Archive for the ‘disney’ Tag

Blog Post 13a: The Politics of marriage in Disney Princess films (pt drei)   7 comments

Pocahontas (1995)

Pocahontas holds the record for Disney Princess with the most publicity photos of her hair blowing randomly, the most geometrical face, and also the least amount of marriages. She does, however, follow a long Disney tradition of not having a nose.

She gets married in the sequel, to the man she married in real life, John Rolfe.

I’m not going to lie: the only Disney sequel I’ve ever seen was a sequel to The Little Mermaid, which I think was called The Littler Mermaid but I’m probably wrong (it was Return to the Sea). According to the Wikipedia synopsis, John Rolfe and Pocahontas fall in love while she acts as ambassador to England, trying to prevent a war between the Powhatan tribe and England; hijinx ensue, lessons are learned, Ratcliffe is a jerk, etc. The love story between John Smith and Pocahontas is not forgotten, but apparently the story ends with Pocahontas saying that it’s time to move on.

In real life, Pocahontas and John Rolfe met on April 5, 1614, when she was about 19, and he was 39. He was a tobacco farmer, looking to introduce Spanish tobacco into the area. She was a Powhatan princess. They were married (his second marriage), she was baptized, given the Christian name “Rebecca”, and eventually had a son, Thomas. Unlike in the Direct-to-Video sequel, she was received as royalty on her trip to England. So she was viewed as a princess, and she married a tobacco farmer? Hm.

Mulan (1998)

Now wait a second! Mulan also doesn’t get married at the end of her movie! Did Disney go through a weird period of deciding that marriage does not, in fact, make one a happy and complete person? No wait, according to Wikipedia, she and Shang got married at the end of the second movie. Hey, that’s faster than Jazmine, who waited three movies to get married.

Hijinx ensued before Mulan and Shang got married. Not just the cross-dressing part, or the extremely short war against the Hun/Xiongnu, but also in the sequel, where they have to escort three princesses to their arranged politcally-advantageous marriages. Unfortunately, the three princesses fall in love with Moe, Larry, and Curly on their way to the wedding.


Mulan and Shang make sense. In that time period in China, the gentry was split between military families and gentleman scholars, who pursued painting and calligraphy. Mulan and Shang are both from prominent military families; it makes sense for them to marry. But Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po are conscripted men — peasants, most likely, whose military service is a form of taxation. While it’s noble to marry for love, it’s hard to stay in love when you’re so far down the totem pole your father-in-law could have you executed in the square, and no one would care. Their lady loves can read, write, maintain family accounts, and have been trained as international ambassadors and diplomats since they could talk. The three stooges can bring in a crop, maintain mulberry trees, and count on their fingers. They come from such opposite worlds, I can’t even see their love lasting, much less being allowed in the first place.

Even in the sense that “opposites attract”, there’s usually an underlying sameness that keeps two people together. A liberal and a conservative can find love, if they steer clear of politics and expect the same sort of house and future. A city boy and a country girl can love for a lifetime, if they find time for each other’s worlds and keep their perspectives voiced. But Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po need women who can weave, cook, and till, while the three princesses need someone who can provide servants to do all that. I just don’t see it working for them.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Disney covered all their bases with this one. Yes, a poor black girl from New Orleans married a prince, like a real prince kind of prince.

Who wouldn’t?

It’s stated in the movie that Prince Naveen such a hopeless layabout, constantly spending his cash and causing political scandals, that his parents have cut him off from money and political interests, in favor of his little brother.

Who may be starting on some scandals of his own pretty soon

So essentially he’s royalty enough to magically make poor girls into princesses when they get married, but not royal enough for the secular world, so he can kick back and help Tiana run her restaurant without worrying about the rate of taxation in Maldovia.

A princess in name only, in other words.

Posted April 23, 2012 by agentksilver in animation

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Blog Post 11a: The Politics of Marriage in Disney Princess Films (pt deux)   Leave a comment

Two weeks ago, we covered the princesses of the Golden Age of Animation in Disney films. This week, by pure happenstance, we cover the three princesses of the Renaissance Age of Animation in Disney films.

The Little Mermaid (1989)

Disney’s The Little Mermaid is pretty much the cover page for “bowlderization” or “Disneyfication.” Their Snow White tossed the evil stepmother off the cliff rather than forcing her to dance to death, and had Cinderella burst into the room before the stepsisters could cauterize their feet into submission. In the original Hans Christian Andersen tail tale of The Little Mermaid, it pretty much opens with Ariel and her sisters celebrating Ariel’s new womanhood by singing bawdy songs while watching storms sink ships.

In both versions, Ariel falls in love at first sight with a handsome human prince. In both tales, she sells her voice to the sea witch so she can go to land and court the man of her dreams. However, in the Hans Christian Andersen version, it feels as though thousands of sharp knives are poking at her legs the entire time. Meanwhile, the prince falls in love with a beautiful princess (who also happens to look exactly like her!)

In the Hans Christian Andersen version, the Little Mermaid’s sisters sell their hair for a knife that will undo the contract she entered; all she has to do is coldly murder the prince in his sleep. The Little Mermaid, seeing how lovely and peaceful the Prince and his bride look sleeping, instead kills herself with the knife. Now she’s an air spirit, drifting aimlessly through the world for 300 years. For every good deed she sees a child do, that’s one day off of her sentence. But every bad child she sees who disobeys their parents, that’s another day she has to endure the earth! HINT HINT. (the original story was a Christian allegory)

Disney’s The Little Mermaid has the story end happily. The Beautiful Princess is the (now evil) sea witch in disguise. Eric (the first Prince with an actual name!) murders the Sea Witch, King Triton sees that Eric is not a Bad Dude, and grants Ariel her legs for reals now, and everyone lives happily every after until the sequel.

I actually have no idea what Eric is the Prince of. I’m pretty certain his parents are still alive, although that’s based on a foggy memory of a line early in the film, before his ship sinks. He lives in a castle by the sea, with an alarming amount of windows, considering the time period:

Suddenly, Kelsey realizes the reason she prefers guys with dark hair and blue eyes

Not that I can even tell what the time period is. Puppets are the height of entertainment, so that’s probably a hint. Ariel’s decked-out dress is a little too decked-out for me to figure. However, Grimsby’s cravat screams 1800s. So probably, the story takes place in the early 19th century. What country had its own prince in the early 1800s, and had a castle by the sea?

I have no idea, but any kingdom by the sea could probably use all the sea help it could get.

We got it all worked out. In exchange for never eating fish again, and having to take on the burden of importing all their protein and the loss of their fishing industry, we’ll give them safe passage through the seas. I think the sea kind of won out in this venture. Thanks, sweet tits! I mean, daughter.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Okay, sorry, the Belle memes aren’t as good

There are so many things wrong with Beauty and the Beast. So. Many. Things.

1) The Prince is cursed at eleven. He’s freed from his spell at twenty-one. This guy?

No one has ever seen this person before, ever, because this person did not exist before.

2) Stockholm syndrome. Everyone mentions it. Yes. That is probably what is going on. However, there’s a theory going around that the story was invented to help girls get used to the idea that they’re not all going to marry handsome, charming princes. Why, they may marry men who are downright beastly!

3) This story takes place in, like, provincial France, right? Sometime in the 1700s or 1800s or something? Why has no one noticed that the Prince — presumably a brother or son or nephew to the king of Absolute France — has disappeared, shut himself off from the world completely? Is the castle still receiving regular tributes from the local population?

I find all of that more weird than the fact that Prince Adam (he has a name btw) married a fricking peasant girl. I think the only reason he’s getting away with it is because everyone important assumes he’s dead.

Aladdin (1992)

See more on Know Your Meme

I’m pretty certain that sultans marrying their daughters off to advisers actually makes a lot of political sense.

Apparently Jazmine is the Sultan’s only child — out of a harem? Really? One child, and a daughter at that? Did some wife get smother-happy or something? Or maybe he only married once, and then never bothered with any mistresses, because he loved his wife so much. Maybe.

Anyway, if you only have one child, therefore one heir, do you really want to set your country’s future on the whims of that one person, with no sense for the politics? “He must be a prince” doesn’t mean diddly. What if that prince’s country wants to ruin your country, or enslave your people? What if the prince she chooses is in a country that is at war with an ally?

Let’s not ruin this with words.

Or…you could marry her off to your grand vizier, who’s had you and your country’s back for so many years. A trusted advisor, with links to your country and its people. You know.

Posted April 7, 2012 by agentksilver in animation

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Blog Post 9a: The Politics of Marriage in Disney Princess Films   5 comments

There is, in fact, a canonical list of Disney Princesses, a who’s-who of Disney characters as it were:

Snow White (Snow White)
Cinderella (Cinderella)
Sleeping Beauty (Sleeping Beauty)
Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
Jasmine (Aladdin)
Pocahontas (Pocahontas)
Mulan (Mulan)
Tiana (Princess and the Frog)
Rapunzel (Tangled)

Clearly the superior princesses managed to get their movies named after themselves! Heck, Jazmine’s movie was named for her love interest! For shame, Jazmine.

See more on Know Your Meme, and know that I was tempted to link to, like, sixteen of these.

Ten princesses is way too many for one blog post, so we’ll see how I do at three per entry (I haven’t seen Tangled…yet). Tonight’s entry is the big three: Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.

Snow White (1937)

Blatant lack of nose aside, Snow White is Disney’s take on the old German Fairy Tale, Sneewitchen, or “Little Snow White”, not to be confused with SchneeweiƟchen of Snow White and Rose Red, obviously. Rather annoyingly, the Disney version skips over the interesting part, where her mother pricks herself on a needle and wishes for a beautiful baby girl. Then she dies after giving birth to the baby. Then her father, for some insane reason, marries this woman:

The movie doesn’t say whether or not the father dies. Certainly if the woman can go scurrying off into the woods selling poisoned apples, she’s probably not running a kingdom, so I’d say, probably he is still alive. This is where the movie picks up. Snow White is forced to be a scullery maid and dress in rags, but she somehow manages to win the heart of…somebody good-looking.


I would like to say that, for the Record, we never find out how Snow White knows he’s a prince. We just assume, because we all know the fairy tale. And Snow White just assumes he’s a prince, because he’s a good-looking guy, and good-looking people back then tended to be either nobility (or demonically possessed). Snow and the Prince never actually talk. She’s singing about how much she wants to meet her true love; then he shows up and talks about how he has one song for her (creatively entitled “One Song“). She runs away before they have a chance to, like, tell each other their names.

Skipping forward to the end,

People talk about the Prince like he’s a necrophile, but actually this was a common thing to do at funerals, as a way to say goodbye to the dead. The ritual was practiced up into the 20th century. It…it very rarely ended in the princess waking up and marrying you though.

So that’s the situation. We have a young man, who may or may not be a prince, marrying a young woman, who may or may not be a scullery maid. Now, she’s definitely a princess. And he’s a prince. The story appears to take place in medieval-era Germany, judging by the outfits the characters are wearing. This would mean that the story takes place during the days of the Holy Roman Empire (962-1802), which was when Germany was a loose confederation of princedoms under the nominal rule of an elected Emperor.

What is an almost-king doing running around the backwater provinces, checking out scullery maids and attending funerals? That’s what I want to know.

Cinderella (1950)

Not to be outdone in the swishy dress department, Cinderella came roaring along in 1950, to prove that you could be a princess AND maintain a nose. Seriously. The nose thing bothers me.

The opening narration of Cinderella merely states that Cinderella father was wealthy and devoted to Cinderella. He remarries, in order to give Cinderella a “mother’s touch”, and then dies an untimely death. Her stepmother then squanders the family fortune and forces her to be a slave in her own house. At least this time we got to see some of the action, even if only in a brief montage!

Also this time, we know the person she ends up with is definitely a prince.

He’s in a palace and has a nose and everything! In fact, his father is a king sort of king, and is looking to marry him off! So he arranges a ball in the big fancy palace, and whoever the prince sets his eye on, he’s going to marry!

Excellent point, Agatha Heterodyne! How does Disney justify this complete lack of political brains? Why, by making the King absolutely baby crazy!

Grandbabies! They’re like regular babies, but GRAND!

If you read Disney’s version of “Extended Edition” or “Word of God” or “Behind the Scene Notes” you know that the stepmother’s name is Duchess Tremaine, implying that Cinderella herself is probably some manner of Duchess as well. This would make her fairly high up in the nobility. GOOD SAVE THERE, DISNEY. Of course, given that Cindy herself has very little to her name — her stepmother probably fired all the servants so she could save a little money to spend on her daughters, which is probably what led her to force Cinderella to do all the chores. The house is therefore a wreck, and she has no money, or clothes, and probably a horrible upbringing. Cinderella needs a little bit of princess school, and a lot of luck, to keep this marriage politically convenient.

She needs to have a boy. That’s what I’m saying.

A horrid, horrid little boy.

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

What can I say about Sleeping Beauty? They cover all the angles here. The marriage between an actual prince and princess was politically arranged between two intelligent, friendly kingdoms. Or is it princedoms? Both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty seem to take place in a weird French/German nation. Cinderella’s home is described as a “chateau” and the Duchess’ name is “Tremaine”, yet that castle is totally Neuschwanstein, in Bulgaria.

At least we get a sense of geography from Cinderella: southern Germany somewhere, or possibly France or something. Heck, people in France didn’t speak French until nationalism was invented in the mid-1800s! So either way works. But Sleeping Beauty manages to be really really vague: “Aurora” is actually a Spanish/Italian/Portuguese name. But those kingdoms weren’t really unified in any sort of manner until Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon hooked up in the mid-late 1500s. Philip specifically says, in the greatest line uttered in any Disney movie until Emperor’s New Groove:

Now, father, you’re living in the past. This is the 14th century!


It’s the 14th century, so teenagers can make out in the forest now!

Blog Post 5a: Facial Expressions   2 comments

Last week I summarized Disney’s Mulan, in which I mentioned my annoyance in the way they chose to portray the love interest, Li Shang. Disney does not know how to animate pretty people.

To be fair, they’ve learned how to draw noses on women. So, you know, step up in the world.

See? Nose.

I suppose the issue might be that expressions distort the face. I remember learning that clearly in my time at the photo studio — we would sometimes tell parents that it’s okay that the kid isn’t smiling in every picture. Smiles distort the face. They broaden the mouth, push the cheeks upwards, shrink the eyes. Pretty people look less pretty when their features are distorted. And that’s smiling. If you’re dealing with more negative emotions — anger, sadness, fear — they do all sorts of crazy things to the face. Unmarketable things.

In Atlantis, they solved this problem by making the hero what is officially known as “Adorkable”, giving him a full range of emotions, wild, erratic expressions, and a charming, bumbling personality — adorable, but totally a dork, so you just wanna hug him and tell him that you believe in him.

With Atlantis‘s Milo, as with many supporting and background characters, the trick is to give your characters iconic features that wild expressions can’t take away. Gigantic noses are very popular.

I will find any excuse to use this image.

I'd recognize these guys anywhere.

You can’t give pretty characters big noses though. You have to give pretty characters generic faces, with very little detail added, so that the viewer fills in the gaps and assumes that what they are looking at is pretty. Since animators can’t give these characters big expressions, the result is comparatively smaller facial expressions (obviously), but also less interesting characters characters to look at.

I'm looking at you, Shang, while you're looking at Mulan.

With that in mind, I decided to go ahead and see what I could draw. My models:

This is Dan. He had come straight from doing a show, in which he played a character named the Duchess. This is why he's wearing make-up. That isn't to say he doesn't normally wear make-up. But that's why he's wearing it at this particular moment.

My warm-up for drawing Dan.

James, who really needs to trim his beard.

Apparently I can't make my boyfriend look as cute as he is in real life? Should I write a blog about this?

Leandra actually emoted the best out of all of them. I could have probably just taken pictures of her and been satisfied.

My art: inconsistent in quality.

My plan was to take four basic emotions (later three) and take pictures of my models doing those emotions. The first was the simple, basic emotion. Then, the more exaggerated emotion.

Happy — ecstatic
Sad — depressed
Annoyed — Angry — Wrathful

Then, I would take what I had learned from observing them make these faces, and attempt to draw my own, pretty character, with exaggerated expressions.



Happiness is an odd emotion. Have you ever heard a song where someone is happy? Not drunk, not high, just happy? Are there any protagonists who are happy? No, people aren’t happy. People are trying to be happy.

So is Dan.

Yet we all know how look happy. We know what happy people look like. It doesn’t take very long to think of a time when we were happy.

It was before my girlfriend stuck a huge light in my face!

As I said earlier, smiling broadens your mouth, lifts your cheeks, and shrinks your eyes.

Leandra -- Happy

What is more happy than happy? How about ecstatic?


You can’t help but bring body language into bigger emotions. It’s as if the bigger the emotion, the more of yourself you need to use to express it.

Even if you just focus on the face, the change is remarkable — an even wider mouth, and your eyes seem to get bigger, not smaller. You just need to take it all in. The happy face was a pleasant picture, but this one! She’s excited! Doesn’t that make you want to be excited, too?


Sadness turned out to be difficult for anyone to portray.

My theory is that sadness is a more inward emotion than happiness or anger. My models neither confirmed nor denied this theory.

Generally when a character in a movie is sad, they sit quietly and stare off, at the ground or out the window, and just don’t express themselves a whole lot. Maybe they touch a wall. How does one exaggerate lack of expression?

Dan managed to figure it out. He turned the emotion so far inward it started coming back out again. He actually had to take a couple of minutes to calm down from showing it.

Turns out drawing super-sad people makes them look old.

Apparently I forgot about the part where you’re supposed to think, “What are they supposed to get out of this picture?” and emphasize it. How do you take a stuck-out lip and make it bigger?

Tears help

But even Disney does it -- Mulan closes herself off, eyes cast down.


For this last family of emotions, we first tried — annoyance!

When I asked my models to look annoyed, their emotions ranged from mildly confused to disappointed.

Really disappointed.

No wait! Hahaha. Those are the pictures of them looking annoyed.

These are the pictures of them actually succeeding.

Once we managed to get that figured out, the next step was anger.

Dan expressed his anger by clenching his body.

Leandra looked rather disgusted with the whole thing.

And then from there, wrath, or the urge to hurt something because you’re so angry.

James looked oddly neutral at first...

...but it turned out body stance was a subtle, but important part of looking wrathful.

What have we learned from annoyance/anger/wrath? Stance. A lot of this emotion is simply wrenching your eyebrows together, staring at the object of your anger, and perhaps bugging your eyes or pickering/quirking your lips. A lot of emotions are expressed in that way. It really is body stance that sells this emotion. Leandra’s hands on her hips, James’ domineering, very important to looking angry.

So Have We Learned Anything?

This is the creatively-named Pretty, who has straight light hair because that's easiest to draw.

What makes someone look happy? Wider lips, broader cheeks, and shrunken eyes. And yet, she still looks like herself.

The bigger, riskier expression. Where are her fat lips, her upturned eyes? Does she still look like the same person?

Sad people stare at the ground.

But REALLY sad people broadcast it to the world -- stuck upper lip, tears rolling down the cheeks. Is this Pretty, or is this someone else?

It really is the stance that turns this from Confused to Annoyed. I don't know if you can tell, but her posture is straighter.

The lowered eyebrows, the raised shoulders -- this woman is P - I - S - S - E - D

Yes, it really is all about stance for angry emotions. She looks a lot like herself, and yet she looks like she's gunna shivabitch.

If someone like me, with only three months of actual drawing instruction, can telegraph a person’s emotions vividly, without distorting the features unrecognizably, why can’t a professional animator?

Posted February 27, 2012 by agentksilver in animation

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Blog Post 4b: Mulan screencaps and outline   3 comments

Note the smoky background

Mulan is a Disney-animated feature film that came out in 1998, directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook. It was not only Disney’s first attempt at an Asian legend, but also their attempt to write a more modern Action Girl heroine instead of one of their typical Princess heroines.

Do you want to know who my hero is, though?

This guy

Look at him. He’s a member of the Regional Divisional Army, which was filled with members of the upper-class, sons who were given as labor in order to divert taxes. In exchange for land, the family was to give a man to fill in the guard, as well as outfit him with equipment and armor. This guy is not an elite soldier, and he’s probably never seen battle before. But you know what he does?

Despite grappling hooks

Despite a compromised HQ

Despite this guy



But alas, we never see him again. Probably because that Obviously Evil Dude (Shan Yu) kills him after burning the flag in front of him. In fact, he’s so evil, he probably killed him with the burning flag.

Ahem! Moving on, we next have a scene of exposition.

Your majesty! Exposition!

Once upon a time, China had no chairs. You could tell who the emperor was because he had a mat to sit on. So these guys are bowing so low out of habit. You could bow normally, guys. (It wasn’t until Buddhism, with all its foreign artifacts, that chairs and chair-sitting became a normal lifestyle of China)

No! Exposition!

Exposition Exposition!

But expostion!

Transitional exposition...

Now we meet our heroine.

Here she is.

Action panel!

Like most Disney heroines, Mulan starts out her movie doing her chores. Snow White was cleaning the steps of the palace, Cinderella cooked breakfast for her ungrateful stepfamily, Sleeping Beauty was berry-picking to feed herself and her “aunts” (okay they just wanted her out of the cottage while they prepared her birthday party). As a matter of fact, Mulan’s first chore is even feeding the chickens, exactly like Cinderella. Unlike Cinderella and the rest, Mulan isn’t introduced singing about how her dreams will be handed to her on a silver plate while she’s doing her chores. Mulan wrestles her dog into feeding the chickens. Mulan is different from other heroines from the beginning, not because she’s Chinese (well there is that) but because she uses her mind.

Next we meet Fa Zhou, Mulan’s father. Considering how he’s referred to with great awe and respect by people who have never met him, he’s supposedly a great warrior, and his reflexes are still great, considering how he catches the teapot. At the point we meet him, he’s old and infirm (he has that cane for a reason). Considering this story is set during the Wei dynasty, he probably helped put the current emperor on the throne. Perhaps he was even a general for the Emperor. But now he’s living a quiet life, and he patiently puts up with Mulan’s clumsiness.

Considering that we know, going into the story, that Mulan does what she does in the interest of saving her father, it’s important that we know that her father was worth saving. So he’s given a quick comic-relief scene (his quiet prayer interrupted by the dog and the chickens), but he’s still and kind and understanding to Mulan. So we like him.

Alas! This movie needs internal conflict.

How that get in her hair?

So Mulan is shown as being odd, because she’s late for things and gets messy? Oh, and she’s clumsy. You know, like any other modern heroine. Really.

Also, they call her out on her shit sometimes:

Mulan: The water is so cold!
Mother: Well it would have been warm if you had shown up on time.


They get her all prettied up and off to the matchmaker. I didn’t screencap it, but you see four other girls march off to the matchmaker. The first time I saw them, I wondered why they got prettier hairstyles than Mulan. I realized, on later viewings, the reason was twofold — one, Mulan showed up late, so they had to rush through doing her hair and just made a simple feminine bun, and two, this was literally the only time we see those girls, ever, so the character designers just went nuts on their hair because why else would they be there.

Mulan and these girls are being transformed into living dolls, by their animators and BY THEIR SOCIETY ITSELF IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT.



I like the matchmaker scene more if you don’t know what happened.

If you look beyond the matchmaker’s ample behind, you’ll notice the smoke is actually a whole bunch of spirals. This is something I noticed was consistent throughout the film.

There are countless other examples, too — the avalanche is depicted as swirly white smoke until they’re caught in the avalanche, and then it’s more like rushing water, or the clouds behind Mulan as she peers over the walls of her home are depicted as light blue swirls. The only other time I’ve seen so much over-the-top swirliness is in Sleeping Beauty, in her curls and in the forest animals. Do you typically see smoke and kicked-up-dust as spirals and swirls? It must be an artistic choice, but what is it for? To make the story seem more storylandish?

In any case, the Matchmaker informs Mulan than she will never bring honor to anyone and we have an unhappy Mulan.

Mulan winds up with an identity crisis, rife with symbolism and ridiculous makeup. OH MY GOD SHE'S A TEENAGER.

You have to admit this is incredibly difficult to face. I have no idea how historically accurate the matchmaker is, or if she’s just a prop made up by the filmmakers to make it obvious that Mulan is just not made for the position she was born into. Even so, she was probably raised her whole life (like fourteen or fifteen years) to do well for the matchmaker. Kind of like how we’re raised to do well enough in high school to get into a good college, so we can get a good job, so we can find ourselves a good spouse so we can raise kids to do well in school. In Mulan’s case, instead of doing well in school, she had to do well for the matchmaker. Without a good education, what are we? Without a good husband, what is Mulan? A burden on her parents, with no future for herself.

But Fa Zhou is worth saving, because he's a good father.

Fa Zhou solidifies his “good daddy” image by comforting Mulan and saying that she’s just a late bloomer, just like that blossom d’awwww.

Then Chi Fu arrives.


Disney has made great leaps forward regarding Asian stereotypes, but sometimes you kind of wonder if they threw all of them into Chi Fu, just so that they could make everyone else two-dimensional characters. Seriously, look at the range of Asian faces they have:

Look at that variety of faces

Chi Fu is not bucktoothed, but his voice is odd and his features are more heavily stylized than the rest of the characters. Maybe he’s supposed to be more of a parody of Evil Advisor features, because he’s a (relatively) harmless secondary villain. But still, he looks more like an Asian stereotype than any of the other characters, and the beauticians in the beginning even have their eyes closed most of the time!

But plot-wise, Chi Fu shows up and orders the people of the village to give up a single male from each family to fight the evil invaders. The people who answer his call:

1) a random, healthy dude who looks like a pirate
2) a son steps forward ahead of his father and says that he will take his father’s place
3) Fa Zhou

!!!!!!!!! Fa Zhou is old and injured!

So injured

It’s important that we see who accepts the draft — first we see how the draft normally goes, then we see a son accept, because we need to establish that sons can go instead of their fathers.

Naturally Mulan is worried for her father.

The Fa family, in a normal, dead silent meal at home

It’s suddenly obvious why Mulan has a complete family, despite none of the other Disney princesses having a complete family. In fact she has her mother and (paternal) grandmother around — we need to emphasize that Fa Zhou is surrounded by females. His singular Maleness is made more obvious by every female around him. Fa Zhou is alone in being the only Fa male. This is quite a dilemma, because he can barely walk five steps without falling over. How can he go to war?


Okay. Mulan cuts her hair and runs off in the night with her horse, her father’s sword and armor, and the conscription notice. Thus is the end of her origin story, and we can kick off with the real story, right?

No. Of course not. This is Disney. Mulan ain’t gonna make it in the world without some plucky animal friends.

Say, this guy looks plucky!

Her family says a prayer to their ancestors. Her ancestors apparently include:

Some Jewish traders from up the silk road

A Chinese Gothic couple

Yzma, from The Emperor's New Groove

Actually Headless Nick

They send black orange Mushu out to awaken the Great Stone Dragon, but that doesn’t go according to plan.

I see nothing wrong with this.

So Mushu, the disgraced, demoted guardian, convinces the ancestors that he’s the Great Stone Dragon:

Totally believable.

And then off he goes, to get honor for himself and for the Fa family.

A final word on character development: THE BAD GUYS

Shan Yu is the actual bad guy of the story. He wants to kill the emperor (“By building his wall [the emperor] challenged my strength.”) He throws his considerable weight around and looks forward to killing innocent children. He’s described as a Hun warlord, but historically speaking, he’s probably Xiongnu, as the Huns were well-integrated into society by that time. He pretty much appears to want to kill the Emperor For the Lulz as it were, but there’s a more historically accurate reason for doing what he does.

These guys.

The nomadic tribes of the East were ruled by a succession of warlords, who took control by force, and prevented their lieutenants from trying to overthrow them by directing their aggression outwards. Shan Yu is as scared of those guys as we are. He probably set up the invasion as a big game for his army.

Are we done with character development? ONWARDS.

Oh girl, it doesn't work like that.

Mulan doesn’t know how to act like a man. Because she isn’t a man. Her experiences with guys are much older male ancestors, and legends of ancestors and romantic poetry.

But if Mushu can break the laws of physics then he can surely get this girl to act like a man!

Seriously, look at those eyes.

His advice is not always...the best.

"Punch him to say hello!"

"Now slap him to say hello!"

Spit to say hello.

Mulan very quickly gets into a fight.



It’s all up to one guy to whip these guys into shape!

This guy

Here’s my problem with “handsome” guys as drawn by Disney. Sure, they’re handsome, I guess, but they never do anything with their faces. Look at this guy:

make gif
Make gif

Because he’s not supposed to be “good-looking” they’re willing to stretch his face to emphasize the point they want to make, and to amuse us. But Li Shang can’t do that, because he’s supposed to be handsome. Heck, he barely moves his perfect full lips. The stillness is off-putting. It makes me think that he doesn’t express emotions because he doesn’t have emotions (the expression of delight there on his face is his biggest expression). I don’t want to date a guy with no feelings. Therefore, why should I care about Shang?




Shang does that last thing all the time. He does it to like three different people. He pulls people by their collar and gets in their FACE. And still shows little expression. I did it to my boyfriend and he was weirded out. Shang: Good Captain, Bad Emoter.

Shan Yu hates trees

After an incredibly memorable montage sequence (“We must be swift as the coursing river/ With all the force of a great typhoon/ With all the strength of a raging fire/ Mysterious as the dark side of the moooooon”), we cut to a hilarious bath sequence.

I'm not like other men! I'm cultured!

But I'm culturrrrrred

Wait what

Mushu arranges for the recruits to be sent into battle. How hilarious! I see no horrific consequences for this. On their way there, the men all talk about ladies, and how much not like Mulan they want them to be.

Playboy existed in ancient China, but the articles weren't as good.

Yao's heart is missing something! He needs it to be you!

Isn't Chien-Po a eunuch? Is he even capable of wanting a lady? Other than a cook?

The matchmaker called Mulan skinny for a reason.


Something is wrong here, but I can't put my finger on it.

Good thing the fresh recruits arrived to find out that the entire army had been wiped out! Now they’re China’s last line of defense. Good job, Mushu.

After letting the musicians vie for an academy award for best soundtrack, the plot moves on, faster than a speeding bullet, faster than a bloggess realizing that the academic blogpost she’s writing is really long and she needs to get this thing wrapped up.

As fast as fireworks skyrocketing towards giving away your position.

I'd believe him.

A thousand nations of the Persian empire descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun!

Fight scenes tend to go too quickly to screencap, so long story short:

You guys got that, right? Mulan drowned the invaders in an avalanche, Shan Yu stabbed Mulan, and then fell into the avalanche. The good guys got out fine. It was a very exciting sequence — the kind you watch the movie for, rather than read the screencap summary of.

But Mulan and Shang were injured, but Shang “only” got hit by an arrow, whereas Mulan was injured enough to get exposed as a woman.


In the original legend, Mulan had a long, successful career, and then died and then was exposed. But Disney is about young ladies, so we’ll have her come out after just one skirmish.

Mulan is so sad you guys omg

And now we hit the third act — Mulan dresses and acts like a woman again. I’ve read feminist reviews which claim that Mulan was only a hero because she dressed and acted like a man — but she saves China dressed as a woman, with everyone acknowledging that she’s a woman. That point, at least, is mistaken. Besides, the parts that Disney made up were the parts were she was a girl. You can’t tell the story of Mulan without having her impersonate a man. Sorry, feminists. On that specific point you’re mistaken.

The bad guys are alive!

The good guys are partying!


Mulan runs from person to person, trying to warn them of the incoming Huns, but no one will listen. Mushu suggests that it’s because she’s dressed as a woman again, but maybe she should try telling someone other than loiterers at the back of the crowd? To be fair, her old crew wouldn’t listen to her because she’s a liar after all.

But of course the Huns do invade, just in time for an ending climactic battle sequence! They kidnap the Emperor and lock the doors, so it’s up to Mulan to think of a way into the palace.

A very sexy way into the palace.

Another action sequence ensues. You guys. It’s a Disney movie. Interestingly, Shan Yu considers Mulan to be a Worthy Opponent, and Mulan kicks butt using skills learned as a man and a woman.


The honored trust of the emperor

So Mulan saves the kingdom by breaking all the rules, because heroes break rules. It’s what they do. It makes you wonder why they bothered to implement rules in place.

how to make gif
How to make gif

After receiving gifts from the Emperor, she goes home, but not before being disappointed by Li Shang’s awkward speech. Hence the Emperor giving Shang encouragement right there. It’s a nice series of facial expressions. Makes me laugh whenever I see it.

Remember this guy? We love this guy!

I do kind of like the ambiguous ending of the story. On one hand, she doesn’t end up happily ever after with a handsome prince. Instead, she earns the love of her father, and honor for her family. But for the romantics in us, yes, it’s highly implied that she and Shang DO end up together. Just not on-screen.


Posted February 20, 2012 by agentksilver in animation

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Blog Post 2: Recycling the Frames   8 comments

This is one of my favorite animation videos available on youtube, and I get more and more fascinated with it every time I watch it. I’m watching it with more and more of an artist’s eye; what, exactly, is getting reused? Take the part comparing Snow White’s dance with a totem pole of dwarves with Maid Marian’s dance with a broken-legged dog. I hadn’t paid much attention to it before, but I saw that tonight, and I thought — what? There’s no way they match up. Dopey and the other dwarf have a long body and short legs, and the dog doesn’t. But nope. The dog has a long body and short legs, and the hobbled movement matches.

I’m trying to imagine where, exactly, the points diverge. It’s easy to see how Baloo and Little John can be recycled — recolor that big round bear and bam — but it really throws me when you’re comparing a vixen and a human, or a piece of paper and a human. In one shot, a sword is swung, but in the comparison shot, a paw is swiped, and in both cases, a short thing ducks. Is only part of the scene being recycled? Are they recycling, say, the ducking short thing, but redrawing whatever it is that causes the short thing to duck? Did I just use the same words over and over again, causing confusion? I apologize.

Try rewatching it, but imagine the characters as black and white lines, or even stick figures. I imagine that’s how far back the recycling comes from, the basic sketching. Most of the recycled animation is actually pretty difficult animation. Swing dancing, clapping, standing up when she’s wearing a long, flowy skirt, that complicated chase scene, beating a drum, those are all fairly complicated motions, involving multiple layers, lots of movement, and precise placement.

gif maker
Gif maker

Heck, even just doing this was pretty complicated, and half of this is recycled frames. For some reason I felt like this was moving two things at once. I guess not. Next I’ll try to pop a bubble, and then I’ll do something with two points of movement.

Last: I think Beauty and Beast’s final dance was more of a homage, considering it was drawn a couple decades later. Yes No?

Posted February 1, 2012 by agentksilver in animation

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