Island Resistance

Island Resistance

Island Resistance

A Review of Melissa de la Cruz’ “The Isle of the Lost” (Disney Enterprises Inc, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Although The Isle of the Lost is part of Walt Disney Studios’ Descendants franchise, there are elements of the book that allow for a counter-hegemonic readings. De La Cruz highlights the potential dangers of a kingdom that pushes its particular brand of “good” on everyone and exiles anyone who is against the norm to an island prison.

The Descendants franchise focusses on the children of the Disney villains, particularly emphasizing characters Mal (daughter of Maleficent), Evie (daughter of the Evil Queen), Jay (son of Jafar), and Carlos (son of Cruella De Vil). In the franchise, the Beast from Beauty and the Beast has united all of the different Disney movie kingdoms into one united community and all of them have exiled their villains to an island called The Isle of the Lost, where not only are the villains imprisoned, but also their children. The Descendants film portrayed Ben, the son of Beauty and the Beast deciding that he wanted to allow Mal, Evie, Jay, and Carlos to come to the exclusive prep school for all of the royalty of the Disney films. They are separated from all of the other children on the island who are left there still and they are taken to Auradon Prep where they eventually decide to become good.

Melissa de la Cruz’ The Isle of the Lost is a prequel to the Descendants film portraying the lives of the characters on the Isle of the Lost before Ben brings them to Auradon. The novel features Mal, Evie, Jay, and Carlos trying to live up to their parents’ expectations, always feeling like failures in the eyes of their parents for not being able to live up to the evil destinies their parents want for them. The novel centralizes ideas of isolation in families, illustrating characters who feel so trapped in their destinies that they can’t connect with others. Even Ben is unable to escape from his destiny to be king, which has trapped him in a narrative that makes him believe that he needs to be exactly like his father, the Beast.

While Mal, Evie, Jay, and Carlos question their narrative of evil, they also critique the actions of the “good” community of Auradon, pointing out the issues with the control enforced from this mainland community. Auradon forces the residents of the island to watch propaganda as their only TV channel, constantly being bombarded with images of how good things are in Auradon and how terrible it is not to have the privileges of Auradon. The island only receives the garbage from Auradon to survive off of, living on the remains and waste of the mainland. This narrative allows for an Island Studies reading, portraying an island as a place dependent upon a mainland while also locked into a constant pattern of similitude. The mainland also exerts its power over the island as a dependent, pushing their narrative onto island culture. But the island also exerts its counter narrative, resisting mainland control and making its own narrative.

The island narrative is paralleled with the narrative of youth. Youth, like the Island of the Lost are portrayed as resisting the control of a larger power structure (in this case, their parents and ideas of destiny). The island is also codified as loneliness and the youth are portrayed as relating to each other through a shared loneliness, an isolation that comes from the notion that islands are lonely places. Characters and the island both resist hegemonic power imposed from without, resisting not just exertion of power, but also resisting the writing of a narrative over their own destiny.

Readers are given a glimpse into the power structures of the mainland when given flashes of Ben trying to rule and perpetuating the union-busting of his father (upon the former sidekick figures). Readers are able to see that “good” is controlled by a central authority that puts certain people with certain pasts into positions of power. Magic is strongly discouraged in Auradon, meaning that they have had to shift a lot of cultural expectations and their lifestyles.

The Isle of the Lost is a narrative of change and resistance, a counter-hegemonic voice for Disney’s far to easy binary of good/evil.

To discover more about Melissa de la Cruz, visit http://melissa-delacruz.com .

To find out more about The Isle of the Lost, visit http://books.disney.com/book/the-isle-of-the-lost/

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Prophetic Stories or Spells of Destiny?

Prophetic Stories or Spells of Destiny?

A review of Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy by Serena Valentino (Disney Press, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

 

With Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy, Serena Valentino once again adds moral complexity to a Disney villain, providing a backstory that allows the reader to see how her choices were made. Mistress of All Evil examines one of my favourite Disney villains, Maleficent, the villain from Sleeping Beauty. Rather than turning Maleficent into a hero as the film Maleficent did, Valentino makes her a villain with a complicated morality and provides more context for why Maleficent feels justified in her actions.

 

Valentino’s Maleficent is a character whose life has been shaped by loneliness, isolation, and rejection… and along with all of that, a fuse that, once lit, causes her to lose control. Although this Maleficent was born in the fairy realm, she was born from a tree covered in ravens and rather than having wings, she was born with horns. She was rejected by the fairy community and teased for her difference. Even the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella and the three “good fairies” from Sleeping Beauty have sought to reject and isolate her from the rest of fairy kind. Maleficent buries herself in books and accepts her isolation until she discovers Nanny, a figure that has appeared in all of the other Valentino Disney books. Nanny gives Maleficent a sense of belonging and a sense of family, but like most things in Maleficent’s life, this sense of comfort is short lasting and she loses her connection to Nanny for many years as Nanny loses her memory and Maleficent thinks she is dead.

 

Valentino constructs a meta narrative about storytelling, linking tales to ideas of fate and toying with the idea that Maleficent’s story has already been written. Snow White discovers a fairy tale book that already has Maleficent and Aurora’s tale written down and characters start to wonder whether the book is a prophetic book or whether it is a spell, locking characters into a narrative that was written to control them.

 

Like most of Valentino’s book, every character thinks that they are doing the right thing, believing that they are making things better for others and protecting others from terrible truths, but, of course, secrets and lies are dangerous in fairy tales and they always have consequences.

 

Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy, although written for young adults, is a complex exploration of fairy tales and ideas of tradition, challenging ideas of the simple Disney narrative and the easy morality of fairy tales for children and providing an engagement with ideas of “best intentions” to explore how even people who think that they are doing the right thing can end up harming others.

 

To discover more about Serena Valentino, visit http://www.serenavalentino.com

 

To find out more about Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy, visit http://books.disney.com/book/mistress-of-all-evil/

Rage

RageA review of Serena Valentino’s Poor Unfortunate Soul (Disney Press, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Poor Unfortunate Soul, the last book in this series by Serena Valentino wasn’t as powerful as the other two tales, and part of that may be because Ursula didn’t have the same sort of sympathetic portrayal that the Evil Queen or the Beast did. Valentino’s Ursula was a creature shaped by understandable rage, but unlike the other villains with greyed morality, Ursula is portrayed as distant, a figure of rage from afar rather than the close-up pain and frustration we feel with the protagonists of the other two books.

Valentino provides a background for Ursula that allows us to understand her anger, frustration, and pain, giving us a glimpse into an undersea world where she was constantly ostracized for her appearance in a realm that could only accept one particular body type. She resisted this bodily narrative, being herself even though she was pushed to the fringes of her society for it. Ursula in Valentino’s narrative is the sister of King Triton, king of the mermaids and Ariel’s father. 

Ursula’s rage is justifiable in this narrative since it comes from the pain of years of isolation. It is also the kind of powerful rage that could be transformative, and that could overturn a kingdom that reinforces a strict status quo. Valentino hints that King Triton’s patriarchal control is at the centre of Ursula’s pain and rage, noting that the king imposes beauty standards on the women around him, a male hegemony that positions women as beings to be looked at rather than to wield power. This could have been a powerful feminist tale tale with Ursula challenging the patriarchy and trying to push for an overthrow of a system that disempowers its public, and it seemed to be building toward this at the start, but there is a sudden shift in the narrative toward positioning Ursula as a creature distant from the reader instead of the reader getting the chance to see the world through her eyes. We get pulled out of that dark potential where change is possible and thrust onto the surface while we watch the status quo become re-established.

To discover more about Serena Valentino and Poor Unfortunate Soul, visit http://www.serenavalentino.com/projects/ursula/ 

Psychological Reflection

Psychological Reflection
A review of Serena Valentino’s Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen (Disney Press, 2009).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Serena Valentino’s Fairest of All is a tale of mirrors and of mirroring behaviour. Valentino provides a backstory for the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, giving this tale of terror a darkly psychological quality by dipping into the mind of the Evil Queen to find out what sort of shadowy past can produce such misery. This tale of mirrors is deeply reflective.

Mirrors have shaped the Queen’s life. She was born to a mirror-maker and was ultimately despised by him because she was the mirror image of her mother who died while birthing her. He is unable to look at her without seeing a reflection of everything he once loved and was ultimately turned to sorrow and horror, so he tells her that she is a hideous monster, someone that no one will ever care about. His abuse ultimately shapes the way she sees herself, building in her a fundamental lack of self confidence and need for external acknowledgement. 

Like many people who have experienced abuse, the Queen is haunted by the spectre of her father, a father who appears in her mirror, always seeing his face overlaying hers, illustrating the way his control of her keeps overtaking her individual will. 

Valentino reveals that this is not a Queen who is poisoned by vanity, but rather a queen who is poisoned by self-loathing brought on by abuse. She is a Queen who becomes isolated and whose own heart is crushed by the notion of love lost that is not able to be retained. This tale of mirrors is a tale of reflection. 

To find out more about the work of Serena Valentino, http://www.serenavalentino.com 

Appearances

A review of Serena Valentino’s The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince (Disney Press, 2014)

By Derek Newman-Stille

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The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince narrates the story of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast before he became the Beast. Serena Valentino narrates the early life of the Prince who would become the Beast, illustrating how his arrogance, his focus on appearance, and his shallowness meant that he was already a beast before he took on the shape of one.

 

The Prince’s life was one shaped by the desire to look successful and early in his life, he turned away a potential princess who he loved because he believed that she was the daughter of a pig farmer and was therefore too lower class for him to marry. He illustrates the ugliness within him when he criticizes her because of his belief about her upbringing and looks at her with disgust because he had seen her doing peasant labour. His fiancée, Circe, turns out to be a witch and her sisters curse the Beast for his behaviour toward her, ensuring that his handsome appearance will turn to reflect his beastly interior. He begins to experience the slow alteration of his appearance and as he further mistreats women and further degrades those who are not as wealthy as him, his appearance moves further from the ideals of beauty.

 

The Beast encounters Princess Tulip, a woman who he believes to be unintelligent but beautiful, which he sees as the ideals of femininity. Tulip has spent her life being told that she needs to appear vapid in order to secure a good marriage. Valentino reveals that the Beauty and the Beast tale is one about gendered oppression of women and the patriarchal need to construct women as shallow and without choices over their own lives. However, when the Beast continues to mistreat Tulip, it is the wise women, Circe’s sisters, who punish him for his arrogance and mistreatment of women.

 

Tulip, herself, wishes she had access to education the same as the males in her life.

 

Valentino contextualises the Beast’s story, giving more background to the Beast’s behaviour and the reasons behind the Beast’s curse.

 

To find out more about Serena Valentino’s work at http://www.serenavalentino.com/projects/the-beast-within/

 

Sakimichan’s Gender-Swopped Fairy Tale Creations

By Derek Newman-Stille

Sakimichan is a Canadian artist who, among other things, creates beautiful gender-swopped fairy tale figures. We had a chance to meet briefly at Fan Expo Canada a few years ago. I had encountered her work before on Deviant Art and was impressed with her ability to challenge the firm gendered ideas of Fairy Tales produced by Disney.

Sakimichan challenges gendered boundaries and produces new ideas by swopping the genders of different characters.

 

 

Maleficent

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This gender swopped Maleficent features the classic Maleficent horns and triangular collar from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty creation but this male Maleficent combines armour into his outfit.

 

He has a vampiric quality to his appearance with pointed canine teeth, pointed ears and yellow eyes. He has a tattered cloak and a kinky quality to his look with studded wrist bands and a studded collar and belt.

 

Sakimichan provides a classic “booby window” that is often part of superhero comic exploitations of women (featured in characters like PowerGirl). She simultaneously subverts the gendered construction of women as sexual objects by projecting these features onto male bodies while also revealing the implicit beauty in Disney’s original Maleficent with her classic cool green look, high cheekbones and powerful, curving brows.

 

Sakimichan infuses her image with Maleficent’s haughty arrogance and one can almost see this bad fairy yelling “fools” at all of us. The power of Maleficent’s pose is highlighted by his sweeping wings, the twist of thorny vines around his body and the sparkling of green fire highlighting his body.

 

 

 

Beauty and the Beast

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Sakimichan’s Beauty and the Beast challenges the image of the male as a beast and woman as a demure, bookish figure who tolerates his oppression by switching their genders, opening up a new set of imagined possibilities. This Beauty plays with ideas of gendered movement by portraying a man with a sweeping neckline, curving his neck and looking up romantically at his lover, eyebrows raised and lips parted. The femininity of Beauty’s pose illustrates the potential for gender blurrings.

 

Sakimichan’s Beast is wrapped around her beauty, showing her awkwardness by adjusting the hair around her face. She has a thicker frame and stronger musculature to illustrate her protective pose.

 

Lumiere in the background illustrates the feminine potential of a candlestick, with a curving of her hip and generous wax lips. This Lumiere follows the Disney version’s exuberance of movement and performative quality.

 

 

 

Little Mermaid

 

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Sakimichan’s Little Mermaid captures the innocence of Disney’s Little Mermaid image with wide eyes, a slightly opened mouth and raised eyebrows. This Ariel’s sweeping hair ties in with the burst of waves surrounding him, both feathering out at the edges.

 

Sakimichan makes reference to the Disney film by showing a fork tied to the Merman’s bicep. The fork is tied on with seaweed, allowing the Merman to seem tied to his ocean environment even though he desires a life above the waves. This is a Merman who wants to connect to the world of wonder and newness above, but also wants to anchor himself in the world beneath the sea.

 

Flounder is feminised in this image by having a flower in her dorsal fin. Flounder’s femininity is captured by her eyelashes and the hair-like quality of her dorsal fin.

 

Sakimichan captures movement and a sense of wonder in her take of the Little Mermaid, the bridging of worlds of life above and below the waves, but also bridging the gendered binaries inherent in most fairy tales.

 

 

 

 

Ursula

 

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Sakimichan didn’t end her Little Mermaid art at Ariel and her take on the Ursula infuses elements of Ariel’s painting into this villainous world. Ursula is surrounded by a movement of waves, but instead of being at the surface, this Ursula is stirring up bubbles in the deep.

 

Ursula’s tentacles writhe about his body, accentuating his musculature as well as his fluidity and connection to the depths of the ocean.

 

Although Disney’s Ursula is fat – which is problematic itself by portraying only the villain as fat – the muscular appearance of this male Ursula represents a quality of fat-erasure, assuming that only muscularity is attractive.

 

This Ursula is darkly attractive like Sakimichan’s Maleficent with arching brows, pointed ears and sharp canines. There is similarly a vampiric quality to this figure and the alabaster look to his skin emphasises the dark potential of this body.

 

 

 

 

 

Sakimichan’s gender-bent figures illustrate the fluid gender possibilities of fairy tale rewritings. These figures bring attention to the way that gendered behaviours have been encoded in our fairy tales, and also point to a way to imagine gender otherwise.

 

You can check out Sakimichan’s work at her Deviant Art site at http://sakimichan.deviantart.com/gallery/