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Hey! I'm still here. Let's talk about fairytale re-tellings. The stories we know as fairytales and folk tales have been a part ...

27 February 2015

Frozen and Depression

Before I get into this post I know the legions of Frozen fans will come after me if I don't slap a disclaimer on here, so let me first say that I am not speaking for anyone except myself in this post. I can't say with certainty what depression feels like for anyone but myself. I'm also not trying to say you can't or shouldn't identify with Elsa or like Frozen. If you find yourself in Elsa, that's wonderful and I'm absolutely not trying to take that away from you. This is just me speaking for me.

(art by kmcmorris.com)
"The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen is one of my favourite fairytales. There are several reasons for this - the heroine, the villainess, the winter themes - but one of the reasons it stands out to me is the depression metaphor. Andersen suffered from depression from a young age, and many of his stories have a more melancholy tone to them than most fairytales, but "The Snow Queen" in particular gives an explanation that resonates: the devil's mirror.

One day he was in a really good humor because he had made a mirror that had the quality of making everything good and fair that was reflected in it dwindle to almost nothing, but whatever was worthless and ugly stood out and grew even worse. The loveliest landscapes looked like boiled spinach in it, and the best people became nasty or stood on their heads without stomachs; the faces became so distorted that they were unrecognizable, and if you had a freckle, you could be certain that it spread over nose and mouth.
Then the mirror quivered so dreadfully in its grin that it shot out of their hands and plunged down to the earth, where it broke into a hundred million billion - and even more - fragments. And now it did much greater harm than before, for some of the fragments were scarcely bigger than a grain of sand; and these flew about in the wide world, and wherever they got into someone's eyes, they remained there; and then these people saw everything wrong or had eyes only for what was bad with a thing - for each tiny particle of the mirror had retained the same power as the whole mirror. Some people even got a little fragment of the mirror in their hearts, and this was quite horrible - the heart became just like a lump of ice. 

When I read this story when I was younger, I don't remember identifying with that passage so much, but re-reading it as a teenager and an adult, it really, really hits home. Part of how depression feels to me is being unable to see the good in anything: in myself, in the people I love and the people who love me, in the world at large, in any good things that happen. I get convinced I have no redeeming qualities at all, that everyone who loves me secretly hates me and thinks I'm a burden, that it's all a massive joke everyone's playing on me pretending to care about me, that nothing good will ever happen again, that any good things that do happen won't last or will have terrible consequences. It really does feel like an evil enchanted mirror fragment landed in my eye and now all I can see is the bad in everything. Having a story that hits so close to home on something you don't really expect to see in fairytales makes "The Snow Queen" particularly dear to me. Knowing how well the source material did is one of the reasons Frozen so deeply disappointed me in its take on depression.

I know there are people who feel Elsa is an accurate representation of their own depression and I understand that and wouldn't want to tell them they're wrong for feeling that way, because they aren't. But for me, Elsa's feelings don't resonate with me as depression. Elsa concentrates a lot on repressing the intense emotions she feels, but depression doesn't feel like intense emotion to me. Depression is the absence of intense emotion. Depression feels like nothing, like lying in bed and staring at the walls for hours, feeling nothing but a big crushing weight on my chest. It's not a repression of anything, it's just emptiness, feeling like an empty shell. It's not sadness so much as despair, and that isn't what I see in Elsa. She's trying not to feel, but she's feeling. Depression isn't trying not to feel, it's more trying to feel. Trying to feel anything. Happiness, sadness, whatever, just something. Elsa feels so much and that just isn't what depression is. It's not feeling a lot, it's feeling nothing.

I also think Frozen failed not just in their depiction of depression but in the cause of it. So often when I'm at my lowest people will ask me why I'm depressed and what happened. For Elsa, her abusive parents are portrayed as the cause of her repression for locking her away, isolating her, telling her she had to repress her feelings and never let anyone in or let anyone know her secret. But more often than not, there's no real reason for me feeling so low. It just comes out of the blue and there's no explanation I can give, and I fear this makes people think I'm faking it or that I'm just being dramatic or something. That's why the mirror explanation is so important to me; it was just a random flying shard of an evil magic mirror that got stuck in my eye, it was just a misfiring in my brain. Story-wise it makes sense to give Elsa a reason for her sadness but that doesn't ring true to real life depression.

And I deeply wish that Elsa had been a more accurate portrayal of depression, and I wish Frozen had been an actual adaptation of "The Snow Queen," because I would adore to have something well-known I could point to and say, "This, this is what depression is, this is what is happening to me, this is what it looks like." Because I feel like 'looking for the cause of sadness' isn't helpful in the context of depression and Andersen depicted it so well, but Frozen didn't deliver on that front. I'm not necessarily dying for a depressed princess, but knowing that the source material was an accurate depiction makes the failing of the film hurt more. Because we had a chance, because they could have done so well, and they didn't. And I'd be surprised if Disney ever did another adaptation of "The Snow Queen" that was more accurate to the story (you know if they ever did one of their recent live-action remakes, it would be based on Frozen more than going back to Andersen's story - look at Once Upon a Time).

25 February 2015

Disney Dining on $40 a Day

I was listening to old podcasts and found a challenge from just under a year ago to plan a day at one of the Walt Disney World parks dining on only $40 a day. It sounded fun but of course I am...about a year late. So instead of submitting this to the Internet At Large I'll just put it here.

Magic Kingdom

I generally don't eat breakfast, and when I do, I don't eat very much, so I'm already at kind of an advantage here. For breakfast here I'll go with my usual MK breakfast, a funnel cake at Sleepy Hollow for $5.99. 'What a ridiculous breakfast, Ria,' you may be saying. 'I am on vacation and you're a killjoy,' I respond.

For lunch I am going to pretend I have a coveted Be Our Guest reservation (they're taking lunch reservations as of tomorrow morning, fyi) and get myself a croque monsieur for $11.49. I love croque monsieurs and occasionally make them at home, but mine are never quite right. I tried the croque monsieur at the Boulangerie Patisserie les Halles in Epcot but it had been sitting under a heat lamp for who knows how long and it was truly disappointing. I've never had the Be Our Guest version but I would hope it hasn't been sitting around all day.

Sometimes I don't even have a snack during the day so I possibly wouldn't even use this one. My mother-in-law says I eat like a little bird. You know how they say your stomach is the size of your fist? My ring size is 4.5, I'm sure you can extrapolate from there the size of my teeny tiny baby hands, and thus teeny tiny baby stomach, I guess. Anyway, if I'm going to have a snack, I'm going to first run over to Adventureland for a Dole Whip float at $4.99 and then a churro from Frontierland at $4. Go big or go home, right? And also that Dole Whip float is my first fruit of the day, so. Health. I am the picture of it.

I'm currently at $26.47 before tax, which leaves me more or less stuck with more counter service for dinner. Luckily the battered fish platter at Columbia Harbour House is only $7.99, putting me right at the budget. Gonna have a lovely malt vinegar-covered dinner upstairs at the Harbour House. Delightful.

Magic Kingdom total: $34.46


While I said I have a regular breakfast at Magic Kingdom even though I generally don't eat breakfast, I've only ever eaten breakfast at Epcot once, and I really don't care to repeat it. I even like Starbucks but I found the Fountainview really lacking in all arenas. Pass.

I will however, immediately start eating upon World Showcase's opening. It opens at 11 which is technically lunch time in my book, so I'm going to start off with the empanadas con queso from La Cantina de San Angel for $10.99. I've always been wary of Mexican food outside of Texas, because I am very set in my ways, but these spicy cheesy empanadas are soooooo good. And usually the people with me are Texans who are also very wary of non-Tex-Mex, so I generally get all the empanadas to myself, despite trying to convince my companions of their deliciousness. Score.

I find it much easier to snack around World Showcase, just because there's so much I want to eat and I generally stick with small enough portions that I don't get too full. (Unless I get a beer in Germany. Which is not happening on a $40/day budget.) I'm gonna stop in Italy for a chocolate gelato for $5.95. I thought about adding an Italian margarita because they are so delicious, but then I'd have to sacrifice a French dessert, which is not gonna fly.

In making this list I'm finding myself sticking to most of my usual orders. I guess I eat pretty cheaply without thinking about it? Although honestly if I'm gonna splurge on anything, it's eating around World Showcase. But not on this $40 day. I'm gonna stuck with my usual dinner, though: the lamb shawarma platter at Tangierine Cafe. It's currently $13.99 but I remember the halcyon days of it being $10.99 when my husband and I literally had between us six lamb shawarma platters in the space of a week. Delightful.

I'm deeply sad there isn't enough money left in the budget for a box of macarons, but I will soothe my pain with a Cafe Liegeois for $5.50 (mostly because I can't find the price of the lemon tart online and am concerned it may no longer be available).

Epcot total: $36.43

Hollywood Studios

Okay, I never eat in Hollywood Studios so this is going to be difficult. It's usually only a half-day park for me, so I just eat at whichever other parks I'm going to.

I clearly have to have a carrot cake cookie from Writer's Stop for breakfast. It's $3.99 and there's carrots in it maybe. Health. (It's also the only food at Hollywood Studios I'm truly excited about. It's a magical cookie.)

At this point I turned to my husband and said, "Ugh, I never eat at Hollywood Studios! All I ever eat is the carrot cake cookie." Ben said, "How much is that?" "3.99" "TEN COOKIES!!!"

I mean, that would probably be pretty filling. I am, however, going to come up with something else. I guess if I'm not walking over to World Showcase for lunch (which, seriously? it's right there. why would I eat at Hollywood Studios when World Showcase is RIGHT THERE) I'll grab a southwest chicken salad at Backlot Express for $9.99. I SUPPOSE.

I'm going to skip an afternoon snack because I have Grand Plans for dessert. I'll grab a buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese at Min & Bill's Dockside Diner for $9.99. It sounds interesting.

Now for dessert I am going to the Sci-Fi Dine-In. I don't like the food at the Sci-Fi but it's hard to mess up dessert, and atmosphere-wise it's my favourite restaurant in all of Walt Disney World. So I'm going in for a chocolate milkshake at $5.19, and I know it's annoying to have someone only come in for dessert so I tip generously.

Before I close out this section I'd like to note that it took me FOUR TRIES to come up with a menu for this day because honestly, like 100% honestly, I'm not gonna eat at Hollywood Studios. It's like a 20-minute walk to World Showcase. I do not care.

Hollywood Studios total: $33.97

Animal Kingdom

Last time I was at Animal Kingdom I fully intended to have a white chocolate elephant cupcake from Kusafiri for breakfast but I didn't see any, though the internet claims they are available all day? Hmm. Either I will have this $5.19 cupcake for breakfast or I will just have an early lunch. But if I don't have the cupcake for breakfast I'm coming back for it.

For lunch I'm gonna stop by Mr. Kamal's for a falafel sandwich at $9.49. If I didn't already get my cupcake I'm going back for it after lunch. You will be mine, elephant cupcake.

I will definitely need a snack in the afternoon. Animal Kingdom makes me really hungry for some reason. I'm almost tempted to go back to Mr. Kamal's for hummus and pita but that seems a little silly. So I think I will stick with more churros at Dino Bite Snacks for $3.79.

I've still got a pretty good chunk of the budget left for dinner, so I think I'll go to Yak & Yeti and just order the dim sum basket for two (and eat it all myself) for $8.99, of course setting aside some extra tip money because I'm the jerk who came in and only ordered an appetizer.

Animal Kingdom total: $35.46

Sorry the pictures kinda petered out, it turns out I don't have pictures related to most of these, haha. This was fun though! Maybe next time I will quit procrastinating and write my Frozen post. Sigh.

09 February 2015

Disney, Fairytales, and Women, Part 11: Tangled

And with every passing hour, I'm so glad I left my tower!

I've been mostly doing this series chronologically, so if you're confused as to why this post is about Tangled rather than The Princess and the Frog, it's because I finally got that on blu-ray a while ago and got excited and wrote about it out of order. So this will be the last post in this series for the time being, until Disney's next fairytale foray. (I'm sort of skipping Frozen because it bears almost no resemblance to Andersen's "The Snow Queen," but I do have a post up next about it. I'm just not going to be discussing fairytale inspirations and devices so much.)

The Grimms' "Rapunzel" is by no means the first story of its kind, and the similarities between many versions of the "Maiden in the Tower" type stories are almost all present in one form or another in Disney's Tangled. There are the more contemporary versions - Basile's "Petrosinella," the French "The Godchild of the Fairy in the Tower," Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force's "Persinette" - but there are also many much older stories, particularly the Iranian "Rudaba." The stories of Saint Barbara and DanaĆ« from Greek mythology are often listed as inspirations for "Rapunzel," though they involve only the tower part and not the hair part of the story. Still, stories of young women locked in towers are ancient and persistent.

In some of these stories, the Mother Gothel character is a benevolent protector, and in the rest, she is an evil baby-stealing witch. This dichotomy in the depiction of the character is probably what leads to the debate over Disney's Mother Gothel's alignment.

She is fairly obviously the villain, but there are some subtle underscores that are often missed that really underline her characterization. There have been some defenses of Gothel as a caring, loving foster mother, who grows to truly love Rapunzel for herself and not just her powers, and who is only looking out for Rapunzel's best interests. And that is exactly what Gothel wants Rapunzel to think. It's reminiscent of the Witch in Into the Woods, who believes herself to be a good mother, but is abusive and hurtful, and her smothering results in Rapunzel's mental breakdown. Gothel is repeatedly shown speaking to Rapunzel's hair, not her, and her nickname "Flower" for Rapunzel is less of a nickname and more telling of how Gothel sees her. Gothel doesn't see Rapunzel as a person, she sees Rapunzel as an object, as the source of her eternal youth. In the first scene we see with both Rapunzel and Gothel, Gothel says to Rapunzel, "Look in that mirror. I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady. [beat] Oh look, you're here, too!" This subtle put-down of Rapunzel is played for laughs a little, but almost everyone I've ever watched it with has flinched visibly at this moment, myself included. If that little throwaway comment is indicative of how Gothel talks to Rapunzel, that's part of a lifelong series of emotional abuse. Though she's not quite Basile's ogress, she's definitely not the French fairy who gives magical gifts and education to her god-daughter.

Rapunzel herself is given much more characterization in Tangled than she usually gets in the story. In the Grimms' story, she only speaks one line, which has two versions. In the original 1812 publication, she asks the witch why her clothes are growing so tight (indicating the prince's visits have resulted in pregnancy), but this was changed in the 1819 and subsequent editions to asking the witch why it's so much easier to pull up the prince to the tower than the witch (indicating that she's...not very bright). Disney's Rapunzel is artistic, creative, and talented, as well as high-spirited, eager to please, and eager for knowledge. She's much better developed in the film than in the fairytales.

It's worth noting, though, that the film and the fairytale go back and forth on a lot of Rapunzel's choices. The Grimms' Rapunzel chooses to have the prince visit her, whereas Flynn Rider just shows up. Rapunzel chooses to leave her tower in the film, though, rather than being thrown out by the witch. (In some versions the witch throws Rapunzel out after she opens a forbidden door and sees the witch in her true form, with horns. Most versions have Rapunzel thrown out after revealing, in one way or another, the prince's visits. One version has the good fairy turn the girl into a frog after the girl's dalliance with the prince is discovered! But in that one we see the Rapunzel character as bad and deceitful, and in the first two kinds we see her as curious/mostly innocent.) In neither case does Rapunzel get to keep her long hair, though; in the film, it's cut off by Flynn, and in the story, by the witch. I'm rather curious as to what Rapunzel's decision would be, had they come up with another way to end the film. The short hair suits her and her personality, I think, but the hair was definitely so much a part of her that it seems she'd struggle with the decision to cut it, if she got the chance to make it.

While by no means the first movie to inspire such works, I distinctly remember the sheer volume of fanart of non-white Rapunzels flooding Tumblr when Tangled first came out, something repeated later with Frozen. I'd like to mention once more that the German Rapunzel is neither the only nor the first Rapunzel, and non-white Rapunzels and for that matter non-white folk and fairytale characters are everywhere and certainly fanart is not the only place in which to find them. I hope with this series I've managed to bring attention to some of the hundreds of thousands of folk and fairytales from all over the world, from every culture on Earth, that tell similar stories to the European versions with which we're more familiar. The fact that the European ones are the ones chosen by Disney and other media outlets to showcase is not due to those stories being the only ones out there. When Disney chose to make Perrault's "Cendrillon," they were actively choosing not to make the Chinese "Yeh-Hsien" or the Turkish "The Feslihanci Girl." And certainly Disney wouldn't have to make another white princess even if they do set another film in France or Germany (or fictional-fantasy-world-reminiscent-of-France-or-Germany), since, as I'm sure you're aware, not all French or German people are white. But back to my main point - as that flood of fanart proves, there's no shortage of creativity in the world, no shortage of ways to include stories and characters from every culture all over the world, and the Tangled fanart storm that continues on with Frozen and countless other films/books/TV shows/etc. proves that. Disney has some catching up to do.

So that's it for this series for now, but more posts on other subjects are still to come!