Aladdin (2019): An Arab-American’s Perspective (Guest Post by Sarah Crickard)

Sarah Crickard is a Catholic wife and mother living among Ohio’s beautiful and infinite cornfields. When she is not working with low-income seniors as a caseworker, she enjoys writing fantasy, sewing, running and posting pictures of her food on Instagram. She is fluent in Arabic and sarcasm. Instagram: @SarahCrickard

Much to my loved one’s annoyance, I have had a very public and long-winded problem with the 1992 Disney movie Aladdin for…ever. So much so that when I finally went to Disneyworld at the tender age of 26 I had to get a picture of myself “fighting” with Jasmine, and my husband truly wondered if I might get us kicked out of the park if and when we ran into that particular princess. It was on the “do not play” list among my middle school and high school friends because they all wanted to avoid having to listen to my analysis of the movie’s many flaws for several hours.

Disney announced their live-action remake of Aladdin, scheduled to come out on my birthday in 2019 (Oh, the irony). I don’t have much time to go to the movies, so I waited for the film to become available for purchase, and bought a digital version to watch at home. And watch it I did…last night. So clearly I have to write up my thoughts right now. I’ll begin with my problems with the original, the 90s version. Once we get those out of the way I can get to raving about how much I loved the remake.

Aladdin is set in the imaginary kingdom of Agrabah. If I had a nickel for every time someone stressed to me that it was an imaginary place, as an excuse for the film’s overall cultural insensitivity…I’d have a lot of nickels. The movie opens with “Arabian Nights“, a musical narration of the setting. The song makes it very clear that this is an Arab country, even if it’s an imaginary Arab country. The song also contains gems like “Where they cut off your ear If they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” In Disney’s defense, when the song was poorly received in 1992, they re-released the song without these lyrics, but my family had already purchased the original on VHS and these are the lyrics I, and many, grew up with. 

The song essentially starts off the movie with two points: It’s hot and sandy here because this is the middle east, and the people are barbarians. This, while we are given aerial shots of a very Taj-Mahal-like palace, and women in saris walking the streets. The rest of the movie continues like this with random references to Islam and Arab culture sprinkled throughout in the hopes that no one will notice that what they’re looking at really looks a lot more like India than the Middle East. If Disney set out to make up a fake culture, they utterly failed. What they did end up doing is poorly representing two distinct and rich cultures by mashing them together and portraying them entirely in stereotypes. The 2019 remake also doesn’t seem to distinguish Arab and Indian culture, but I’ll talk about why it’s okay in the remake in a moment.

The issues continue as we meet our two main characters Aladdin and Jasmine. These were supposed to be the Arab prince and princess I could look up to as examples as a young Arab-American girl growing up in a very white mid-west. 

Aladdin, instead, is kind of stupid. He is smart enough to escape the blundering mooks that serve as guards but is immediately bested the moment he faces a semi-competent nemesis in Jafar. In fact, all his victories seem to happen simply because everyone around him got a little stupider while he was there, or because he has a magical servant who can actually snap his fingers and fix it. Aladdin’s arc is simply one of a man who starts off a liar and thief, and then in the last five minutes of the movie learns to tell the truth. This lesson is learned very quickly and without much in the way of consequences. He basically apologizes for lying once and is given a bride (who comes attached to a future kingship). 

Jasmine is even more of a letdown. She’s introduced as some sort of feminist icon, who wants to be free to choose her own future. Her struggle throughout the movie is that she does not want to marry for political gain, but for love. At first pass, this seems good, but if we really think about it, she only reinforces the problems she is facing. She rebels against the notion that she should marry in order to give her kingdom greater security but instead wants to find someone who gives her butterflies. This culminates in her choosing the man who’s been lying to her for the duration of the movie. So she uses her “freedom” to make, arguably, a very silly choice. The 2019 remake addresses both of these characters’ flaws as well as the cultural setting they are living in. 

Aladdin, when we meet him in the 2019 version, is being chased by guards just like in the original. We’re shown immediately that this new Aladdin is able to outrun the guards, not because they are bumbling idiots, but because he’s smart. When he realizes he is going to be caught, he creates a decoy, and promptly escapes in the other direction, leaving the guards puzzling over where he’d gone. Then, he and Jasmine have a discussion about the fact that Abu, Aladdin’s pet monkey, steals indiscriminately, while Aladdin himself only steals what he needs. Jasmine’s bracelet goes missing and she believes Aladdin has lied, although we can see it was really Abu who took it. Aladdin then sets out to return the bracelet and prove he’s not a liar. This, among other things, is a drastic departure from the 1992 Aladdin who really did just steal and lie because he didn’t seem to know any better. Our 2019 Aladdin steals and lies, but he spends the movie grappling with his own greed, eventually choosing the right thing multiple times in the last half of the movie, even when it gets him into worse situations.

Jasmine, too, is much improved. We’re shown that her desire to marry is balanced by a desire to rule. Isolated in the palace, she’s spent her life studying politics and maps. She wants to marry for love, not so that her loving husband can rule her kingdom, but so that she can rule with someone supportive by her side. We are shown that all the men in her life find her annoying. Then Aladdin steps in and believes that she is capable of making good decisions with or without his help. These two character arcs are worlds better than the 1992 version and give us two real people we can struggle and feel with.

The other improvement is the wider setting of the movie. In the 1992 version, we see silly things in the background like “Hakim’s discount fertilizer” a cart of manure that Aladdin flings a guard into. Aladdin also comically injures a sword swallower, snake charmer, and a man on a bed of nails. The cultural notes in the background all serve for comedic moments, and there’s no concern given to what snake charmers, sword swallowers, spice merchants, camels, etc. mean to the people in this culture. 

I’ve been to an Arab Bazar in Bethlehem and it was the single most dazzling experience of my life. This is captured in the 2019 version of “Arabian Nights” which has been rewritten as a celebration of the mingling of Eastern cultures in trade centers. Lyrics like “Where you wander among every culture and tongue. It’s chaotic, but hey, it’s home” the song tells us that this a fantasy land before going on “As you wind through the streets at the fabled bazaars with the cardamom-cluttered stalls. You can smell every spice while you haggle the price of the silks and the satin shawls. Oh, the music that plays as you move through a maze in the haze of your pure delight. You are caught in a dance, you are lost in the trance of another Arabian night.” 

I began to cry (and my husband will attest it takes a lot to make me cry) when the movie opened on these lyrics. I turned to him and said “This. This is a celebration of my part of the world.” “Arabian Nights” is still the musical orientation of the movie’s setting, but this time we’re told that Agraba is a place where cultures come together and mix. It’s an imaginary kingdom where the best of India, the Middle East, and the East, in general, can come together in a dazzling display of human creativity. The movie continues as a showcase of this as we see traditional and modern dancing, spectacular costumes, and beautiful architecture. None of the cultural notes are played for comedy. This is why the 2019 version is able to get away with mixing together cultures. It is a celebration of the East and not a sloppy mockery of it.

I grew up feeling very out of place. I knew from a young age that “Arab” was a large part of my identity, even though, at first glance, I don’t necessarily look like a person of color. In the 90s and then even more so starting in 2001, Arab was not a very popular thing to be. I was proud of my heritage, and I never wanted to be anything else. The problem was showing others that. I often interacted with people who felt I should be apologetic for what I was or at least try to be a little more discrete. I grew up in the habit of being a translator for my family members. I became used to the looks of disgust when someone would tell me, a perfectly ordinary American child, something and I would turn to my grandmother and repeat it in Arabic, then relay the response. It was clear to me from a young age that my hair and skin were too dark, my language sounded too angry, and that my beautiful culture made people uncomfortable.

1992’s Aladdin being Disney’s “Arab movie” only reinforced that we were the wrong sort of people. I have always known this to be untrue, but there’s something especially painful about seeing that lie in technicolor on the big screen. The 2019 remake has taken that lie and transformed it into a celebration, and I for one, am here and ready to party. 

Now excuse me while I rock out to the song Speechless for the hundredth time today. 


Coco: Pixar’s Most Catholic Movie

coco

I realize that I’m late to the Coco party. However, with Divine Mercy Sunday around the corner, I decided that this would be a #FlashbackFriday type of review. I honestly think that Coco is the most Catholic movie that Pixar ever made and I’m not just saying that because the movie is inspired by Mexican culture. What makes this movie Catholic are the themes: family, forgiveness, and never forgetting to honor the dead.

Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen this movie yet. I highly recommend at least renting the movie. It’s available on Redbox. It’s definitely worth a watch.

The emphasis on being loyal to one’s family is established early on in the movie. It’s clear from the beginning that Miguel loves his family, in spite of the fact that his abeulita tries to keep music from their lives a little too much. Miguel is especially close to his great-grandmother Coco.

Side note, but I think this is the first Disney/Pixar movie to feature an entire family unit. Both of Miguel’s parents are alive and aside from the relatives who are living in the land of the dead, nobody in Hector’s family gets killed off. Not only that, but you see a family working and living together.

The conflict that drives the movie is Miguel’s desire to pursue music, even if it means ignoring or even outright cutting himself off from his family. It’s clear that he’s a great musician and for a while, it feels as though his family takes the anti-music stance way too far, especially when Miguel’s abuelita destroys his guitar. However, the events of this movie show Miguel that it’s important to stay connected to your family, especially when he learns that Ernesto got his fame by murdering his songwriter friend Hector.

I love the character of Hector, by the way. The movie does a great job at making you suspicious of Hector at first, but he slowly becomes more endearing, especially when he encourages Miguel and shows that he cares for him and is protective of him, even though Miguel is just a stranger.

The theme of remembering the dead is what drives the subplot of the movie: Hector wants to visit his daughter and be remembered or else he will disappear into oblivion. It’s never said where the souls of the forgotten go after the “Final Death,” but it compels the audience to take on a very Catholic tradition: to pray for those who have no one to pray for. In that way, no soul is ever really forgotten.

On a similar note, the land of the dead really reminds me of Purgatory, final death thing put aside. It’s not exactly heaven, given that a murderer like Ernesto is living there, but it’s not Hell, either. It’s a place for departed souls to live and there’s still a link to those who are living, even if it’s just one day a year.

One good thing that came out of the broken pedestal experience though is that Miguel finds out that Hector is his real great-great-grandfather. This leads into the second Catholic theme of the movie, which focuses on forgiveness. When Miguel and Hector are reunited with Miguel’s deceased relatives towards the end of the second act, his great-great grandmother Imelda is reluctant to forgive Hector for leaving her.

What makes the relationship with Hector and Imelda interesting is that Imelda never remarried. She cut Hector and her love for music out of her life, even though she loved both very much. When she confronts Ernesto, she berates and hits Ernesto for “murdering the love of my life.” In classical tsundere fashion, she still claims to be mad at Hector, but she at least loves Hector enough to know that he doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.

I love that forgiveness is shown to be a process. Imelda goes from hating Hector to defending him to finally allowing him to be in her life and her family. This is shown in the climax, when Miguel has to return to the land of the living. At the start of the movie, Imelda wants Miguel to promise her to never pursue music again when he returns to the land of the living. In the second attempt to get Miguel back, Miguel is actually willing to make good on that condition. The third attempt, however, is made with no conditions. Just the type of selfless love that seriously has me reaching for the tissues.

The two themes of family and forgiveness get tied together in what I feel is my favorite scene: Miguel plays “Remember Me” for Coco in front of his family. His abuelita tries to stop him, but his father allows Miguel to play. The song restores Coco’s memory and allows her to tell everyone in her family about all the mementos she kept from her father and how her parents both loved music.

One year later, Miguel’s deceased relatives, Hector and Coco included, get to spend time with the living on the Day of the Dead. Miguel and his family join in on a song and it’s shown that Hector is playing along with him. All is forgiven and music has returned to the lives of the Rivera family. I love the ending of this movie because it shows that pursuing one’s passion should never come at the expense of family.

One last side note: I love the animal sidekicks in this movie, especially Dante the Xolo dog. He’s a lot like Scooby-Doo in that he seems so goofy and is kinda cute even if he’s a hairless street dog, but he is also foreshadowed to be a true guide in the land of the dead, instinctively throwing Hector and Miguel together a lot. Plus, the name is very fitting as those familiar with The Divine Comedy or at least Inferno recognize the name from the protagonist of those stories, who literally goes through a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

This movie isn’t just great to watch for the Day of the Dead. It’s one I recommend watching for Lent and even now, in the Easter season.

Pray for the souls of those who’ve died, especially those who have no one to pray for.

 

Moana’s Vocation: An Analysis

Moana’s story is unique in many ways. While the villains may be lackluster, the music is amazing. My favorite thing about Moana, though, is how the movie portrays what it means to have a vocation. While The Crown shows how the vocation of queenship negatively affects the people in Queen Elizabeth’s life, Moana’s story is a more positive portrayal.

As I’ve stated before, many people figure out their vocation at a very young age. Moana’s vocation is twofold: She needs to be the chief of her people, but she is also called by the ocean to voyage out and return the heart of Te Fiti to where it came from. She quickly learns, thanks to her grandmother, that in order to truly be the chief of her people, she has to answer the ocean’s call first, because her people were descended from voyagers, but forgot about that part of their life because of how dangerous the ocean became.

Answering the ocean’s call meant leaving her family behind, much like those who pursue religious life do. Men go to a seminary or monastery and women go to the convent. In the process of becoming a priest, a nun, or a brother, they are required to learn a lot of things. Out in the ocean, Moana learns how to be a good wayfinder, thanks to Maui’s mentoring.

Throughout the movie, Moana is tested in her resolve to stick to her vocation. She first gets tested when she gets hurt on her first attempt to sail beyond the reef.  Maui constantly tests her patience.  She faces obstacles such as the Kakamora and Tamatoa. She even loses her resolve when Maui decides to leave after Te Ka nearly defeats them. In spite of all that, the spirit of her grandmother returns and asks Moana “Do you know who you are?”

“I Am Moana” basically summarizes what it feels like when a person discerns his or her vocation. A Catholic can interpret that “still small voice,” the voice that calls Moana, as the Holy Spirit, reminding her about what she needs to do.  When she decides to be the one to take the heart to Te Fiti, she goes back to the ocean and gets the heart back, restoring order to the ocean and her home and even giving Maui a new sense of purpose.

When Moana returns home, the people of Motunui become voyagers again and it’s clear, from how the movie ends, that Moana’s adventures are just beginning. It shows that a vocation is something you have for life. For Moana, that means continuing the tradition of her voyaging ancestors and being the a good leader to her people.

I highly recommend Moana because it’s an excellent movie with a positive message for kids. It shows them that following your heart doesn’t mean being a rebel. It can mean becoming a leader and growing in wisdom.

Beauty and The Beast-A collaboration with Catholic Girl Bloggin

beauty and the beast

Author’s note: This is a collaboration with Catholic Girl Bloggin. Spoilers for the movie ensue. CBG’s stuff will be in blue, my stuff in purple.

Cue the music, Jay!  (Our friend Jay plays the Belle/Little Town theme)

CGB: (Walks out of little cottage) Huh, I didn’t know I lived in a cottage.  (Shrugs, smiles at quaint little cottage) I’m not complainin’.  Oohh, there’s tulips on the side of the cottage!  Well, anyway….(Begins singing) Little film, it’s a brand new remake.  All-star cast and some brand new songs.  Little film, starring Emma Watson.  Everybody says…

Critic 1: IT SUCKS!

Critic 2: IT SUCKS!

Critic 3: IT SUCKS!

Rad-Trads: IT SUCKS!

All together: IT SUCKS!

CGB: There go the critics with their gripes like always.

MsOWrites: Seems like they’re never satisfied.

Both of Us: Because way back when we were kids, Disney made a princess flick.  And it was one that we both loved.

Nostalgia Critic: Good morning, girls!

MsOWrites: Good morning, NC!

Nostalgia Critic: Where are you off to?

CGB: We’re doing a review.  It’s the remake of the classic Disney movie.

Nostalgia Critic: That’s nice.  But honestly?  It was meh.

CGB: Well, we haven’t even seen it yet.

MsOWrites: We might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Nostalgia Critic: It still sucks, though.

Critics: Look there they go, they’re just so optimistic.   Can’t they see that the original’s the best?

Critic 1: Emma Watson’s auto-tuned.

Critic 2: The supporting cast was underused.

Rad-Trads: And let’s not forget the token gay LeFou!

(Two hours later)

MsOWrites (crying): Oh, wasn’t it amazing?

CGB: Are you crying?  Because so am I!

MsOWrites: I never do…but yeah, I’ll make this exception.  There’s just so much of this film that’s good and true…

CGB: It would certainly please JP2!  Let us do a review, just me and you!

MsOWrites: We could show both the Catholic and secular world why it’s good!

CGB: Let us begin!

The Hits

CGB: So how did Hermione Granger do playing everyone’s favorite “most peculiar mademoiselle”?  My answer: Emma Watson is a wonderful Belle! This Belle is a lovely reinterpretation of the original character, mixing her trademark book-loving nature with an inventor’s vibe. I really appreciate that Emma Watson’s Belle actually feels different from Paige O’Hara’s Belle from the 1991 classic.  O’Hara’s Belle is dreamy, optimistic and overall innocent. Watson’s Belle is grounded, pragmatic and even bohemian in more ways than one.   

One of my biggest concerns was that Emma Watson would come off as an overly confident character, but luckily there’s a sweetness and humility to this new Belle.  Also Watson’s Belle has more agency in this film than she did in the original; locking herself in the dungeon while pushing her father away, telling the Beast that he has to stand so that she can take back to the castle and so on. Finally, I’m going to add brownie points for that one scene where she teaches a young girl how to read. Brilliant!  

The Beast’s character is pretty much the same as he was in the original; starts off as mean, coarse and unrefined, but ends up becoming so sweet and almost kind. Here, though, his temper is not as jarring as it was in the original. The sympathy factor of his character is shown in the prologue and continues throughout the movie so that we, the audience, are easily able to refrain from judgment before we get to know him. His pain and torment are palpable as his growing feelings for Belle begin to break down the inner walls he has placed around his broken, guarded heart.

Kevin Kline is a wonderful Maurice! I really appreciate that they dialed down his quirkiness big time and made him into a more complex character. He’s warm, gentle, thoughtful, though he’s a bit overprotective of Belle. I can just see him hoisting little Belle onto his lap and reading to her by the fireplace.

Luke Evans is aving the time of his life playing Gaston, and I had a great time watching his Gaston. The usual arrogance of the original character is still there, but we see his progression towards evil. Also I do like that he’s not impractically buff like in the cartoon, but that his toxic masculinity is displayed by his ignorance and overcompensation.

Now, given that I’ve brought up Gaston, you’re probably waiting to see LeFou mentioned here. Before MsOWrites and I get into the whole “gay LeFou” thing, let me talk about the character of LeFou in general.  Josh Gad’s LeFou  is definitely an improvement from the cartoon character.  His “hero-admiration” toward Gaston explains his loyalty to him and he is actually the smarter of the duo. In a way, he serves as a manifestation of Gaston’s effect on people; how Gaston is able to grab and hold the attention of women and men alike, which was always the point of Gaston’s character to begin with.

My favorite song from the movie? EVERMORE!  Oh my goodness, what a beautiful song!  It’s like someone took Augustine’s Confessions, some passages from the Book of Psalms and a hint of the Song of Solomon, then threw them into a blender and then somehow they just mixed into the most melodic purée.  Also the song really sums up a wonderful theme in this film: That people come into our lives who touch our hearts so much that when they leave us, just their presence will remain in our memory forever.  They illustrate this when Maurice is singing about Belle’s mother, but the theme comes full circle with “Evermore.”

MsOWrites: First of all, the opening scenes were stunning in their visuals.  We actually get to see the prince and the residents in the castle and watch the Enchantress cast her spell.  As much as we all love the stained glass narration from the original, the prince’s character arc is to learn what true beauty is, which is kind of the whole point of the entire story in the first place.

The scene with Pere Robert wasn’t as elaborate as the bookshop scene in the original, but there’s a good explanation. It wouldn’t make sense for there to be a bookstore in a town that doesn’t have that many people who can or even want to read.  However Pere Robert is a priest with a personal library. He doesn’t have as many books, but he generously loans the books he does have to Belle.

I appreciate the nuances that have been added to the story. For one, when Belle asks Monsieur Jean if he has lost something again, he responds, “I believe I have.  Problem is I can’t remember what!”  This is actually a small hint at how the spell on the castle also extended to the entire town. Yeah, her spell not only turned the now-adult Prince into a hideous CGI goat-man, but also did what the neuralyzer from Men in Black does to people.   It does feel like a convenient cop-out, but it works within the context of the story.

In defense of the songs, I thought these new versions of songs we all know sounded just fine.  They had a more Broadway stage vibe to them, which makes sense given that this is an event musical film.  The auto-tuning was necessary for the actors who weren’t professional singers and the background music of the songs are faithful to the original music.

The Misses

MsOWrites: So about that magic book thing…yeah, it kind of creates a plot hole.  If it can just transport the Beast anywhere he wants, then why wasn’t he using it all the time prior to Belle’s arrival? Also, why didn’t Belle use it to get back to the village and return to her father? The book is used once and then we never see it again.  What?

CGB: Remember how filled with wonder Belle was when she sang about the beauty of books to those sheep? What?  You don’t sing to sheep?  I do it all the time!  Alas, that’s not the point.  

The point is that Hermione–er, I mean–Emma Watson could’ve sung that part about, “Oh, isn’t this amazing?” with a little more enthusiasm.

Speaking of which, Obi-Wan Kenobi (from the Star Wars prequels) plays Lumiere, but there is a bit of a catch: Ewan McGregor himself has stated that he has never seen the original film.  GASP!  Anyway, once I learned that, his performance in this film kind of made more sense.  I’ve seen this movie twice and I didn’t really care for this Lumiere during either time I saw it.  In fact, I think because there was so much focus on getting Belle, the Beast and Gaston right, the supporting cast feels less colorful.

An Unexpected Theological Truth

Both of Us: We consider ourselves students of Mother Teresa.  Throughout her ministry to the poor in Calcutta, she deemed every person she helped as, “Jesus in His most distressing disguise.”  That credo is on display in this film and in the original, as well.  We are going to focus on this film for the sake of argument.  While the Beast most certainly doesn’t act Christ-like in the beginning, Belle does when she chooses to bring him back to the castle after he rescues her from the wolves.  As their relationship develops, he begins displaying Christ-like characteristics such as mercy, understanding and kinship.  One of the many, many beautiful realities of Jesus is that when we follow Him, He brings out the best in us even during difficult times.  With this in mind we see how once she begins ministering to him, Belle becomes the best version of herself and the same happens to the Beast in return.  There is a saying that difficult people show their need for love in unlovable ways and the Beast is a manifestation of that adage.

We challenge you to think of the “Beast” in your life and ask yourself if he/she is in need of mercy and forgiveness.  Sometimes Christ comes to us in the form of an unpleasant person who we can either wash our hands off and avoid at all cost, or show them compassion and forgive their faults just as Belle does with the Beast.

The Elephants in the Room

 

#1. This film has a gay agenda!

MsOWrites: Let’s address the biggest elephant in the room first. There was a lot of hype and backlash about a “gay scene” in this movie involving the character of LeFou. While it’s true that LeFou is shown to have feelings for Gaston, the actual gay scene is just two seconds long.

Neither of us are promoting gay marriage. However, we do agree with the idea of representation. We need to acknowledge that there are people out there who are attracted to the same sex and treat them as people instead of a stereotype.  This advocating of representation also applies to those who identify as asexual as well.  (I’m looking at you, Riverdale!)

Trust me when I say that Disney isn’t the only name in “children’s programming” to include a gay character.

CGB: While I already talked about this on my own blog and my Facebook page, but I’ll just rehash some of my thoughts here.

The original film makes it very clear that Lefou, as well as every woman and man in the entire village, is hopelessly enamored with Gaston. In addition, Gaston presents himself (quite loudly and boldly) to be THE ideal man, THE symbol of masculine perfection. Lefou, being Gaston’s right-hand man, would most likely be the one who gets the most sucked into the–I guess we can call it–the cult of Gaston.  It’s not just LeFou, it’s him and all of the village who are swept up in it, which explains why everyone immediately goes along with Gaston’s “let’s-kill-the-Beast” tirade with no questions asked.

Also, let’s look at Lefou himself. What does he personally gain from being around Gaston all the time? They’re not brothers or related in any fashion, and there’s no indication that Lefou owes him money or anything; in retrospect, Lefou has no real reason to associate himself with Gaston at all. One could make the argument that there is a social benefit to being around Gaston, but Lefou is never established to be a self-serving character who is trying to get ahead in society by being around the “right people,” so that wouldn’t hold up.

Simply having a character who happens to be gay in a film is not in and of itself promoting same-sex marriage.  How it is presented is what matters.  LeFou never actively hits on Gaston and there’s no gay wedding at the end.  There will be those who say, “You give [gay people] an inch and they’ll take a mile!”  However, that inch has to make sense.

You can be a faithful Catholic who staunchly defends the sanctity of marriage and acknowledge that there are LGBT people who are created in His likeness and image.  In fact, that’s basically what we’re supposed to be doing.  We are supposed to bring all people, gay or straight, to the Gospel, not chase them away from it by foaming at the mouth over a fictitious character who happens to be gay.  As Christians, we are called to rise above our outrage culture and be a people of the better way.  Love without truth is permissiveness and truth without love is brutality.  Only the truth spoken with love brings hope and enlightenment.

#2. This film is uber-feminist!

CGB: I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear by now that I identify as a pro-life feminist (I would emphasize, but the label itself is pretty self-explanatory).  With this lens, I observed that the feminist undertones of this film were centered around the theme of the anti-intellectual village.  For one, notice how only the boys go to school and the girls are the ones learning to keep house. This establishes how Belle is the outsider woman who chooses the solace of books over the conventions of the little town. It is not wrong to use film to point to the very bleak reality that there are still countries in our world where girls are not allowed to read or even go to school.  I would argue that it would probably behoove American feminists to focus less on promoting abortion and more on calling attention to the injustice of depriving girls an education.

MsOWrites: The main issue that Belle has with the villagers is that they choose to stay in their simple, provincial ways. Belle is shown doing laundry by having a horse pull a barrel full of soap and clothes. When I heard about Belle being an inventor who created a washing machine, I actually expected to see her make some kind of steampunk contraption. The invention that Belle created was actually something all the villagers could use. But instead of being open-minded about a better way to do their laundry, they destroy her invention. They also berate her about teaching a young girl to read.

There’s a similar argument going around that Belle, her father, and even the local priest are members of a “literate caste.” Keep in mind that Belle and her father fled Paris in the midst of the plague and that priests are more often than not assigned to minister to small towns. And at the time, priests were well-educated. It’s not that these three deliberately kept their books away from everyone else. They have a school for young boys, but LeFou admits to being illiterate and they would rather side with the amoral war hero (Gaston) over the kind music box maker (Maurice). The townspeople chose to be ignorant throughout the film. You can basically argue that they’re Luddites.

#3. STOCKHOLM SYNDROME!  ARGH!

CGB: Do keep in mind that Belle voluntarily takes her father’s place with no pressure from the Beast to do so. Also, a person with Stockholm syndrome would NEVER argue with their captor

MsOWrites: Belle is a willing participant in her own captivity.  The Beast never truly has power over her, even when he tries to flaunt his authority. Besides, they fall in love after they spend time together and learn more about each other. Here’s a video that goes into more detail. Short version: No, Belle doesn’t have Stockholm Syndrome.

In short, my best friend and I love this movie. Families, go out and see it for yourselves. If you feel more loyal to the original, it is available to buy now. And for anyone who wants to compare this live-action movie to the live-action version of Cinderella, I want to end this blog post with a song, featuring my favorite actress, Sarah Michelle Gellar!

Why Inside Out Is the Smartest Movie Pixar Ever Made (So Far): A Night At The Movies

I was a fan of Pixar ever since I was a kid. Toy Story was the first movie my brother ever saw and we can both say with pride that we saw all three Toy Story movies in theatres. One thing I love about most of the Pixar movies is that they have a lot of heart. They have a way of making you cry over things like toys and robots and clownfish. Inside Out has officially become my favorite Pixar movie so far because on top of having a lot of heart, it’s also the smartest movie that the studio ever made.

There are many familiar themes in this movie that are seen in other Pixar films: growing up, the importance of family, and how two seemingly opposing forces actually need to work together. Not to mention that almost every other movie reviewer has brought up the fact that the premise of personified emotions was first done in a show called Herman’s Head, but given that I was probably too young to watch it at the time, I am just gonna quote Ecclesiastes and remind the whiners: “There is nothing new under the sun.” What makes Inside Out unique isn’t the premise or even the themes, but the way that it told the story.

SPOILERS ENSUE FROM THIS POINT ON. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Right out of the gate, I love the animation and detail the movie puts into the birth of Riley. She actually looks like a real newborn baby. The love that Joy (played by Amy Pohler) has for Riley is genuine and real and I love how the movie portrays the creation of memories: as little glass balls with the memory of the moment inside of them playing like video clips. It makes the appearance of Sadness (played by Phyllis Smith) a few seconds later all the more hilarious.

The first ten minutes of the movie are spent introducing the other characters as well as showing Riley growing up from infancy through her early childhood. It also establishes how Riley’s mind develops as she grows up: her memories are sent to headquarters and then sent to storage in long term memory at the end of each day. Core memories stay in headquarters and power different islands that reflect different aspects of Riley’s personality: Goofball Island represents her sense of humor, Hockey Island treasures the tomboy’s love for the sport, Friendship Island centers on Riley’s relationships with her friends, Honesty Island could be argued as representing Riley’s moral center, and Family Island is centered on Riley’s relationship with her family.

Joy works together with Anger, Fear, and Disgust to make sure that Riley is happy and safe. Anger (played by Lewis Black) makes sure things are fair for Riley. Disgust (played by Mindy Kaling) keeps Riley from being poisoned, physically and socially, and Fear (played by Bill Hader) protects Riley and analyzes risks. However, nobody is really sure what Sadness does.

When Joy asks “Riley’s 11 now. What’s the worst that could happen?” The movie abruptly shifts into Riley moving from Minnesota to San Francisco after her father gets transferred there by his job. At first, Joy makes sure that Riley makes the best of the bad situation, made all the more urgent when Riley’s mother tells Riley that they need to put on a good face for her father’s sake. However, at Riley’s first day of school, Sadness turns a happy memory into a sad one, causing Riley to cry in front of her class as she introduces herself. The struggle between Joy and Sadness causes the other core memories to be knocked out of the central hub and shuts down the islands of personality. Before Joy can return the core memories, she and Sadness get sucked with the core memories into the maze of long-term memories.

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This is where the movie starts getting interesting because the way that Anger, Disgust, and Fear try to take control of Riley reminds me a lot of what I learned from my “Stress and Coping Psychology” class in college. In this case, Riley is unable to cope in a healthy manner due to the unfamiliarity of San Francisco. Without the ability to put on a good face or feeling sad because she misses home, she starts acting out, which is shown in the conversation she has with her parents.

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It was hilarious to see the parents’ own emotions playing off of each other, with Riley’s mother being concerned and Riley’s dad giving a well-intentioned, but half-hearted effort. His emotions treat Riley’s talking back as the equivalent of Defcon Two and the mother’s emotions are understandably disappointed, leading to the scene shown in the trailers with a memory of the Brazilian helicopter pilot. (The UK trailer here shows a soccer game as opposed to a hockey game in the American version)

(TBH, I rolled my eyes at the whole Brazilian helicopter pilot joke because it’s about one step above the other romance novel cliche of a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.)

 

Sadness, having read the mind manuals, helps Joy navigate around the maze of long term memory. Along the way,  they come across memory workers who dispose memories into the memory dump, a chasm between Headquarters and the land of long-term memory. They also bring a memory of a gum commercial jingle to headquarters but are completely unhelpful to Joy and Sadness. So now you know why you can’t get certain songs out of your head.

Joy and Sadness also come across Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, who leads them through a “shortcut” into Riley’s abstract thinking on the way of getting to Riley’s train of thought. (A literal train.) The scene inside the chamber of abstract thought is amazing animation in and of itself as well as a very informative way of showing how abstract thought works. (My mom was convinced that the writer or director studied psychology. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of the writers did.) They miss the train and go through Imagination Land, which is slowly being destroyed. Bing Bong breaks down and cries. Joy tries cheering up Bing Bong, but it actually takes Sadness to get him back into happy mode again. Sadness does so by empathizing with Bing Bong and recalling the times he and Riley shared together.

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In the outside world, Riley’s inability to cope with the move leads her to giving up at her hockey tryouts. At this point, she’s lost her goofball sense of humor and her loss of interest in hockey leads to the loss of hockey island. Friendship Island also takes a nosedive when Riley chooses not to talk to one of her old friends in Minnesota out of anger and jealousy that her old friend has seemingly moved on, making friends with the other players of the hockey team who are on their way to success without her.

As Riley sleeps, Joy, Sadness, and Bing Bong explore Dream Productions and try to wake Riley up in the hopes of activating the Train of Thought. At first, Joy thinks of making Riley dream of dogs, but Sadness’s idea of scaring Riley starts working better. The two of them then go on to rescue Bing Bong from the Subconscious and wake up an old nightmare in the form of a clown in order to wake Riley up.

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The nightmare from the subconscious also shakes up the other three emotions who are trying to figure out what to do. Anger decides to give Riley the idea of running away to Minnesota, which involves Riley stealing her mother’s credit card. Fear is unsurprisingly the voice of reason, trying to dissuade Anger from following through on the idea. The fact that Anger drives Riley into running away from home is also something I learned from my psych class: Anger is one of the symptoms of unhealthy coping.

Honesty Island crumbles as Riley goes through with stealing her mom’s credit card and buying a bus ticket to Minnesota. Inside Riley’s mind, Joy spots a recall tube and decides to go alone with the core memories only to end up with Bing Bong in the Memory Dump. It’s there that Joy finally breaks down and cries, only wanting Riley to be happy. She comes across a memory of Riley with her parents and friends after a hockey game and realizes that the team’s loss led to Riley being comforted by her family and friends. Riley’s sadness eventually led to other people making her happy, which meant that Sadness had a purpose: getting Riley to realize when she needs other people’s help. Joy and Bing Bong use Bing Bong’s rocket wagon to escape from the Memory Dump, but the first two attempts fail. Bing Bong realizes that he’s holding Joy back and chooses to get off of the rocket wagon mid-jump to let Joy make it back to the long term memory maze. This comes at the cost of Bing Bong becoming forgotten forever. And no, he does not come back in the end. Kudos to you, Pixar. You grew up majorly with that decision.

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Joy goes looking for Sadness only to find that Sadness is trying to stay away from Headquarters, flying off on a cloud and feeling unnecessary. Joy makes copies of Riley’s imaginary boyfriend to form a large ladder to get her to Sadness, who was floating over the Memory Dump.

In Headquarters, Riley’s mind starts shutting down as she gets on the bus to Minnesota. This is my one main issue: how come nobody outside tries to stop Riley? I mean, I get Rule of Drama, but you’d think there would be a cop or some guy that asks for ID before Riley buys the ticket.  Then again, millions of children go missing every day. I just wish there would’ve been some kind of outside force to try and stop Riley outside of her mother calling. The console turning gray and not being able to work is a great representation of how depression develops. As many people have said, depression isn’t sadness. It’s a complete emotional shutdown.

Thankfully, Joy and Sadness smack into the Headquarters window just in time. Once the two of them get inside, Sadness takes control of the console and removes the idea of running away from Riley’s head. Once Riley makes it back home, Joy finally gives Sadness the core memories she held onto throughout the movie. The happy memories turn to sad ones as Riley breaks down and cries, telling her parents how much she misses home and everything she left behind. When Riley’s parents comfort her, a new core memory is formed: one mixed with joy and sadness. This core memory forms a new Family Island.

What’s so brilliant about the ending is that all the new core memories are created from mixed emotions. It’s a sign of Riley developing more complex feelings as she grows up. Headquarters installs a new console that all five emotions can control (including a puberty button). We get a glimpse into the heads of Riley’s parents as they cheer on their daughter in her first hockey game, complete with embarrassingly adorable face paint. The father’s emotions and the mother’s emotions are working well together with a throwaway joke about the helicopter pilot memory being tossed aside, but kept by the mother’s fear “just in case.” Then Riley bumps into a boy on her way to the rink. The glimpse into the boy’s mind as it goes on red alert at the sight of a girl with all his emotions running around like crazy had the entire theater laughing.

The movie ends with Riley playing hockey with her new team and Joy being happy that Riley’s adjusted to her new life, not worrying about the fact that Riley is 12 now. (Hello, sequel bait!)

The brilliance of the movie lies in its core moral: there is a time to be happy and a time to be sad. Joy spent the majority of the movie thinking that she had to keep Riley happy in order for things to be okay, but Sadness also felt needed for the situation and in this case, Sadness was right. Sadness was the one to help Bing Bong feel better, because he needed sadness to be validated first in order to start coping. You can’t just say that “everything will be okay” because at the moment, the person needs to be understood first. In a similar manner, Riley needed to acknowledge her sadness in order to cope. It’s telling that during Riley’s emotional breakdown, her imagination gets destroyed and Bing Bong chooses to remain forgotten. I feel like Riley’s imagination will still be there (the imaginary boyfriend being evidence of that), but it’ll develop into something new, just like the new islands that formed a year after the move. Inside Out also shows the importance of family. Through being comforted by her parents, a new Family Island was created.

Given that I suffered from depression in middle school and anxiety throughout college, I feel like this movie was brilliant in portraying what I went through growing up. I’m also convinced that my mind has a ship yard inside of it. (If you know what shipping is, you know what I’m talking about.) I hope that there will be a sequel to this one because Riley will be developing new emotions as she grows up. For now, I can’t wait for this movie to come out on DVD because I want to watch it again.

The last thing I’ll say about this movie is that the end credits are hilarious. You get to look into various minds, like the teacher, the bus driver, the pizza girl, the cool chick, etc. It shows that people are driven by various emotions.

One other thing: The Pixar Short Lava was a heartstring-tugger, too. You’re gonna be crying even before the real movie starts.

Images are copyright to Pixar Studios and are used for editorial purposes only.

Old Vs. New: A Night at the Movies With Cinderella

This is going to compare the Disney Animated version of Cinderella to the 2015 live-action retelling. For the sake of convenience, I’ll refer to the animated character of Cinderella as Cinderella and her live action version as Ella.

Spoilers ensue. You were warned.

The entire first act of the live-action Cinderella develops the characters of Ella and her biological parents as opposed to just telling them in exposition form like in the animated version. We see that Ella’s optimism comes from her mother and that when Ella’s father marries again, Lady Tremaine tries to make it work but feels like she can’t compete with the shadow of Ella’s mother and the presence of Ella herself so that by the time Ella’s father dies, Ella’s life is degraded to that of a servant. It’s stated in the narration that Ella did the chores as a distraction from her grief.

Later on in the live-action film, Ella goes out riding on her horse and meets the prince, who is dressed as a member of the Royal Guard and calls himself “Kit.” (The animated prince shall be referred to as Charming, not to be confused with the Prince Charming from Once Upon a Time.) Kit tells Ella that he’s an apprentice. Later on, Kit meets back with his father, who is dying. The king and the Grand Duke remind Kit that he needs to marry a princess as required by law, but since Kit is head over heels for a girl whose name he doesn’t even know, he extends the ball’s invitation to every eligible maiden.

Both versions show their respective Cinderellas making a dress for the ball with the help of the mice. But this leads to the first scene that bugs me: the dress ripping scene. In the animated version, the stepsisters tear Cinderella’s dress to shreds, leaving her tattered and torn beyond repair. It also serves as an emotional breaking point for her because Cinderella has been working hard for so long and just wanted one night where she has a good time and that gets ruined.

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In the live action version, the stepmother tears a sleeve and the stepsisters tear off pieces of Ella’s dress here and there, but the dress is not beyond repair nor is it worthy of breaking down in tears. Yes, it probably would’ve been harder to tear actual fabric, but it would’ve been even more dramatic if they actually tore the dress to a dilapidated state.

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I will say that both Fairy Godmother scenes were done nicely here. Helena Bonham Carter totally steals the show, since she’s the narrator of the live-action version. I kind of miss the fun musical number, though. But the animated version only had 2-3 musical numbers anyway. Moving on to the ball!

The two entrance scenes are played very differently and I like both of them equally. In the animated version, Cinderella walks into the ballroom while the Grand Duke snarks about how love at first sight doesn’t happen in real life all while Charming sees Cinderella and does just that. In the live action version, Ella gets a grand staircase entrance and realizes as she sees Kit that Kit is actually the prince. Instead of a song like in the animated version, Kit and Ella spend time together by escaping the ball and sneaking into a hidden garden.

There’s a slight subplot in the live-action version involving the Grand Duke wanting the prince to marry a princess from a nearby kingdom and Lady Tremaine learning this fact. But more on that later.

Both versions also show their respective Cinderellas running off before they could tell the prince their name and the glass slipper gets left behind as they flee. The carriage turns into a pumpkin and both Cinderellas walk the rest of the way home. However, the live-action version gives Ella a moment with the King as she runs out, showing the King why Kit fell in love with her.

In the live action-version the King passes away, and after the period of mourning passes, the prince goes looking for the maiden who fits the shoe.

The shoe-search scene differs in the live-action version because live-action Lady Tremaine makes Ella an offer she can’t refuse: Make her the head of the royal family and give her daughters husbands. Ella refuses. Lady Tremaine breaks Ella’s glass slipper before Ella could go and meet her prince. Both Cinderellas get locked in the attic. Live-Action Lady Tremaine reveals the identity of the mystery princess to the Grand Duke and offers her help in getting the prince to enter into an arranged marriage in exchange of getting the title of countess and husbands for her daughters.

Eventually, the shoe-search leads to the Tremaine residence and in spite of the Cinderellas being locked in the attic, the mice are able to save them. The Cinderellas get their princes and they all live happily ever after.

So with plot aside, let’s compare characters!

First of all, I give major points to the live-action for developing the character of the prince and his relationship with Ella. It’s similar to how Prince Henry and Danielle were in Ever After, another Cinderella adaptation, with neither of them revealing who they truly were.  I’ll go into Ella’s handling of her relationship with the prince later.

I like how the king was written in both versions, although I’m sad that in the live-action version, he’s a dying man. The king in the animated version was funny and had a good motivation. He wants to have grandkids and isn’t as close to Charming as he was when Charming was younger. I also liked the Captain of the Guard who was basically the Prince’s Black Best Friend.

I don’t like how the Grand Duke became a villain in this version, either. The Grand Duke was actually kind to Cinderella in the animated version, willing to take the King’s insane demands in stride. I understand the Grand Duke’s intentions in the live action version, looking out for the good of the kingdom and all, but honey, you’re in the wrong movie. Save that deviousness for Game of Thrones!

I liked Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drisella in both versions, but there’s just something more menacing about the animated version. Live-action Lady Tremaine has a bit of sympathy because she wanted to love her new husband, but it doesn’t explain why she treats Cinderella so harshly. Yes, she explains that she loved her first husband and it’s implied that one reason she treats Ella so badly is because Ella is so kind and optimistic in spite of what she has been through. But if she really wanted to make things work, she could’ve put in a little more effort or cleared things up with her second husband.

Now the majority of the movie really rests on the shoulders on Ella herself and it’s hard to compare the animated version and the live-action version. They’re similar in how much they have to endure, but if you look closely at the animated version, you can see that Cinderella is actually slightly more realistic than the live-action version. See, Cinderella is shown to be patient, hardworking, but still wants to go to the ball and has normal reactions to Lucifer’s pranks as well as putting up with all the work her stepmother and stepsisters give her. She has to endure a lot, which makes her eventual breakdown at the dress-tearing scene all the more heartbreaking.

The live-action Ella is a bit too optimistic at times. I can get her doing chores as a way to deal with her grief, but again, the dress-ripping scene doesn’t exactly warrant her breaking down in tears. When she gets table scraps, she just decides to share the food with the mice. I also don’t like the fact that Ella just accepts her fate of being trapped in a tower, thinking that her memories with the Prince are enough to live on. Cinderella actually wanted to get out and begged her animal friends to help her.

I will give the live-action points on making Ella a queen in the end and saying that she and Kit ruled fairly and kindly. Evil queens are a stereotype that needs a makeover. But until we see more benevolent queens in fairy tales, my favorite “Evil Queen” is still my dear, beloved Sass Queen Regina from Once Upon a Time

Overall, both movies are good on their own. But if you ask me which telling of Cinderella is my favorite, I would honestly say that I choose the Rodgers and Hammerstein version starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. If you ask me to choose between the two, I think I want to give the animated version a visit again. It just feels more timeless to me, in spite of people’s preconceptions and problems with it.

Tomorrow, I’ll go into how the story of Cinderella as a whole provides proof as to how faith and works actually go hand in hand when it comes to receiving ultimate happiness.

Attributions: All images and screencaps are the property of Disney and other respective production studios and distributors, and are intended for editorial use only.

The Patterns of Affinity in the Autistic Mind

So my dad was channel surfing through the news stories and my ear catches a sound bite about a man who has an autistic son who learned to communicate through watching Disney movies. As I watched the story, I saw a lot of myself in the autistic child, who I learned is now 23 years old.

The news piece about Ron Suskind’s son mentioned something called “affinity therapy” in which role-playing is used to develop social skills. As I thought about all of the things that I obsessed over as a child and the things I obsess over now, I realized that I did something along those lines as a kid. And like Owen, I was drawn to a certain type of character as I grew up.

My first obsession was Sailor Moon. I had some episodes on VHS (that’s the thing they used before DVDs to watch things, millenial readers) that I would watch over and over. The episode that I remember most of all is the episode in which Usagi/Serena is revealed to be Princess Serenity. Up until that point, I had no idea of any sort of princess, but what really got my attention was Usagi/Serena didn’t want to be a princess after Mamoru/Darien was taken away from her. In the past, I watched heroes who went into danger unafraid of anything. This was the first time that I ever saw a hero who was afraid and expressed her fear. As a child, I would watch that particular tape over and over again and sometimes pretend that I was a Sailor Scout. I also pretended to be things from other anime shows, but Sailor Moon was basically the start of it.

Anime continued to be an obsession up until my high school days, when I discovered a novel that changed my life forever. Pride and Prejudice featured Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman who was a lot like myself at the time: outspoken, witty, and a bit presumptuous. She wasn’t afraid to admit that she was wrong and to change, which was very different from the chick lit and young adult novels I read that had a lot of self-centered characters. But what really drew me to her was that she had her vulnerable moments and admitted her fears out loud. This was later shown in the YouTube adaptation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which became my obsession during my last year of college.

Although I never pretended to be Elizabeth Bennet, I did some theatre in high school and college and the roles I liked most were the outspoken, talkative, young female characters. Theatre became a concentrated form of “affinity therapy” because I was always playing a part in some shape or form. The best role I ever had was when I got cast in my friend’s production of The Boys Next Door. I played the role of Shiela, the love interest of Norman. Like the most of the others, my character was someone with special needs who lived in a group home. In spite of her disability, she was able to find love. And although I am no longer acting, a good percentage of my brain space has memorized entire episodes from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which includes costume theatre segments that had me in stitches.

One particular experience of affinity therapy happened shortly after I started obsessing over Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The character I loved most was a super strong blonde character who had a vulnerable side that I could relate to, who hid that same vulnerability because it didn’t fit with the expectations others had of this particular character and yet he/she had such a dynamic personality that I rooted for him/her and wanted him/her to have a happy ending after all the heartbreak and pain he/she went through.

But wait, you ask, are you talking about Spike or Buffy? Yes.

My Buffy obsession eventually led to me cosplaying Buffy, meeting the guy who played Spike at a convention, and writing fanfiction, all of which I think fall under the affinity therapy umbrella.

All the characters I ended up loving had courage and showed their vulnerable side to the world, even when they didn’t know they were doing so. I haven’t really had the courage to do the same until now.

I want to post about my Asperger’s Syndrome more often and share my experiences of being on the autism spectrum. Lately it seems that poetry has been the best way for me to express that.

I wrote a poem back in middle school and my teacher, years later, shared that poem with some parents of autistic kids. These parents apparently saw their children’s mind in my poem, which was about feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere because my interests and ideals were different from everyone else’s. If a poem I wrote all those years ago could touch someone now, I have to keep going at it so that I can reach out and let other kids, teens, and young adults with autism and Asperger’s know that they’re not alone.

Tonight, when I was taking a walk, I watched a thunderstorm in the distance. It inspired me to write the following poem. I hope you enjoy it because there is probably going to be more to come.

 

Primal Instinct

 

Lightning dances across the sky

In a show of beauty and danger

It dances to the symphony of crickets and frogs

Mixed with the cacophony of dog barks and car horns

And in the middle of this song is the rhythm of a runner’s feet

Pounding the pavement as they run nearby

Close enough to the storm to watch,

But far enough to be safe from shock.

The primal instinct of running is fear,

And yet these feet do not run away from the storm

They dance a fine line between risk and safety

Knowing that home isn’t far away