Wednesday, December 8, 2010
PARADES AND PRINCESSES
The last time I was in a parade, I won a trophy. I was seven years old, and I won for "Most Original Costume" in the Hawaiian Days Parade in Hermosa Beach, CA. (Actually, my mom should have won the award; she sewed the floral muu-muu I wore, and a matching miniature one for my Shirley Temple doll that I carried in the parade. All I had to do was show up.)
I didn't win any trophies in the downtown Holiday Parade last Saturday, but still, I had the most fun a person can have squashed into the back seat of a vintage Mercedes going one mile-per-hour. My esteemed editor, Greg Archer, invited me and Art Boy to ride in the official Good Times car with him, the aforementioned Merc, recently purchased by GT's Webmaster Jeff, who also drove. Greg sat up on top, perched on the edge of the sun roof, and our intrepid one-man camera crew, Flax Glor, basically trotted alongside, setting up his tripod and shooting, guerrilla-style.
Here's what I love about Santa Cruz: the sheer variety of participants in this hands-on, hometown parade. We had everyone from the little mermaids in this Save Our Shores float to the Santa Cruz Derby Girls, from Cub Scout troupes to the sexy Salsa Rueda dancers, to the KUSP "Geek Speak" brain trust cheerfully broadcasting live from their open truck in the rain, under a plastic tarp. And of course, my personal favorite, the Santa Cruz Public Library Book Truck Drill Team (their book trucks festively painted red for the occasion).
Unfortunately, when you're actually in the parade, you don't get to see much of the other groups, floats and marchers. What we mostly saw from inside the parade car was the crowd outside, lining Pacific Avenue. ("Throw candy!" one little girl yelled eagerly, no doubt mistaking us for a Mardi Gras parade.) And while perfecting my Queen Elizabeth wave, here's what I learned about crowds: if you smile at someone and wave, guess what? They wave back! I'm sure that about 90% of the onlookers (and 100% of the kids) along the parade route had no idea who we were, tucked away in the back seat of the car, but they waved back, nonetheless.
You too can experience our insiders' view of the Holiday Parade in this You Tube video Jeff shot on his phone while driving. (Don't try this at home, kids.) Those are the lovely hoopsters Heather and Mary marching along in front, priming the crowd with their hooping skills. Greg and Flax are also assembling a short film to be posted on GTV before you know it. Check it out if you missed the parade, or if you were one of the bystanders waving at the camera, hoping for your 15 minutes (okay, seconds) of fame.
And speaking of seasonal films, what would the holidays be without a new Disney feature cartoon? In Tangled, an entertaining riff on the Rapunzel tale, the studio is in full "Disney Princess" mode—you know, the line of femme-centric fairy tale movies designed to market Mattel dolls, outfits, and accessories to little girls. A marketing ploy made all the more obvious when the movie is animated via CGI (as Tangled is), and all the characters already look like plastic dolls, with their smooth, unlined skin and dimensional shading.
Since Tangled is a milestone—Disney's 50th cartoon feature—let's take a moment to consider the history of the brand. At least since the revisionist '70s, we've all been yammering on about the evolution of Disney's cartoon heroines, but I think it's interesting to see how they've reflected their times. Snow White was sort of a neutered '30s chorus girl (Betty Boop, without sex), with her bobbed hair and baby-doll voice, pining for her prince to come. Cinderella was the obedient '50s drudge, sublimating her own desires, and Sleeping Beauty was the poster girl for passivity; her most dynamic action was to fall asleep for 100 years.
But since the resurgence of fairy tale princess movies that began in 1989 with Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Disney heroines have become more resourceful, spunky, and (oh please, don't make me write "pro-active," but you know what mean) in taking charge of their own lives. (And more ethnically diverse—grudgingly—if you count Mulan and Jasmine from Aladdin, although it took 72 years for Disney to introduce its first black cartoon heroine, Tiana from last year's The Princess and the Frog.)
But now let's take a look at the evolution of the Disney cartoon hero. Seriously, does anyone even remember the bland, boring, cookie-cutter "Prince Charmings" of those earlier films? The first one to distinguish himself from the pack was the magnificent Beast, in 1991, and even he morphed back into a (yawn) prince at the end. But finally, finally, the folks at Disney are starting to perceive that this new breed of plucky heroines deserve better, maybe a male counterpart with, you know, a personality. This sea change first became apparent last year with Frog Prince Naveen, a charming wastrel with a line of corny, yet good-natured patter; unfortunately, he spent most of the movie disguised as a frog.
Which brings us to hero Flynn Rider in Tangled. For the first time in "Disney princess" history, he's not even a prince, but a thief and a rogue (notice how he looks a little like Jake Gyllenhaal) who hides out in Rapunzel's tower while on the lam from the palace guard. Sure, the rascal hero is as old a cliché as the bland prince, and if wisecracking Flynn were a live-action hero, he'd be pretty obnoxious (although good-hearted enough to redeem himself). But as a new kind of Disney hero, fit for a princess, he has his points. Flynn's cheeky narration frames Rapunzel's story, but never overwhelms it; her character is equal to his in grit and chutzpah. And it's interesting to watch as the Disney tale-spinners labor to create more evenly-matched romantic figures, characters who grow and endure trials together, and end up together because they deserve each other, not just because they're the only prince and/or princess in the movie.
Looking for something a little more grown-up at the movies this weekend (or just want to practice your Italian)? Don't forget the Dante Alighieri Society's monthly Italian Neo-Realism series, presented at the VAPA Art History Forum Room 1001 at Cabrillo this Sunday. This month's classic is La Strada, by the great Federico Fellini, a filmmaker more often associated with lush spectacle than gritty realism. But Fellini does Neo-Realism his way in this 1954 allegorical fable, one of the most acclaimed and heartbreaking of his early films. It's set in a circus, where brutish strongman Anthony Quinn buys winsome, simple-minded waif Giuletta Masina to work in his act. But complications arise in the person of clown/trapeze artist Richard Basehart. Presented in Italian with English subtitles. Showtime is 7 pm, Sunday only, and it's free!