The links I've provided below the cut deal a lot with fan entitlement and the ownership of stories, subjects that provide a natural companion to the release of two recent trailers. Because each one features a Disney Princess – one from my childhood and one from my region of the world – they generated a lot of personal thoughts as to what such characters mean to me, and how far I can claim them as my own.
The teaser trailer for the live-action Beauty and the Beast is out, and all I could think about while watching it was the ongoing Ghostbusters controversy. At this stage the nastiness surrounding its publicity is too much for me to handle, so I've been avoiding any articles on the subject. My plan is simply to see the movie, hopefully enjoy it, write up a review afterwards, and then disengage.
But the catchphrase of those vehemently opposed to Ghostbusters is one that was also floated around in the wake of the Star Wars prequels: "it's ruining my childhood!" My kneejerk reaction to this is that if the happiness of your childhood is contingent on a movie, then you probably didn't have a very happy childhood anyway. Be glad it's over!
But I do grasp the underlying meaning of this sentiment – the stories (whether from books, film or television) that we're told as children have a lasting impact on us; they are touchstones of our youth that can conjure up all sorts of memories and dreams; they shape some of our earliest thoughts and ideas. As adults, this makes them feel sacrosanct.
But for better or worse, your childhood means absolutely nothing to the tellers (and legal owners!) of these stories. I know this because if it were up to me, Disney executives wouldn't have been allowed within thirty feet of a live-action Beauty and the Beast starring Hermione, CGI-rendered furniture, and the voices of British thespians.
Why meddle with perfection? The animated Beauty and the Beast is one hundred and ten minutes of animated perfection. The music, the colour palette, the character development, the mystery, the magic – there is absolutely nothing here that can be improved on. What is a live-action movie going to bring that the original film hasn't already delivered?
Though I don't dislike Emma Watson, I think she has limited range, and the thought of her as Belle makes me flinch. Is she going to be able to portray Belle's sharp intelligence as well as her naivety? Her soft exterior and steely backbone? Her inherent kindness without resorting to insipid simpering (a trap many actresses fall into when asked to embody pure goodness)? Or will she just be Hermione in a period gown?
Personally I would have loved to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the role, especially since she's already played my ideal Belle in (the coincidentally completely unrelated) Belle, as a woman who captures the character's grace, sweetness, perception and strength. I mean, between already playing a character called Belle and being cast in this movie as the feather duster, I feel I've come within a hair's breathe of winning the lottery and just missing out.
But the reason I'm so leery about anyone playing Belle is that – full disclosure here – while growing up I was Belle. I was eight years old when the movie was released, and after so many princesses with red, blonde or black hair, it was a revelation to see a heroine with brown eyes and brown hair, just like mine! And she loved books, just like me! Many years later, memories of how deeply resonant Belle was to this brown-haired, brown-eyed bookworm helped me understand why Tiana was such a big deal to so many other children who finally had a Disney Princess that represented them.
What I'm getting at here, is that I understand how certain stories can leave an indelible mark on your life. Half a second in and I was already shaking my head at this trailer – nope, the tempo on that opening refrain is way too quick. It needs to be slower, more mysterious, more in keeping with the memory I have of the animated movie. Because let me tell you, that opening scene of the woods, the deer, the waterfall, the castle in the distance? It's ingrained on my SOUL.
See? Overwrought hyperbole arrives very quickly when dealing with childhood memories. But there are four things we all have to take into account:
1. However much we might love something, it doesn't just belong to us.
2. Remakes and reboots don't erase the existence of the original stories.
3. Art isn't a democracy. We have no say whatsoever over the decisions made by authors, directors, producers, illustrators and other storytellers – and nor should we.
4. Art isn't a monarchy either. The author doesn't get to dictate how a reader interprets their work after it's released. Sometimes bad creative decisions are made, and when that happens there is certainly room for critique and (a certain degree of) venting. But ultimately, our one and only choice is to read/watch something – or not to.
So I'm going to steer clear of the live-action Beauty and the Beast. Hearing people constantly moan and whine about something completely beyond their control is tedious, and I've already had enough of it with Ghostbusters and Batman versus Superman. After a certain point you just have to make like Elsa and let it go.
Furthermore, some people are really going to enjoy this movie, and I have no desire to ruin that for them with any more complaining than I've already partaken in. So this'll be the last you'll hear from me on the subject (though I doubt I'll be able to resist reblogging any attractive GIF sets that may pop up on Tumblr).
Which brings us to Moana, the latest Disney Princess movie, and the first one to have a Polynesian heroine.
Again, my reaction (more positive this time, but with a couple of caveats) has to do with my personal history with the source material. I'm not Maori/Polynesian, but I grew up in New Zealand where everyone hasat the very leasta basic awareness and understanding of the Maori/Pasifika art, culture and language that surrounds us.
I was raised on the legends of Maui, perhaps the most famous demigod of Maori mythology, who (among other things) slowed down the sun, hauled up the North Island, discovered the secret of fire, and sought out the mysteries of death. He's a classic Trickster archetype, usually relying on cunning and wits rather than brute force to achieve his goals.
But the Maui I'm most familiar with is this guy:
To see him reimaged as a self-aggrandising Small Name, Big Ego type of character is ... disappointing. And the fact that Moana has never heard of the most famous Maori/Polynesian hero of all time a little bewildering. Also, what's with the giant fishhook? That thing is meant to be carved from his grandfather's jawbone. It's not twice the size of a human being!
(And why does a trailer for a movie called Moana focus entirely on Maui? The protagonist only gets a single line of dialogue: "um." I guess Disney is still twitchy about alienating young male audiences).
Normally I wouldn't usually criticize non-released movies to this extent, but if you're wondering why I'm a little more contentious than usual, it's because I AM trying to make a point here.
An interesting discourse is happening in the wake of a recent blog post by Devin Faraci, one that declared fandom to be broken. Too much entitlement, too much abuse, too much noise from fans demanding practically everything from creators but what they're given.
Personally I have a tangled set of opinions surrounding this whole debate/debacle/discourse (pick your poison) but here are some links for an interesting read on fan entitlement, and fandom as a whole.
Whew. What an age we live in. As it happens, I can grasp both sides of the debate – those who want to use fandom as an instrument for change, and those who just want to sit back and enjoy themselves. In the past few months I've been witness to what some would call important calls for inclusivity and diversity, and others would describe as "the unrelenting, unappeasable internet outrage." I was there for the backlashes over Lexa's death on The 100, J.K. Rowling's recent treatment of Native American culture in the Harry Potter canon, the reveal that Steve Rogers has been a secret Hydra agent all along, and of course – Ghostbusters.
A part of me (the greater part of me) understands where the ire is coming from – another part is exhausted by the sheer volume of it. But perhaps it's worth saying I would never dare to say that anywhere other than this blog, which is read by approximately thirty people.
At the end of the day I guess I'm just fascinated by this thing called fandom. It's a strange beast: exciting, creative, enlightening – but also infuriating, tiresome and scary. Let's end with a quote from Chuck Wendig that helps keep all this in perspective:
"Childhoods aren't destroyed. Criticism is not corrosive. Nostalgia needn't be weaponized. Fandom is not broken. Shitbirds gonna shit."