Many of us have gone over the river and through the woods this holiday season to visit grandma, grandpa, assorted uncles, aunts and cousins. In other words, we’ve logged a frequent fliers’ tachometer of miles to celebrate with the whole assemblage of Christmas-sweater-wearing moms and dads, silly, smart and successful siblings, and eggnog-swilling neighbors. It’s the whole effervescent enchilada, bursting at the seams with good cheer and much merriment.
During these last days of 2012 when we’re being threatened with a plunge off the “fiscal cliff,” it’s nice to sit back and take stock of where we’ve been personally and where we plan to head in the looming New Year.
As I’ve culled the most forwarded, commented-upon, and liked offerings for the second half of 2012 (July to December), I saw how potent the Disney label is. Readers really respond to the characters and themes that the studio produces. Nowadays we all see Disney as a gigantic global brand. It has its detractors and its fanatics. There are lots of folks who bemoan Disney’s sentimentality and cultural sensitivity. They also decry the apparent synergy amongst its movie studio, TV shows, toys, collectibles, and theme parks. They think it’s a 24/7 moneymaking machine.
For those of us who are Disney devotees (and I am proudly among that group, even carry a card that proves it), I love the fact that it’s one of the safe havens for families to sit down and watch films together. I’m grateful for that entertainment and the conversations they launch. (A lot of you must agree with me, since the August blog selected here was the MOST forwarded one of the entire year. Its words and images spread around social media sites like wildfire!)
PLUS, most important of all, keep in mind that the Disney empire all began as the dream of a single, aspiring entrepreneur. If it hadn’t been for the determined nature of Walt Disney—and a certain marvelous mouse—none of these future projects would ever have come to life. From one person, who had his fair share of losses before triumphs, the Disney legacy was sown. Take that as your inspiration for 2013. We all are individuals—each of us is different and has his or her own strengths and talents. Find your best ability this year and nurture it and let it grow. Who knows what will sprout from it? It might not be a Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck dynasty, but it could be something that makes you proud and pleased for years to come.
Who Rules the World? Beyoncé is right. It’s “Girls.”
Well, HBO has done it again—giving a new group of women who reside in the prime Sunday-night time slot where Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha used to prowl. This time around, the women are younger, live in Brooklyn, and are on the verge of career success. In fact, these characters are so freshly scrubbed and young that they are called “Girls.”
The sitcom, created by lead actress Lena Dunham, has a candor and a confidence that could only be generated by Gen Z. (That has to be the right letter for folks 26 and under, right?) It is raunchy, witty, literate, personal, and universal: pretty unbelievable work for a girl who was born in 1986. But that is what is so exceptional about Dunham: she doesn’t look like the kind of girl you’d expect to have a cable series based upon. Rather, she looks like the type of gal who might be watching an HBO show on her iPad or Samsung Galaxy. She’s not beautiful; she’s not really pretty. There are times during the show that her looks have bordered on plain or even homely. In other words, she looks ordinary. She seems real. And her storylines and dialogue sound as if they’ve been lifted from young college grads congregating in any big city’s downtown bar or music scene.
Now, what’s interesting is that I don’t have to pine for a “Girls” set of dolls. No, the quartet of characters have already been made, but in paper doll form by talented illustrator Kyle Hilton.
As a fan of paper dolls, I have a set of Gilda Radner cutouts that I guard with my life, I appreciate the chance to download the girls from “Girls” and let the occasional pity party begin. And that’s what I like most about the show and its scripts. Though these girls are far freer and more independent than I ever was at age 23 or 24, they are still riddled with a first apartment’s worth of angst, anxiety, fear, depression, camaraderie, hopes, dreams, goals, disappointments, and victories. When the ability to feel vulnerable one moment and invulnerable the next is a daily seesaw, the life cycle of HBO’s “Girls” is anything but rosy and riotous. It’s sweetly comedic, bitterly realistic, and amazingly authentic.
Thanks, Lena Dunham, for proving that the average “New Girl” in a roommate situation don’t look or behave like Zooey Deschanel. Thanks for keeping it real. And, Kyle Hilton, thanks for keeping it cutting-edge and cuttable!
A Touch of Evil: Disney debuts a lineup of designer villains that are gorgeous and ghastly!
I think Mae West was onto something when she drawled, “When I’m good, I’m very, very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better.” There’s something very compelling about watching a bad person having a real good time—when it’s safely being projected on a movie screen or a Broadway stage, of course. Witnessing a “Goody Two-shoes” always putting her best foot forward can grow dull and repetitive for a grown-up sensibility. Sure, many little girls want to dress like and act like Cinderella, Aurora, Snow White, and Ariel. However, for the adult viewer, give us Maleficent or the Evil Queen any day of the week! The villains who squirm and shimmer and shine and shout their way through many Hollywood vehicles are the characters with the wittiest lines and the most complex motivations. In the world of Disney cartoons, it’s the bad guys and gals who have the spoken lines and the animated lines that make “evil” both alluring and disturbing.
Knowing that there is a certain charisma to this rogue’s gallery of wicked women, Disney has launched their “Villains Designer Collection.” What’s so appealing about these new dolls is that they are so dramatic and so fashionable. They’re all streamlined—particularly in the case of underwater nemesis Ursula—and appear slick and thin and naughty. Imagine Janice Dickinson at her bitchiest on “America’s Top Model” and you’ve got this range of creations. They’re all decked out in haute couture, but beneath the frippery and the finery, you sense that there is nothing fine or feminine. These are divas who are not for the faint of heart—after all, didn’t the Evil Queen request the beating heart of pure, little Snow White as a token of the huntsman’s allegiance?
Here’s an opportunity for anyone who ever championed Alexis Carrington (Joan Collins) over Krystle (Linda Evans), Archie’s Veronica over Betty, Angelina Jolie over Jennifer Aniston!
Certainly, it’s nice to be nice, and politeness is a welcome virtue in a houseguest. But if you want to applaud people behaving badly and broadly—and then getting their final comeuppance in a barrage of inventive ways—take home a Disney Villain today. Even a cruel queen deserves a good home!
Cuckoo for Kewpies: The adorable love messengers are turning 100 years old.
Created by illustrator Rose O’Neill as a bit of comical artwork that appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal magazine, the Kewpies were a hit when they arrived in 1909. Three years later, and they were available to be purchased in bisque versions. In 1913, they were able to be scooped up in celluloid treatments.
After World War II, Kewpies were made by Effanbee in hard-plastic, and their popularity continued to thrive.
Nowadays, Kewpies are sometimes considered a bit of nostalgic fluff. Because of their amusement park pedigree, some people look down on them. Honestly, they treat this doll as if it is a bit of carny hokum. Because it was a doll that could be won—though not easily won, if you have a pitching arm like me—it seemed not to have any value. It was taken for granted or denigrated when written about. The Kewpie, which was a tribute to Cupid, the god of love, has (sadly) been dissed more often than kissed by contemporary jaded collectors.
That’s why it is so heartwarming that the Kewpie is (hopefully) gaining new admirers with its manufacturing by Charisma. Billed as “An American Treasure,” that tagline certainly rings true about this doll with the devilish demeanor and angelic, cherubic cheeks.
It’s true that the America of the Kewpie’s origin bears only a passing resemblance to today’s world—for many of us, it would be an America that is totally unrecognizable. (We’re talking before feminism, civil rights, relaxed social mores, and other lifestyles that we all participate in and take for granted.) However, during a month that is steeped in so much personal sadness for me, as well as national mourning on 9/11, the Kewpies are a great way to see how America has stood the tests of time for more than 100 years.
Perhaps in another hundred years, the Kewpies will still be around. Of course, by then, they will be holograms and able to float and flit through the air. But, hopefully, even in this brave new world rendering, they will continue to display a healthy amount of mischief, good humor, and ripening romance.
Monster Mash-up: Dolls and an impending storm create a “FrankenFest” of thrills and chills!
This year, my October 31, 2012, is measuring up to be pure evil, with an avalanche of destruction and terror in its wake. Nope, I’m not opining about a 24-hour Roman Polanski marathon, but rather I’m bracing to square off against the “Storm of the Century,” otherwise known as “FrankenStorm.”
Yes, I live in the Northeast and the TV newscasters and radio announcers are trumpeting a torrential rainstorm, snowstorm, and hurricane all melding together to dump feet of snow and water upon our burbs and burgs this week. Set to touch down on land—please don’t let it be in my backyard—on Monday night, traditional Halloween trick-or-treating might be canceled for Wednesday. It’ll be difficult for the kiddies to climb over mountains of snow and ice. Plus, there is the possibility of electrical blackouts coupled with the whiteout driving conditions. For meteorologist pundits, this is the PERFECT storm. For the rest of us laypeople, this is a perfect horror show.
The only saving grace is the fact that this massive dumping is going to coincide with the season of terror and chills, so the chilly weather will let me and my family stay indoors and share ghost stories, Edgar Allan Poe tales, and the chance to make up our own. Luckily, we have an array of Monster High dolls to help us act out our fierce fantasies. And we also have a couple of Twilight characters and the cast of Harry Potter’s franchise.
So, while much of America is ringing doorbells, knocking on neighbors’ front porches, and wending their way through pumpkin-decorated wonderlands, I’ll be holding down the fort against the new deluge. You’ll all be on my mind, and I wish my kids and I could be taking part in the frolicking shenanigans. For now, though, I have to go and batten down the hatches, and perhaps find a bat in my belfry, too!
Highlands Heroines: Disney’s “Brave” celebrates the strength and spirit of mothers and daughters.
“Brave” tells a story that is familiar terrain for fairy-tale enthusiasts—especially folks who enjoy the Disney retooling and retelling of what constitutes a princess. Just as Mulan rode into battle garbed as a boy, and Rapunzel from “Tangled” saved the guy who fancied himself her rescuer, Merida is a princess who has a feminist bent and an immeasurable independent streak. She is destined to have her hand won by a suitor—a young laird from a clan that she doesn’t even know or fancy—and she rankles at that setup. Determined not to let herself be married off, she sneaks into an archery competition and shoots for her own fate. She is aiming her bow and arrow, smack in the center, at her own marital destiny.
That’s pretty heady stuff for an animated film—and the kids were impressed by Merida’s feisty spirit. Living in America in 2012, the children couldn’t imagine a time when a girl HAD to be married, and especially wed to a man she’d never met. This was inconceivable to them.
The movie follows Merida’s path to change her fate, and the unexpected fallout that occurs when she invites a witch to help her conjure up a spell to alter her mom. Young teen Merida sees her mother as the bane of her existence: always criticizing, scolding, tutoring, observing, commenting, and instructing. In other words, she’s always being too maternal and too hands-on. Merida sees her mother, Queen Elinor, as unbearable. And that critique has unplanned figural and literal results.
Unlike so many other Disney films where the mother is nonexistent—think “Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Bambi”—here the relationship between mother and daughter is front and center, top and bottom, palpitating all throughout the heart of the film. The head-butting and the misunderstandings—the love that often seems so deep that both parties will drown in it—all of this is captured by the screenplay, the voice actors, and the animators. “Brave” showcases how powerful a mother’s love is for her children: a fierceness that can transform even the mildest of maidens into a ferocious mama grizzly bear.
Second Helpings of Wisdom: A banquet of brainy doll talk and witty observations.
I have scouted around for some truly inspirational, sensational, and comical quotes about dolls. There are lots of well-known celebrities here, prize-winning poets, and some less-than-household names. Interestingly, some of the folks who aren’t at the top of your recognition list have the most beautiful, insightful observations. I’m sure they’d be happily invited into a dollhouse any day of the week.
It’s teatime and all the dolls are at the table. Listen. It’s that simple. Anne Lamott, novelist and nonfiction writer
My love is like one of those wooden Russian nesting dolls. I know, because your heart fits perfectly inside mine. Jarod Kintz, author and humorist
They didn’t have to pay me in dollars. I would have acted just as well if I had gotten armloads of dolls. Natalie Wood, reminiscing on her career as a child star
When I was a little girl, rocking my little dolls, I remember thinking I would be the world’s best mom, and so far I’ve done it. Jenny McCarthy, comedienne, Playboy model, and autism/vaccination activist
This morning, I went to wipe my hands on a tea towel, and while I was using it, it seemed like it felt a bit light. I unfolded it and realized my daughter had cut little bits out of it to make frocks for her dolls! Emma Thompson, Academy Award–winning actress and screenwriter
Barbie, you and I, we used to play together. It was totally under wraps. It was one of those clandestine relationships I didn’t want anyone to know about. Billy Bush, TV host and entertainment reporter
My childhood wasn’t an easy one. There were rough times. I escaped into fantasy. Barbie saved my life. Nicki Minaj, singer/rapper and “American Idol” judge