We live in an era of disposable pop culture. All around us we see vapid reality series, uninspired (and uninspiring) music, movies that are little more than retreads of other bad ideas, and starlets who are famous merely for being famous. Of course, this stuff is not necessarily bad in and of itself – in fact, mindless pop culture can make for some great “guilty pleasure” moments.
The truth is, when any form of entertainment achieves excellence, we notice. Television programs like Mad Men and Friday Night Lights, music by artists such as Mumford & Sons and Zac Brown Band, and films like Lincoln and Les Miserables attract attention because they raise the bar in their genre.
The idea of excellence as something for which to strive goes back to the Bible. Jewish and Christian believers alike are aware of the admonishments in Scripture to give our all. In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon advises:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NIV)
And the Apostle Paul encourages the believers in Colosse:
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Walt Disney himself felt the pull to achieve excellence, in part because his name was on every product the Studio created. He once said, “Anything that has a Disney name to it is something we feel responsible for.” He instilled the value of excellence in his staff as well – he once hailed his staff as “the ones who insist on doing something better and better.” A sign on a construction wall from my last trip to Walt Disney World expresses this value.
Over the course of the next couple of pages, we’re going to take a look at how this value of excellence shows up throughout Disney culture.
Even while women devour the Twilight books and flock to the recent release of Breaking Dawn 2 most revile the series’ heroine Bella Swan. The savvy modern woman prefers the vampire-slaying Buffy Summers. As a fan of both the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight franchises, I think that we have this partially backward and that the Buffy v. Bella arguments common on the web underscore dangerous assumptions about women. Feminists have co-opted Buffy and the female superheroes for the gender wars in order to perpetuate their illusion of no differences between men and women.
Conventional wisdom tells us that women can do anything men can. With rare exception owing to strength or stature, this is true. But we don’t always want to do what men do, and even if and when we do we have to account for our biology. Sometimes it is the strength and stature deficit, sometimes it is our heavier role in reproduction. The feminist intelligentsia thinks this unfair, so, couching their advice in terms of equality, they tell us to ignore biology. Accordingly, the female heroes who we admire today are the ones who work around reality.
It is great that we have heroes who happen to be women, but we mistake them as role models for womanhood. Five pop culture heroines to illustrate my point:
5. Hermione Granger, The Maligned Hero
Hermione helps Harry Potter figure out how to defeat the evil wizard Voldemort and, at great personal sacrifice, she accompanies Harry on his final quest.
As a role model for womanhood she is the best of this list. She shouldn’t even appear but for what we like about her. The oft-cited favorite Hermione part in the movies: when she punches Draco Malfoy.
Over eight films loaded with powerful women defying evil—Luna Lovegood, Molly Weasley, Lily Potter, Narcissa Malfoy—that inconsequential punch makes number six of the 50 greatest moments. What was a slap in the book was rewritten as the crowd-pleasing punch because we like it when a woman acts like a man, which is ironic considering the next most overrated heroine, Wonder Woman.
We go to movies presumably to enjoy a good story. Yes, the writing is important, as are the acting, cinematography, score, set design — all the myriad things that must work together in service of the story. They are but tools intended for a larger purpose. Of course, too often one or more tools fail or the filmmakers put too much emphasis on them and forget the story altogether.
That seems to be the case with Ice Age: Continental Drift, the fourth installment of the Ice Age franchise by Blue Sky Studios. Terrific computer animation in digital 3D renders crisp detail in the animals’ fur and performs a virtuoso dance of light and shadow on ice and water.
But the movie feels overstuffed with way too many barely developed characters. The story could easily have been cut by a third and its building blocks could have been more artfully arranged. The film feels workmanlike, adequate but lacking zest. While the earlier installments had the obligatory subtext about doing the right thing and the importance of working together, the lessons in Continental Drift feel forced. Yes, kids, it’s important to obey your parents, value your friends, and not get caught up in the wrong crowd — good lessons all, but they come with the subtlety of an elbow to the ribs.
As with the first three Ice Ages, there are plenty of sight gags and pratfalls along the way with the usual gross-out jokes. And as always, Scrat the proto rat is the best part of these stories, with his Gilligan-like ability to blow a sure thing and a single-mindedness that makes Wile E. Coyote look positively ambivalent.
Looks to be Toy Story meets Monster’s Inc. with John C. Reilly bringing to life a Donkey Kong-style video game villain who’s tired of being the bad guy.
Hat tip: Buzzfeed.
Updated with a corrected headline thanks to commenters smarter than me. This isn’t a Pixar movie. Like Tangled, it’s a Disney-branded film.