Monday, January 10, 2011

Well-Placed Childhood, Part II

The following article contains spoilers for the following films: Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Lion King, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Toy Story 3, Tron, and many others. If you haven't seen any of those films, don't read this article until you have seen them or unless you don't care, because I don't want you hunting me down for my head on a pike.

You may remember the last Blog when I got all dewey-eyed and pre-menstrual over a bunch of old kid's animations. Well, I'm at it again, and this time I've bothered to sift through the sands of time and recall what went through my tiny brain while I was watching said films. I've come up with a few moralistic 'Life Lessons' the films tried to teach me - see if you identify with them, and maybe you can think of your own. (Come on guys, humour the crazy lady.)

Notable Examples: Beast, The Enchantress [Beauty and the Beast], Quasimodo [The Hunchback of Notre Dame] Shrek [Shrek series]
Some things are just peculiar to look at. It is human nature to stare at something or someone that isn't right: whether we're being outright rude or just trying to suss it out. All of these guys are actually pretty decent underneath, it's just that people prefer to wave torches and pitchforks at them and accuse them of wanting to eat their children.
Is It Right? Well, yes - this is probably the most obvious moral message. Beast is redeemed because someone can love him despite his unattractive outer appearance - why should he be deprived of a chance to prove himself, just because he doesn't look like the attractive (yet incredibly conceited) Gaston? Beast ends up in his predicament because he judges the Enchantress based on her first appearance, just like anyone who judges people unfairly becomes a 'beast' in the eyes of those around them.* (Ooh, get me and my metaphors.)

Notable Examples: Hercules [Hercules], Nemo [Finding Nemo], Dumbo the Elephant [Dumbo], Violet Parr [The Incredibles]
You don't have to have a special fin or be the son of Gods, but being even a little different to your peers can single you out for a hard time. People who seek to pick on others have a knack of homing in on anything unusual: be it your height or the colour of your hair. And why should they? As my parents always told me, "It's because they're jealous." Although that seemed like a fob-off as a child, I now see their point. After all who really wants to be the same as everyone else? If you have beautiful red hair or tower over most of your friends, that makes you a little bit special in your own way, and as you grow it will attract admirers more so than bullies. 
Is It Right? Well it is - on a small scale. My cute little morality tale sadly won't apply to those suffering real injustice: like people who are ostracised and persecuted for their beliefs. But then being treated in an injust manner doesn't mean you are wrong, just that you are perceived to be wrong.

Notable Examples: Marlin [Finding Nemo], Scar [The Lion King], Kerchak [Tarzan], Pinocchio [Pinocchio]
Older people: they've been there, done that and got the T-shirt to prove it. When they offer you advice, it's usually a pretty good idea to take it, because chances are they've already been through something similar to what you're going through now. Sometimes it might be patronising, or what you don't want to hear, but they are often right. Often you have to earn their trust and approval, like Tarzan does with surly patriarch Kerchak.
Is It Right? Well, sometimes. Over-protective father Marlin is partially the cause of his son's rebellion, while Simba is talked into doing the wrong thing by an irresponsible elder. Older doesn't necessarily mean wiser. Adults can make mistakes too, they're human - and sadly our elders can also mislead us.

Notable Examples: The Toys [Toy Story 3], Fievel [An American Tale]
Time passes, things change. No matter how you kick and scream, you can't stop it. When I was 13, I thought I'd be friends with the same people forever, that we'd attend each others' weddings, be there to watch our kids grow up and grow old together. Since then I've fallen out with people or simply fallen out of touch with them. I miss them from time to time, but then there are a select few I've kept in touch with. Since then, I've made new friends and we've still had great times together. 
Is It Right? You know the saying "You never forget your first love"? No matter how bittersweet it was (or maybe just bitter), it's true. And the same goes for your very best friends - they have a tendency of sticking with you. Real love is the kind that truly doesn't judge, like that friend you've had the worst rows with, or who has escorted you safely home that time you got wrecked and went to the toilet in the middle of the road. That's love, that is.

Notable Examples: Simba [The Lion King], Pinocchio [Pinocchio]
This one could also be called "Face the Truth" because the premise is essentially the same: Pinocchio finds it hard to tell the truth, and Simba runs away from the truth. Basically, they both run from difficult situations and it doesn't really do them any favours, apart from buy the plot and character development sections of the film a great deal of time.   
Is It Right? Yes. It may be daunting to face a crisis head-on, but running away from it only caused the problem to grow - or in some cases, new problems to be created. Eventually, in Simba's case, the original problem gets so bad that he has no choice but to intervene.

Notable Examples: Sarah [Labyrinth], Ariel [The Little Mermaid], Coraline [Coraline], Dorothy [The Wizard of Oz]
Whether it is a lifelong dream or a spiteful fleeting wish, heart's desires come in all shapes and sizes. Two of  these films seem to convey that wishing is fine as long as you don't lose sight on what is real (Coraline and The Wizard of Oz), with both characters getting lost in their fantasy worlds and only resurfacing after a moral struggle, while the other two suggest that wishing can be quite dangerous and cause you to lose the things you love.
Is it Right? Yes in both instances. In other films such as Cinderella, we see nothing but good consequences as a result of Cinders' wishing, suggesting that wishing is not always bad provided you have an adequate grip on reality.

Notable Examples: Tron and the MCP [Tron], Snow White and The Queen [Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs], The Fratellis and The Goonies [The Goonies]
No matter how great the odds, the good guys always win, right? In the end, the evil one is either vanquished or repentant, the barren wasteland returns to a radiant dwelling, the hordes of slaves are liberated. Everyone loves a happy ending.
Is It Right? Not always, and not always without consequence. Lives are lost along the way [Mufasa from The Lion King, Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars IV: A New Hope], and allies turn out to be traitors ['Mac' MacHale from Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear from Toy Story 3]. Often in the case of sequels or trilogies, the film's climax does not always mean the conclusion of the battle [the Star Wars saga is surely the most famous of these], or equilibrium is reached as the result of war or a great sacrifice. Of all the moral lessons on the big screen, this is the one with the least straightforward, 'black-and-white' interpretations. And in real life, this is always the case. Just because you are good and virtuous and loving you whole life, it doesn't stop you losing all your money or getting ill (sadly). And that is why we have these films: to fulfil our need for justice in an injust world. Vicarious victory through the 'good' characters in films help the Average Unlucky Joe forget their own trials and tribulations. Overall, I believe it is this feeling that has stuck with me into adult life, allowing me to enjoy the most common principle of films throughout my lifetime: the never-ending struggle between right and wrong.

Why not use the Comments section to air your views or think of your own examples?

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