First, I must admit that I’m drafting this piece from the Columbia Gorge with an upset stomach that has lasted over 24 hours, self-inflicted by eating too much good ice cream, followed by too much bad cheese at a Mexican restaurant. Today is Day Two. Since yesterday, I’ve barely been able to eat anything at all. If you think these kinds of eating impulses are reserved for kids, I’ve proven that even thirty-one year-olds can make poor judgments in the face of dairy.
I spent most of last night with my face muffled into the pillow moaning, “why,” then switching to yogic child poses, then to fetal position, back to child pose, then rolling onto my back and massaging my stomach in concentric circles—nothing helped. And worse, I got a total of 4 hours of sleep.
Whatever it is, lack of sleep or my microbiomes running amok, or both, I ended up spending most of today napping in 1.5 – 2 hour increments, in and out of bed, floating around like a ghost in baggy pajama pants and an oversized cashmere sweater. In between moments of discomfort and sleeping, at some point I harkened back to a time as a child when I watched The Little Mermaid on repeat for what would be the only salve for a stomach ache, or a fever, or whatever sadnesses addled my 6 year-old thoughts.
I did not watch The Little Mermaid over and over again to feel better this time. But that doesn’t mean that I still don’t get excited about new Disney Pixar movies, or that I don’t spontaneously break out into sing-alongs with friends also raised in the 1980/90s, during (in my opinion) Disney’s animated feature-length film heyday, including such films as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty & The Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), and Mulan (1998).
2D animation is hardly the same as a stage performance, so the fact that this era of Disney films has curled its way into my loosey-goosey thoughts brings to question exactly what type of performance I’m talking about.
What is it about growing up as a child watching Disney movies that makes us, who are adults now (some of us), still shamelessly willing to act-out, belt-out, perform “A Whole New World,” or “Hakuna Matata,” or (my personal fave) “A Part of Your World?” A perfect example of this Disney-fantasy turned real-life, is pop-singer Mariah Carey and her then-husband Nick Cannon’s fifth wedding anniversary, where they renewed their vows in a real Cinderella-themed celebration.
Happiness can be like chasing Alice in Wonderland’s white rabbit.
My parents were strict, and Disney films were the only types of movies they approved. Those films became the only images of color and the only lightness I felt in an otherwise too serious life for a little girl. Those movies, with their pretty Princesses, and cute talking animals, where everyone breaks out into song, became what I would use to steel myself against the violence in my family. When you’re a child, familial disappointments are your entire life’s disappointments. I’m not certain, but that overwrought happily-ever-after ideal that I’m now so skeptical of as an adult, might have been my first examples of romantic love. I can see, if you’re not careful, how this coping mechanism might move into adulthood.
Using Mariah Carey as an example, I’m guessing her Cinderella anniversary might have been in response, whether she knew it or not, to her growing up half Afro-Venezuelan and half White and the racism she encountered. Disney has not been known for representing people of color correctly, or featuring strong female characters (there have been efforts in some films like Brave and Frozen), but what Disney does well and frequently is sanitize all the complications of life into the single idea that every little girl is a Princess.
Maybe performance, and reenactment of all things Disney is as superficial as that, the desire to uncomplicate, to be ignorant. There are moments, one in particular where the BACKWORDS team, before we were actually BACKWORDS, where Matty, Phillip and I belted Disney songs at the top of our lungs while driving around town--and my joy was real, and pure and giddy. Gay (in the previous 17th century of it, though I recognize the pun). As a child, I didn’t know why I cleaved to Ariel’s desire for freedom other than it just made me feel better, and the Academy Award winning score of The Little Mermaid was (and is) catchy-as-hell.
Sometimes, when your body is reeling, it goes to its basest needs, so I’m nostalgic for Disney's hand-drawn animation and those grainy VHS images.
This post will be the second reflection on Disney-related films on BACKWORDS Blog. The first was a review by curator Matthew D. Kulish on the live-action film Into The Woods. Disney continues to find its way into our psyches. A more indepth look will have to happen at some point. But because everything seems punctuated by the needling sword fight that’s taking place in my gut, I need to go back and lie down.