are supposed to exist to be pretty and be looked at as if our bodies are public property. My body. MINE. But I also “flaunt” my sexuality in other ways (like talking about it on my blog or being an advocate for sexual health) that say, I can hide my body from who I want AND share it with who I want because it’s mine so THERE. I think autonomy and self-expression are what’s important…not what someone is actually wearing.

I don’t tend to exert my power through the way I dress, but I do use my words.  I write with ferocity when I’m passionate; I talk about things women aren’t supposed to discuss; I swear sometimes (admit it–the word fuck is just dead useful now and again).  But there is something that is considered unladylike about using such coarse language.  I have been told that it’s not “appropriate” for Christians or that I could say the same thing with some other word.  I’ve been told that I’m not “polite” when I’m angry about injustice.  I’ve been told to be more gentle and that I’ll “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  Here’s the thing, though: This is my way of fighting back against the idea that being a Christian woman means that my words must always reflect “niceness.”  This is me, claiming my power and using it.

You, too, have autonomy.  Your body, your words, your mind, your heart–they all belong to you**.  Not the church, not the government, not other people: you.  You can share or hide any of  those things as you choose.  The decision is entirely yours.  Today, how will you live your life in a way that honors your autonomy?

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*I’m talking specifically about the film, not the Hans Christian Anderson story (which I don’t like much).

**I understand that most Christians believe that they also belong to God and that God and others should also be honored in how we carry ourselves.  I’m not meaning to step on that, but I fully believe that sometimes honoring God and others means reclaiming our power and acting as we are called–even when patriarchy says no.

Movie Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid Dog Days

To make up for subjecting you all to the horror of Fifty Shades, I’m giving you something considerably lighter and more fun today.

On Saturday, for the sake of spending quality time together as a family, we did something we rarely do: we went to the movies. I had promised I would take Jack to see the latest installment of the big-screen versions of his favorite book series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. We dragged Dad and little sis along for the ride (the former less reluctantly than the latter). Surprisingly, all four of us enjoyed the movie. Even more surprisingly, it was more than just a kids’ comedy.

My son has read every book to date at least twice, and we own both previous movies on DVD. I’ve never read or watched any of them. Having seen Dog Days, I can honestly say I think I’ve been missing out.  My son assures me that this particular adaptation was very close to the book.  I now want to read it for myself to find out.  I can honestly say that I haven’t laughed that hard at a movie in years.  If that’s any indication of what’s in the books, it’s no wonder that kids everywhere, boys and girls alike, are devouring them.

As I watched the film, I was struck with the thought that this is The Wonder Years for the current generation.  The hero (and narrator) of the series, Greg Heffley, is a cross between a gentle everyboy and a complete screw up, for lack of a better term.  The way he stumbles through pre- and early adolescence is a brilliant mix of side-splittingly funny and achingly endearing.  Despite never having been a boy that age, I still found my own gawky, uncertain teenage self in him.

Fourteen-year-old Zachary Gordon, the star of the film, is impossibly adorable and absolutely perfect.  He does, in fact, remind me very much of Fred Savage at the same age.  Having literally grown up with The Wonder Years (I am only a few months older than Fred Savage, and his character was a grade level below me), I would not be surprised if this is intentional.  After all, my generation is just now old enough to have children that age, or at least old enough to read the books.  Either way, Gordon is the perfect choice for this role.  I found myself simultaneously laughing at his plight and wanting to give him a hug and tell him it would all be okay.

The rest of the cast is surprisingly talented for a group of young people.  Ordinarily, I’m not impressed with the young stars of book-to-movie translations.  They seem more often than not to have been chosen because they “look” the part, rather than for their skill in front of a camera (see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example).  I hope that we will be seeing more from these young people in the future.

As for the movie itself, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Usually when a movie’s laughs are based on embarrassment or humiliation, I feel uncomfortable laughing at someone else’s mishaps.  But in this case, the fun came from being able to relate to the characters and their awkward situations.  Viewers should be prepared for the fact that there is some rude/gross humor, though it is far milder than most films aimed at Dog Days‘ target audience.  There is no “mature” content of any type, including swearing, which meant that I was comfortable taking my seven-year-old to see it.

It isn’t necessary to have seen the previous films, nor to have read the book.  The movie makes sense on its own, and each story is a self-contained plot.  If you are looking for a family-friendly movie for ages five and up, then I highly recommend this one.  Where I live, it’s currently playing in the second-run theater.  Otherwise, you may have to rent it in a couple of months.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

Falling in Love with a Muppet

As 2011 winds down, and with it my vacation, I’m just relaxing and enjoying being with my family.  We had a fantastic time away, and now we’re settling back in at home.

This week, we traveled to see family.  We took the kids places, visited with friends, and went to the movies.  While it may not sound like a big deal, it is for us.  Going to see a film first-run is low on our list of priorities, so we don’t do it often.  This time, we went with my in-laws to see The Muppets.

One thing you should know about me is that as a child, I had a massive, consuming crush on Kermit the Frog.  I’m sure I didn’t see it exactly that way (I wasn’t plotting to run away so I could marry him), but that’s what it amounts to.  I used to watch Sesame Street just for Kermit’s segments.  I cried when the original Muppet Show ended and demanded to know what sort of horrible people would take it off the air.  I think I watched The Muppet Movie almost enough times to recite the dialogue in its entirety.

By the time Jim Henson died, I had figured out that Kermit wasn’t real.  But Henson himself was very real, and I remember feeling for the first time that the world had lost someone important—that nothing would ever be the same again.  I remember being utterly, completely crushed.

Over the years, there have been some pretty good movies featuring Muppets.  Muppet Christmas Carol is on my yearly must-watch list, of course.  And the other movies haven’t been too bad.  Not fabulous, but not bad.  Going to see The Muppets this time around, I didn’t hold out much hope that it would be different.  I figured it would be another cute outing with our loveable pals, and that the kids would have a good time.

I was wrong.

Nope, not for the reason you might be thinking.

As I sat there watching, I remembered everything I had ever loved about the Muppets.  Funny, witty, just a touch of pique.  Somehow, even with most of the original Muppet performers absent, they nailed it.  My sister had said that she lost it when they sang “Rainbow Connection,” and after sitting through it myself, I understood why.  It’s not that it was a sappy or sentimental movie or even moment.  It’s not just because the song itself makes me teary.  It’s because the movie was a celebration of all things Muppet.  It honored all the things we grew up loving, somehow without being cheesy or coming off like a bad Academy Awards look-back.  And there was just enough silly fun to keep our kids entertained so that we adults could relive our childhoods.

Kudos to Jason Segel (who is, ironically, too young to have appreciate the original Muppets first-run) for a top-notch script and for bringing back our favorite friends.  If you haven’t yet seen this gem of a movie, be sure to go; it’s worth every penny.  Oh, and bring some tissues with you.  As for me, my husband may have some frog-shaped competition.  (Just kidding, dear!)