celebrity crushes, homeschooled geek style

I’m reading Eric Metaxas’ recent biography of Martin Luther, and it’s the first time in many years I’ve studied Luther in any depth. The first time was when I was in middle school. I don’t remember exactly what I read and/or listened to (there may have been some Adventures in Odyssey episodes involved), but I do know that through this process, I developed a crush on the German monk and reformer. Huh? I know. (Google a picture of him now if you don’t know.) It’s a bit baffling, but I don’t think it was his physical appearance I was drawn to. (Years later, though, Joseph Fiennes played him in a movie, and he looked pretty hot.) It must have been his earnestness in pursuing God’s true will for the Church, his clever and sometimes shockingly bold writing style, and the undeniably romantic way in which he met his wife, a former nun (he hid her when she escaped from her convent). And it probably had a lot to do with the fact that back then I didn’t know a lot of guys–young or old, living or dead.

Surely this factored greatly into my even less explicable crush, around the same time, on Union general Ulysses S. Grant, a short man invariably pictured as scowling and chewing on a cigar. And it’s not like he had a pretty face; actually, you can barely see his face in pictures because it’s covered in one of those full-face beards popular at the time. I don’t think I can explain this one, except that he did win the Civil War. Also, I remember reading that he used to get terrible migraines, and his wife would put a “mustard plaster” (I never understood exactly what this was) on his feet to ease his suffering. I guess I appreciated this humanizing weakness, as well as the humility and gentleness expressed by both parties in the anecdote. I don’t know. The ways of love are mysterious.

The next person I would like to tell you about has the advantage of being young and admittedly cute, but the disadvantage of being completely fictional, not to mention animated. Let me preface this by saying that one of my favorite Disney movies has always been Pocahontas. It was the last animated Disney film that came out before I got arbitrarily too old for Disney movies (roughly age 11), and I still think its music and color palette are gorgeous, even if the love story is as sappy as Grandmother Willow. (That was a tree pun.) You probably think I’m about to say that I had a crush on John Smith, but I didn’t. He was too old for me, too blandly handsome and boringly heroic. Nor did I go for Pocahontas’s arranged fiancee, Kocoum, nor her dad, though as an adult I can now appreciate his stately good looks. No, I was into Thomas, the wimpy redheaded sailor voiced by Christian Bale (though I didn’t know that at the time) who accidentally shot Kocoum because he was too nervous to hold his gun straight. Even now, I have to admit he has a sweet face. (Click the link above to see a picture of him, along with my brief review of Pocahontas.) And I’ve always liked his floppy hat.

I like to think that my celebrity crushes have matured over the years, but on the other hand, what’s more impressive–starring in a few movies or starting the Protestant Reformation? I’ll let you decide. I’d also like to hear about your early celebrity crushes.

Beauty and the Beast

I wanted to come up with a clever title for this post, like “A Tale as Old as Time and as Fresh as 2017,” but that’s actually pretty cheesy, and since I’m surely the millionth blogger to enter this discussion over the past few days, there’s no point in trying to be original.

Well, I really enjoyed Beauty and the Beast.  For me, it struck exactly the right balance between appealing to the nostalgia of people who were seven-year-old vicarious princesses when the original animated Disney movie was released (e.g., me) and providing the psychological depth and historical detail that has come be expected of fairy tale adaptations in recent years.  I want to focus on the latter and tell you about an innovation that I appreciated in each of the two categories that I just mentioned.

  1. Psychological depth: In the animated film, Belle and the Beast–and even Gaston–were already surprisingly fleshed-out characters, but many of the minor characters were pretty flat (and I’m not talking about the 2D animation).  One of those characters who gets some new depth in the new adaptation is Maurice, Belle’s father.  The animated Maurice was exceedingly absent-minded and a rather clueless father, leading us to wonder where Belle got her good sense from.  (I also always wondered why he was half Belle’s height and perfectly spherical.)  When Gaston had him thrown into the asylum wagon, I felt bad for Maurice, but I kind of saw Gaston’s point.  In the live-action film, Maurice (played by Kevin Kline) is still a bit of a dreamer–perhaps even more so, since he’s now portrayed as an artist rather than an inventor (in a neat twist, Belle is the inventor!)–but his speech and mannerisms are abundantly rational, which underscores the cruelty of Gaston’s and the townspeople’s insistence that he is crazy.  Maurice gets added depth from the film’s revelations about Belle’s mother, who (this is not a spoiler; you find out very early in the movie) died of the plague in Paris when Belle was a baby.  I like how many of the recent Disney movies are either showing two-parent families or at least making it clear that it takes two people to make a baby.  (At the end of this one, we discover that there’s a Mr. Potts!)
  2. Historical detail: The fact that Maurice and Belle came from Paris is also significant because it explains why Belle is even literate, let alone the insatiable reader that we love her for being.  The first few scenes of the new film subtly but clearly demonstrate the low priority that has been placed on reading and writing, especially for girls, throughout much of history and even in many places today.  (I have a feeling that Emma Watson, a well-known campaigner for women’s rights, including the right to education, may have had some influence on this aspect of the movie.)  Notice, especially, the tiny collection of books Belle has to choose from in her town in this version.  Instead of the good-sized bookshop of the animated film, here we see a single shelf of volumes that appear to be owned by a clergyman, probably the only other educated person in town besides Belle and Maurice.  The literacy theme comes back in the Beast’s castle, when we learn that not only does the Beast have a really nice library (cue all the Hermione references you can think of) but that he also has apparently read most of the books in it.  I think this is the moment when Belle starts falling in love with the Beast–when she realizes they’re intellectual equals.

I don’t think I’ve quite done justice to the film yet, so I’ll probably return to this topic next week.  Meaenwhile, go see it, and let me know what you think!

Disney memories

Last night while trying to fall asleep, I chose my five favorite animated Disney movies (not counting Pixar) and figured out why I like them so much.  They can be categorized into two I loved when I was a kid (1 and 2), one I liked as a very small child and later rediscovered for different reasons (3), and two that are my favorites now and probably always will be (4 and 5).

1. Sleeping Beauty.  I think it’s accurate to say that this movie inspired my first experiences with cosplay.  As a little girl I used to put on a blue dress and pretend to be–no, not Princess Aurora, but Merryweather, the chubby fairy who doesn’t speak but always seems to be indignant about something she can’t articulate.  I was an odd little girl.  I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I still think it’s beautiful and effectively scary.  Am I excited about the Maleficent movie coming out next week?  Not really, though I’ll probably go see it.  I have a hard time with Angelina Jolie.

Merryweather

2. Pocahontas.  This movie came out when I was 11, and I was really into it.  I had a lot of Pocahontas merch–I remember a nightshirt, when nightshirts were a big thing, and a necklace that I took apart so that I could string the beads onto other necklaces.  I was an odd tween.  I knew all the lyrics to “Colors of the Wind,” and of course I still do, because you don’t forget songs you learn in childhood (which is why I still know the lyrics to most of The Eagles’ greatest hits–another story).  Pocahontas also gave me my first crush, at least the first I remember.  And no, it wasn’t on John Smith, but on Thomas, the naive and timid redheaded sailor (voiced by Christian Bale) who accidentally shoots Pocahontas’s boyfriend Kocoum.  Some things don’t change.  Again, I still think this is a beautiful movie.  I know people complain about the historiography, but it was never intended as a documentary.

Image

Thomas

3. Bambi.  As a child, I had a Bambi stuffed animal, and I liked Thumper (I remember quoting, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all,” still good advice for most contexts) and Flower, the really cute androgynous skunk.  Then I guess I got “too old” for Bambi and kind of forgot about the movie until one family trip to Disney World; I believe it was the one shortly after I graduated from college.  We were at Disney Studios watching one of those compilation films about the magic of animation or whatever, and suddenly the frantic pace of the clips slowed down and they showed that scene in which Bambi steps out into the clearing and asks, “Mother?” and the stag–Bambi’s father, though Bambi doesn’t know it–approaches and says, “Your mother won’t be with you anymore, Bambi.”  Standing in a room full of tourists, I started weeping.  It was embarrassing, but cathartic.  I still think that’s a brilliant scene–no music for emotional manipulation, just the stark colors of the deer against the snow and that spare, heartbreaking dialogue.  (Ok, I’m tearing up while writing this.)  Bambi is like that in general–a very simple story, no flashy songs and a small cast of (non-wisecracking) characters.  The animation is beautiful.  I am not ashamed to say that I own a Bambi t-shirt.

4. Beauty and the Beast.  I liked this movie when I was a kid, but didn’t truly appreciate it until I grew up.  I’ve always identified with Belle because she likes to read, but now I see that there’s much more to her.  She’s a lot like Jane Eyre in that she has just the right combination of strong will and empathy to be able to transformatively love a selfish and deeply wounded man while still retaining her own identity and protecting herself emotionally.  This, too, is a beautiful movie.  Of course the songs are great, but so is the score.  The settings are so atmospheric: the gloomy castle perfectly matches the Beast’s mood, and the forest outside it is truly desolate.  And I love the way the prologue uses animated “stained glass” to tell the Beast’s back-story.

5. Peter Pan.  This is one of my favorite stories, period.  (It’s Victorian, and it’s magic.  Therefore, I love it.)  The Disney movie isn’t a perfect adaptation, but there’s no such thing.  Certain things about it are perfect, at least to me, like the iconic image of the children flying over the nighttime silhouette of London, something no previous adaptation was able to capture and no subsequent one has attempted to try.  The songs are very good, especially “You Can Fly.”  I also love the way the musical sequences add to the character development in subtle ways.  (For example, the song “Following the Leader” seems like nothing more than a fun romp, but it illustrates the idea, which is barely latent in the J.M. Barrie story but makes perfect sense, that John Darling would see Peter Pan as a rival.)  I know most people think of Tinkerbell when they think of this movie, but I could take her or leave her.  For me, it’s about Peter, who is one of my favorite trickster figures, and the Darling children, who react to being essentially abducted from their home in fascinatingly different ways.  I also like the Lost Boys.  And the Peter Pan ride at Magic Kingdom is wonderful.  Yes, it’s a really short ride with a really long line, but it’s totally worth it.

Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning!