Magical Movies Tour: Tangled

I fell in love with Tangled before I saw it.

I was watching the Oscars and Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi were performing, “I See The Light,” and I gasped. The song was wonderful, and so touchingly and lightly performed by these two actors.

Then I watched the movie, and I fell head over heels for it. I loved Rapunzel’s characterization, I loved Donna Murphy’s brilliant voice performance as Mother Gothel, and my god, Levi has never been better than he was as Flynn Ryder.

This was also the return of Alan Menken to the Disney fold, working this time with , and it’s some fine work, some of my favorite that’s not with Howard Ashman. I mentioned, “I See The Light,” but “When Will My Life Begin” is such a wonderful bit of ingenue introduction, and I mentioned Donna Murphy, yeah? “Mother Knows Best” is perfection in a villain song. It’s so full of gaslighting and abuse, and the melody is bouncy and menacing and I love it so much.

The other thing that Tangled has going for it, is that it is funny. It’s really, and honestly a great road trip comedy with fairy tale trappings, aided by Moore and Levi and of course the animators making Rapunzel and Flynn so very loveable and fun to follow.

I also love Rapunzel’s chameleon buddy Pascal, and Maximus a palace horse who acts like a bloodhound for some reason. I’ve never been sure why, but it’s a delightful gag.

Next time we’re back to that Silly Old Bear, and check out Winnie The Pooh. 

Magical Movies Tour: The Princess And The Frog

Isn’t it nice when the stars align and an important movie is also a good one?

The Princess And The Frog earns the first distinction, “important,” by being the last hand drawn animated feature from Walt Disney Animation and for it’s black, working class leading lady. Tiana is a waitress for New Orleans, who after being raised by a bus driver and seamstress, has worked her whole life to open her own restaurant.

She crosses paths with Prince Naveen who is transformed by the wicked Dr. Faccillier into a frog and then because they didn’t follow the rules explicitly (Tiana is not a princess) she turns into a frog rather than him turning back into a man.

It’s, more than a little convoluted when you write it out, but presented visually, Tiana and Naveen’s journey through 1920’s Louisiana is a delightful rom-com, opposites attract romp, punctuated by super fun character designs, and some catchy tunes by Randy Newman.

I really love this movie, and every time I watch it I’m only more enamored. There’s some stuff that I think could have used another pass. (There’s no real connection between Tiana and Dr. Facillier, for example, this feels like an odd error.) And as I get older and more interested in social justice narratives in popular culture, I am in awe of the decisions made with this film. Tiana is in complete control of her destiny from minute one, but this doesn’t prevent conflict or growth. There’s a variety of black faces and bodies on display, the music, that slow New Orleans style jazz is so much fun.

I’m generally on board with The Princess And The Frog getting more attention whenever possible, and am thus super excited for the upcoming retheme of Splash Mountain to a Princess And The Frog ride. I think it’s a brilliant decision that also means we’re going to get Louis Audio Animatronic, which I think fits into Imagineering’s sweet spot perfectly. Also, replacing an attraction based around something super racist, with something based around a strong and exciting Black female protagonist sends the right message.

Next time we continue down the path of magical princesses ,and see the light with Tangled. 

 

Bittersweet And Strange: Howard Shines a Bright Light on The Voice Of My Childhood

It is absolutely impossible to calculate the depth of Howard Ashman’s influence on me, and countless other people like me, who fell in love with musicals as a medium because of his work with Disney.

The new documentary on Disney+, directed by Don Hahn, who produced Beauty And The Beast is of a piece with Hahn’s equally wonderful, Waking Sleeping Beauty, chronicles Ashman’s life, from his working class Baltimore roots, to his tragic death from complications from AIDS in 1991.

The movie deals with his early work and relationships sensitively before settling into his life long partnerships, creatively with Alan Menken and his life partner Bill Pausch, both of whom tell some of the most touching stories about him.

What I like so much about Hahn’s approach here, and why I think it surpasses Waking Sleeping Beauty (which I happen to really like a lot) is that here Hahn doesn’t have an axe to grind. He wants to share his friends life and work, especially his work, with people. And the work so often speaks for itself.

Old footage of Ellen Greene singing “Somewhere That’s Green,” or Jodi Benson recording “Part Of Your World,” or an incredible demo of Ashman singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” or the joyous look on Jerry Orbach’s face as he listens back to “Be Our Guest” for the first time, this man wrote such wonderful, perfect, musical theater songs. There are no talking heads, narration is provided by Hahn himself, or by stories told over old photographs, which makes it much more intimate. Occasionally an old interview with Ashman will pop up, and listening to him talk about his work is transfixing.

Thinking about AIDS is something I do, and have done A LOT, in my life. I was too young for the most dangerous time of this disease, but I live in the New York area and love art, so pretty much every bit of the art I love was shaped by the disease, by the generation of men who were lost.

Watch this one with tissues, y’all. It’s going to break your heart. And be prepared for one final punch in the gut over the credits.

Magical Movies Tour: Hercules

*Contented Sigh* I love Hercules.

In the course of this project I’ve been compelled to get my butt off the couch and dance a total of five times, “Bear Necessities,” “Why Should I Worry?”, “Streets Of Gold,” and then, “Zero to Hero,” and “A Star Is Born.” Which I think says something. Hercules is, as the kids say, a BOP. This movie SLAPS. It is so much fun, just oodles and oodles of fun.

It doesn’t hurt the cause that it is an adaptation of Greek myth, a genre I am inordinately fond of. (Have you heard the gospel of our lord and savior, Rick Riordan? How about Lore Olympus? Wanna talk about Lore Olympus?) To be fair Disney’s Hercules is a loose adaptation of the greatest hero Greece has ever known. (Or, “My jerkiest brother” as Jason Grace calls him.) (Oh no, I gave myself a sad) It’s still a really fun ride.

It’s incredible watching this after watching Pocahontas and Hunchback, because I really do like it so much more. Perhaps it’s because it’s less self serious? Because it uses a different music style? I like that it leans into being a cartoon quite a bit. Hercules’s strength is used for physical comedy as much as it is for incredible action set pieces. (And that fight against the Hydra is really cool.) I also like the voice performances. James Woods is an unrepentant dick head but he’s perfect as Hades and Danny DeVito slays as Phil. Tate Donovan is completely winning as Herc, and Susan Egan creates a GODDAMNED ICON with Megara.

There are few songs in the world that have implanted themselves as much in my brain as “I Won’t Say I’m In Love.” It’s a wonderful song and so much fun at karaoke. (If you’re wondering I usually take the Muses part and someone else takes Meg.)  (That someone else is often Kristi.) (I miss karaoke)

I don’t have more words to spill here but I just had a blast watching this movie again.

Next week, we’ll bring honor to our families by watching Mulan. 

Magical Movie Tours: The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

I’ve never read Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame De Paris from which all the adaptations of The Hunchback of Notre Dame stem. I always figured if I was going to muddle through thousands of pages about Paris architecture and Hugo’s penchant for excruciating detail and bloated casts it should be for the story that I’ve been obsessed with since I was a child.

Which is why I’ve read Les Miserables like 4 ish times (sometimes I start and get frustrated, other times I just skip to the good stuff, but I’ve read the whole thing front to back 3 times), but I’ve never bothered with Notre Dame.

When The Hunchback Of Notre Dame came out I was a little too old for being fully into Disney and not quite the Broadway musical obsessed teenager I would become. It was firmly in my preteen attempts at being a normal person. I regret those years mightily. (This instinct would rear it’s ugly head and lead to misery my sophomore year of college as well). So it just hasn’t imprinted on me the way it has a lot of other people. The music though, once I did become that Broadway musical obsessed teenager, did work it’s way into my heart. “The Bells Of Notre Dame,” and “Out There,” and “God Help The Outcasts” are just absolutely stunning works of musical theater music. It’s some of Alan Menken’s strongest work, all dreamy strings and triumphant horns, and Steven Schwartz’s lyrics are deep and strong and moving.

The art is once again incredible, capturing a time and place so mythic and golden that it shines with God’s love, and yet corrupted and foul with hypocrisy and obsession.

Speaking of “obsession,” having not read the novel, I assume if Frollo is at all faithful Hugo had a bug up his butt about hypocritical sticklers, huh? “Hellfire” is a terrifying song (even if it’s a little bit stolen from Sweeny Todd, Alan and Steve? I see you.) and his determination to burn Paris to “cleanse his own sin” is horrible and really cool.

I get why people love this movie, I really do, I see it. I just, don’t love it. It’s not in my heart, I appreciate it tremendously and love things that it’s given us. (Seriously, that music, just heavenly.) (There was also a time when wandering around Epcot that Mary and I tripped over Esmerelda and she taught us a dance and it was easily one of my favorite character interactions ever, I think I was 12?)

Next we get into the movie from this era that did get into my heart, and that’s Hercules. 

Magical Movies Tour: The Lion King

My brother Mike and I have this weird game we play, where we try to explain the arc of any artist’s (or in the case of Disney Animation, a large group of artists) work into the same frame as Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen is our monomyth, our artist hero with a thousand faces, and the thing is, his career does fit a good arc for most.

So, if we’re talking Springsteen, Oliver And Company is Greetings From Asbury Park, the first gasp of breath, the promise of something beautiful and special. The Little Mermaid is The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, the formula is there for the first time, the people who are paying attention know that there is something special here, but it isn’t getting the attention it deserves yet, Beauty And The Beast is Born To Run, the breakthrough to the mainstream, something beautiful, unique, special and once in a lifetime. Aladdin is Darkness On The Edge Of Town something different and yet of a piece, and The Lion King is The River, a monumental and untouchable piece of pop art that stands on it’s own beyond what came before. The Rescuers: Down Under is The Promise, the weird not an album of songs Bruce recorded in this time but the record company wouldn’t let him put out that are all really good. And after that, things went downhill for a little bit and picked up again in a decade. (Pocahontas to Meet The Robinsons is Nebraska to Lucky Town, The Princess And The Frog is The Rising. We’ve put a LOT of thought into this.)

I love The Lion King, I love the movie, I love the Broadway musical and I never got around to the new version, but I’m sure I’ll love that too whenever I watch it. I actually burst into tears during the opening on this viewing, which was new. (I hadn’t even been drinking much, I was on my first glass of wine) There’s also a lot of affection for the Elton John songs, and again that fabulous voice cast. (Jeremy Irons! Nathan Lane! Whoopi Goldberg! Matthew Broderick! James Earl Jones! Moira Kelly, although to be fair, when Nala is scolding Simba I can now only hear, “I raised you to be a better man than this Luke!”) And the English major in me loves all the Shakespeare. Sure, it has the bones of Hamlet, but Simba himself has much more in common with Prince Hal of the Henry cycle than the Melancholy Dane, which makes for a much more triumphant story.

I love The Lion King so much that instead of pressing on the night that I watched it (which was the same day I watched Beauty And The Beast and Aladdin) I called out to Alexa to play the Broadway cast album. (Part of why I didn’t rush out to the remake was because they’d gone for new songs instead of giving me Beyonce and Donald Glover versions of “Shadowland” and “Endless Night” or just bypassing it entirely with a  John Oliver version  of “The Morning Report”)

Next year we start to climb down the mountain of great to the just good with Pocahontas.

 

Magical Movies Tour: Aladdin

Aladdin is almost as good as it’s predecessor, and has a few things really pushing for it to be better, but it doesn’t quite cohere in the same way. Likely this is because of the lack of Howard Ashman’s guiding hand. He worked on it early but his AIDS diagnosis and the progression of the disease stopped him from taking the real hand he wanted in it. (Aladdin was his dream project)

It’s still very good. The animation is lovely, the songs are great and frankly, as much as I love the balanced ensemble cast of Beauty And The Beast, the shining beacon of Robin Williams as The Genie is very, very hard to resist.

It’s an exceptional performance, a magic never again replicated by Disney Animation. (Danny DeVito in Hercules and Eddie Murphy in Mulan are the only ones even playing the same game and they’re not in the same league.) The way the animation is tailored to William’s outsized performance style, and ability to touch your heart is exceptional work, and the performance it’s self introduced an entire generation to this master performer and what he did.

It also has what I rank as the number two best Act II duet ever written in “A Whole New World.” (The number one is another Ashman And Menken classic, a little ditty called, “Suddenly Seymour.”) There’s something magical about the song, your typical Disney love song being about the thrill of the first date but “A Whole New World” is about the second date, about that feeling that you’ve gotten past the pleasantries, and something magical is about to happen.

I found myself more entranced than I thought I would be watching it again. It’s the one from this era I go back to the least. (It’s Mike’s favorite, so we watched it a lot as kids. Little Mermaid was mine and Oliver was Mary’s. It might be the only time I was more normal than my siblings) But I was absolutely thrilled to be watching it again.

I want to talk a little about Jasmine. The first Disney Princess Of Color is a more interesting character than I think people give her credit for. All of the previous princesses were beautiful but none of them seem conscious of that beauty’s power like Jasmine (actually none since are either.) Jasmine knows who she is, as a princess and a beautiful woman she has certain privileges and she uses them. She’s imperious and insistent on her due, she uses Aladdin (while he’s posing as Ali)’s & Jaffar’s lust against them. She’s actually pretty fascinating. There’s something a little problematic about the fact that she’s the first non white female lead in a Disney film and half her character is using her sexuality but that doesn’t make it less interesting in a vacuum.

Next week we feel the love for The Lion King. 

Magical Movies Tour: Beauty And The Beast

As much as I personally prefer The Little Mermaid (and it is quite a bit.) there’s just no way to deny that Beauty And The Beast is an outright masterpiece of a film, and should be on those lists of “perfect movies” and yet it somehow never makes it.

Beauty And The Beast is flawless, the stunning animation, the pitch perfect voice performances, the simple and yet emotionally resonant love story, those songs. My God, those wonderful, wonderful Ashman and Menken songs, “Be Our Guest,” “Belle,” “Something There,” “Gaston,” “The Mob Song,” and of course the title track, performed with heartfelt timelesss musical theater precision by Angela Lansbury and then with deeply of it’s moment pop gusto by Celine Dion and Peabo Bearnson.

I have a lot of opinions about this movie and the many pop culture conversations that have sprung up around it, and, thankfully, the conversation has turned from the “Belle has Stockholm Syndrome” narrative that dominated a few years ago. (Nope. It’s just that your high school English teachers failed you and you don’t know how to parse a pretty straightforward narrative about growth and forgiveness without taking everything so fucking literally.) But it’s difficult to somehow say that this movie is widely and universally acclaimed and yet still somehow, underrated?

It is so good though, so beautiful and special that it is somehow, universally loved and acclaimed and yet somehow underrated. Watch it again, any time you get a chance and see something you hadn’t seen before, because there’s always something.

Next week, none of us have ever had a friend like Aladdin. 

 

The Ten Album Challenge

If you’re on Facebook. (Which I am. Too Much) you’ve probably seen the following coming out of your friends and family lately.

I’ve been nominated by *Insert Name Here* to post 10 albums, 1 per day for the next 10 days which MOST influence my musical taste, without any caption or explanation. I’m gonna tag a friend each day to share the same.

Well, 10 days ago, my sister Mary tagged me to do it, and since what I do, like all the time is talk about the media and art that has influenced me and hit me and made me happy throughout my life, the “no explanation” part was hard for me. So I journaled the explanation and I will now be sharing those quick paragraphs with you.

Day 1: Green Day Dookie

Dookie

This is the album that taught me the glory of basic, 3 chords and some angst rock and roll. So much came to be because of this love and I still, to this day, will turn up the volume when a song from this comes on. (Hell, “Basketcase” came on the radio on Sunday and I cranked it and rolled down the windows.) This isn’t even getting into the “hidden track,” which is stoner humor perfection. “And did I mention…I was all by myself,” still makes me giggle.

Day 2 – Backstreet Boys Millenium

Millenium

This is the album that made me fall in love with pop music. It also happens to have the three best songs ever recorded by a boy band, “I want it that Way,” “The One,” and “Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely.” I will defend the music of this time forever, I will not however, defend the haircuts.

Day 3: Sara McLachlan “Mirrorball”

Mirrorball

I like people singing sad songs with pianos. I don’t know why, but I do. I think a big part of it was being 11 when this album hit. But I also love live albums, especially from eras I missed. I was too young to really experience the whole Lillith Faire thing, but I’ve always loved the soft acoustic energy of that festival.

Day 4: Zac Brown Band Uncaged

Uncaged

I have a deep appreciation of musical artists who think genre is bullshit, and the person who I think does this the best is Zac Brown. He’s a country artist who refuses to discount his rock and roll roots for the poppier Nashville sounds, and Uncaged is the album that made me fall wildly in love with his ability to use romantic imagery to tell classic country stories. (“She’s a natural disaster, she’ll tear the land in two. She’s running to be running but that’s all that’s left for you.”)

Day 5: Original London Cast Recording Les Miserables

Les Mis

Look, choosing what Showtune to put on this list was practically impossible, so I went with my earliest memory, and Patti Lupone. Also, “One Day More.”

Day 6: Bruce Springsteen The River

The_River_(Bruce_Springsteen)_(Front_Cover)

This is the Springsteen that I love the most, the party song mixed in with the heartfelt ballad storyteller. I love Springsteen infinitely, but this album is my favorite, the one that clicked for me as a kid, understanding why exactly it is that my family worships this man.

Day 7 Coheed And Cambria Second Stage Of The Turbine Blade

Second Stage Of The Turbine Blade

There’s a piece of wisdom out there, which is, “you will always think the music you loved when you were 14 is the best.” And for the most part, this list isn’t that (it actually skews a bit younger) but I was 14 when Second Stage Of The Turbine Blade imprinted on me, and Coheed And Cambria came to be everything to me. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before and I’m still chasing that high by seeing them play live every year. (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let Manhattan be having concerts in September!)

Day 8: Billy Joel Songs In The Attic

Songs In The Attic

My father gave us all the incredible gift of loving the B side. Movies that weren’t quite hits, songs that didn’t make it on the radio, restaurants that you have to walk a little bit from the main tourist drag to get to. Songs In The Attic is that impulse contained in an album, a collection of songs that Billy loved, but hated the album cuts of, and that the record company wouldn’t promote. So he made an album of the live versions, and they’re perfection. “Miami 2017” and my favorite song ever “Summer, Highland Falls” make appearances too, so I can’t complain.

Day 9: The Postal Service Give Up

Give Up

Deciding whether to go with Give Up or Ben Gibbard’s other band, Death Cab For Cutie’s Plans, I realized quickly that in addition to the fact that I still listen to Give Up, in it’s entirety regularly. It also opened a whole world for me, as a teenager, to that whole synth based, indie rock world. (Basically the other thing up for this entry was the Garden State soundtrack. That whole scene)

Day 10: Carole King Tapestry

Tapestry

I am a white woman who loves rock and roll, to not include Carole king would be beyond strange. (Much like she isn’t in the hall of fame! WHY NOT? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?) Anyway, this album is the best, and everyone should listen to it all the time.

Anyway, those are my 10 albums and some little entries explaining why I chose them! Hope everyone is staying safe, still. Love you all so much.

 

Third Time’s A Charm – Be Our Guest NYC

The incredible Captain Awkward,an advice writer who I’ve been following for the past few years, has stated that when attempting to meet new friends as an adult you should find a recurring event that sparks your interest and go three times, no matter what. Three times, decide if it’s right for you, if you fit in.

Back in June, I got a Facebook notification, in the “events near you” section for “Be Our Guest: A Disney DJ Night,” the even was taking place that Friday, and the event description appealed to me, an evening where a bunch of people wore costumes and drank and sang along and danced to Disney music.

Yes, I couldn’t have designed a better evening myself. I texted Aless and asked if she wanted to come, she gave a hearty “OF COURSE” and we went. We had an absolute ball, talked to some great people, haunted a diner until 5 am and stumbled back to Aless’s apartment at 6 giggling.

It was incredible. In September, I went back. Aless was back in Colombia visiting her mother, but I thought about that 3 times thing, and I bought the ticket and went by myself this time. It was, again, unreal. I was immediately surrounded by people I felt connected to. I sang and danced and again, found myself in a diner at five in the morning laughing about everything and nothing.

This past weekend, I got my third shot. I laced myself into my black Ariel As A Human Corset, I hopped on a late train, and walked into the Gramercy Theater on 23rd Street and danced and sang my face off and had just, the absolute best time. (Aless came again this round).

Trying to explain why this event has gotten so inside of me is tough. It’s just a strange intersection of things that I really love. The cosplay and Disney songs are nice trappings, but what I really love about it is communal. It’s the part that gets me sitting in a diner talking to new friends until 5 in the morning. The part that I lost a lot of when I outgrew a group of friends. Getting a taste of that, even if it’s only one night every few months is nourishing. 

So anyway, I’m in on this event now, I’ve found people I care for very much there, and I hope to be as much of a regular there as I can. I’m also going to try to hang out with the people I’ve met there in other spaces. But even if those friendships never quite make it past the late night disco fries and milk shakes stage, I’m grateful for it.