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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Fifth of Disney: Toy Story 3 & Prince of Persia

Since I had an extra day off last week, I thought I'd take the opportunity to take in a couple of movies. I doubt I have any long reviews in me, but here are a couple of thoughts.

I first went and saw "Toy Story 3". I went to a noon showing, on July 5th, so it was me, and a theater full of families with little kids, which made the whole experience more enjoyable. That may not be what you'd expect to hear from a single guy, but there you have it.

The movie itself was just wonderful. The only complaint I might have is that it dipped a little deep into the sentimentalism at times. But I'm not sure they could have made a movie with such subject matter as this one without that being an issue. I also couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't a bit intense for smaller children at times. But not being a parent, I really couldn't say for sure. Overall, though, it was fantastic. I have nothing more to say about it at this point, other than that Pixar has hit another one out of the park.

Later that afternoon, I slipped out to another theater and saw "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time". This is a Disney film that came out a number of weeks ago, preceded by all the hype that Disney tends to throw behind its films. It seemed to me to get buried among all the other Summer films that have come out, so I was under the impression that maybe it had done poorly. But quite the contrary is true, according to Wikipedia, although the film seems to have been better received overall in the rest of the world than in the U. S. My impression of the film wasn't helped, I might add, by the turnout at the showing I went to. I thought at first I would be watching it alone, until one lone woman wandered in during the previews. Yeah, I was disappointed. Not by the low turnout, but that I didn't have the theater to myself. I know, it was selfish. Mea culpa.

I knew almost nothing going into the film. I knew there was a dagger that turned back time, and that Jake Gyllenhall spent alot of time in acrobatic stunts through the film, jumping from roof to roof and the like. Yet it seemed like fun, and worth checking out.

And fun it was. Not "stop what you're doing and go see it right now" fun, but "not a waste of money" fun. The cinematography was great. There were lots of beautiful aerial shots, the kind that are only worth seeing on the big screen. The fight scenes were very enjoyable. The acting was mostly good, and the script was pretty good - though both of these could have been better.

Another fun thing about Disney films, though, is that whenever you watch one, you get to play the "Find the Leftist Agenda" game. Disney is often using its movies to promote some Leftist ideology, and it was no different with "Prince of Persia". The fact that the movie was set in Persia provided Disney with an obvious target, and that is United States foreign policy, particularly with regard to the Middle East. What was once considered Persia covered what is now Iran, though the Persian Empire at its height covered much of the Middle East, and spread into Europe and Asia. In the movie, we have Persia, the world empire (like the U. S.), invading a city (a smaller power, like any of the Middle Eastern countries), due to spy reports that alleged the city was producing weapons that it was selling to Persia's enemies. If by now the supposed WMD's (Weapons of Mass Destruction) of Iraq haven't come to mind, then you haven't been paying much attention to world events over the past decade. In addition, the fact that the movie is essentially set in Iran suggests some allusion to U. S. sanctions against Iran, born out of a fear of them attaining nuclear weapons.

Having referred to this as a "Leftist ideology", however, is a bit dishonest, unless one considers Libertarians "Leftist". And while I'm no Leftist myself, my leanings are Libertarian with regard to the subject of intervention in world affairs. My own tendency is to regard the move of U. S. troops into Iraq as an unjust invasion, a view that would equally find a home in classic Conservatism (in contrast to the Neo-conservatism of today). So far as I've been able to determine, U. S. troops never did find the WMD's in Iraq that were the excuse for our invasion (which is mirrored in the false reports of weapons production in the city of Alamut in the movie). And I have a hard time seeing how the U. S. has the right to tell Iran whether or not they should have nuclear weapons. To do so is a violation of national sovereignty, and is more likely to cause more violence, jeopardizing more lives, American and otherwise, and causing more problems all around.

The film leads to a Romantic turning back of time, as if the majority of troubles in the story never happened to begin with, except for the invasion of Alamut itself. This is easily solved through a "why can't we all get along" treaty between Persia and Alamut, which actually makes no sense, in that Alamut was already a Persian city prior to the invasion. Then they all held hands and sang "It's a Small World After All". Okay, not really. But it wouldn't have been entirely out of place. The bad guy gets it, nobody else ends up actually suffering as a result, and they all live happily ever after.

I don't know how other viewers might feel, but there's something incredibly dissatisfying about a movie that proposes a story that is entirely undone by its ending. All the joys and sorrows that the characters went through were for nothing after all. What a waste. It leaves no place for good change, no place for maturity. And it proposes a world which could be forever left in a place of limbo. It could be that everything I go through in my life I will end up having to just repeat sometime later. It is the cyclical worldview of the East, and it is a cesspool of death and depression. And it makes me feel as if I've just wasted two hours of my life on this movie. Eschaton, it turns out, is absolutely necessary, or else nothing in the world has meaning.

None of this is new for Disney, however. "Prince of Persia" is supposed to be the new "Pirates of the Caribbean", and was made by the same group of folks who made the "Pirates" trilogy. I have my doubts about Jake Gyllenhaal having the same draw as Johnny Depp, at least enough of a draw to turn "Prince of Persia" into a series of films as successful as "Pirates". Nonetheless, alot of the same themes are present in "Prince of Persia" that one finds in the "Pirates" trilogy, especially the last two films. There is the cyclical worldview of the East. In fact, what is "Eastern" is generally lifted up as being superior to what is "Western" in both "Persia" and "Pirates". You also have a confusion of gender roles, which is itself counter to Western Christian culture. In connection with this, you have a sort of sexuality that is particularly violent in nature, built more upon power and control than on love and sacrifice. This is also true of the recent "Clash of the Titans". Interestingly enough, actress Gemma Arterton was at the center of said sexual tension in both "Prince of Persia" and "Clash of the Titans", playing "Tamina" and "Io" in each, respectively. In "Pirates" 2 and 3, this is seen in Keira Knightly's character Elizabeth Swann, who departs from the classic feminine role of the first film to take on explicitly masculine roles in the second and third films, a sort of slap in the face of the traditional Western feminine societal role.

At the end of "Prince of Persia", the men of Persia bow to Tamina and confess their error in invading Alamut. The feminine spirit of the East triumphs over the masculine spirit of the West. The masculine West is violent, you see, whereas the feminine East is peaceful. Yet to achieve this a confusion of gender has to take place. To triumph is to have power, even if it is carried out in a passive-aggressive way. And passive-aggressive behavior is, after all, an expression of or a type of violence. While Tamina's actions throughout the movie are at times explicitly violent, they are often passive and manipulative. Such is the feminine way, when the men in a society have failed. And the failure of men in our society is what has led to the confusion of gender roles in feature films such as "Prince of Persia".

This is not to say, of course, that there is no manly sacrifice that occurs in the movie. The main character Dastan is very much so an image of manly, Christ-like sacrifice. And yet such is the state of modern American storytelling. Thankfully, we still have elements of truth in our storytelling, remainders of Christendom that have yet to be fully eradicated from our society, though folks like Disney might be doing their best to complete the task. However, the confusion still remains. In the end, the only truly righteous character in the movie is Tamina, the female character. The men are, in the end, all failures.

So while it may appear that Disney is attempting merely to repeat the success of "Pirates" in "Prince of Persia", they seem to be doing more. They are continuing to promote the same anti-Western, anti-Conservative, and anti-Christian worldview that they sought to push via "Pirates". Hopefully they will fail in this endeavor.

Ironic in all of this is that I began the day with "Toy Story 3". It is also a Disney film, and yet, as has usually been the case, the fact that it is a Pixar film seems to have made all the difference in the world. While one can find its share of sleazy masculine characters, "Toy Story 3" is also shot throughout with manly sacrifice. In fact, the film itself ends with Andy's sacrifice of his toys, by giving them all, including Woody, his most prized toy, to a little girl. Andy has grown up, and is leaving for college, and to grow up is to grow in sacrifice.

Maybe someday I'll grow up to be like Andy, and won't be so disappointed when I don't have a movie theater all to myself.

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