Disney heroines who inspire

There are a couple of princesses I don’t mind my daughter learning from.

Overall, there aren’t many Disney princesses that I like. Even for entertainment value, they are merely pleasant to pass the time with at best—but it’s the submissive, compliant natures of so many princesses that make me not like them for my daughter. Slave over your step-family rather than run off on an adventure of your own—or, heaven forbid, stand up for yourself? Give up your voice for a man? Yeah, these don’t do it for me, and neither do many of the misogynistic fairy tales preceding these films.

That said, there are a few recent princesses that I do really like, but they still have problems. Belle, for example, wants adventure and loves to read; though she refuses the town heartthrob, she considers marrying a former beast as her adventure? That and the mental abuse she endures at his hands turns me off. I like Rapunzel, too—especially how she saves the day multiple times!—but I don’t like how Disney diverted attention from her in order to “attract little boys” in order to see the movie.

That said, there are some heroines that I really love. These are my top three.

Merida. The star of Disney/Pixar’s “Brave,” Merida is the princess who is most like my daughter and I. She is goofy, even a bit clumsy when doing things that don’t suit her—like princess-y duties. She’d rather be playing with her father or brothers, spending time in nature or with animals, or eating than getting married and being a princess. The movie focuses on her relationship with her mother, which is pretty groundbreaking, too.

Tiana. I love princess Tiana, who, like a few other princesses, was not initially a princess but a waitress. She is smart, brave, funny and hardworking while still balancing that work with having a positive attitude and, later, fun. She is fierce and stands up to men who tell her she should “stay in her place.” She has friends and a good relationship with her parents as well.

Mulan. There are some issues with the film, but Mulan is one of my favorite Disney movies of all time. This woman is exceptionally brave and smart, proving herself not just “as” one of the guys but even bettering herself to surpass every man in her troop. She poses as a man to help her father escape serving in the military during his old age and saves not only her family honor, but the entire freaking country. We very rarely get a heroine of this magnitude, and the fact that she’s also funny makes the whole move enjoyable for the whole family.

Pixar’s Brave is what we’ve been waiting for!

Take your daughters and sons and go see it, then go see it again.

My best friend called this morning to see if we would go and see Brave with her and her daughter, and though we’ve already seen it—we always go on Wednesdays, which is both the cheapest day and the free popcorn promo day—I really wish we could go with her and see it again. I’m teaching classes instead, though, so it will have to wait.

Brave… I cannot even begin to tell you how happy I am with this movie, how it completely fulfilled the high expectations that my family and I had for it. It’s absolutely what we’ve been waiting for—a magical tale about a girl and her mother, mistakes, and amending them. There’s plenty of humor (a little on the naughty side, even, with a couple of rear ends showing!) and action, but there’s also sheer joy, love, pride, valor, family, and of course, bravery.

When you hear critics tell you that this was not a groundbreaking movie, please just ignore them; they don’t know what they’re talking about. Not only was this film groundbreaking in the fact that it was the first ever female-led story by Pixar (and the first where the girl’s role had nothing to do with being the accompaniment to a boy), it was also groundbreaking in terms of Western animation. Instead of the constant ACTION!ACTION!ACTION! that our kids are mind-numbingly fed, Pixar went the route of Miyazaki this time and actually focused more on the character development, relationships, and a simple but good story. How are all of these things not groundbreaking?

They are exactly what I have been waiting for. They are exactly what all girls and women across America have been waiting for. And it’s about damn time! And all I can do is echo Oliver Twist and beg, “Please, can we have some more?” More females involved with the actual production would be great, too, Pixar.

This mama is pleased. So was her husband, her daughter, and everyone else in the theater who stood and clapped afterward (and this wasn’t even opening weekend!). Pixar and Disney, I really hope that you get the message here loud and clear: we want more movies starring girls. We want more girl-led adventures. Boys will watch them, we promise! And just to show you that I mean business, I have even purchased a couple of Brave books brand new, something that I never, ever do, to help support its success and to blaze a successful path for even more family films with heroines like Merida.

Disney: From Princesses to Evil Fairies

Maybe Disney’s not covering princesses anymore, but they sure are making a princess-villain movie.

You might recall that last year Disney announced that Tangled would be their last princess movie, as the company pretty much hates little girls and thinks that princesses won’t sell to desensitized boys who would rather watch things blow up—and they’d rather have the girls buying their pop albums and other expensive fads of the moment anyway. Okay, I’m paraphrasing here. But the gist is that they canceled their next princess film before they even evolved enough to create a princess who could save herself without help, have a little bit of gumption, and not wear a dress. (Perhaps Pixar will help us with that with the upcoming Brave?)

That said, Disney apparently thinks it’s perfectly fine to make a film about a princess movie villain, as they’ve signed on Angelina Jolie to star as a live action version of Maleficent, the evil fairy who wasn’t invited to Aurora/Sleeping Beauty’s big birthday party and spoiled the fun for everyone by putting Sleeping Beauty to sleep and, depending on which version you’ve watched or read, not letting her wake up until a prince either kisses her or rapes her and makes her pregnant with twins, which then wake her up by drinking milk at her breast. (Not kidding here—that’s how the story goes!)

Anyhow, Disney is creating a film to explain how Maleficent (is it only ironic to me that the one villainess they’re profiling here has the word “male” in her name? Now I’m fishing!) became who she is and why she felt like she had to curse the pretty, pretty princess in the first place.

I am all about making a movie about a villain, preferably if it sheds light on the character’s humanness and how she (or he) wasn’t always cruel and vicious. In fact, I would welcome it—and I wish all characters could be so layered. Disney isn’t known for its layered characters; it’s usually a black and white, good versus evil in the company’s films, unlike the rival Don Bluth films of our youth, which often highlighted both positive and negative aspects of heroes, at least. This could be a really fun movie, but I think Disney could still make more female-led films without relying on their old fairytale crutches. How about a new fairytale? Or a new story altogether?

Make the lead to Mars Needs Moms a girl instead, for example—or another Toy Story movie with Bonnie and Jessie as the main characters. Girls are 51% of the population and it’s time to recognize that, rather than make a movie with male leads to be “neutral” for the audience. That’s not neutral, and continuing to do so over and over again without regard to fans is also sexist.

Disney Gets Ready for Spring Break

Most families take advantage of spring break by heading out on a family vacation. The kids are off of school, which is the best time to travel. Disney knows this and is getting ready for the spring break crowds.

First, Disney usually only has their night time fireworks shows on the weekends. In honor of spring break, however, they have decided to offer the fireworks every night of the week. This will continue for a total of five weeks. Also, the modest fireworks show that Disney usually puts on is going to be ampped up for spring break. Even more exciting fireworks are being added to the show.

Second, Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park is getting in on the action. Their Fantasmic! Fireworks and water show will be increased to two performances each night during the spring break session. Little kids will prefer this show as it has over 50 of Disney’s characters in it.

Third, if you plan on traveling to Disney in California instead of Orlando, you will also be able to benefit from the spring break celebrations. The “World of  Color” show is also being increased to two shows per night instead of its normal weekend schedule.

I wish I could attend again this year. Last year I took the girls to Disney during Spring break, but this year we have two trips planned in April, making it impossible to get to Disney. I hope this is something Disney continues in the years to come, as the shows sound absolutely amazing.

Disney's PhotoPass

Disney World has a special PhotoPass system that allows guests to order pictures that were taken by the company’s photographers during their vacation. I wish I had known about this the last time I visited Disney, as I love to memorialize all of our vacations with photographs.

Here is how Disney’s PhotoPass system works: Find a Disney photographer at either Main Street, Ariel’s Grotto, Mickey’s Toontown, the Train Station, Town Square, Castle Hub, Adventureland, Tommorrowland, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, or Frontierland. Pose for the photo and say “Cheese.” The photographer will then give you a PhotoPass. The PhotoPass contains all of the information you need to look at your photo online. If you like what you see, you can order prints. Even better, you can order keepsakes with your photos on them, such as a mug, stationary, mouse pad, stickers, and canvas prints.

If you plan to purchase a CD of all of the photos taken during your visit, you’ll want to pre-order one. Pre-ordering your PhotoPass CD allows you to save a total of $50. The CDs currently go for $99. Remember, if you wait until after you visit Disney World, you’ll have to pay the full price of $149. You don’t have to worry about the picture quality. All of the Disney photographers are professionals who know how to get the best shots of your family.

Other Disney theme parks also offer the PhotoPass system to vacationers. You can find it in use at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and both of Disney’s water parks.

If you have any questions about the PhotoPass system or how it works, call 407-934-4004 to speak with a Disney customer service representative.

Date Set for Rock the Universe

If you love listening to Christian rock bands live then you will want to add the dates for Universal Studios Rock the Universe concert to your calendar. I found out about this event from the Walt Disney World Info website. This year the event will take place on September 7th and 8th.  Rock the Universe begins at 4 pm each day and ends at 1 am.

If you are interested in telling your friends about this event, you can “like” it on Facebook and then click the “Share” button. In my hometown we have an event like this called Praise in the Park. It only takes a few people to use the “like” and “share” features on Facebook before it ends up going viral.

You can also stay updated on any changes or additions made to the Rock the Universe event by signing up for email updates. You can do this straight from the UniversalOrlando.com website.

On stage at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida you will find such famous acts as Third Day, Casting Crowns, Relient K, and Switchfoot. Other acts will be added and announced as it gets closer to the date.

Or course, you don’t want to travel all the way to Orlando and not spend some time enjoying all that Universal Studios has to offer. You can get tickets to Universal Studios and experience the attractions until the concert begins at 4 pm. You might want to make it a big family vacation and stay the week so that you can also stop by Walt Disney World. If I wasn’t already planning two trips this year, I would take advantage of this concert.

Dreams Do Come True with ABC’s New Hit Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time delves deeper into the fairytales we all know and love. Many of these are Disney fairytales. It takes place in an enchanted town called Storybrooke. The residents of Storybrooke are believed to be characters trapped by a dark curse cast by the Evil Queen. Only the long lost child of Snow White and Prince Charming, Emma Swan, can break the curse that is keeping the town’s residents in the dark. Fortunately, Emma’s son Henry, who was given up for adoption, finds her and convinces her to return to Storybrooke.

The character of Emma Swan is played by Jennifer Morrison, who grew up in Illinois with parents that taught at her high school. Although the show Once Upon a Time is new, Morrison has a long list of acting credits. Perhaps the most notable of these was FOX’s drama House, where Jennifer played the character of Dr. Allison Cameron. In addition to acting, Morrison was also a child model. In fact, she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated for Kids with none other than Michael Jordan. Fans of Jennifer Morrison can look for her in the upcoming movies Warrior and 5 for the Cure.

According to Once Upon a Time’s co-creator and executive producer Edward Kitsis, the show is mainly about hope. The belief that things are bound to get better is what keeps people going during hard times. I believe this is one of the main reasons that Once Upon a Time is growing in popularity. Another reason is the show’s family friendliness. There are not many forms of entertainment left that capture the attention of both children and parents at the same time. Anyone who has found themselves swept away by fairytales in a book will also find themselves engrossed in the Once Upon a Time fairytale that unfolds each week on their television screens.

The Disney Princess Counterpart

Where are all the Disney Princes?

Today one of my favorite bloggers and pioneers in the redefining what it means to be a girl movement, Melissa Wardy, presented a very good question on her company, Pigtal Pals, Facebook page. It is based on an article at Huffington Post entitled, “Where are All the Disney Princes?” While our daughters are inundated with pink frilly gowns and bedclothes and toys and everything else “Disney Princess,” why aren’t the same things being offered to our boys from the Disney princes?

Wardy points out that while our boys have no prince toys, clothing lines, or other merchandise to purchase, they have plenty of examples of violence to follow. Why be taught to be strong, brave, kind, and smart when you have things to blow up and villains to stab? Sure, some of the Disney princes commit murder as well, but it’s usually in the name of justice—and it’s often much less violent than superhero battles.

The thing is, marketers for Disney, while insisting that they’re just giving girls what they want, have also maintained that their princesses teach girls valuable lessons about friendship, loyalty, kindness, yadda yadda yadda. I even have a set of Disney princess books that was gifted to us based on princess values or whatever to prove it. So if the princesses are such great role models (note that most don’t even have female friends, but male animals whom they are kind, loyal, and friendly to), why not offer a counterpart for boys to emulate as well?

Could you ever see a Disney boy who was kind and loyal to his talking female seagull and talking female crab and talking female flounder fish friends? Yeah, me either. It’s not that farfetched, of course; it’s just not part of Disney’s modus operandi. How about a brave but sweet Disney boy with friends who are mice, or talking furniture, or a frog, alligator, and firefly trio who are all female? Nope. I can’t think of a single example of a Disney film where the majority of the characters are girls—and yet it’s girls being marketed to with all of this princess stuff.

Where is the sweet music-playing gator in the boy’s toy section? The fun-loving frog or talking candelabra, or the smart clock and clever mice? You can find these things in the “girls” squinkies sets right now, but in the boy aisle. Instead, the boys are sold weapons, superheroes, monsters, and such. Sure, there’s a bit of Disney—from Toy Story and Cars, for example—but none of it is sold with a kindness/friendship/loyalty/etc. stance like the girls’ toys. Instead, they are explicitly sold as ACTION!toys, AKA those which promote violence. Cooperative toys virtually do not exist in the world of male toys, at least in the mainstream markets.

Perhaps we should be worried as much about our boys and what’s being sold to them as much as we should about what’s being sold to—and demanded of—our girls.

Free Disney Planning DVD

When I was preparing for my first trip to Walt Disney World Florida, I took advantage of the free Disney parks vacation planning DVD. The DVD covers all four of its theme parks and both of its water parks. It also provides you with information on all 20 of Disney’s hotels so that you can take advantage of combining your lodging with your theme park tickets.

Also on the DVD are suggestions for making your stay fit your particular budget, and a complete tour of California’s Disneyland. By the time you are finished viewing the DVD you’ll have all of the information you need to begin organizing the vacation of a lifetime.

In order to request your free Disney planning DVD, you’ll have to head to online request form. There you will be required to fill out your first name, last name, and complete mailing address. Your birth date will come next so that Disney can verify that you are over the age of 18. Finally, you can must select which theme park you are interested in visiting, if you have ever visited a theme park in the past, and which language you want to receive the DVD in. The free DVD is available in English, Spanish, and French. Your email address and checking the box to receive future communications from Disney is optional.

Currently the free Disney planning DVD is only available for residents of the United States and Canada.

If you are looking for family guest accommodations, you’ll need to book early. I waited a little to long and ended up having to stay in a condo-type hotel a mile outside of Disney.

March FASTPASS Changes

Disney has announced that changes will be made to its new FASTPASS system beginning March 7th, 2012. Currently anyone who picks up a FASTPASS is given a time range in which to come back and get on a ride without having to wait in line. Guests cannot arrive at the ride gate before the time on the ticket, but Disney has been letting them arrive at anytime after the start time on the ticket.

The new changes will allow for a five minute window before the time listed on the FASTPASS ticket, and a fifteen minute window after the ending time listed on the FASTPASS ticket. Apparently, this is the first stage in a new system that Disney plans to implement in the near future. The new system will be called NextGen FASTPASS. The system will be much more strict than the one that is in place now.

Personally, I never liked the FASTPASS system in the first place. The theme parks are so big that by the time it reaches the hour on your FASTPASS, you are far away from the attraction the FASTPASS is for. As long as you are not at one of Disney’s theme parks during their peak season, you won’t have much of a problem waiting in line with everyone else anyway.

A poll was taken on one of the Disney related forums in which it appears that every one in four Disney theme park visitors disagree with the changes. Others are just nervous as to how the new system will work, but many say they already get to the rides within the time listed on the ticket, so the changes will not affect them in the slightest. I guess it is just a matter of opinion, and whether or not you mind being tied down to a schedule while on vacation.