Finding the ways to fill the time
I’m not ashamed to admit that at as a childless 27 year old, I still enjoy sitting down and watching the Disney movies I grew up with.
Re-watching Pocahontas recently, made me aware of the strong imprint that these movies had on the many impressionable children who watched them. Children who grew up to become movie directors and screen-writers, and subconsciously filled their females characters with the whimsy, fire and free-spirit of fantasy princesses.
The result: Manic Pixie Dream Girls.
Thinking about it – Ariel is probably the most obvious. Quirks include: mute, pet lobster, brushes her hair with a fork and is a mermaid. Prince Eric speedily falls for her wide-eyes (as only Disney and Japanese animators can draw), after one day of her innocence, enthusiasm and a near fatal carriage ride.
It was however while watching Pocahontas that I made the connection between her, and other Disney Princesses, and the flighty femme fatale trope of recent years.
You might think of Pocahontas as being a super cool, collected chick – wreathed in mist, taking down the measure of John Smith, but she is mainly crazy, and, I would venture, suicidal.
Base jumping from the top of a waterfall; grinning manically and bellowing out Just Around The River Bend as she drives her kayak over the top of it again; casually passing a bear cub to her man to help him get in touch with nature. She is raw, potent Life with a capital L; rejecting her boring arranged-marriage candidate and taking on the English invaders.
She also has mad keen language learning skills.
Pocahontas and her burning desire to experience had a huge psychological impact on me. Watching again, after an absence of 12 years, there was a faint, mental commentary, as the adult me analysed the memories of feelings from child me. As Pocahontas fearlessly pushed that canoe downstream, further and further away from everything familiar – in order to see what waited around that next corner, I had responded strongly to that hunger for freedom and adventure. I wanted the barrier breaking journeys of Belle or Ariel, minus the happily ever after of being married at 16. I would have swapped my feet for flippers any day.
That’s just me. How did this affect the sensitive, artistic types from my generation who are in the current crop of creatives making and writing movies? They saw the princes and the plucky street urchins being swept up in quirky charm with females who, because they were foreign/common/Princess/fairy/mermaid literally embodied, ‘I’ve never met a person like you before’. They created the grown-up, Disney romantic duo, that, even without the singing and the sweet animal friends, have struggled to be realistic. Brooding male characters, stuck in metaphorical castle fortresses, who are helpless when they meet their effervescent, on-the-edge-of-life, dream girls.
Maybe you think I’m stretching the connection between Disney and Manic Pixie Dream Girls? That the idea of an amazing other person who opens up the world and all its riches, making us bold, better people, is a common human yearning, and has been a trait of many romances?
Then imagine Zooey Deschanel as Pocahontas.