Movie: Ever After

Ever After PosterThis is a retelling of the Cinderella story with a 16th century French setting. Danielle (Cinderella) is made to work as a servant in her own household by her stepmother and stepsisters, but takes solace in the books of philosophy and science that her father left her. Prince Henry, the heir to the French throne, is unhappy with his “gilded cage” and habitually runs away. One of the times he runs away, he meets Danielle on her family’s estate (as he is stealing a horse). He clearly doesn’t pay that much attention to her, but when they encounter later and she is pretending to be a fine lady in order to save a servant who was sold away, he definitely notices her as she lectures him. He consistently pursues her until she eventually falls in love with him. All the time, both of them are dodging the stepmother and her daughter (who is trying to win the prince). The problem here is that Danielle gives Henry a false name when she’s pretending to be a fine lady and must thereafter continue the charade whenever they meet. This, of course, causes many problems. But it’s a fairy tale, so all things work out in the end.

I liked that this movie told the story completely without the use of any magic or exaggeration on the part of the characters. The stepmother and stepsister were horrible people, but also totally believable people. There was nothing about their cruelty that I couldn’t believe. The same went for pretty much the whole cast of characters. They had strengths and flaws every one, no one was completely without blemish (even Danielle and Henry) and no one was without something that made them understandable and pitiable (even if they were still pretty despicable). I also loved that the strongest characters in the movie were the women. Danielle was perfectly capable of taking care of herself and clearly a smart woman. She even rescues herself near the end just as the prince rides up on his noble stead to rescue her. The stepmother and stepsister were willful and cunning in many ways, even if it was clear from the outset that they were doomed to failure. Their strength made them all the more frightening. The queen of France was also far more interesting and appeared more observant and competent than her husband (or her son). It was clear that she was not simply there as a royal social director, she obviously had a real hand in what was going on. That’s an awesome thing to see in a fairy tale and a movie with a historical setting!

I really like this movie. It’s one of my favorite full-length fairy tale retelling movies. I think they did a great job with every aspect of it – the writing, the acting, the sets and especially the costumes (I want a dress like Danielle’s ballgown some day!). I am perfectly happy with the romanticised story and the way everything turns out happily ever after (which are sometimes criticized about this movie) because it’s a fairy tale! That’s the way it’s supposed to be! I’d be annoyed if the bad guys didn’t get punished, but they did, and it was a great realistic punishment! I love this movie and highly recommend it!

Book: Writing Superheroes

Writing SuperheroesWriting Superheroes: Contemporary Childhood, Popular Culture, and Classroom Literacy
Anne Haas Dyson
1997 (Teachers College)

If you watch kids playing games of pretend on a playground, chances are you’ll see them pretending to be characters from a story they know. Often those stories are from the popular media around them – the television shows they watch, the movies they’ve seen, the video or card games they play every day. They write stories on the same subject and Dyson spent two years observing one particular group of students as they wrote and acted stories in second and third grade, under the same teacher each year. She studied not only the sources of their stories, but also how they interpreted and changed those stories individually and as a group. She saw X-Men stories carry over week after week getting reinterpreted as they passed through different hands and negotiated over for various reasons (kids wanting their character to get to do more, kids wanting certain characters to get to do cooler things, kids wanting more or less relationship/emotional content, etc.). There are many facets to the study and Dyson looks particularly at gender and racial aspects of the stories and how they are negotiated by the kids (it was a very racially mixed classroom with a fairly even gender split).

This is an absolutely fascinating study. The idea of it is incredibly intriguing and it really seemed like Dyson had the perfect classroom in which to observe. I had some major concerns about her methods and approach, though. First of all, she went into this clearly not knowing anything about the shows and movies the kids were basing their stories on. That’s fine, if she had seemed willing to find out about them, but it really felt like she left that all up to her research assistants because she didn’t think very highly of the media the kids were drawing from. I’m not saying “Power Rangers” is high quality TV, but if you are doing a study about kids writing “Power Ranger” stories, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that you watch a lot of it yourself to get a feel for the flavor, language, world and characters of the show. The same goes for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “X-Men”. If you can’t bring yourself to watch the shows, maybe this isn’t a study you should be conducting. I also wondered about the strange amounts of time she spent watching the kids. She observed them only during the second semesters of their second and third grade years, which means she had a large gap in her observation when they were working together on stories and storytelling techniques. There may have been a good reason why she didn’t observe them first semester of their third grade year, but she never addresses the issue at all, and that seems like a pretty big issue for me.

The gender issues were fascinating and I found it really interesting that Dyson pointed out that she realized the bias she was likely to have as a white, female adult to focus more on the stories she found interesting or appropriate. She says this is possibly one of the issues that should be addressed in teaching, but at the same time, she spends a good portion of the book fixated on what seemed to be one minor group’s temporary focus on Roman myths. She even devotes an entire appendix to brief description of mythological characters the kids used in their play and stories! She describes their playground games around these myths, but she doesn’t ever seem to have spent much time actually paying any attention to the playground games about the X-Men than she does mention knowing happened. Why was this mythology game more worthy of observation, even though it only involved a small group, than the X-Men game, which supposedly usually involved most of the class?

I did find the kids’ stories and they way they developed over time to be really interesting. I was surprised that after the girls started presenting superhero stories with strong heroes of both genders, so did the boys (even though girls had been relegated to damsels in distress or extras in their previous stories). It showed that the kids were engaging in a complicated dialogue that I have seen regularly in play, but never imagined carried over into their academic world. I think this same type of study would be fascinating to see done by someone else. Perhaps someone more aware of and respectful of the media the kids were using as well as more able to devote the time required to really observe the dialogue taking place. This seems like a perfect study for a teaching or perhaps sociology professor (or a really dedicated grad student).

This was an incredibly intriguing book. I’m very glad that I read it and it raised a lot of interesting questions for me as well as reinforcing a lot of the things I already knew. That said, I’m not sure I could really recommend it without serious reservations. Given that I think it’s actually a very poorly done study, I think it’s very interesting. If anyone else has read this book or reads it sometime, I’d love to hear their thoughts on it!

- Publisher’s Description
- Buy it from Amazon

Movie: Fantasia 2000

Fantasia 2000I love this whole movie, but the only portion that I want to talk about today is the “Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102″ by Dimitri Shostakovich segment, which retells the story of the steadfast tin soldier and the little ballerina he loved. I always loved this particular Andersen fairy tale (I found it’s very sad ending unspeakably romantic when I was a kid – I was weird). The version of the story that the Walt Disney studios brings us in this movie is very different from the classic one. It has a happy ending for the soldier and the ballerina, but even more than that, it introduces a villain in the person of a jack-in-the-box who loves the ballerina. It almost feels to be like they took “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” and another of Andersen’s tales, “The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep”, and sort of smushed them together to come up with this story. It works fairly well, but the result is very different from either tale of course. I enjoyed it a lot. The mix is creative and I do wonder if it was conscious or if the resemblance they ended up with to the second story just sort of happened as they made changes. I would be interesting to know! This story is so infrequently told in cinema that I’m pleased they included it in Fantasia 2000, especially since it is such an interesting version!

Book: Goy Crazy

Goy CrazyGoy Crazy
Melissa Schorr
2006 (Hyperion)

This is the story of Rachel Lowenstein and her romance with Luke Christiansen. Rachel is Jewish and is pretty sure her parents want her to date (and eventually marry) and nice Jewish boy. This has never been an issue before because she’s never really dated before. That all changes when Luke steps into the picture. As his name suggests, he’s not Jewish. He doesn’t even go to the same school Rachel does. He attends St. Joseph’s Prep. – a Catholic school. Be that as it may, Rachel likes him and jumps at the chance to go out with him, even if it means hiding it from her parents.

Goy Crazy is a really interesting and well done book. I typically don’t really enjoy teen school/dating stories, but this one was so smart and so interesting on many different levels (not to mention very, very funny) that I couldn’t help but enjoy reading it immensely. Schorr handles the religious issues really well and paints a very realistic picture of a teenager struggling with the constraints of religion. What’s nice about it is that Rachel never loses her faith, she’s just frustrated with her religion and what she perceives to be her parents’ strict wishes based on it. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t question things, but she doesn’t waver. There’s a big difference, although it’s not a distinction I’ve seen made in fiction very often.

Schorr’s writing is fantastic. Rachel has a very definite voice that drives the book. She’s funny and real and draws you in. You want things to work out for her because Schorr writes her such that you almost feel like she could be your friend. And like with real friends, you occasionally see train wrecks coming and can’t do anything about them! The good thing is that I never lost faith in Schorr, I always knew that Rachel would end up ok no matter what trouble she got herself into because she was in the hands of such a talented writer. I would definitely pick up another book by Schorr based exclusively on her writing.

My one issue with the book was that the story was slightly predictable. Some of that was because of the cluelessness of the character, but some of it was just the way it was set up. This appears to be Schorr’s first book, so perhaps that’s an issue that will get better with time.

This was a really fun, funny book that dealt smartly and interestingly with some rather heavy issues. It’s not every book where the teenage heroine is worried that she won’t get to be buried in the cemetery her family is in because of a boy! I would definitely recommend this book. It’s a great read!

- Publisher’s Description
- Readergirlz issue 6 (July 2007)
- Buy it from Amazon

- Melissa Schorr’s Website

Meme: Questions from Trudy White

It’s quiz time! Trudy White posed five questions over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and there have been some awesome answers so far. I love the questions, so I’m going to play too!

1. How would someone find you in a crowd?

With difficulty. I’m tiny (5 foot nothing) and tend to disappear among all the tall people. That said, you could always look for the hole among the heads, I’m probably there! Or you could listen for me. I’m often talking animatedly about something. But in a crowd that’s probably less reliable than one would like.

2. If your house had a secret room, what would be in there?

Books! And more books! And maybe a place to sit and some light. And a bowl of peppermint candies. And the air pressure and temperature would be regulated. And there would be pillows perfectly propped up so when I was sitting I could rest my head and neck comfortably and still be able to read. But mostly there’d be books.

3. Where do you like to walk from your house?

Nowhere. Not that I don’t like to walk, I do. I just prefer to walk with no destination in mind. I like going on walks and just enjoying the walk itself. If I need to get somewhere, I usually just want to be there already unless it’s really really nice out.

4. How will you change as you grow up?

Um… I have no idea? I think not knowing is part of the fun of growing up. Hopefully I’ll get more organized, but I somehow doubt it. Ideally my headache will stop.

5. What sort of animal would you like to be?

Something little and cute. Maybe a puppy or a tiny lapdog who isn’t yappy, just cute and fluffy. I don’t know. It would be fun to be able to fly too, but I don’t think I’d make a very good bird.

Movie: Little Women

Little Women PosterMovie versions of Little Women are always a little bit odd. They are much abridged, since the book is actually quite long, and generally put more meaning or emphasis behind some of the events than the book really seems to intend them to have (the better to sensationalize, my dear). This version is really no different. It tells the story of the four March sisters and how they grow from young ladyhood to adulthood while the Civil War and other various changes are happening in the rest of the country. Each girl is different, but they share a special bond and are clearly young women the audience is supposed to love and identify with (at least the female half of the audience is).

My biggest issues with this movie were in the portrayal of the girls themselves. Beth, for some reason, never grows up while the other three do. She never got any older, while Amy, who is ostensibly younger than her, grows up and starts wearing long skirts and even eventually gets married! Beth is still dressed as a little girl and speaking as a little girl up until the end, while the rest of them, obviously full grown women at this point, stand around her and it looks very odd. Amy, played by Elizabeth Taylor, is incredibly bratty. She actually kind of drove me crazy. I really wanted to like Amy, just like I liked the other three sisters, but I really couldn’t. I felt like Ashley was a dope for marrying her at the end and I felt really sorry for him having to spend the rest of his life dealing with her. I felt like Jo was trying to hard. It just didn’t feel natural. Meg was so generic that I hardly remember her at all! I don’t remember her actually getting much screen time anyway.

This wasn’t a terribly good interpretation of the book and it felt very choppy and odd as a movie in its own right as well. It really felt like it was saying “love these girls, aren’t they precious and wonderful?”, but Amy was an unlovable brat, Jo was so fake it hurt and Meg was completely forgettable. That’s a little hard to love. They all looked great. The costuming and sets were amazing. And the secondary characters were really well done. It’s just that the story isn’t about them, it’s about Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Somehow, that wasn’t what this felt like. It felt like a very strange, convoluted story about random people. I kept wondering why I was supposed to care.

“I Want to Play Her”: War Leader

Dragons of a Fallen SunNormally I hate the covers of Dragonlance books. They typically have few token women and those are generally either dressed in flowing gowns or largely naked with just little bits of strategically placed fur and chain mail they seem to be considering armor. I never understood the fur loincloths thing. I know it was the fashion for the best and brightest on He-Man, but even there the warrior women didn’t wear them! Anyhow, being as that is what I’m used to from Dragonlance covers, you can bet that I was pretty surprised when I came across Matt Stawicki‘s cover for Dragons of a Fallen Sun (a book I’ve never even read, by the way). It has a knight, fully clad in full-plate armor, sitting proudly atop her noble steed who is likewise wearing plated barding. This woman looks like she could hold her own, but is actually probably the leader of a platoon or something. In the background is what appears to be a landscape being devastated by lava. An idyllic city rests at the base of the lava-streaked mountains and right behind the woman’s horse is a flowing river of red lava. This is not a happy, fuzzy scene where bunnies frolic. This is the cite of destruction and devastation. This is a place where a warrior and leader like the woman pictured is really needed and can really make a difference. And doesn’t she look like she could make that difference, even if things are bad right now? I’d believe in her. I’d love to play her. She’s a great almost iconic image of a war leader.

This piece of art has been added to the “I Want to Play Her” page under “Role Playing Games”.

Book: Letters from Rapunzel

Letters from RapunzelLetters from Rapunzel
Sara Lewis Holmes
2007 (HarperCollins)

“Rapunzel” writes letters to a Post Office box that her father used to write to. In these letters she writes about what she’s worried about, what she hopes for and what she’s trying to accomplish. Her father, who has always been under and Evil Spell (Clinical Depression), is in the hospital and no one will tell her what’s going on beyond that. Her mother is woefully unwilling to share information with our heroine. As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, “Rapunzel” is being put into the gifted program at school (which she clearly belongs in) and she isn’t very happy about it. Through her letters we get to see how she reacts to all of this and get a taste of this wonderful character’s amazing imagination.

I adored this book. It was really amazing to me. I always find books where a character is portrayed as “gifted and talented” interesting because I was such a kid myself and knew many more such kids (I went to a special school full of them). The problem with such characters is that they often aren’t very believable. Either being smart is portrayed as an amazing gift and the kid can do anything they want once they realize it or they are snotty little brats that you’d never want to be friends with (think Hermione Granger in the first book before the boys get to know her, but usually worse). The truth is, it’s not really like that. Being gifted is awesome in some very real ways, but it also majorly sucks in some very real ways. Holmes really, truly got it. She absolutely nailed it. I’ve never read a book before that spoke so realistically to what it’s like to be a gifted kid dealing with schools and the stupidness that comes along with them. Cadence (“Rapunzel”) speaks with such a genuine voice and her stories and responses to school assignments (classic gifted kid responses to homework, by the way) ring with such consistency and truth. I really wish I had read this book when I was ten or eleven. It would have been perfect for me.

The struggle Cadence has with her father’s depression and her mother’s refusal to tell her what’s going on is really what keeps this book together. The gifted kid thing alone wouldn’t have been enough for a good, solid book, but the plot that Holmes has woven is perfect. It’s intricate and interesting, especially with the fairy tale themes woven over it and the idea of wishes and magic woven in.

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I rarely say that, but I’m saying it about this one. I was incredibly impressed with this book. I’ve suggested it to a number of people already and I might even donate a copy to the library of the school I used to go to (where my mother still teaches). I highly recommend this book. It’s great even if you haven’t dealt with the gifted education system in any way or with depression or anything. This is really more than an “issue” book and I really don’t want it to get pigeonholed that way. If you haven’t checked out this book, I definitely recommend it. It’s well worth the read!

- Publisher’s Description
- Book Blog: First Post (First Impressions)
- Book Blog: Second Post (Gifted Kid)
- Book Blog: Third Post (Rapunzel’s Mom)
- Book Blog: Fourth Post (The Post Office Box)
- Book Blog: Fifth Post (Final Thoughts)
- Buy it from Amazon

- Sara Lewis Holmes’s Website
- Sara Lewis Holmes’s Blog

Movie: Shrek the Third

Shrek 3 PosterThis is the third movie in the Shrek saga and it is filled with characters we are pretty familiar with at this point. Shrek and Fiona are married and living in the swamp, but they get called back to Fiona’s parents’ castle because her father is dying. There they take on royal duties for him for a while, thinking it will only be temporary. Unfortunately, he dies and leaves Shrek his kingdom. The only other person who could conceivably become king of Far Far Away is a scrawny kid named Arthur who is busy being bullied off in a high school somewhere a ways away. Since Shrek doesn’t want the throne, he sets off to find said scrawny kid and force him to take it. With him, of course, are Donkey and Puss. Meanwhile, Fiona reveals that she is pregnant and all the princesses squeal in delight (Shrek isn’t quite so thrilled, but Fiona doesn’t know that). While Shrek is away, the villains of the fairy tale world all decide to stage a coup and Prince Charming installs himself as the ruler of the kingdom. Lucky for Far Far Away, the princesses prove more of a challenge than he anticipated. Chaos ensues and eventually all is worked out happily.

The most interesting plotline in this movie from my perspective was that of the fairy tale princesses. They start out pretty shallow and really seem about as ornamental and useless as the writers could possibly make them, but over the course of the story they actually prove pretty effective. The thing is, they use the traits from their fairy tales to fight their battle (Snow White sings to get the birds and furry creatures of the woods to attack the guards, Sleeping Beauty collapses and trips guards, Cinderella throws a razor sharp glass slipper as a weapon, etc.). This is not only a good comic device, but it also proves a pretty interesting storytelling element. It shows the women recognizing that their real best weapon is the element of surprise. No one expects them to put up a fight, so when they do, it distracts even the enemies not directly affected by the attack itself. And they definitely use those distractions to their advantage! Clearly these are not the damsels in distress we thought they were! It may have taken Fiona to push them to do this, but she didn’t have much time in which it convince them, so they must have had that strength within them to begin with, they just didn’t ever use it. I’m not saying that the portrayals were all as forward-thinking as one might want, but this is definitely way more twenty-first century than the majority of Princess movies than come out!

Overall I really enjoyed this movie. It wasn’t amazing high-quality cinema by any means, but it was fun and had some very interesting interpretations of fairy tales and legends (Camelot played a big part of this story). It seems like the people writing the Shrek movies have realized that the world they are playing with allows them more freedom to experiment with stereotypes and expectations than perhaps a more traditional setting would. And the best part is, they seem to be getting better at it since this movie was better than Shrek 2! Perhaps that means if there is a fourth one it has a good chance of being even more interesting yet! That said, I don’t think there needs to be any more in the series. This one made a good ending.

Poetry Friday: To Market

A Fairy Went A-MarketingI know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted. I’ve been doing some work on other parts of the website, though, so I haven’t been completely absent (I’ve just been kind of focused on that). I have a number of books piled up next to the computer to review now, so I’ll try and get back into posting regularly in the next week or so.

Today I wanted to share a fun old poem about a fairy. There isn’t really much of a reason why I chose this poem other than that I like it. It’s cute and has some great images, but it isn’t terribly well known anymore.

A Fairy Went A-Marketing

A fairy went a-marketing -
She bought a little fish;
She put it in a crystal bowl
Upon a golden dish.
An hour she sat in wonderment
And watched its silver gleam,
And then she gently took it up
And slipped it in a stream.

A fairy went a-marketing -
She bought a coloured bird;
It sang the sweetest, shrillest song
That ever she had heard.
She sat beside its painted cage
And listened half the day,
And then she opened wide the door
And let it fly away.

A fairy went a-marketing -
She bought a winter gown
All stitched about with gossamer
And lined with thistledown.
She wore it all the afternoon
With prancing and delight,
Then gave it to a little frog
To keep him warm at night.

A fairy went a-marketing -
She bought a gentle mouse
To take her tiny messages,
To keep her tiny house.
All day she kept its busy feet
Pit-patting to and fro,
And then she kissed its silken ears,
Thanked it, and let it go.

This poem is by Rose Fyleman. I hope you enjoyed it! For more great poems check out the round-up over at HipWriterMama!

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