Thursday Fun: Disney! (sort of)

Lately, we merry fates have been talking about monsters. (Ok, we’re always talking about monsters.) Specifically, we’re curious about the attraction of teen ager girls (both real and fictional) to the undead. Maggie’s put forward some theories about Stockholm Syndrome on her blog, for example. I’m trying to write an ongoing series about what kind of girl *really* falls in love with a vampire, and Brenna – well, you’ve all read her Monday Fiction (and her teens are some of the most monstrous).

I think we’re trying to figure out what’s the deal with TWILIGHT. Because, frankly, most writers really want to know exactly what’s going on there so we can ALL be rich and famous and choose the music for the soundtrack of the film version of our novel.

I’ve finally come up with a theory of my own about the popularity of TWILIGHT. I blame Beauty and the Beast.

In the story, you have a teenager who is special. She’s kind and smart and lovely. Though her own virtues, she ends up the prisoner of a horrible beast. BUT she is wise enough to look beyond his monstrous form, to love him, and in the end her love transforms him. POOF. Handsome prince. HEA.

This was my favorite fairy tale as a kid (especially Robin McKinley’s gorgeous version, BEAUTY). I was obsessed with it, to the point of reading her novel out loud to a tape recorder so I could listen to it every night while I fell asleep. Thus began my love affair with monsters. Monsters with horns, with fangs, with wings – you name it. Or monsters with the faces of angels whose desires and needs perverted their souls into darkness. It wasn’t long before I found vampires. Epic love, epic emo, epic blood. What’s not to love?

I think you can probably see where I’m going with this, especially if you’ve read TWILIGHT. It’s a princess story, a fairy tale in so many of the old school ways (see pregnancy and birth in fairy tales, and you might rethink some aspects of BREAKING DAWN). There’s a lot to appreciate about the quartet, both positive and negative, as they reflect on our cultural assumptions and teenage flashpoints.

But there’s a lot of YA books out there that grab up the reigns of fairy tales and weave delightful stories filled with romance and darkness and adventure. What was the difference with TWILIGHT, specifically, that triggered so hard?

NOW I get to Disney! When I saw Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” when I was *mumble*, I was furious. The Beast was a total loser. Yeah, he was ugly and had a temper, but there was no class, no wit, no epic danger or long years of emo-deliciousness. For God’s sake, Disney had to invent conflict by creating a bad guy in Gaston, because their hero was so pathetic. They didn’t explore the give and take of learning to love, not deeply, and it felt like the Beast’s ugliness was sort of an afterthought. It sure didn’t take Belle long to get over.

What happens? The movie is nominated for an Academy Award in Best Picture. Not Best Animated, but Best freaking Picture. The only animated movie to be nominated thus in the history of the awards.

Ok. Now think about it. What is Edward Cullen but a Disney Vampire? He doesn’t drink human blood, is a total hottie, and *sparkles in the sunlight*! And falls for our Beauty so hard his very life depends on it. For a vampire, Edward is not scary. Just like Disney’s Beast. His monstrous nature is a facade that allows the supernatural a window in to the regular angsty soap-opera.

Ta da! TWILIGHT manages to make vampires safe. Safe for regular girls (those of us not obsesses with blood and death and psycho faeries) to crush on in addition to all the peeps already loving the blood-suckers. And that’s exactly what Disney does to fairy tales. Makes them safe for a wider audience.

(Obligatory note: I’m not trying to dog on TWILIGHT here. If it’s your favorite book ever, good on you. I’m continuing my attempts to understand it – which usually requires picking things apart until I’m surrounded by a bloody mass of individual bits and pieces only lightly connected by tendons and bones. I’m a dissector. And twenty years after Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” came out, I *do* appreciate many things about it, and Gaston is one of my all-time favorite Disney characters. POINT: Just because a work of fiction seems to be butchering a story, motif, or trope I love, that doesn’t mean it isn’t doing other worthy work.)

24 thoughts on “Thursday Fun: Disney! (sort of)

  1. I haven’t read the Twilight series, and frankly from what everyone I’ve talked to says, it’s a bad series, especially if you have a preference to Old-School Vampire Mythology.

    *Shakes head and mutters about “Sparkly Vampires”*

  2. LOL. I don’t think anything that sells as well as it does should be called a bad series – obviously, there’s something very, VERY good about it to a lot of people. 😉

    And one of the things I did enjoy was the very unique new vamp mythology. It’s different, though, so yes, if you only want your vampires mean and old-school, it is not for you.

    Sort of like if you want your Little Mermaids to freaking DIE at the end of the story, Disney is not for you. But if you prefer happy endings – it will be like crack.

  3. Yep…read all four in the space of a few days while traveling, along with Duma Key from Stephen King. It was good, fluffy reading for the road…nothing that makes you work…Twinkies for the intellect…empty calories and tasty creme filling.

    But, yeah, very Disney.

  4. I haven’t read the Twilight books either (and won’t), but I think you’ve hit on truth here. I would venture to say that Queen Rice herself started this trend, at least in the popular culture, when she started humanizing/justifying Lestat’s behavior–that’s when I stopped reading those, too.

    Vampires/Monsters/Other = Not Human

    I thought del Toro did a wonderful job showing The Other in your boyfriend’s mindset in The Golden Army. Unapologetic, firm, and unmovable. The Other should not be understandable to humanity or share human ethics and morals. To do so is to make it less than Other.

    Modern human beings need the assurance of safety, even in fantasy. And that’s tragic. I blame bike helmets. Seriously. That’s where it really took off–this need to protect everyone from life’s bumps and bruises. Don’t let your kids play outside, don’t let them play by themselves, make sure they are occupied every second of the waking day so they don’t have a chance to develop an internal life. Because internal lives are dangerous. What nobody seems to realize is that this is causing people, sheltered from the Monster Outside, to develop their own internal monsters based on selfishness and fear. Less outwardly terrifying and less physically destructive, perhaps, but now there are more smaller monsters–and they’re human beings with hidden motivations that aren’t usually in the best interest of humanity. Which is more frightening to you?

  5. Bike helmets and Disney = ruining generations of Americans!

    Otherness is *exactly* what I love about del Toro – my boyfriend is a good example, and unfortunately when he shined his light onto the “heroes” they didn’t look so good. In Pan’s Labyrinth the faeries are so alien they’re terrifying, even when at their most magical. The rules are familiar, because we know fairy tale rules, but the creatures inhabiting those rules – Very Not Human.

    With vampires, I’m pretty sure they’ve been humanized for as long as they’ve been in novels, even in Dracula – But Anne Rice definitely dragged them out into popular culture as potential anti-heroes and eve (gag) heroes. I’m forgiving of it to a point (I enjoy Lestat verses, say Whiny-McWhinerton/Louis) because vampires start out human. You can argue that there is human still in them, or that their monstrousness is only brought out by the vampirism, but it was always there. They can *have* humanity, but it MUST be in conversation with the monster. This is easier to do, sometimes, with werewovles, because we accept more easily that humans are just animals with smarter brains.

    Anyway. We must acknowledge the monster, in order to make the humanity worthwhile, whether we’re talking vampires/actual monsters, or real people.

  6. Also! Back to Pan’s Labyrinth – although the faun who is her guide is really freaking scary, gets angry, and in general acts like the monstrous fairy he is, the REAL monster is the oh-so-human Captain Vidal. Fascism vs. dark magic. The film makes it clear what we should fear most, and why, and does it soooo prettily.

  7. You can argue that there is human still in them, or that their monstrousness is only brought out by the vampirism, but it was always there.

    Agreed. A person who didn’t have some of the monster/other in them to begin with would throw themselves out in the sun at the first opportunity once the horror of their reality sunk in.

  8. I need to watch this movie, don’t I?

    I was so sad I missed it in theaters that I’ve put off watching it on the T.V. screen.

  9. Unless they realize that they now sparkle in the sun. And don’t have to hurt people to survive. *headdesk*

  10. Oh, for the love of God yes. It looks fab on our screen… And we have Extra! Bonus! Features! Wherein Del Toro talks about color palate and creature design and fairy tales.

  11. LOL. I was just referring back to myself and my love of murderous faeries as opposed to sparkly sprites in petal dresses. Not to any faeries in general. (Though Maggie has some great ones in LAMENT, if you’re in the market!)

  12. I know this thread is about two and a half years old, but I almost felt the need to comment. I liked Disney a lot more when I was younger, but anymore, especially with my own sometimes-dark writing style their stories anymore just feel like they went into some blender so you don’t have to see all the ugly parts or taste anything bitter or gross.

    Similarly, I loved Gregory Maguire’s Wicked in that it explained how the character of the Wicked Witch of the West became so evil, without giving it a sugar coating or trying to say she wasn’t really evil. I read that book about a week before I saw the play with my mother and sister, and all I’ve got to say is OMG DISNEY BLENDER!! I was so disappointed, because they do the thing I hate most when someone tries to make a work of fiction more palatable: they sugar-coated it, gave it a sweet happy ending, and basically made the running theme, “oh I’m not evil at all, people just don’t like my green skin and blame things on me!!”

    There are a lot of other things about it I didn’t like that I won’t get into (plot holes and the inclusion of things that were never explained – my sister and mother didn’t understand what was going on half the time because they hadn’t read the book like I had) but it got a lot of good reviews and other ridiculous things said about it that I just did not understand.

    Heh, sorry I got so long, it’s just a pet peeve of mine. 🙂

  13. Ha ha ha, no worries about late commenting! Once something’s on the internet, it’s there forever!

    I agree that sugar-coating is a huge annoyance, esp when it comes to fairy tales. And Disney is oh so prone to it. I still manage to love most of their fairy tale retellings (beauty, nostalgia, they can do it for me), but it would be cool for some darker stuff to show up some day.

  14. but it would be cool for some darker stuff to show up some day.

    I think so too. And you’re right, some of their retellings are pretty good too – I actually liked The Princess and the Frog in the way it was done when I watched that with my daughter on Netflix.

    Plus, I do have to say too I suppose that Disney isn’t all sugary goodness – me and my hubby love the Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean movies. 😀 I can’t believe I forgot all about them in my rant of the Disney Blender, lol.

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