Mulan Takes The Bechdel Test

Did I love Disney princesses? Of course I did. We all did. Don’t even try to lie. Everyone is an 8-year-old at some point in their lives.

It probably would have been a healthy obsession in my case—stopping after a few cute Halloween costumes, some fairly awkward conversations with animals, and an assortment of charming husbands—had it not been for Mulan.

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Image from http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/

Fa Mulan.

Sigh…

I knew there was no going back from the moment I first watched it. I went from wearing plastic tiaras to whacking my brothers with sticks faster than you can say, “The Huns have invaded China.” Maybe it was the lucky cricket. Maybe it was the silly grandmother. It was probably Mushu. But I like to think that it was watching Mulan discover herself with a sword in hand, rather than in ballroom slippers.

Let’s fast-forward (a shamefully small amount of time) to the present.

Now that I am much older and think about things (before hitting them with sticks), I have long since come to the conclusion that I was merely drawn to a strong, empowered female character. Done. That was easy.

Events transpired, however.

I recently stumbled upon something called the Bechdel Test, which is an unofficial measure of female portrayal in films.

Here is a 20-second history to get you up to speed:

The Bechdel Test was invented by Alison Bechdel and came from a comic titled “The Rule” in her series Dykes to Watch Out For (pictured here).

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Image from http://dykestowatchoutfor.com

A movie must meet three very simple criteria in order to pass:

  1. It must have two female characters (with names)
  2. They must have a conversation with each other
  3. That conversation must be about something other than a man

It sounds laughably easy to pass, but it turns out that 69% of IMDB’s top films fail that simple little test.

I’ll admit I was doubtful. I read through page after page about it.

I bet you have a favourite movie, they said. Look it up, they said. YOU WILL BE SUPPRISED BY WHAT DOESN’T PASS, they said.

So I looked it up. I saw a little green check mark next to Mulan. Hah, thought I, and gave my laptop a smug little smile. I was confident in my superior judgement. I was about to move on when the words “although dubious” caught my eye.

Dubious? DUBIOUS?!

How could Mulan be dubious? She was the pinnacle of female kickassery, the definition of feisty and unafraid, a raw, unadulterated shock of battle tactics and brute force with some kooky chicken feeding methods to boot. What could possibly be lacking?

Well, it seems that the female conversation was very scant in Mulan. Yes, there was some chit-chat between female ancestors, but they were unnamed. Yes, there was some mother/daughter/grandmother musical numbers, but those all circled around getting ready for the matchmaker to find a good husband. And yes, the protagonist was FEMALE but get this: Mushu had more lines in the film than Mulan did.

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Image from https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com

Here’s how the movie scraped by:

Fa Li: I should have prayed to the ancestors for luck.
Grandmother Fa: How lucky can they be? They’re dead. Besides, I’ve got all the luck we’ll need.
Fa Li: Grandma, no!
Grandmother Fa: Yep! This cricket’s a lucky one! 

How progressive for the dark ages of 1998.

So I re-watched Mulan and came to the conclusion that in terms of women’s representation, it’s far from perfect. But then again, so is the Bechdel Test.

Although there was an utter lack of meaningful, non-male-related conversations between women in the movie, it’s not a stretch to attribute some of that to the largely (and in this case logically) male cast. Not to mention that this test doesn’t take into account the historical context, in which Mulan shows considerable independence and strength of character compared to the rest of the female cast as well as her fellow warriors. So perhaps this test is superficial, but it’s not entirely wrong.

Re-watching Mulan, I realized it wasn’t the perfect embodiment of female power I once believed it to be. Mulan says very few noteworthy things over the course of the movie, and the speaking parts are all largely male. Mulan is fighting for the greater glory of China, but the victory of the movie is more about winning the Emperor’s and her father’s approval, and Li Shang’s admiration.

I’m sad to say that I could summarize Mulan by saying, “Girl pretends to be a man, girl successfully blends in and is a very good man, girl wins huge victory for China and is offered a place as a woman in a man’s world but rejects it to return to domesticity. Then girl gets boy.”

That being said, for me, this movie will always be full of important victories: the cross-dressing imperial army, a Disney princess in armour, the most flattering of compliments (“Um… you… fight good.”), and an unlikely girl showing up all the boys.

But maybe I’ll make room for new heroes.

-Contributed by Katie Schmidt

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A Step in the Right Direction: A Review of Disney’s “Moana”

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We are slowly entering the age of the reinvention of Disney.

Disney has boasted about including diversity in their films for a few years now, but still, Moana came as something unexpected to me. I suppose I didn’t actually expect anything from the big talk of how Disney was trying to push boundaries, and finally strive for more accurate cultural representation of non-white/Western European cultures.The trailers for Moana were ambiguous at best, and the scandal with the Maui Halloween costume at the Disney store was not reassuring.

But having promised my brother we’d go see it in theatres, I nonetheless told myself to remain optimistic. Moana could be different—it could be excellent.

Now I cannot speak to how other audiences received Moana, or how truly accurate or representational it was of Polynesian culture, but the first thing that struck me about the movie was how much it displayed a genuine effort to research and present its findings.

Some Disney movies, like Beauty and the Beast and Tangled, take a fairytale approach in which the story begins with a narrator, either ominous or involved. Moana does this as well, but chooses instead to present an origin story rooted in mythology, telling the story of the island goddess Te Fiti and how her heart was stolen by the mischievous Maui. The viewers soon sees that it is a grandmother telling the story to a group of children, of which only tiny Moana is enthralled by the terrifying details.

There is something very down to earth and homely about this beginning sequence. The movie presents, for the first time, a glimpse of childhood story time that is familiar to many of the audience members, capturing the uniqueness of the heroine without driving it home with a giant flashing neon sign.

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Concept art for Moana by Ryan Lang between Moana and Te Fiti

Moana is, in many ways, a movie of firsts. Moana’s adventurous spirit isn’t presented as an anomaly but rather as a return to ancestry and a past way of life which has been forgotten. The movie aims for a message of remembering one’s roots rather than going down the stereotypical path of having a heroine that’s different just because that is what is expected.

It’s a movie where, for the first time, the animal companion is arguably there not only for comic relief. Instead, we appreciate that other, subtler, line of thought presented through Heihei the chicken, that patience and love towards someone who’s different is a powerful thing. The story is also very much a “hero’s journey” archetype that leaves no room for a romantic side plot, another first in the long line of Disney’s princess ancestry, with only Mulan and Merida coming close.

One of the things I appreciated though was how “meta” Disney decided to be, in two moments both facilitated by Maui. The first occurs on a canoe, when Maui calls Moana a princess after she says that she’s the daughter of the chief. Moana corrects him, and  he replies: “it’s practically the same thing…if you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” It’s a cheeky and fun jab at the Disney line, especially since we all know Moana is ineviatebly going to be part of their “Disney Princess” line.

The second meta moment is about halfway through the movie, when Moana and Maui fine the entrance to the realm of monsters. An exasperated Maui asks Moana to not break into song and dance (even though he did this earlier himself). An added bonus is the scene where Maui signs Moana’s oar with Heihei’s beak, declaring that “when you do it with a bird, it’s called tweeting.” Perhaps Disney has become bolder in poking fun at itself and modernity. It is another sign of progress, one that added optimism.

As far as musical Disney goes, one will certainly find memorable songs, but thankfully nothing as out-of-context and catchy as “Let It Go”. The soundtrack is worth its own separate exploration, particularly with the original and cover versions of “How Far I’ll Go” and, even more memorable for me, the Rock’s tap-worthy “You’re Welcome”.

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Still from the movie, depicting baby Moana

Sitting here now and thinking over the whole movie again, it’s easy to come up with all the movie’s strengths—it had many of them. Even small aspects of the story that existed for driving the plot were adorable and memorable, such as the Kakamoras and their elaborate pirate ship.

Right after finishing the movie though, I didn’t quite know what I felt or thought about it, apart from the general agreement that I liked it. I didn’t cry the way many people swore I would, perhaps because I’m not emotional at the same things. Yet this hesitation and uncertainty shouldn’t be taken as a negative sign, in fact, quite the opposite. It is an indication that for once, we have been presented with a princess-like character that doesn’t fall into one of the polarized regions of the spectrum as either a “I like her and relate to her” or “no, she doesn’t speak to me/I disliked her for ‘x’ reason”.

Moana lines up a carefully conceived and perfectly paced storyline, characters that are so well-balanced that one almost hopes they’re perfect even in their shortcomings, and a visual culture that is rich and vibrant without being exoticized. Moana is a step in the right direction, a movie that is hopefully an indicator of the way Disney plans to head.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

Star Wars: the Force Awakens—We’re Home

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It’s been nearly ten years since the release of the almost universally loathed Star Wars prequels, and over thirty since we first witnessed the Star Wars that generations know and love. When Disney revealed that they are making a new trilogy, with new filmmakers, of course we were nervous. But the release of The Force Awakens proved those nerves to be unfounded. J. J. Abrams and company have not only given us a return to form for the galaxy far, far away, but they have delivered a movie that in the Star Wars series might only be outshined by The Empire Strikes Back.

From the opening shot of the movie, Abrams reveals what kind of ride we are in for: one that reverently loves the original trilogy and is going to deliver a new twist on a familiar world.

Just to get it out of the way, yes the original cast are back. Carrie Fisher slips in as General Leia in what is more of an extended cameo, along with C-3P0 and R2-D2. Yes, Luke Skywalker is in the movie. That’s all I can say about that.

Harrison Ford is also back as Han Solo, alongside Chewbacca. Watching them feels like coming home. Ford is fantastic as a grizzled, older Han. At no point while watching do you think “look, it’s Harrison Ford in a costume” the way you did when watching the fourth Indiana Jones movie. He is Han Solo. He slips back into that role, and he owns it. That really is Han Solo strutting around the Millennium Falcon.

But this isn’t just two hours with the cast of A New Hope in their old age. The new characters of The Force Awakens are incredible, and I’m happy to admit that within the first half an hour I was sold on following the adventures of this new generation.

Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron is the first new character we meet. He’s described as the best pilot in the Resistance, and he knows it. Isaac brings a swagger and charm to the role so easily that if I look him up in the dictionary I’d expect the word “likeable” to be written next to his name. His is a character we don’t get enough of, and I hope that he makes a bigger return in episode VIII.

The real stars (pun intended) of the show, are John Boyega as Finn and Daisy Ridley as Rey. A Stormtrooper with a conscience, Finn is a dorky, lovable guy just trying to get along in the universe and escape the villainous First Order. Finn is all-around just a good guy. His chemistry with Rey, Poe, Han Solo, and even Chewbacca will make you smile, and it’s worth mentioning that Finn is funny. Many of the films best laughs come from him, and it’s hard not to love how much John Boyega clearly enjoys being in Star Wars. But Finn is not alone; a lot of his best material comes from the chemistry and clear friendship between him and Rey.

Simply put, Rey is amazing. Between her, Jessica Jones, and Mad Max’s Furiosa, it is a refreshing year to be a fan of great female leads in science fiction movies. A scavenger on the planet Jakku, Rey is both fierce and kind. She charges through the movie with an emotional and physical fervor that the Luke Skywalker of yesteryear never quite managed. A silent introduction of her sliding down a desert sand dune, buzzing around on a speeder, and watching the sun set through a dusty rebel pilot’s helmet sets the tone for the character without a word. Her reaction to seeing a forest after spending her whole life in the desert pulls at heartstrings, her friendships with Finn and Han Solo make you cheer, and when Rey gets down to battle, you’re on the edge of your seat. Without the friendship and capability of Finn and Rey this movie would have been great, but with them it’s damn near perfect.

Also, the new droid of the film BB-8 is surprisingly lovable. I was ready to find him just as annoying as the infamous Jar Jar, but no. BB-8 is great. He bleeps and bloops lovably and capably along. I’d happily accept a BB-8 of my own. I’d call him buddy.

Of course, you can’t talk about Star Wars without talking about villains. The shiny Captain Phasma does far less to deserve her spotlight than Boba Fett ever did, First Order General Hux is appropriately Naziesque, and Supreme Leader Snoke isn’t really enough of a presence to justify a real opinion.

This leaves the weight of villainy on the shoulders of Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. There was always a threat of delivering a villain who was just not as good as Darth Vader (something Lucas’s prequels fell prey to each time), but The Force Awakens cleverly circumvents the issue. In fact, the long shadow cast by Vader’s image is one of Kylo’s principle motivations. Kylo Ren is different kind of villain, and it works. When he meets our heroes for the climactic lightsaber duel (I don’t consider saying there is a lightsaber fight a spoiler), he delivers the dynamic exciting clash between the dark side and the light that Star Wars must always have.

It’s hard to say much about the plot without spoiling the movie, but I can talk about the structure. The plot of this movie is simple, coherent, and easy to follow. Yes, there are elements and beats we have seen before. This is a movie that needed to convince us that Star Wars is back, so there are certain things it needed to do. This is not a criticism, because while The Force Awakens is nostalgic for the original 1977 film, A New Hope was in turn nostalgic for Flash Gordon and the Westerns of the 1950/60s. Star Wars was always nostalgic for something, so the reverence shown in this film was rightly placed. I went into a movie theater to see Star Wars, and that is what I saw. I couldn’t be happier.

Yes, there are small problems, but hey, nothing is perfect! The fact that I only really find issues when I go in to nitpick (one interaction between Leia and Chewbacca didn’t ring true for me) means it was a pretty good ride.

One word of warning: if you walk into The Force Awakens expecting a completely original plot with nothing you’ve ever seen before, you’re going to be disappointed. J. J. Abrams has come on record to say that A New Hope is his favorite Star Wars movie, and it shows here. But for me, I went in to watch Star Wars, and by gods, Star Wars is what I got.

In fact, after two hours, if I’d walked out and been told the next one was playing right away, I would have happily walked right back in and taken my seat. Ladies and gentlemen and variations thereupon, here are my thoughts on The Force Awakens summed up: Star Wars is back. It’s the best it’s been since Empire.

May the Force be with us all!

-Contributed by Benjamin Ghan

“You Have Disturbed the Dirt!” Archaeological Issues in Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire

 

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Illustration by Michael Baptista

It’s unlikely that anyone would immediately think of Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire when asked to come up with an archaeology-related media piece. This science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk epic from 2001 centers on an expedition to discover the lost city of Atlantis. Through underwater exploration and spelunking through caverns and ruins, those on the expedition discover that the city exists deep beneath the Earth, and is kept alive by the magical Atlantean Crystal—although the monarchy has since purged the inhabitants of any memories of their heritage.

The historical inspiration for the expedition to Atlantis hearkens back to the early twentieth century “heroic” age of larger-than-life explorers as well as to the callous and patronizing attitudes they held towards local cultures (Francis Younghusband, Roy Chapman Andrews, and Sven Hedin are just a few examples). The overall design of Atlantis strongly recalls actual civilizations that lived, or still live, in the ruins of their fallen ancestors (Dark Age Rome, anyone?). These opposing settings—of an industrial world on the rise and a magical world on the decline—lay the groundwork for the very premise of modern archaeology: that we can use the scientific method to rescue a relatively idyllic past that is at risk of being swept away by modernity forever.

While most of the expedition consists of mercenaries, not archaeologists (though Milo Thatch, a linguist and cartographer, is descended from an old school, pith helmet-wearing explorer), this film does revolve around archaeological themes. This includes the plundering of the past and the effects on the site’s present inhabitants, cultural imperialism, how the past can be forgotten, and what this historical heritage means for the civilization’s inheritors. Indeed, much of the film’s second act explores how divorced the Atlanteans have become from their history and culture, and the efforts of Princess Kida to relearn and revive their history (by interpreting historic murals, Lovecraft-style).

In methodology, the film’s expedition is probably among the worst offenders of violating real-world archaeological professionalism, next to Indiana Jones and his Nazi foes. With glory and gold as the expedition’s primary objectives, the members of the expedition showed little to no interest in, if not wanton disregard for, the historical significance of their surroundings. They preferred a survival-oriented pragmatic approach to whatever they found. Case in point, in one scene, with the expedition blocked by a stories-high column towering over a crevasse, Milo could only marvel at the engineering, saying: “It must have taken hundreds—no, thousands of years to carve this thing.” Then, to his utter dismay, the demolitions expert dynamites the column, converting it into a bridge over the crevasse—all with a shrug and retort: “Hey, look, I made a bridge. It only took me like, what? Ten seconds? Eleven, tops.” It’s a hilarious gag for sure, but nowhere else during the exploration half of the movie does anyone bring up the ramifications of what they’re doing to the past, and that silence is deafening.

Halfway through the movie, it’s revealed that the expedition’s true purpose was to steal the Crystal and potentially sell it to one of the belligerent powers on the surface. Given that this Crystal sustains the Atlanteans’ lives, this is quite literally a metaphor for how the plundering of historical artifacts leads to cultural (and other forms of) death of local civilizations. Looking at real world issues, we can ask: does the removal of the Elgin Marbles critically damage Greek heritage? Even more recently, in light of ISIS’s destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq, some argue that what the militants are doing amounts to cultural genocide, depriving their targets of a tangible historical memory and leaving them on the verge of extinction as a distinct people. That the Crystal is being stolen and a nation is faced with annihilation relates to ISIS exploiting the black market of blood antiquities (in fact, blowing up ruins helps spike prices), investing that profit into slaughter. In hindsight, the parallels between these issues and Atlantis are frightening.

The expedition’s plan to auction the Crystal—likely as a superweapon given the WWI context of the story—also echoes ethical issues of archaeology: what is revealed from the past could be harnessed for personal, ahistorical, and possibly destructive means. Of course, we have yet to unearth a doomsday device in any ancient ruins, but Atlantis suggests that current interpretations of the past, as well as future-oriented use of it, are not value-neutral. The past can sustain a nation, figuratively and literally, but it can also be used to destroy it. One needs to look no further than the Nazi Ahnenerbe’s efforts to associate archaeological discoveries with justifications for German expansion into Eastern Europe, with cataclysmic results.

However, the expedition plunders not out of malice, but out of greed and indifference towards others. As Vinny, the demolitions expert, revealingly puts it, the expedition team “[did] a lot of things we’re not proud of. Robbing graves, eh, plundering tombs, double parking. But, nobody got hurt. Well, maybe somebody got hurt, but nobody we knew.” Perhaps this quote puts their actions in a new light: they were unaware that their plans were unleashing genocide on the Atlanteans.

Of course, none of this was running through my mind when I watched it, and ISIS didn’t exist back then. When Atlantis first came out, it shaped my interest in pulpy adventure and steampunk for years. Artistically, I think the movie is quite decent, with lavish animation (designed by Mike Mignola, no less!) and a brilliant visual and thematic juxtaposition of steampunk and fantasy. And yet, the plot’s basically a rehash of the Pocahontas legend, and there are enough plot holes to keep any adventurer-archaeologist curious (for instance, just how did Atlanteans learn to speak modern English?). Whatever. The world building and design were enough to fire up my imagination.

But for all of Atlantis’s faults, I believe it is at least an interesting introduction for younger audiences to the appeal of the past and ethical issues arising from that. Disney didn’t make this movie to appeal to archaeologists, or to seriously explore archaeological issues. Nevertheless, I recommend it to anyone who would like to experience the excitement of adventure and of finding the past, and as a case study for ethical issues in adventurism. After watching you should read up on real early twentieth century explorers and some of the kookier, obsolete historical theories of the time, to further enhance your experience of the movie. Then you can connect the themes with current events. Perhaps this will give Atlantis: The Lost Empire a second life.

 

-Contributed by Benson Cheung

 

 

OHANA Means Quality Film-Making

The recent addition of Lilo & Stitch to (Canadian) Netflix answers the call of a generation.

As we enter the latter half of the 2010s, our cultural shift toward a celebration of the strange and alternative has exploded exponentially thanks to the age of the internet. The social outcasts, the quiet intellectuals, and the eccentrics suddenly find themselves idolized as ideals for our generation. The marginalized now find themselves more and more a part of the accepted mainstream as the demand for media to represent alternative lifestyles, minorities, and realistic characters grows.

Recently, animated films have risen to the occasion in this respect, responding to our collective desire to see more than just the typical boy-girl love story. For instance, the Frozen craze has shown us that people are tired of the Disney princess formula, and the movie has been widely celebrated as the quintessential depiction of sisterly love above romantic relationships.

What people seem to have forgotten, however, is that Disney already produced the perfect film for our generation’s needs over a decade ago. Thankfully, the benevolent overlords over at Netflix have decreed a second coming of Lilo & Stitch, which is just what we need.

We remember the adorable alien and that catchy “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” song, but it’s really the characters and the weird, special bond they form that have us hastily wiping away tears because WE’RE ADULTS DAMNIT and a children’s film shouldn’t be making us feel so much. So, here for your reading pleasure, a definitive post detailing how the return of Lilo & Stitch is the answer to what we’ve been yearning for in our modern media.

Preach Love Not (Necessarily) Romance 

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If we can praise any film for its depiction of non-romantic love, Nani and Lilo’s sisterly bond is high up on the list of excellent portrayals. While the sisters in Frozen show their love for each other through sacrifice, their entire relationship is based on their isolation from each other, and they don’t share much screen time. The bond between Nani and Lilo is shown subtly: through their intimate knowledge of the other’s habits and the similarities in their behaviour. The sisters’ struggle is to stay together, through the good times and the bad. They have fun together, annoy each other, fight, and make up; and although the relationship is dysfunctional in many ways, it’s made clear through the small tender moments that they truly care for one another.

In fact, the overarching theme of the film is the importance of family, and how finding a place where you are loved and accepted can mold you into the best version of yourself. Both Lilo and Stitch are outcasts yearning to feel wanted, and they are able to find belonging by opening their hearts to one another.

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Well-Rounded Female Characters

Nani deserves all the praise in the world for being both a sister and a mother, while dealing with all of the eccentricities of her strange yet lovable sibling. Though she has her limits, she is consistently shown to be understanding, and truly does her best to make ends meet. She rejects romantic relationships in order to dedicate herself to her family, but this is not the be-all-end-all of decisions in the film. This affirmation that romantic relationships are not the primary goal of female existence is a small detail that highlights the much larger positive message of this movie. Even better is the fact that it’s not made out to be a major conflict. Nani simply states that she is too busy to date (we’ll talk about how fantastic David is in an upcoming installment).

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Lilo is basically cooler than you’ll ever be. She has a non-conformative view of beauty and body types, fantastic taste in music, and she embraces the strange and the unusual with open arms. Although she is rejected by her peers, Lilo unabashedly retains her unique outlook on life, and doesn’t stop trying to be accepted for who she is. Her perseverance and optimism is incredibly admirable and we should all aspire to be just as outspoken and imaginative–the world would be a much better place for it.

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In the vein of fantastic female characters, the Grand Council-WOMAN of the Galactic Federation definitely deserves a mention. She’s imposing and tough but also fair, and she recognizes her own errors. She also seems to have a sense of humour. Young (and young at heart) girls always deserve more female role models to admire, and if a lady can hold the highest political position in the galaxy, a female president doesn’t seem so impossible, now does it?

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Check out Part Two of this blog post here!

Dreamers of Tomorrow: A Meditation on Disney’s Tomorrowland

This article contains spoilers.

I didn’t understand Tomorrowland. I was confused by the plot, and I wasn’t sure what the crisis was and how it was resolved. I’m pretty sure that the world was about to end, and that the film’s heroes had to save it, but I can’t really tell you how they did it.

So, as far as technical movie reviews go, I’d have to put Tomorrowland low on the totem pole of Disney’s attempts at sci-fi.

But Tomorrowland had one of the most inspiring messages I’ve ever come across. It moved me to tears—and not the nice little tears you can dab away from your face with your forefinger, but the fat ones that make snot clog your nose and turn your eyes red and puffy. It was a truly beautiful ending to a very confusing movie.

After Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) and Frank Walker (George Clooney) save the day, the audience returns to the present day from the flashback and we see that Tomorrowland is being rebuilt. But Casey and Frank need help to complete the process of rebuilding, so they give Recruiters—human-looking robots—Tomorrowland pins to give to the people they find. The only requirement for these people? They must be dreamers.

“Dreamer” is one of those vague words that give dreamers “ooey-gooey” feelings inside and non-dreamers the impulse to roll their eyes. It’s Disney’s staple. In fact, “dreamers” and “magic” are synonymous for Disney. But that’s what Walt Disney was all about, right? “If you can dream it, do it,” he said. And that’s what Tomorrowland shows better than any other Disney film I’ve ever seen. Aside from the whole touch a pin and be transported to another world bit, it’s really very human, and it gets at the purpose of the Walt Disney Company.

When you drive into Disney World, what are the words that greet you? “Where dreams come true.”

When you watch Disney movies you often hear phrases like, “If you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true,” or, “Go, live your dream”. And when you watch Tomorrowland, you see people from their mid-twenties to their sixties—from all different kinds of occupations, races, and locations from around the world—given pins. You know what they all have in common? They are all dreamers.

Frank Walker looks at the Recruiters and says to them before they leave, “Go out there and … find the ones who haven’t given up. They’re the future.” It just so happens that all of the people given pins are adults. Coincidence? Of course not.

For so long, Disney movies have been children’s films that adults can enjoy as well, but I think that Tomorrowland is the opposite. It’s a jeremiad for adults—it’s a call to action, if you will, for those who don’t necessarily relate to the “I want to be a princess” dream. It is for the dreamers who want to fight for justice as a judge, or who want to find a cure for cancer, or who want to protect the world from pollution. Unfortunately, when we think of Disney and dreams, we think of escaping from reality rather than the actual real world goals we should strive for.

But Walt Disney didn’t want that from his company. He believed in dreams of all shapes and sizes: “Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.” The real world can be intense and dark, but go to Disney World or turn on a Disney film, and you will find the opposite. The world needs more of that positivity if we want to change it; it needs people who haven’t given up. And to imply that you haven’t given up suggests that you have been giving it a go for quite some time.

Kids may not understand the plot of this movie. They likely won’t be as moved as adults will be by the ending, and they might wish that they had watched Frozen again instead. That is perfectly okay. But we older folks should pay a little more attention to the ending, for we can see Walt Disney in it. We can see the Walt Disney who had a dream and who never gave up despite adversity being thrown in his way. We can see the Walt Disney who created one of the greatest, most influential companies of all time. The world is a better place because of him.

And it can be a better place because of you. This is the message of Disney: the world needs dreamers to change it for the better. You have a dream, and it is special. It is unique to you. Hold onto it. Don’t give up. Pursuing your dream will be hard; it will be exhausting. But it will be worth it.

I’ll end with words of encouragement from the fiercest dreamer of them all:

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

– Walter Elias Disney

-Contributed by Camila Quinones

Calling All Storytellers: An Original, Contemporary Fairy Tale, Please!

When I think of fairy tales, I think of mythical creatures, anthropomorphic objects and animals, happy endings, and valuable lessons fully revealed at the end. The ones recorded  by the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, and Charles Perrault have justifiably become classic fairy tales, with great popularity and numerous literary, film, musical, and theatre adaptations. Recently, the musical film Into the Woods, which came out on December 25, 2014, was a crossover adaptation of the Grimm Brothers’ “Cinderella”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “Rapunzel”. That film was in fact an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, which was itself an adaptation of James Lapine’s book of the same name. And that’s just one specific revival of the classic fairy tales.

On the top of my head, within the past decade (give or take a couple of years) these are some of the film adaptations of fairy tales: Ella Enchanted, Enchanted, A Cinderella Story, Another Cinderella Story, Maleficent, Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant Killer, Beastly, the four Shrek films, the three recent Disney princess films, and so many others. And apparently there’s going to be more film adaptations this year, including one of Cinderella and one of Beauty and the Beast, which I’m not too surprised about; these fairy tales are as old as time with practically no copyright laws, and they help today’s storytellers get their creative minds going with at least the basis for a story.

But where are the contemporary fairy tales?

How can there be so many adaptations, but no new, original stories? Surely some brave people have attempted to create fairy tales with new teachings of morality that are relevant to our time. Yes, some of the aforementioned (and other) adaptations of the classic fairy tales may have snuck in an extra moral lesson or two, like Disney’s Frozen with its rejection of the idea of love at first sight. But where are the fairy tales with their own original premises and new, relevant moral lessons?

As you try to think of those fairy tales of our time, keep in mind that fairy tales are short stories. I was almost going to pose the idea of The Lord of the Rings as a fairy tale, after seeing it listed as a fairy tale on Wikipedia (another reason to take Wikipedia’s words with a grain of salt). If you think about it, it does fit the genre, especially since J. R. R. Tolkien’s own definition of ‘fairy stories’ from his 1965 essay “On Fairy-Stories” describes his own literary works so well. But then I remembered that fairy tales are short stories. Oops.

Unfortunately, short stories aren’t taking the world by storm as novels and novellas are doing, so we could have missed those brilliant contemporary fairy tales. The only fairy tale-like short story I can think of on the spot is The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch. You know, that princess that teenage girls dressed up as for Halloween in high school. It’s a short story because it’s a children’s picture book, it has fairy tale elements and motifs, and it teaches girls the valuable lesson that women don’t need a man to rescue them because women are capable of helping themselves. It seems like it could be the first of our contemporary fairy tales.

Now all we need are fairy tales with moral teachings on equity and diversity, discovering one’s actual passion(s), integrity in one’s work (to be applicable to any kind of work), making the choice between what’s right and what’s easy (thanks, Rowling, but maybe a short story with that lesson for the children would be best), and on feminist values (because The Paperbag Princess really only made the prince a wimp for comical effect and wouldn’t be proper in relating the genders equally).

I certainly haven’t read all of the fairy tales ever published (yet), so perhaps one of them was progressive for its time. But if not, do you know of any short stories that could be classified as contemporary fairy tales? And is there a valuable teaching pertinent to our time that I missed and should be the moral of a fairy tale? Let me know!

-contributed by Brenda Bongolan