Tag Archives: Walt Disney

Spotlight: The Lion Guard – Kion

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Yes, I watch Disney’s The Lion Guard. So what? I am not as big a fan of it as some are, but with my other choices being The Walking Dead or Beavis and Butthead, I have made do with what I have. (For those of you wondering how I can skip out on such a compelling show as The Walking Dead, please remember that I have stated that I do not like horror stories, the genre which includes zombies.) I will take talking lions and cheetahs and baboons – oh, my! – over the undead and stupid caricatures at every opportunity.

The Lion Guard focuses on Simba’s heretofore unknown son, Kion. The second born cub of Simba and Nala, and Kiara’s younger brother, Kion is given the responsibility of protecting the Pridelands and the “Circle of Life” by leading a team known as the Lion Guard. Their mission is to defend the Pridelands from invasion, as well as the imbalance due to the greed of the creatures that live in and around the territory controlled by Simba and his pride.

Other than his royal heritage, what gives Kion this right and responsibility? He has inherited the power of the “Roar of the Elders.” When Kion roars, the great lions of the Pridelands’ past roar with him. This gives his own roar quite a big boost, allowing him to knock down and scatter the enemies that continue to trouble the Pridelands and threaten the Circle of Life. Turns out, Scar had this roar, too, when he was a cub. But he got to like wielding it too much and thought he could use it to get Mufasa out of the way and make himself king.

Well, when he asked or demanded that his Lion Guard – made up of lions from the pride – help him overthrow Mufasa, they refused. Enraged, Scar used the roar on his own Lion Guard. This presumably killed them, and the fact that Scar used the roar for evil cost him his ability to use it. It also made him the skinny, unhealthy looking lion we saw in the first Lion King film.

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Now there has been a big to-do over Kion’s Lion Guard. This Guard is supposed to show “diversity” in that the only lion in the Guard is Kion. The rest of the animals in the Guard are Bunga, a honey badger; Ono, an egret; Beshte, a hippopotamous, and Fuli, a cheetah.

It is more than slightly laughable to think that this mixed bag of animals is a good representation of “diversity” for children. Eventually, the children will grow up to learn that animals in the wild do not mix like this. Egrets, honey badgers, and hippos all do their own things, while cheetahs will get up and leave a kill when a lion starts walking toward it and them. Because lions are bigger than cheetahs, the smaller cats have very, very little to do with them, mostly because they do not want to be the lion’s side dish at the dinner table.

You can see that I give the “diversity” aim of The Lion Guard the respect it deserves. Why, then, do I continue to watch the show – even to avoid a series like Beavis and Butthead? I watch the show because the lead character and his male friends are actually allowed to be smart, chivalrous boys.

Allow me to explain: if you watch Sofia the First or Elena of Avalor with your daughters/nieces/sisters/whichever, you have seen the girls lead the boys in everything. They are braver, smarter, more compassionate, and completely better in every way than the men in their lives. Although the main male characters in these shows might not be bumbling, fumbling fools ninety percent of the time, the side male characters often are.

Now, admittedly, The Lion Guard has a character that falls into this category ninety percent of the time. This would be the honey badger, Bunga, Kion’s best friend and the adopted nephew of Timon and Pumba. Bunga’s position in the Guard is the bravest – he is so brave he “[borders] on stupid,” to quote Kiara. Most fans find him annoying and want him dead.

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I think that last part is a little harsh. I agree that Bunga is irritating, but this is a children’s show, people. And Bunga’s voice actor should get a chance to pay for his college education, too, so I do not want his character dead. If he could be a little less stupid and a little more observant, I would not say no to that; dead, I will not accept.

Bunga is the only member of the team to act in a consistently dense manner. The other two male members of the Guard – Beshte and Ono – are far from unintelligent. Beshte is the hippo and the strongest in the Pridelands. He is therefore the quintessential gentle giant, and there is nothing wrong with that. Andre the Giant was a gentle giant; gentle giants are good characters. And Beshte also has a temper that will flare up occasionally, so he has a little spice mixed in with the sweetness.

Ono leans toward the studious know-it-all trope. The keenest of sight in the Pridelands, Ono acts as the Guard’s eyes, looking for trouble and yelling it out to the Guard. While Ono has many of the nose-in-a-book stereotypical trappings, the difference is that he will fight without too much hesitation. He has mixed it up with vultures, hawks, and land animals, no mean feat for a bird that is not a raptor. It usually makes up for his skittish or know-it-all failings.

Kion is, by far, the one who breaks the mold of the modern formulaic boy. He is polite, friendly, calm, fierce, and quick-thinking. Even Avengers Assemble struggled with portraying the male heroes in this fashion, as you will find if you read the posts about the series here on my blog. The male Avengers – especially Hawkeye – were portrayed as fools in most of the episodes at the series’ start. This is due to the fact that the writers began telling the story of Assemble through a liberal-ified lens in the first season and kept it going through the second (and they seem to be reverting to that form with a vengeance for season four).

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If you drop by the Disney channels, even for the advertisements alone, you will find them to be mostly girl-centered. This is not just with shows like Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins, and Elena of Avalor. Disney has a whole series of ads called “Dream Big, Princess” to inspire girls to be anything they want to be. They also have advertisements for Lab Rats, Descendants, and other shows which make boys look like brainless idiots and girls look like uber women in training.

This is not only unrealistic and disheartening, it is dangerous. What is your son/nephew/brother or the boy next door supposed to achieve with these caricatures as his models? Disney has no “Dream Big, Prince” television ads encouraging boys to be great men like Prince Phillip, Prince Eric, or even Kristoff in their last big film, Frozen. Instead they push the popular narrative that boys are mini-barbarians or mini-buffoons in training who will someday grow up to be Big Barbarians or Big Buffoons.

If I had to bet, this is one of the reasons why The Lion Guard has taken off. Throughout the series so far, Kion has rarely failed to be a good little boy. In the first episode of the series, Kion ends up in the Outlands after chasing some marauding hyenas out of the Pridelands. While on the other side of the border, he bumps into a female hyena named Jasiri.

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At first, Kion is suspicious of Jasiri, referring to her as “hyena” and being snappish when he speaks to her. But when Jasiri proves to be totally unlike the other hyenas, Kion starts treating her better. He proves that his earlier conduct toward her was a lapse in judgement and a jump to a conclusion when he comes back to defend Jasiri from the same marauding hyenas at the end of the episode. Though Jasiri proves to be a capable fighter, there is never a hint that Kion should apologize for coming to help her or defer to her as some fighting goddess he should worship.

In fact, at one point during the battle, he thrusts Jasiri to the ground in order to headbutt a hyena she has not seen coming. Not only does the move show fast thinking, it proves that Kion’s earlier behavior was a mistake he has since recognized and corrected.

And so far in the series, when fighting alongside a girl, Kion does not leave his manly concern for her at the edge of the battlefield but keeps it with him at all times. Jasiri even thanks Kion for his help in this show, a rare thing in modern media. (Just look up Avengers Assemble’s “Captain Marvel” episode from season three to see why I say this.)

This is not the last time that Kion behaves in a chivalrous manner toward a girl, either. Although they have the regular spats any pair of siblings would, Kion treats Kiara with a respect that is the exact opposite of simpering worship. It also has overtones of a greater reverence than most boys in modern media show their sisters. It is an esteem which comes from a healthy dose of – *gasp* – chivalry!

Yes, I just said that the lead character in The Lion Guard possesses chivalry. Kiara is still a poor fighter in the series; this is to presrve the timeline for the story. We saw Kovu point out twice in The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride that Kiara’s fighting tactics were less than stellar, and the television show did not change this fact. In The Lion Guard, Kion had to come to his sister’s direct defense in “Can’t Wait to Be Queen.” He also showed a fair bit of attachment to, and concern for, her in “The Rise of Scar.” Kion also demonstrates a chivalrous deference and love for his mother, Nala, in the episode “Never Roar Again.”

But the best episode to show Kion’s sense of chivalry so far was “The Search for Utamu” because it was his most obvious display of the virtue. It also added a healthy dose of chilvalry to the other Guard members’ characters as well.

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In this episode the lone female member of the Guard, Fuli the cheetah, overexerts herself while she is supposed to be resting. Cheetahs can only keep their amazing speed going for a few minutes. After that, it can take them up to half an hour to get their breath back. Once a cheetah makes a kill, it has to sit beside the animal for at least that long to get its breath and then it can eat.

This is why it will get up and walk away when it sees a lion coming to check out the kill. Not only is the cheetah smaller and weaker than the lion but, when out of breath, it cannot outpace the lion.

Fuli is still a cub, and as of this episode she did not believe that she had any limits. Her inevitable exhaustion after her lone escapade leaves Fuli vulnerable to an attack from a group of vultures. When the male Guard members learn about her danger, they all rush to their female friend’s defense. Kion especially shows anger at the vultures when he blasts them into the distance with the Roar of the Elders (which is probably why we did not see them for some time after this episode).

So while Fuli and Jasiri are both female characters who can manage their own affairs – and who often say they can look after themselves without interference from “foolish males” – they have both landed in situations where they needed Kion and the other boys’ aid. And while Kion respects the abilities and competence of his two female friends, he also treats them with the special regard that they deserve as girls.

This does not diminish the girls’ fighting and survival abilities and, amazingly, it does not make the boys’ desire to protect them when they cannot defend themselves appear silly. This showing of chivalry is a great thing, as it spotlights a virtue which male characters have been denied in similar series – created by Disney and other companies – for far too long.

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Another way our male lead demonstrates his chivalry is by his dealings with Kiara’s airheaded “friends,” the lioness cubs Tiifu and Zuri. While the Guard has Bunga, the typical “boys drool” character, Kiara is saddled with two lioness cubs who are more concerned with their looks and social status than with anything even vaguely important.

Kion treats both these fluff-brained characters in general with a respect they have never earned, only rolling his eyes once when talking to them in “The Rise of Scar” and telling them off, rightly, when they allowed Kiara to go to a meeting with a known enemy on her own in “Can’t Wait to Be Queen.” The only explanation for his willingness to consider these two girls as anything remotely resembling “family” is the fact that they are girls – and oh, yeah, they happen to hang out with his sister.

As I have already mentioned, Kion continually shows quick-thinking during the series. Unlike Star Trek: The Next Generation’s unending roundtable discussions in the midst of calm and battle, most of the Guard’s tactics and strategies are actually made by Kion, either on the spur of the moment or through hours of training between patrols. The other members of the Guard follow his orders and decisions, though not always without question or input. In comparison to other male leads (in the modern Disney brand and other franchises), Kion is far more intelligent than the talking heads would have children believe boys can be.

It is also refreshing to see that, even when Kion must trust his friends to come up with a plan, he does not effusively kowtow to them after this. He accepts their advice and praises his friends’ plans without being a sycophant, congratulating them on their quick-thinking before turning back to the task at hand. Or paw, in his case.

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Something else to note about The Lion Guard is Kion’s fighting prowess. The four leading male characters in the show are good fighters, but Kion is the best of the bunch. Where the girl often comes to the boy’s rescue in current children’s television shows, Kion is rarely in need of such a save. And when he does need the help of a female character, such as in “Never Judge a Hyena by Its’ Spots,” Kion shows by his dialogue that he thinks just as deeply and quickly in such situations as those where he is supposedly “in control” of the circumstances.

Thus far, The Lion Guard has proven to be a better series than I had anticipated. It is a show with a male protagonist who is chivalrous, competent, and smart. Though I take issue with some of the show’s themes, one thing which I really appreciate and cheer on is Kion’s quiet, unabashed, and completely proper masculinity.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend. Shows which focus on female leads are wonderful inspirations for girls, certainly. But boys need television shows with male characters who are not only unafraid to be boys, but who have a sense of chivalry, along with smarts and fighting ability. They have been denied this for a long time, readers, and The Lion Guard is a more than welcome anticipation of a change in the fads. From what I have seen so far, we need more shows like this one. So, ‘til the Pridelands end –

Lion Guard defend!

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The Songs from Disney’s Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins was one of my favorite Disney films while I was growing up. I still love it, perhaps more now than I did when I was young. Saving Mr. Banks probably has something to do with that. 😉

It is Saving Mr. Banks and the Disney franchise’s reboots of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast that make me wary of the new Mary Poppins film scheduled to come out next year. I am a big believer in the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The original Mary Poppins might be old, but it is NOT broken. I am not sure I see the sense in making a new film about Mary Poppins – other than the crass, corporate urge to make money off of everything that has sold before, rather than on what could be created now.

However, you came here to listen to music, not to read me carp about the stupefied imagination of most of Disney’s hierarchy. So let the music play, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

 

One Man Band

 

Just A Spoonful of Sugar (Helps the Medicine Go Down)

 

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

 

I Love to Laugh

 

Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)

 

Step In Time

 

Let’s Go Fly a Kite!

Brave-ly Done (More Disney Music)

Every child is influenced by the entertainment they are shown. I am fortunate in that I saw many Disney movies as a child. I do not like every Disney movie out there, but most of them are hard to dislike. After all, Walt Disney was not in the habit of writing trash. He was one of those rare entertainers who earned money as a reward for telling a good story, not telling any old story just to make a dollar. *Sigh.* We could use a few more storytellers like that these days!

Anyway, readers, here are some more Disney songs which I would like to share with you. I hope you enjoy them! After all, it’s…

“A Whole New World!”

The Mithril Guardian

Brave

Touch the Sky

Aladdin

Arabian Nights

One Jump Ahead

Friend Like Me

Prince Ali

A Whole New World

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

I’m Wishing

A Smile and a Song

Whistle While You Work

Heigh-Ho!

Scrub in the Tub

The Dance in the Dwarfs’ Cottage

 

Robin Hood

Ooo De Lally

Love Goes On

A Pox on that Phony King of England

Not In Nottingham

 

 

The Jungle Book

Elephant Patrol

Bare Necessities

I Want to Be Like You

That’s What Friends Are For

 

Mulan

You’ll Bring Honor to Us All

Reflection

I’ll Make a Man Out of You

A Girl Worth Fighting For

True to Your Heart

 

 

The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride

We Are One

Upendi

Not One of Us

Love Will Find A Way

 

(I know it’s not technically a Disney movie, but they are the ones who translated it into English, so….)

The Secret World of Arietty

A City with Rhythm (And Other Disney Favorites)

Those who have not seen at least one Disney movie in their lives are deprived people. Some probably do not even realize this fact! (Yes, Mr. Kilmeade, I am talking about you!)

So, for those who are deprived and for those of you who are old fans, here are some Disney songs to make you smile. They are a mixture of old and new; you will find Peter Pan and Elsa rubbing elbows below, whilst Rapunzel joins the other princesses for tea. And do not be surprised if a few Dalmatians and lions show up. This is Disney, after all! Anything is possible! 😉

Spit-spot!

The Mithril Guardian

 

Oliver & Co.

Why Should I Worry

Streets of Gold

You and Me

Why Should We Worry

 

Peter Pan

What Made the Red Man Red?

You Can Fly!

Following the Leader

 

Frozen

Vuelie

Frozen Heart

Let It Go

Troll Song

 

The Lion King

The Circle of Life

I Just Can’t Wait to Be King

Hakuna Matata

Can You Feel the Love Tonight?

 

 

The Little Mermaid

Fathoms Below

Someday I’ll Be (Part of Your World)

Kiss the Girl

Under the Sea

 

Sleeping Beauty

Once Upon A Dream

 

Cinderella

We Can Do It (Song of the Mice)

So This Is Love

 

Tangled

When Will My Life Begin?

I’ve Got a Dream

I See the Light

Something That I Want

 

101 Dalmatians

Cruella Deville

 

Beauty and the Beast

Be Our Guest

Gaston’s song

Song as Old as Time

 

The Aristocats

Everybody Wants to Be a Cat

Thomas O’Malley, the Alley Cat

Scales and Arpeggios The Aristocats

Spotlight: Lilo and Stitch – “I’m lost!”

Lilo and Stitch is the last Disney film that was animated in the traditional, hand-drawn manner. I saw it not long after it came out on VHS. It is one of my favorite movies, with great music and wonderful scenes of the ocean, for which I have always had a particular love.

By far, the film is most enjoyable for its protagonists. These are a human girl named Lilo, and an alien experiment she mistakenly believes is a dog. Called 626 by his maker, the experiment is given the creative name Stitch by Lilo. I sometimes wonder if the writers for the film decided to name him Stitch because he was “stitched together,” like Frankenstein’s monster. Just a thought.

In essence, Stitch is Frankenstein’s monster – just shorter and “cute and fluffy!” instead of physically intimidating. Jumba, Stitch’s alien creator, built him to destroy anything and everything he can lay his paws on. In the process, he made 626 too heavy to swim, so Stitch sinks like a rock in water of any kind.

The irony is thick when, after escaping the custody of the Galactic Alliance, Stitch crash lands on one of the Hawaiian Islands. He is surrounded by water here. And worse, his programming drives him to seek out large cities where he can wreak the most destruction. But Lilo’s island has no large cities, just a relatively large town!

Throughout the three days she spends with him, Lilo’s unfailing love for Stitch leads him to realize that destruction is not the point of life. This is hard for him to understand at first, since Jumba gave him no “higher purpose” than to wreck everything he sees.

In learning about love and life from Lilo and her older sister, Nani, Stitch comes to wonder if there might be more to his own life than tearing things apart. He starts to wonder about himself. Does he have a family? He does not remember anything other than Jumba and the lab. But then, maybe something happened to him and he forgot his family. Or they lost him and Jumba picked him up to study him.

So, the second night after his adoption by the sisters, Stitch goes out into the woods alone to find his family. He takes Lilo’s copy of The Ugly Duckling along with him, reading the distraught duckling’s words and making them his own: “I’m lost!”

The next morning, Stitch wakes up – and is found by Jumba. The alien scientist explains to the hopeful Stitch he is his creation. He is Jumba’s six hundred twenty-sixth experiment – 626. He has no family, absolutely nothing to make him normal – even by alien standards! No, instead, Stitch is a thing. A monster cooked up in a mad scientist’s lab. (And yes, I know Jumba prefers “evil genius!”) Added to this heartbreaking news is the fact that Jumba wants him to come along so that he can take Stitch apart. No, thank you!

This would be enough to make anyone in Stitch’s position – a clone, for instance, or Frankenstein’s monster – go crazy. In fact, it is why they inevitably go crazy in the storylines where we see them. As someone I know likes to say, this is the problem with clones and monsters such as Frankenstein’s creation. They have no way of answering such questions as, “Where did I come from and why am I here?”

Being told that one was an experiment, nothing more than a series of lucky coincidences in a lab, and that one was made for a function of the scientist(s) choosing – that is a horrible, horrible thing to learn. It is mind-shattering, and it leaves most such experiments insane. The same friend who pointed out the problem with clones likes to say they are “born insane,” for the simple reason that they have no “higher purpose” than the desires of the scientists who made them from the moment they are “born.”

Put yourselves in Stitch’s place for a moment, readers. Can you imagine how crushing it was for Stitch to hear Jumba say he had no family? To learn that his creator was a scientist who programmed him to be a machine of destruction, meant for nothing but causing misery? That he had no “higher purpose” than to mindlessly destroy everything in sight? Even without seeing the love-filled life Lilo and Nani share with each other and their neighbors, despite the brokenness of their family, this is staggering news.

This is where Stitch could really have gotten lost, as most experiments like him do. He learns he has no mother, no father, no siblings, no history beyond the lab where Jumba made him. Stitch has nothing – he is nothing, in a sense. We are each something, someone, readers. We were each born of a mother and a father, parents who helped to bring us into the world. But we come from beyond it. We have souls and a shared destiny outside the “circles of the world,” (thanks, Professor Tolkien!).

Stitch, sewn together out of spare parts, has no soul to begin with. He is just a thing – a malevolent, makeshift creature cooked up in Jumba’s lab. For all the difference it makes, he might as well be a clone. He was made out of the stuff of this world, and has no higher purpose in the grand scheme of things…. at first.

However, Stitch escapes the dark fate of numerous fictional clones, sentient robots, and monsters like Frankenstein’s creature. Stitch does not escape because he is a character in a Disney film (which is a shallow answer to the question at best).  No, he escapes his fate because he is loved despite what he is and what he was made to do.

Think about it, readers. What is the first thing Stitch does after Jumba reveals his history to him? He doesn’t go ballistic, he doesn’t cower and whimper. He runs – straight back to the one person he knows cares about him. The one person in the whole universe who will forgive him practically anything, the one person who saw good in him when even he saw nothing there. The one person who has never given up on him, consistently and certainly stating that he is “ohana.”

Lilo.

Lilo’s love for Stitch is what saves him from his programming – and from the insanity that could have resulted from the revelation that he was made to be a tool for a certain “evil genius” who meddled where no man (or alien) should.

This is why I enjoy the scene in the film where Stitch says, “I’m lost!” He is lost. But he is also searching to be found, only to realize later that he already has been discovered: by a lonely Hawaiian girl and her sister, needing someone to love so that they can heal. This is because in finding and loving Stitch, the sisters heal, and become a family again.

This is the first Spotlight! post I have done about a scene in a film, readers. Hopefully, I will have another such post up at some point in the future. Until then –

Aloha!

The Mithril Guardian

One More Point in Saving Mr. Banks

You may or may not have seen a post I did a little while ago about the film Saving Mr. Banks, readers. In it, I spoke about a line Walt Disney uttered in the film: “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

I wrote then about the way this statement affected me personally. (Among other things, it made me cry quite a bit.) Thinking more about this scene, and the movie in general, another line in the film struck me.

Throughout the movie, which shows Walt Disney doing his utmost to convince Mrs. Travers to allow him to make a film out of her Mary Poppins book, Disney again and again says that he wants to “make something beautiful” out of her story.   And he does not just want her permission to do this. He wants her help to do it.

How many of us use the word “beautiful” in conjunction with a film? Really, how many of us do that? I know I do not use the word “beautiful” to describe a movie. In fact, listening to Disney say it, I was inclined to squirm a little. How can a movie be “beautiful”?

I guess the better question is, “How could it not be beautiful?”

We do not use “beautiful” very much these days, readers, with regard to stories. Whether they are in print, song, or on film, “beautiful” is an adjective rarely attached to a story. Or, if it is applied, it can sometimes be applied to a film for the wrong reason.

A viewer might say that he thinks films such as Pacific Rim, Star Trek (the latest reboot), or Noah are beautiful. By this he could mean that he believes the CGI effects are beautiful. I will not disagree that CGI effects are impressive. I like Avatar simply for the CGI effects, and I would indeed call them “beautiful.”

I cannot say that about the story in Avatar, which is simply cowboys and Indians on another world. And the Indians win. I believe that I have watched Avatar a total of two or three times since a friend sat me down to see it first.

In contrast, I have watched Mary Poppins too many times to count since I was introduced to it as a child. Of late I have not watched it as much, but compared to Avatar, I would say that the story of Mary Poppins is a “beautiful” story. The story in Avatar I would call, politely, “mediocre” – at best.

So why would Disney call a prospective Mary Poppins film “something beautiful”? He would say that because a good story, just like a good photograph, painting, or song, is an expression of beauty. Beauty lifts us up. It reminds us of what is good, true, and permanent. That there is more to life than what we see, and that we rarely experience the “permanence” we can often feel but are rarely allowed to see with our eyes.

Parents often complain – laughingly – that their children almost endlessly watch a particular movie or movies over and over again, until they (the parents) are well and truly fed up with it. Why do children do this? Why do they watch the same film(s) time after time, when they know every line by heart?

I would guess it is probably because children have a sense that attracts them to beauty, which is crushed – or tamed – out of them as they grow up. I remember watching lots of films several times in the same week as a child. I never got tired of them. I enjoyed new stories, but the older stories were my close friends, and I did not want to leave them out of my fun.

Today, however, many storytellers – whether they work in the medium of print or film – are running away from beauty. There are others who embrace it, such as those at Disney, if only because it is their bread and butter. Others continually try to tear it down and destroy it.

Do you want proof of this? Check out the films that have come out recently. Along with the latest Marvel films, Disney’s Maleficent, Cinderella, and Frozen, we have such movies as The Purge, The Purge 2, The Hive, Gallows, and other trash. Yes, I called those films trash, and I will do so again. They are garbage, the vile refuse of small minds that take pleasure in “tearing the old world down,” to quote Alexander Pierce of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

These “storytellers” are not telling stories. They are not making films. They are propagating nihilism. They are worshipping destruction, death, and horror. And they have the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to call it “art.” “Art doesn’t have to mean anything except to its maker,” they howl hoarsely. “We’re giving people what they want. We’re giving them reality!”

Pardon me a moment, readers, but this is nonsense. No, actually, it is worse than nonsense. It is lies.

Art is not a collection of carpet fluff glued together to resemble a poodle. Art is not a bed covered in empty vodka bottles or a canvas someone spilled thirty cans of paint onto, and art is NOT anything like The Purge or The Hive.

Art is a manifestation of beauty. Everyone can see and recognize beauty, and they can either love it or hate it. Everyone who loves beauty is gifted with expressing it in some way, from a waitress smiling at a customer to a director doing his utmost to turn a great book into a remarkable film.

And everyone who hates beauty will try to destroy it. They will try to destroy those who use their talents to express beauty. One of the first targets, therefore, will be the painters, songwriters, storytellers, and others who make beauty visible for all to see.

These haters of beauty try first to shout and beat these great artists into submission. Finding that shouting does not work on all, they instead whisper and sneer, making themselves look reasonable and more real than the beauty these artists portray.

Everyone says they can make art. And someone who makes a good movie, writes a good book or a song, or paints a beautiful picture, has proved their worth. But those who paint death, horror, destruction, and malfeasance of every kind yet call it “art” are liars, cads. They are the Wormtongues of our age, the useful puppets of the Sarumans that feed them the falsehoods and monstrosities they then display for all to see.

No longer is a storyteller believed to bring order to a chaotic, brutal world and give people a taste of what true reality looks like. No longer is a storyteller expected to bring hope to the people again and again, to give them characters that will live forever, safely cherished in the viewers/readers hearts.

No. Instead, the Sarumans say storytellers are supposed to revel in the transient. They are expected to give form to passing feelings, fleeting fads, and to lift up the slime at the bottom of the gutter and proclaim it art. This is now the anticipated path of an artist.

G. K. Chesterton said on his deathbed that there was only the light and the dark, and every man had to choose which he would serve, for which he would live and die.

What do these sides, the light and the dark, look like? Look to your heart, readers. Who rides there? Captain America? Aragorn? Luke Skywalker? They are the emblems of the light, the ideals of those who choose goodness, right, and truth. They are what these people truly strive to be. All who live according to the light, who love the day and the stars at night, they fight for the light. They are the true Avengers, the real Fellowship of the Ring, and the living Jedi Knights. To believe in beauty, to fight to keep it present in the world – that, readers, is choosing and fighting for the light.

What do those who serve the darkness look like? Whom do they carry in their hearts? Loki, Saruman, Hannibal Lecter, Thanos – these are examples of the outriders of evil. It is these who are carried in the hearts of those who serve the darkness. They, like these characters, have rejected the light. For them it is better to rule in the dark than to serve in the light. Non serviam, they say. Those who are minions of evil resemble these wicked characters in some manner.

It may not be an obvious resemblance, of course. Does not Crossbones wear a mask? Do not Saruman and Thanos hide behind useful puppets like Gríma Wormtongue, Loki, and Nebula? Does not Hannibal Lecter do his work where none can see and stop him? And was it not Loki who was told by Coulson, “You’re going to lose.”

“Am I?”

“It’s in your nature.”

“Your heroes are scattered,” Loki answered, “Your floating fortress falls from the sky… Where is my disadvantage?”

“You lack conviction,” was Coulson’s prompt, true answer.

Why would evil wear a mask if it were so utterly convinced that it had nothing to fear? Evil wears a mask because it does have something to fear, something far greater than itself. The Light is what it fears, and for that reason true storytellers serve the Light.

This is why I blog about stories which I know are beautiful. This is why I blog about characters and songs I know to be beautiful. This is why I write. There is no other reason for this blog. If there ever was another reason, it has long since passed away. Writing about beauty is one way of making beauty visible to the world again and again. Of bringing order, if only for a few paragraphs, to a chaotic society. Of giving hope, however small, where it is needed most.

Excelsior, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Saving Mr. Banks

When I first heard about Saving Mr. Banks, I thought, “Oh, great, another brainless Hollywood idea. Somebody in the break room must have said, ‘I’ve got it. Let’s make a documentary about Walt Disney.’ Wheee.”

I really, truly, one hundred percent respect and love Walt Disney. I grew up on almost all the original Disney films – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and so on. So the idea of seeing Hollywood maiming this great man’s character did not appeal to me in the slightest.

Well, sometime back, a couple of my friends saw part of Saving Mr. Banks. At one point, Tom Hanks (who portrays Walt Disney in the film), said something that made both my friends respond with something on the order of, “Mithril has to see this!” They said it at once, interrupting the film.

They almost never do that.

I agreed to see the film, keeping my reservations – and earlier contempt for the movie – to myself. I sat down with my friends to watch it. About midway through the film, I started to sniffle. Then, a few minutes later, I broke down and cried.

I never, ever, thought I would do that during this movie, and I cannot remember the last time I cried while watching a film. I did not even cry during The Battle of the Five Armies, for heaven’s sake! But when this film showed one of the songwriters performing “Tuppence a Bag,” I lost it. The water works kept coming, on and off, after that. By the end of the movie, it was a miracle the room was not flooded. It took me another hour to calm down, and even then I was still sniffling.

Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of how Walt Disney worked very hard to get the movie rights to P. L. Travers book Mary Poppins, so that he could make it into a film. He had promised his daughters that he would make the film, and Saving Mr. Banks tells us how he kept that promise.

As the movie explains, for twenty years Disney kept asking the author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers, to give him the rights to turn her first book into a movie. But Mrs. Travers keeps refusing, until she runs into money trouble. Then her agent insists that she go see Mr. Disney, who has agreed to let her have creative input on the screenplay. Anything she does not like will be taken out of the script. She has final say. She can refuse to hand over the rights if she does not like the way Disney and his team are handling the movie.

Mrs. Travers finally caves in to her agent’s pleading and flies to California. The rest of the movie shows us just where the idea for Mary Poppins came from, why the film was almost never made and why Mrs. Travers loved Mary Poppins as much – if not more – than any of her fans.

I will not go into the details of that story here. One, I do not want to spoil the movie for you, readers. Two, I might start crying again – and then I will not be able to type to finish this post!

But what, you may ask, was the thing Walt Disney said that made my friends immediately agree that I should watch the movie? It is very near the end (and I cried while I watched it), so I will try not to spoil too much. But Mr. Disney was so determined to make Mary Poppins a film that, when Mrs. Travers abruptly returned to England in a fury, without signing over the rights and without an explanation, he immediately followed her there.

Before he did, though, he learned that her name was not really P. L. Travers. That was her pen name; her real name was Helen Goff. Travers was her father’s first name, and she loved him so much that she took his name as her pseudonym, insisting people call her “Mrs. Travers” in order to hear her father’s name over and over again.

Back to what Walt Disney told her near the end of the film. I do not know if it is really what he said to her in that interview, but from what I know of Walt Disney (admittedly, I do not know him by anything except reputation), it sounds like something he might have said. He told her (as best I can recall through the waterworks), when he was convincing her that he would never do anything to Mary Poppins to ruin it that, “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

Excuse me – but I need to stop for a tissue.

*Ahem.* He was right. Storytellers do just that.

The world is a hard, nasty, chaotic mess. No one needs to look any further than the newspaper or the TV news channels to know that. The reports on which Hollywood stars are dating whom drown out the story of a nine year old girl shot and killed while doing her homework in her Chicago home. The videos of Planned Parenthood selling aborted children’s body parts are ignored in favor of the news that a famous lion was killed by a foolish dentist. Two hundred other lions were killed as well by different people in the same country, but even they do not get the spotlight.

What kind of a world is this? It is a world filled with horror and darkness, and that affects us all. It affects some more than others. Babies who could grow up to change the world are killed so that those who kill them can make a profit off their bodies the same way arms or drug dealers make money off of weapons and drugs. A nine year old girl working on her school assignment is killed before she can grow up and decide how she wants to change the world.

The rest of us watch it all happen, either unwilling or unable to do much of anything to turn back the darkness. For those of us who do anything, or at least try to do something, we relate well to what Cap is reported to say in the Civil War trailer, “Saving everyone we can doesn’t mean that we can save everyone.”

We are not God. But many of us pretend to be, and it only furthers the darkness. In a world like this, where is the hope? Where is the order? Where is the sense, the sanity?

You all know how big a fan I am of Marvel Comics. I am a big fan of a lot of stories. I listed some of them, in movie form, at the beginning of this post. I pay attention to the news about upcoming Marvel films. I blog about stories. I daydream about stories.

There are a lot of people like me. Some attend the Comic Conventions and other such events around the globe. They learn to speak Klingon; they dress up as their favorite characters; they pay huge amounts of money for an action figure or a film prop, and they are as ecstatic over a new story in their favorite genre as they are when they learn someone in the family is going to have a baby or is getting married.

Others do not show their love of stories by dressing up, learning Klingon, or spending gobs of money on a new action figure. But they still love the stories. They still love the characters. They still catch the latest movie, book, television episode, etcetera. Why? None of this is real. As Mrs. Travers says in Saving Mr. Banks, “Mary Poppins is not real.”

“She’s real to me,” says Disney. “She’s real to my daughters. She’s real to all your readers. She’s there when we need her.”

People who go to Comic Conventions are mocked a lot. I have never been to a Comic Convention, but I have heard the snide things people say when they speak about those who go to these events. “Yeah, Jake went to Comic Con this year. He dressed up like Superman. Can you believe it? He’s forty and he’s still dressing up. Not to mention getting excited over a stupid comic book character. Ha ha ha!”

And that is Walt Disney’s point in this scene. Mary Poppins is not a stupid character. Superman is not a stupid character. Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, the Avengers, the Fellowship of the Ring, Luke Skywalker – none of them is a “stupid character.”

Yes, these characters are not real people. I will never walk down the street and accidentally meet the Steve Rogers I find in Marvel’s comic books. I will never meet Luke Skywalker, Optimus Prime, Col. Jack O’Neill, Aragorn, or any of my other favorite characters in the flesh.

But that does not make the characters any less real. That does not mean they are not there, within me, ready to be there for me when I need them most.

As an example, remember the end of The Two Towers? Frodo has just tried to kill Sam, but he has recalled himself in time and pulled back. He has done what Gollum decided not to do when his friend Deagol discovered the Ring. “What are we doing here, Sam?” Frodo asks, horrified and sick with the knowledge of what he nearly did.

Sam says, “I don’t know. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. It’s all mixed up!”

Then, more quietly, Sam adds, almost to himself, “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? Folks in those stories, they had a lot of chances to turn back only they didn’t. They kept fighting, because they were holding onto something. And that’s what we’ve got to do, too.”

“What are we holding on to, Sam?” Frodo asks, still scared. Still lost. Still hurt.

Sam turns to him, helps him to his feet. “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo,” he answers, “And it’s worth fighting for!

I do not know Klingon, and getting me to dress up is harder than putting socks on a crow.   I used to think I was crazy for all the attention I paid to stories, those snide comments about Comic Convention attendees ringing in my ears. What makes me any different than them, I would wonder. I do not dress up or speak Klingon, but I am still practically a walking encyclopedia when it comes to certain stories. I still care more about a good story and the characters in it and get angry at writers who mistreat those characters than I care about having lunch, going for a walk, going shopping, or other such things. What if I’m nuts?

Doubtless, readers, some of you probably think I am nuts. But I do not think that. Not anymore.

Because, in Saving Mr. Banks, in that one scene where he tells Mrs. Travers that “Storytellers bring order to the world and give people hope, time and time again,” I learned what I really am. I may not be a great storyteller, and I do not know about giving people hope time after time. But I know I want to be and do both of those things, and that I am willing to fight to be a storyteller and to give hope to people, over and over again, during this “Long Defeat.” And that I am willing to fight any and all aggressors who deny the value of stories and their characters.

I am a blogger, a storyteller. I am naïve. I have limits. I cannot be everywhere at once, read minds, change shape, or protect everyone. I cannot love everyone in the world, though I have a special place in my heart for all of you, readers.

But I can write. I can appreciate a good story. Because as Samwise the Brave said, “There is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for!”

So that is what I am going to do, as best I can, and I am heartily thankful to those friends who sat me down to watch Saving Mr. Banks. I am grateful to those who made it, to those who made Mary Poppins, the book and the movie. And most of all, to the One who made me and all the good things and people in this world, I am very, very grateful, beyond words.

Catch you later, readers.

The Mithril Guardian