Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Disney Princess Analysis - Part 5: Belle

Click for Part 1 (Snow White), Part 2 (Cinderella), Part 3 (Aurora), and Part 4 (Ariel).

By default, I started answering that Belle was my favorite Disney princess because she, like me, has brown hair and brown eyes and she also reads. And I suppose, when I was younger, I did relate to her sense of longing, a longing for an indefinable something.

Like Ariel, Belle came from what we would consider a more modern age, as compared with the 30's or 50's. Two years after The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast came out in 1991 (which also happens to be the year I was born, which further links me with this film). So Belle shares some of the feistiness of Ariel. For instance, she doesn't feel compelled to accept Gaston, she defends her father against Gaston and LeFou, and she talks back to the Beast when he shouts at her. Further, though, I find that Belle's feistiness, if that's what we're calling it, is grounded better than Ariel's teenage rebellion.

For one thing, Belle is a little older than Ariel. While Ariel is a teenager, Belle seems to be more of an adult (technically, it seems that Belle is only 17, but that still makes her older than majority of the princesses). She picks her battles better than Ariel does, as well: she defends herself and she defends the people she cares about (let's take a moment to appreciate Belle's good relationship with her father). And for the first time, instead of simply stressing good virtues, this story introduces the idea of intelligence. Belle reads constantly and her father is an inventor, so she is used to thinking about various ideas (note that when her father asks her to hand him a tool, she knows it by name--therefore we can assume that she is familiar with the work he does). This is in fact the most significant contribution Belle gave to the princess group--after all, if you want the princesses to make good/admirable decisions, then they have to be characters capable of making those decisions.

Belle's weakness goes hand in hand with her strength. Because she is a thinking person, she is also curious--and sometimes that curiosity takes her too far. With her head so stuck in novels (similar to Catherine in Northanger Abbey), she wants to see what's going on in the castle and so ventures into the forbidden West Wing. I can never forgive Belle for this. She has free range of the entire castle except for this one section (which can, and in fact is, simply be the Beast's quarters), and yet she just has to go snooping over there. Still, it worked out in the end: her argument with the Beast led to their making up and trying to be nicer to each other. And what would a character be without some faults?

I complained, in my analysis  of Aurora, about how one of the gifts from the fairies was beauty. So perhaps I should also be complaining that so much is made of Belle's looks? But this brings us to an interesting topic. Consider who talks about Belle's looks and in what context. Primarily it's the villagers: they bemoan the fact that Belle is so good-looking and yet so odd (remember, her name does mean beauty and many English translations of the story also choose to translate her name from the French Belle and call her Beauty--so the film had to address her looks, one way or another). Gaston also talks about how Belle is the most beautiful girl in town and that's why he wants to marry her. So the obsession with looks is paired with triviality, and there is also a comparison made between how someone looks and how they act. Even LeFou basically tells Gaston that, yes, Belle is beautiful, but isn't her personality ill-suited for you? Belle sees it--she tells her father that Gaston is "handsome alright" and yet "he's not for me." This, of course, in turn leads us to the theme of the movie--the whole "beauty is found within" concept.

Now, then, I have one more big issue to try and cover in a short space: the fact that Belle falls in love with her temper tantrum captor. Here is also the part where I start rolling my eyes because I think that people make far more of a fuss about this than they need to. Beauty and the Beast doesn't encourage abusive relationships; it encourages intelligence. Here is what's really going on. A sorceress decided to teach a spoiled prince a lesson by putting a spell on him that would only break if he could overcome the concept of looks. He looks like a beast but he has to act kinder than he did when he was a (probably good-looking) boy/young man. Belle eventually has enough generosity to give him a chance (remember, she knows from the start that there is a spell--she doesn't know exactly what it is but the fact that the furniture talk shows that there is something going on--and the fact that Belle is used to reading fantasy stories prepares her for possibilities). And he does take this chance: he lets her go. You heard that, right? This means that when Belle tells the Beast that she loves him, she is not his captive--she has instead chosen to return to the castle to protect him from Gaston and the angry mob. He, too, chose to turn his back on the past by literally turning his back on Gaston instead of fighting him back.

So the lesson that the Beast had to learn (to look at the person inside rather than the outer shell) is a lesson that Belle shared in--only it took her a few days or weeks (I'm always confused about how much time passes in the movie) instead of several years like it did for him. And for those who complain about Snow White or Aurora's lack of agency, Belle has agency. The Beast fell in love with her first, making the declaration to his servants after he let her leave the castle. But it is Belle's declaration that is the last piece, the piece that breaks the spell and frees him.

I'm therefore naming Belle as one of the most well-rounded of the Disney princesses.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Post Thanksgiving Thoughts on Hospitality

Most everyone knows that I love Thanksgiving; I have adopted it as one of my favorite holidays. Perhaps I like that, compared with the bright colors of other holidays, Thanksgiving exists in neutral tones and incorporates many natural materials--visually it is more my style. Perhaps I like that it's a simple enough holiday that I can imprint my own meaning on it without feeling like "this" is what it's supposed to mean to me. Or perhaps I simply like it because it's become my project: for the past several years, I've been doing a good amount or even almost all of the food preparation for Thanksgiving dinner.

So this past Thanksgiving, I really felt like the theme of the day was hospitality. People say that Thanksgiving is about taking time to appreciate what you have--and while that is certainly a good thing to do, it is also something that should be part of every day life. So when you sit around telling everyone to say what they're thankful for, you're telling them to think about themselves, to look inward. That's not a bad thing, and yet it can come across as . . . less gracious than it's supposed to be. Your thoughts turn inward when holidays are a chance to turn your thoughts outward.

When I said that Thanksgiving felt like a day of hospitality, of course I was referring in great part to the food. Feeding other people is something special, whether you're cooking the whole dinner, bringing a dish, or helping serve. Inviting people into your home, or accepting an invitation into someone else's home, or choosing a meeting place is special. Receiving others is special.

And I think that that's the spirit of Thanksgiving--and indeed of many holidays. Receiving other people is rooted in respect for others, and this is something so deep and so important that we must not forget it. When you give thanks, after all, for what you have, that action allows you to share your life and your blessings with others. When you begin with peace in yourself, you spread that peace.

It is fitting, as well, that we prepare our hearts in particular to receive others as we move from Thanksgiving into the Christmas season.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Disney Princess Analysis - Part 4: Ariel

Click to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I warn you that I'm going to be a little harsh on Ariel. The thing is, The Little Mermaid was released 30 years after the previous princess film, Sleeping Beauty. So while you would expect that Ariel moved the whole princess concept into modern times, I'm not always convinced that she did. (Yes, I'm calling the late 80's and early 90's "modern" because these are the films that were new when my generation was growing up--even though I realize that they're now over a quarter century old.)

We must first acknowledge that many things about Ariel are different than with her predecessors. Compared with the others, Ariel looks and talks like a modern girl. If I'm not mistaken, the dresses in this movie would place the timeline vaguely around 1850--Cinderella, though, looks to me like the 1830's or 1840's (I can't remember which). Yet The Little Mermaid feels all around more modern: Cinderella is filled with the fantasy of fairy godmothers, talking mice, and castles, whereas the only magical/fantastical elements of The Little Mermaid are linked with the sea and therefore the "real world" elements of aboveground stand out more. Cinderella speaks with grace and poise in both her tone and vocabulary. Ariel, however, speaks more casually--she doesn't speak like a princess, or even necessarily like someone raised in the upper class. She does speak like a rebelling teenager.

Snow White may be the youngest Disney princess, but Ariel acts the youngest. I find it strange that a team in 1989 decided to make Ariel act more like a modern figure and yet kept her as a sixteen year old who falls in love with a man and then finds a way to marry him. She tells her father that she's sixteen as a way of saying that she is old enough to be treated more like an adult than a child--but sixteen is still underage to us in modern times. So Ariel's age is odd. (Snow White's and Aurora's ages are not so odd because their stories take place in more medieval times and were arguably created before we started analyzing Disney princesses in so much detail.)

I think Ariel is intended to be empowering because she speaks for herself and makes her own choices about who she is, what she believes, and what she does. It's true that it is admirable of her to see the humans as people even though the rest of the merfolk fear them--this is an alright theme of equality among differing peoples. But most of what Ariel argues about doesn't have to do with deep political, social, or philosophical questions. She just wants to be free to swim around without anyone watching her or telling her where she has to be and when--and she is very quick to fancy herself in love with a man she saw once.

Now, I am not demeaning Ariel for this. There's nothing wrong with a youthful falling in love with someone you see, someone who represents something to you that you may or may not realize. And I don't necessarily mind The Little Mermaid's love story: after the first meeting, Ariel does spend enough time with Eric (in movie terms, that is) to get to know him. And it's all very pretty, classic fantasy: the mermaid leaving the sea because she fell in love with a man on land. However. Ariel's crush on Eric (that is, the feeling she had for him before she left the sea) put her into a lot of trouble.

For one thing, it causes her to defy her father. I did always find it harsh and unfeeling of Triton to just destroy everything in Ariel's grotto: that didn't help--it drove her away. But Ariel was perhaps rather naively ignoring her father's warnings of the land, and she talks back to him more than she needs to (out of anger and sadness, yes, because no one is perfect, I realize, but still).

And most of all, Ariel's crush leads her to make a deal with Ursula, a deal that puts herself in essentially mortal danger. Then, of course, Triton trades places with her to save her--which puts him and thereby the entire ocean and all the merfolk in danger. Making a deal with Ursula was extremely rash, selfish, and naive of Ariel. If only she had had more patience, then perhaps she could have met Eric again as herself and even eventually talked her father into seeing her side of things. She could have achieved the ending of the movie without all of that "dark stuff" in the middle.

But perhaps that's the point. Ariel was never designed as a figure of virtue or a representation of royalty. She's just a girl whose father is king. She therefore has flaws to show that she is a real person and to show how people can overcome their mistakes. (Though I'm not really sure how she overcame her mistake. I think the situation healed with the death of Ursula, but didn't Eric do that when he ran the ship into Ursula? Thematically, though, Ariel overcame her mistake--at least because she saw how badly her deal with Ursula turned out.)

It all comes down to what you prefer. Do you want a Disney princess who is like you? Or do you want someone you can look up? If you want to relate to a Disney princess, then Ariel is your type (this figures since so many young and youngish women love to dress like Ariel or take pictures like her and such). For me, though, I prefer a character I can admire. Ariel was an interesting addition to the mix and I do like her movie--but she isn't my favorite of the princesses.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Milka: Leo

This chocolate candy is quite the opposite of last week's Theo Peanut Butter Cups--but I already had this Milka Leo bar at home before I picked up that one, so we'll just go on ahead with this (brief) review.

Obviously, the Leo bar is Milka's equivalent of the KitKat. I do have a soft spot for KitKats, though I prefer when I can get the international versions from World Market instead of the U.S. ones (which are made by Hershey's). I've never had Milka's version before, but I do enjoy Milka's chocolate because it's sweet and creamy like caramel and therefore rather nice when you're in the mood for that sort of chocolate.

The wrapper is the usual purple color Milka always uses. The chocolate surprised me with a swirly, wavy pattern on the four sticks; it gives a sort of modern look that makes more of a statement than simply marking the chocolate with the brand.

Naturally, the wafer sticks are very, very sweet. I'm sure the chocolate has an extremely light cocoa content, so it all tastes as if there could be a layer of caramel in there--which is not a complaint given that Milka chocolate does have a distinct and pleasant caramel flavor.

The wafers are the standout surprise to me, though. They're nice and light and crisp with the perfect level of crunch to make them addicting and to provide a balanced base for the taste of the sweet chocolate. There may also be a light layer of filling in between the wafers, some sort of sweet cream to help keep it all from getting dry.

As far as the wafers dipped in chocolate style of candy goes, Milka makes a nice contribution. I enjoyed these. That's it, though: I can neither more nor less on the subject because there is nothing left to say.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Beginning of the Thrawn Trilogy

At last, it begins. As you know, I am currently trying to keep up with the main new releases in Star Wars novels and have been trying to do so since the whole canon/legends thing started a couple years ago. It's been fun--but I am at last able to stretch out even more and read my first non-canon book. I've written down a couple of titles I want to read, but I had to start with the Thrawn Trilogy given how much I've heard about it. Ahsoka. Thrawn. Mara Jade. All these names I used to hear, knowing they were important but without knowing what they meant. I met Ahsoka in The Clone Wars and then Rebels and eventually in her own novel last month. I had a brief encounter with Thrawn when he showed up in this season of Rebels as a character full terrifying enough to justify his reputation. So, you know, I was pretty excited to read more about him in the first book in this trilogy, Heir to the Empire.

And then, as I read, I stumbled into Mara Jade. Aaaahhhh! I knew basically who she was (or turned out to be?) from when I was reading a couple of pages online several years ago to find out how old the main movie characters were. Since then, I've wondered so much about who she is and what she's like. I wanted to eventually read some of the books that feature her; I just didn't know which ones she was in. So it was quite a welcome surprise to find that this book contains quite a bit of Mara Jade. It may sound funny, but I felt privileged to be reading about her.

The thing is, she just lights up the pages, bounces off of them in full realization. She's one of those characters who instantly become iconic, who so quickly take and hold your interest. And the scenes between her and Luke were probably my favorite out of this book: their banter is more fun than Han and Leia's and greatly entertaining to watch. I now feel for everyone who was heartbroken that Mara Jade was made non-canon.

Mara Jade aside, this was still a great read. Timothy Zahn knows just how to balance out all the elements of a story and all of the different characters. Drama sits alongside action, and the right amount of humor accents the right amount of suspense. And so on. This is one of my favorite Star Wars novels so far--not unsurprisingly given that, out of all the legends books, it's one of the ones that's apparently still talked about so much.

I have only one more note to make. Some people compare events from Episode VII to the plots of the legends books, trying to see if the legends give hints about what will happen next in the movies and also seeing how certain themes or images remain. Likely this one has been pointed out already. In Chapter 11, Luke has a vision of Mara Jade catching the lightsaber that he is reaching for. Does that sound just like Rey catching Kylo Ren's lightsaber (well, Luke's lightsaber that Kylo is reaching for) to anyone else? The similarity may be potential evidence that Rey has or will have a dark side and that Rey and Kylo Ren are connected on a personal level.

Unless I find I have a great deal of comments after reading the second book, I'll probably wait to do a post on both the second and third installments of the trilogy. I'm hoping to finish off both of those before I get around to buying the new Rogue One novel because I know I'll want to start that one as soon as I have it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Disney Princess Analysis - Part 3: Aurora

Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.

It's kind of funny. People always talk about how the Disney princes don't have names (even though almost all of them do), yet in Sleeping Beauty it is the princess whose name many people can't seem to remember. It's Aurora. That is, she was named Aurora by her parents when she was born--and the fairies called her Briar Rose when they were raising her in hiding from Maleficent. And the prince's name is Philip--a name that is mentioned many, many times throughout the movie.

Here is one of the big differences in 1959's Sleeping Beauty versus the precious Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella: there was a real and successful effort to also characterize the prince. Prince Philip has scenes on his own without Aurora there, and he has a big part to play in the story. He doesn't just show up when he's needed; he's there at different stages, doing different things. I'm here to talk about Aurora right now, but it bears noting that in this film both the prince and princess have fairly equal focus.

Princess, did I say? Yes, Aurora is already a princess even without marrying Philip. This is, of course, unlike Cinderella and even somewhat unlike Snow White--because Snow White is a princess whose stepmother is not allowing her to live like a princess (she's kind of "dethroned"). Aurora is a princess who doesn't know she's a princess, though. Her parents have entrusted her to the care of the fairies until she is old enough to be free of Maleficent's curse and can return home safely. So she's raised in a unique way, in a kind of bubble out in the woods.

Philip thinks she is a peasant girl (and notably tells his father that he wants to marry this peasant girl), and she must think so, as well. So she is quite used to walking around the woods barefoot and going out to pick berries. But she also has a more regal bearing than either of the princesses who came before her--and perhaps also any of the ones who would follow. She acts like royalty with her posture and her voice, so it is safe to guess that the fairies tried to raise her with a royal upbringing even if they were just in a cottage in the woods: they wanted her to be prepared when she finally did return home. I suppose to think of being royal (that is, a princess) as being more than a pretty dress and a crown but also your entire manner and way of thinking is a good thing.

Now, Aurora is not held by the same characteristics as Snow White and Cinderella. We never see her cleaning. Presumably, she does do work--but even in her small task of picking berries, she spends more time dancing around and talking to the birds about her dream than actually trying to fill her basket (granted, she could be taking her time because she knows the fairies just wanted to get her out of the house for a while). So she isn't a martyr princess or an overly done symbol of morality. She's just a person who happens to be a princess in disguise, beautiful, and a wonderful singer.

Ah, you see what I'm getting at there? Do you remember the beginning of the movie? The fairies bestow gifts on the baby princess. The first two gifts are the gift of beauty and the gift of song. Okay, gift of song is nice, but does this mean that we're to think Aurora would have been ugly without the gift of beauty and that physical beauty is meant to be something so important that, out of all the gifts a fairy could give, it's the one she would choose to give? To me, this is the worst part of the movie in terms of analyzing Aurora's character. I don't mind the princesses being beautiful because fictional characters often are. But I do mind physical beauty being treated in this manner.

But let's take this a little further and see if we can't overcome it. At what point after the gift scene is Aurora's beauty mentioned (except, of course, for the narrator mentioning that she "did indeed grow in grace and beauty")? I can't think of a single time. Philip is attracted first to hearing her sing--and since singing is something that comes from the heart, we can hardly complain about this. No one seems to relate to Aurora specifically because of her looks; they relate to her because of who she is or because of how they have come to know her. She stands on her own personality, that is. Her parents love her because she is their daughter, the fairies love her because they raised her, and Philip loves her because he felt a connection to her right away (they both talk about meeting each other "once upon a dream," which is to say that they feel like kindred spirits).

Yes, Aurora's story hinges on a man waking her up from an enchanted sleep. But do you know what? Philip went through a lot of danger (in a wonderful sequence of good versus evil, I might add) to save her, so why should we fault one person helping another person just because the person doing the helping happens to be a man and the person who needs help happens to be a woman? People can and should help one another; I have no problem with that. And Aurora was not in danger from any fault of her own; she was just the target for Maleficent's evil wrath. So it isn't as if Philip's helping Aurora in any way weakens Aurora: it's just evidence that she chose well by choosing him.

And after all, isn't that a good thing? If Aurora was comfortable enough in who she was to know how to choose someone to love that she knew would love her back in the right way, then that's a good lesson to have in a movie. In many ways, Sleeping Beauty is a combination of the previous two films: it's simultaneously a story of the triumph of good like Snow White is also also a love story like Cinderella is. So the main message that the film gives is love, many different kinds of love: patriotic, loyalty, parental, familial, and romantic. Aurora loves the three women who raised her, falls in love with the man she met while out picking berries, and will come to love her parents and the country that she will one day rule. There is this sense of responsibility that lingers at the back of it all: Aurora and the people around her show us that love isn't just something you receive, it's something you work for.

A true figure of royalty, Aurora is a fitting part of the Disney princess set.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Theo: Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

I'm not sure whether or not this is a new product. It is, however, new to me. I like Theo's products and their general approach and I like when chocolate candy is well done, with better ingredients that are also organic and fair trade. So all of those factors were enough that I had to investigate Theo's take on Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter cups.

Some other notes about the ingredients before we move on. The front of the wrapper advertises no palm oil and no soy. In addition to the regular cane sugar, there is also powdered sugar in here, which I don't usually see; I'm guessing it went into the peanut butter filling. There is also peanut flour, besides the roasted peanuts. I'm not sure why there is rosemary extract as I don't taste the rosemary (and wouldn't want to taste it, either)--I'm curious to know its role.

The look of the wrapper, with its off-white color accented by brighter shades, fits in with the usual Theo look. Inside the wrapper is the familiar white tray we associate with Reese's Cups, but the cups are a little different from Reese's. They don't sit in paper liners, presumably because Theo has no need of liners and instead uses a mold to get this shape in the same way that they would mold a chocolate bar. In place of the simple round shape, these cups are heart-shaped; the Theo name decorates the bottom of each one, which I find pretty cute. It's still all nice and casual as a candy should be but with nice little details.

When I cut open one of the peanut butter cups, I found what appear to be chips of peanuts inside the filling, which I wasn't overly thrilled about. I'm not, after all, that fond of peanuts: to me, it's the creaminess that makes them nice. If I'm eating them whole, I'd rather have almonds or pecans or walnuts, as those seem to have much more flavor (which makes sense since they're all nuts and peanuts aren't--but this is a tangent).

The first taste that you get with these is of peanuts, strong enough that it is the flavor of eating straight peanuts. Then a sort of buttery taste comes in, accompanied by some salt. More peanut flavor moves back in with a little chocolate. The texture is certainly much drier than that of a Reese's Cup--not that this texture is dry. It just doesn't have all that greasiness. And after all my concern about the pieces of peanuts, they don't add much crunch; I almost forget that they're even there. They seem to be there more for flavor--and perhaps also to keep the texture from being too smooth (Reese's Cups also have a distinctive crumbly texture).

Interestingly, my second bite had more of that distinctive salty, peanut taste that we associate with Reese's Cups. I don't know why I didn't get it as much at first. The main difference in the flavor is that it comes, unsurprisingly, with more actual peanut taste here. I think you might also taste the chocolate less in here than with Reese's, but perhaps that's because the peanut butter filling here has more flavor and because the chocolate is not greasy.

Now, I don't want to be losing anyone's interest by saying that there is no greasiness and the flavor tastes like actual peanuts. These are still satisfactory as a candy. They're still sweet. Those of us who have gotten used to smaller amounts of sugar sweets can be content with just one, and they are more satisfying than Reese's Cups in the sense that you don't feel that you absolutely have to eat the second one because you're still tasting and enjoying the first one even after it's all melted away.

It is hard to come up with a final statement. Obviously this is going to be a very different experience given that they're not made in the same junky way as Reese's Cups (and while it isn't always appropriate to draw direct comparisons between separate products, it's obvious that Theo designed these as an alternative to Reese's Cups, therefore it's part of my role to compare the two). I do find that Theo did a pretty good job of replicating what we enjoy about the experience of Reese's Cups while at the same time, without frightening us away, elevating the experience through more flavorful and honorable ingredients. So these can pretty much replace Reese's Cups. And I'll go so far as to say that if a child is raised with these instead of Reese's Cups, they'll be satisfied and probably find Reese's Cups a bit gross when they finally do try them.

And let me not forget to emphasize how much I appreciate products like this. While most of us enjoy a good gourmet chocolate bar, for a regular day sometimes you just want a chocolate candy. Or children want chocolate candy. There is certainly the time and place for it. But more and more, I and many others, don't want to support brands like Hershey's. We need better quality ingredients and we need our sweets to simply be sweets and not motor oil. And in a country as privileged as ours, why can't we curb out sweet tooths a little in order to only buy fairly traded cocoa products even if that means we eat less chocolate? So thank you, Theo, for having a product like this on the market.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Shelf Unbound Competition

I am pleased to announce that my novel, Black Tree, made it as a runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition.


To know that, out of all of the entries, my book received consideration is an honor. I am most happy to receive this news and to share it with you. If you haven't yet had the opportunity to buy my book, paperback and hardcover copies are currently 30% off at this link. Thank you so much for following me on this journey.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Disney Princess Analysis - Part 2: Cinderella

Click here to read Part 1.

In my last post, I expressed quite a high opinion of Snow White as a symbolic figure, a representation of various virtues. We are now moving forward to 1950's Cinderella. Like Pinocchio and Peter Pan, this movie has become known for a famous song and for famous imagery without necessarily being known for "the whole movie." I think that more people could name more individual scenes from Snow White than from Cinderella.

The truth is, I don't think Cinderella is the best of Disney--in fact, I think it's one of the weaker Disney princess movies, despite having some really beautiful elements (the animals might just be the best aspect of this movie, and the visuals are distinctive and wonderful). But this isn't a film review. I'm just talking about Cinderella the character.

Like Snow White, Cinderella embodies certain virtues. She is hardworking, hopeful, kind, and sometimes patient. Even though her stepmother and stepsisters (and the cat, Lucifer) are mean to her, she not only puts up with them but also tries to be nice to them, to at least view them as people. Though the kindness of a Disney princess has become something even Disney is willing to parody, kindness remains a highly important virtue (as expressed so well by the live action Cinderella).

Yet Cinderella falls flatter than Snow White, perhaps because Snow White was designed as a symbolic figure whereas the movie attempts to flesh out the details of Cinderella's story a little more. We see her waking up in the morning, and we see her at work at more types of tasks than just cleaning house (feeding the chickens, for instance). We also see a little more of the world around her; the scenes with the king, however, ultimately add more comic relief than characterization or realism (and notice that there are scenes with the king, but no attempts to characterize the prince, whom I would think would be more important).

And here's the thing: Snow White is a princess hidden in rags who falls in love with a prince that she meets and then longs to see this particular prince again. Cinderella, however, is a downtrodden noblewoman who looks longingly at the glamor of the castle and falls in love with a man she danced with at a ball. So she has a, shall we say, stereotypically feminine longing for glitter and jewels and parties. Granted, a ball at the castle would be a welcome break from the hard life her stepmother has forced her into; however, this longing does come across as a bit trivial. (Now, there is a possibility to look at this in terms of class, with the castle representing the ultimate upper class--but the rest of the movie, particularly the ending, does not address this issue, therefore I'm pretending it isn't there.)

Now, I shouldn't be too hard on Cinderella, anyway, though: if she is so hardworking as she obviously is, what's wrong with her finding glitter and jewels pretty? When it came down to it, she remained what you might call humble, or genuine. When she enters the palace, you'll recall that she gets lost; the prince sees her from afar and goes up to her and they start dancing and then fall in love. Very quick falling in love, but hey, it's a movie. Cinderella doesn't know that he is the prince until the next day--and then she is so shocked that she drops everything in her hands. The fact that the man she has fallen in love with is the prince is only an added bonus; she is happier simply to be in love and to be loved than to think that she'll become part of the royal family.

Cinderella, then, is more of a love story than Snow White. Other than maintaining the concepts of hard work and kindness already established with Snow White, Cinderella doesn't really offer anything new as a character and she also doesn't quite manage to fill her predecessor's shoes. Snow White is a sweet girl, and Cinderella is a young woman who hopes for a better life. I do think that Snow White makes for more of a role model for people in general, and Cinderella is simply someone that girls might like to be because she's pretty and wears a pretty dress. Seeing, however, that there is nothing wrong with enjoying wearing a pretty dress, there is nothing really wrong with that.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Wei of Chocolate Selection

Wei of Chocolate used to have a booth at ASU's farmer's market; since I would usually try and pick up some foods there (I still crave the challah bread one of the clubs on campus sold), I did of course at one point get some chocolate (this is back when I was doing my reviews on Chocablog). They sold a little tube of several flower-shaped chocolates in different varieties. I remember that I liked them but it was long enough ago that I don't particularly remember what they were like. So when I came across Wei of Chocolate again at a shop, I picked up two of them to revisit.

Though they are the same foil-wrapped, floral shape that I remember, these flowers are smaller; unless I'm mistaken, they're about half the size. And I love this tiny size. The shop I was at had them in a bowl at the register, making them perfect for picking up when you need just a touch of chocolate--or a handful to share. Each one was under a dollar, and for reference the circumference of the chocolate flowers is just a little bigger around than a quarter. This is about as small as chocolates get, considering that plenty of truffles are bigger.

I love the size, though, because not only does it allow for the possibility of just wanting a little bit of chocolate--it also makes the experience more casual. If we had more chocolate like this, then we would need less KitKats and Reese's Cups (I confess, I had some of these for Halloween and they were delicious because I hadn't had any in a while--but the world needs less of these chocolate candies rather than more). In the bowl, all of the foil wrappers were reminiscent of M&Ms. (One more side note: with a name like "Wei of Chocolate," you'd think they would use a more environmentally friendly material than foil.)

I can't offer a picture of the chocolates this time--though I do apologize for that because the mold that Wei of Chocolate uses is rather nice, showing off all of the flower petals. (You can see in the first picture that the silver chocolate is smashed; I didn't really take care of these because I wasn't sure if I would even review them since I've covered Wei of Chocolate before. So perhaps this is more of a note than a review.)

As you can see, the silver chocolate is named Pure Wei and described as being rich and luscious. It has flowery notes and the taste of cane sugar mixed in with deep chocolate. It isn't bitter at all except perhaps in the aftertaste.

The purple chocolate, Wei Radiant, is supposed to be super dark. And it is. It's bitter in a way that I don't consider very pleasing. The second half of the chocolate, though, is more pleasing than the first; at this point, your taste buds get used to the flavors and the flavors themselves start mellowing more. Now, this one does offer a rich chocolate taste that's rather nice, but I prefer not to also have to get that dose of thick, biting bitterness.

I definitely, then, prefer the Pure Wei to the Wei Radiant. I don't mind very dark chocolate; I just like it done a certain way. I do wonder what cocoa percentage these chocolates are. I want to say the Wei Radiant is around 80%, and the Pure Wei might be in the 60's range. But I'm not used to trying to guess on these. I usually don't care for dark chocolate under 70%, but this one (if it's even under 70%, which it might not be) offers a unique approach. You know the Mexican hot chocolate that comes in thick discs? If you nibble it, you can taste the chocolate and the sugar crystals. That is, you can even see the sugar crystals. You can't see them in this chocolate, but you can taste them in that same distinct way. It makes for a nice flavor effect.

I can't say that these are the best chocolates I've ever had. But they're alright. I like their small size, and I like the fact that they're made in Arizona. They're nice and simple.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Disney Princess Analysis - Part 1: Snow White

There is this . . . concept in people's minds that the Disney princess movies are love stories about girls being rescued by princes. Snow White and Cinderella take most of the heat, and Ariel and Rapunzel get most of the praise. (By the way, I am going with the twelve official Disney princesses: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora/Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, and Elena.) I, however, don't see things in that way, and often the characters who get the most criticism deserve it least and those who get the least attention deserve more and those who are favorited most could actually get more criticism. So. I'm starting this series to look at what these characters really are like and what message or theme their stories really try and get across.

Let's start at the beginning, with Snow White from 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The way I see this movie, it is not a love story--despite what a beautiful love song "One Song" is. I believe this is the reason why the prince has no name: he is a metaphorical prince. Now, we all know that fairy tales have background as moral tales. And Walt Disney supported the promotion of good values as part of the Disney name. So let's look at Snow White that way. She is a hard worker who doesn't complain, not when she is washing the steps outside the castle nor when she is helping to clean the dwarfs' home. She takes initiative, as evidenced by her proposition to keep house for the dwarfs if they'll offer her shelter in return. And she knows that fear is something to overcome: when she is afraid, fleeing into the wild forest after attempted murder, she cheers herself up and tries to make friends with whoever is around, even if it's only forest animals. This, too, represents a respect for the natural world: she doesn't just consider them birds and rabbits but rather living beings whose environment she shares.

Here's the part that people overlook with Snow White, though: she knows about periods of waiting. Patience is a virtue, after all, they say, and Snow White knows this. When she is at the castle under her stepmother, she sings into the Wishing Well because she has hope that she won't have to live under disrespect and cruelty forever. At the dwarves' home, she also sings about her prince, whom she has now met; she sings about meeting him again in spring, that is, the time after the winter has passed. Good times follow the bad, or rewards come to those who wait. Either way, Snow White has been a classic example of all of the virtues, and she deserves a reward for this.

Does the story, then, teach people that a reward for a good woman is a man? No, not at all. Remember, I said the prince was metaphorical. You know that scene at the end, when the prince is leading Snow White home to his castle? Yeah, everyone references him kissing her to wake her up from the spell, but people seem to forget the image of his castle, which I prefer to the waking. His castle is up in the clouds--it isn't just far off in the distance so that it appears on the pink sunset horizon. It's in the clouds. Okay, this can just be a pretty image because animation isn't limited by the "physicalness" of live action. But none of the other images in the movie are fantasized like this. So it must be significant that Snow White is looking out and seeing this castle in the clouds.

A castle in the clouds, if you put it that way, sounds like heaven. Which would make Prince Charming a sort of symbolic stand in for the Prince of Peace, the one who is escorting Snow White to this heavenly place in the sky. I'm not saying she died at the end of the movie: I'm just saying that, to me, the whole prince thing is representative of her choice to lead a good life and the positive results that follow that choice. So Snow White is never "dependent" on a man and getting a man isn't her reward/happy ending. The point of her story is simply her never-ending goodness, hope, and perseverance. These are important virtues for everyone to learn, and Snow White is simply a female character expressing these virtues.