Tag Archives: disney

OMG, they bastardized Kratos! You bastards!

Ah, Hercules. A delightful entertainment specimen from Disney’s Renaissance, to be sure. You got gospel-singing muses, action figures of Greek heroes, Danny DeVito as a cranky satyr, and a workout montage. And an almost Forrest Gumpian Venus de Milo creation joke. Oh, and don’t forget all the classic Disney staples: a musical number about not belonging, an animal companion who externalizes other characters’ thoughts, and obligatory wordplay cheese (“I thought you were going to be the all-time champ, not the all-time chump”). It really pulls out all the stops.

And yet, when Disney tried to slate an open-air premiere for Hercules in Greece, the nation’s government rejected the idea. The reason? In short, by not portraying Hercules as a bastard, Disney had bastardized Greece’s culture.

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"I'm the most famous bastard in all of Greece. I'm... I-I'm an action figure!"

Ok, that’s not the reason entirely (though Greek mythology certainly suggests cultural fondness for love children). But there’s truth to Greece’s sentiment about the matter; Hercules has about as much to do with the Grecian hero Heracles as No Child Left Behind has to do with education. So for fun, let’s get a few facts straight, however minimally.

It would seem that Disney could only muster the research powers to get Dionysis right, which makes one wonder about the screenwriters’ states of mind when they conceived the film. But in any case, it’s probably not wise to write a children’s film featuring a chief father figure whose favorite pastimes include abduction and rape. It’s understandable that adjustments need to be made. And it’s a modern adaptation, so there’s always an excuse for envisioning old characters and stories in new, audience-sensitive ways. Disney is a business, after all, and they have to be mindful of their surroundings (that is, zeitgeists and audiences).

The question is, what are the marks of a good adaptation? Spike Jonze’s (though perhaps more aptly Charlie Kaufman’s) Adaptation deals with the subject a good bit, showcasing, on the surface, the influence of authorship on adaptations of source material and vice versa. The conflict emerges from desiring faithfulness to the source material, but inevitably catering the adaptation to some value set. Often this value set emphasizes traditional, accessible stories. Hercules is a perfect example; the film’s audience consisted primarily of American families. As such, the classical Greek myth got turned into a typical Bildungsroman Disney story with Christian overtones. And it was a commercial success. And an undeniably amusing film, at the very least. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a good adaptation.

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This may have never happened in a single Greek myth, but it's still adorable.

So, yes– adaptations cannot help but deviate from their source material. In fact, they must do so by the very nature of being something besides the source material. But perhaps the finest mark of an adaptation is that it highlights aspects of the source material that motivate an audience to learn about the source, to engage in etymological inquiry instead of accepting the adaptation as supplantation for its origins. In effect, watching the film Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door (not to be confused with the movie about a pornstar living next door) should spark audience’s interest in Jack Ketchum’s novel, which in turn should perk ears towards the events that the novel is based on (the torture and death of Sylvia Likens). If an adaptation interested you in an event, story, myth, or character so deeply that you felt you had to compare it to the source material to better educate yourself, a) you are just that sort of nerd or b) the adaptation is WORKING ITS MAGIC.

Of course you could just avoid the weird calculations involved in gauging your respect for source material and desire to create new things from it and just write an original story. CRAZY, RIGHT? Just a thought.

But the thing is, children’s movie adaptations bear the burden of educating and entertaining without causing undue offense. The “without causing undue offense” clause brings about a whole maelstrom of censorship opportunities, and many times these just flit about so awry that your resultant broth is rendered flavorless. Take the film adaptation of The Golden Compass, for example. In deference to Christian audiences coming to see the film with their children, the book’s core value–iconoclasm–was completed subverted by the filmmakers. Iconoclasm was the whole point of the story! You take that out, and it’s like Sex and the City without the sex or the city (I am scrambling for a better, less embarrassing analogy, but nothing’s coming).

In the case of the original Herculean myths, their core value lies in overcoming bastardy. Hera, as the slighted wife of a philanderer, despises Hercules and constantly vies to torment him. In essence, he spends a great deal of time trying to appease her (his Greek name, Heracles, an attempt at such in that some thought including Hera’s name in Herc’s would chill her out). With regard of trying to win “parental” blessings, confidence, and so on, the Disney film is surprisingly spot-on. The facts are all wrong, but ultimately, the notion of being a hero as a way of making your superiors proud remains constant. As such, Disney’s Hercules is not a total adaptation fail.

by Ninjatic on DeviantArt

And just a small aside:

Kratos is not a demigod. You silly, silly God of War fanatics. It’s a fun, honest-to-goodness good game–just make sure you don’t assume the game’s mythos reflects actual tenets of Greek mythology or that playing the game will crown you an expert in Greek mythology.

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Musical Numbers You Can’t Count On

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Sometimes, musicals are weird.

The idea behind musicals is great. Use song and dance to:

Musical Do’s:

1. Engagingly and rapidly present story elements like expository information, characters, setting, etc.

2. Externalize unstated character conditions, motivations, intra/interpersonal mood, subtextual stuff

3. Streamline pacing for situations involving change, like mounting conflict or montages

4. Include fun, catchy, and/or evocative (perhaps melodically beautiful) musical content that audiences can associate with story as a whole

When musical numbers don’t solidly perform one or more of these four functions, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. It does, however, make them musical numbers for the sake of musical numbers; they don’t enrich the story in any way besides their intrusion-by-existence. Your story is moving along smoothly or unsmoothly or what have you and SUDDENLY there’s this extraneous and unremarkable musical number that just appears, almost as if it wants to waste time. So here’s a second list containing faux pas musical number functions:

Musical Don’t’s

1. Needlessly reiterate already obvious story elements, character conditions, etc.

2. Act as filler to artificially extend play time

3. Exist as a musical number simply for the sake of being a musical number

These are fuzzy rules, so here’s an example that touts them left and right. The Scrubs musical episode already wades into #3 simply by existing; it is a pointed musical episode in a show that contains no other musical episodes, written obviously to satisfy the writers’ collective thirst for a musical episode. Right from the get-go, the very first two musical numbers display the device responsible for everyone’s apparent singing (a patient with a brain injury), which is a waste of time because a musical number should not have to explain why it exists UNLESS it contributes to the story in an embedded fashion.

Since that last morsel was a mouthful, consider another example to illustrate. Buffy‘s “Once More With Feeling”, too, is a musical episode in a show otherwise bereft of musicals.  Prior to writing/filming OMWF, Joss Whedon had long wanted to do a musical episode. As with the Scrubs musical episode, this begins to stink of #3: musicals for the sake of themselves. There are even a couple songs (“I’ve Got a Theory” and “What You Feel”) that address the singing itself, a maneuver which stumbles into the realm of musical numbers explaining their own existence. However, in OMWF, the singing is a literal truth within the story, whereas in Scrubs it’s only perceptual. As such, in the former, we have singing addressing its own existence because it is actually happening and actually strange. In the latter, we have singing addressing its own existence because the writers have to explain what their excuse for having a musical episode is, even if no one is actually singing in the plot. See the difference?

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Let’s take the comparison further. OMWF is a critical episode in season 6 of Buffy; practically everyone’s secrets are revealed (#2 on the musical Do list) and seeds for change (Giles leaving Sunnydale and Tara leaving Willow) are sown (#3 on the Do list). The musical numbers are embedded in the story because their existence, albeit strange, catalyzes characters and events relevant to the story as a whole. In addition, on an artsy-fartsy note, the externalization of otherwise unstated character conditions (like Xander and Anya’s uncertainties about each other) being a literal truth within the season 6 story comments ironically on the brazenness of musical numbers and the vulnerability of private thoughts/feelings. The Scrubs musical episode, on the other hand, contributes to the story of season 6 Scrubs by… um… well, it’s the musical episode! And musicals are fun, right? Who cares if almost every song is simply a reiteration of content established in previous episodes (“Guy Love”, “Welcome to Sacred Heart”, “The Rant Song”: #1 on the Don’t list) or an explanation of the musical’s existence? Oh, oh– J.D. and Elliot stopped living together! That totally couldn’t have happened unless they were part of a perceived musical! Right? Right?

Bearing the discussion above in mind, this post was actually intended to address a certain superfluous track *cough* “Human Again” *cough* added to the 2002 special edition of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (sidetracked much?). In terms of critical reception, Beauty and the Beast is the crown jewel of the Disney Renaissance; it’s got great visuals, great writing, great characters, and–most important to this discourse–really great music. From the gorgeously haunting introduction (“Prologue”) to the titular musical number “Beauty and the Beast” and all the way through the closing piece (“Transformation”), Alan Menken composes up a storm of totally unforgettable, excellent scoring for this film. Anyone who has seen it can recognize the songs in a heartbeat. As such, #4 on the Do list is out of the ballpark for Beauty and the Beast.

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Other items on the Do list (tired of scrolling yet?) have representation in Beauty and the Beast as well; “Something There” melodiously narrates, in montage form, changes in Belle’s and the Beast’s feelings towards one another (#3). “The Mob Song”, too, connects scenes related to the mobilization of village people attacking the Beast. These are purposeful songs; not only do they guide events, but they also display internal feelings of the people involved in said events (#2 on the Do list). “Belle”, “Gaston”, and “Be Our Guest” fall into a category between #1 and #2; they establish motivation for Belle, Gaston, and the castle servants as well providing expository information about the social climate of Belle’s provincial life (they’re all quite memorable, to boot). The richness of content in these musical numbers sets a standard not to be taken lightly, but some people just have no sense.

The 2002 special edition of Beauty and the Beast has some nice revamps on visuals, but it also contains this awful musical outlier called “Human Again” in the otherwise quality-driven set of musical numbers. “Human Again” is effectively this: the Beast’s castle servants relish the notion of being human again (appropriately enough) while cleaning the castle in preparation for Belle and the Beast’s big dance date. They basically prepare the castle for a better musical number (“Beauty and the Beast”). Prior to this song, we already know that these characters are excited to be human again; otherwise, they wouldn’t be so hospitable and kind towards Belle (#1 on the Don’t list). Dialogue and visuals preceding and following “Human Again” also demonstrate that the castle has been cleaned, so the events shown during the musical number are both boring (it’s cleaning for goodness’s sake) and redundant, making it filler (#2 on the Don’t list). In addition, this was a song added to a re-release in order to boost sales; a bonus musical number is probably not adding anything special and exists primarily as “a bonus musical number!” and thus demonstrates even #3 on the Don’t list. Musically, the song is rather mediocre and can’t even salvage its reputation with #4 on the Do list. Honestly, “Human Again” is just utter rubbish and it’s a shame anyone felt it necessary to sully a stellar film with its complete uselessness.

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I have Venn diagrams, so this is totally legit.