Friday, August 17, 2018


Earlier this week, Disney unveiled the first images of the live-action feature film Mulan, which will see its release in March 2020. I had been a bit (extremely) skeptical about live-action adaptations ever since Hollywood botched Dragon Ball to pieces. I had my misgivings early on (because, well, how?); but being a die-hard fan since it first aired on Club Dorothée at the end of the 80’s, I figured I would still give the film a chance. Only five minutes in, I was already cringing. It was painful. It was devastating. I had to walk out before my childhood dreams were completely shattered. Truth of the matter is that, apart from Akira Toriyama’s masterpiece, plenty should really stick to the plain old, classic animated format: that is what makes them special to begin with. Regardless of cinematographic techniques getting better by the minute, live-action adaptations simply cannot reenact the magic. That being said, I do have to admit that not all adaptations were as catastrophic as that Dragonball Evolution (it left an open wound, didn't it?) I was quite pleased with The Beauty and The Beast. The excellent Emma Watson shines as Belle – and Chinese superstar Liu Yifei, in all fairness, looks superb and could do Disney’s beloved Mulan justice.  

I still recall the day I watched Mulan back in 1998. I returned to the cinema a few days later to watch it again. I took a particular liking to her – not only because Mulan was the first Asian Disney Princess, but her witty, brave and honorable personality spoke to me. Cutting her hair short (I had short hair!) and dressing like a man (I wore my brothers' clothes til I turned eighteen!) in order to join the army in lieu of her father? Love of family, love of country, against all the odds, being a courageous and independent woman in a man’s world: the fearless heroine embodied values and qualities young women could look up to. I certainly did. And without fail, of course, there was a happy ending. 

Like millions of women of my generation (rather, of any generation), I grew up with uplifting Disney movies : whimsical tales, devoted sidekicks-slash-companions and to top it all, inspiring songs everyone would karaoke to for all the years to come. We saw the appeal. The optimism was contagious. The formula, concluding on the lovebirds living happily ever after, inviting. The belief, yes, the hope of that ideal end credits sequence blatantly (even secretly) paved the path. Immediately, young girls everywhere set eyes — and heart — on living their own fairy-tale stories (though, if we think it out, children that age should not even be considering, not in the slightest, a romance): true to form, a childlike aspiration that will stick to women’s minds like a magnet –– though possibly folded, reinvented, torn apart and taped back one too many times to count over time –– a hopeful aspiration nonetheless. 

Coming of age in literature, movies, pop culture and ultimately — in life — has been a cloying curiosity for many years. As a matter of fact, I suspect to have already relished the Bildungsroman genre and implications, without being fully aware of it, when I was going through mine. There is something magnetic, consuming, utterly riveting about that weirdest fucking phase: hormones skyrocketing through the roof, your body changing, your mindset keeps on changing and you pining for adults, boys and siblings to stop treating you like a child erratically… It is a well of questions and possibilities, and the roads are delicate. Most of all, there is that constant tug between the rapture of still being a child and the need to act like a proper grown-up. Young adults – what a term. What a stage. Undeniably, it is a testing time yet in my opinion, the most fascinating one. After recently seeing my niece, almost fourteen, the tables have turned. I now understand why parents, grand-parents, uncles and aunties shout of surprise once they recognize that their baby no longer is… one. Funnily enough, until your own in turn reach puberty, you cannot possibly comprehend that those hugs and kisses  –– the ones you used to duck hysterically as well –– are truthfully the highest form of love. The urge to embrace them as if they still were will quietly –– or ecstatically –– always melt your heart. I am one of them today: I changed your pampers and all of a sudden, you have a crush-slash-puppy love-slash-whaaaaaaaat boyfriend?

The transition is tricky. If coming of age was hard; raising one at that stage must be harder. That tug between chaperoning children –– adolescents really –– for as long possible and letting them grow up and make their own choices is, frankly, a distressing task. You wish to protect them because by now, you discovered that life, or love especially, is nothing like an animated movie. ’Crisis’ is certainly an integral part of the Disney recipe, as it is in reality; but you also made the experience that it will not automatically conclude on happily ever after… Not the fairy-tale kind at least. Frogs end up staying frogs. The man you believed was your prince marries another and after a while, although there are plenty of fish in the sea, aren’t you just tired of looking for Nemo? Disney animations pave the path, rightfully so, they make our eyes marvel; at the same rate however, they also set a, let us be honest here, Utopian benchmark on what your end credits should entail. Girls at the prime of their youth, as mentioned above, relate to Disney princesses instantly –– already idolize the idea of a prince even more; then to the majority, it will become a Peter Panesque aspiration. Their prime aspiration – as if nothing else worthy happens or will ever happen until –– unless there is The Happy Ending (yes, in capital letters, that is how legitimate people regard it.) Why is a fairy-tale wedding an achievement? Why is marriage the achievement? And if you do not find -- or even desire -- Prince Charming, why does it feel like you miss your chance at living happily ever after?

At a pop-store a couple of weeks ago, I found a series of T-shirts featuring Ariel, Cinderella, Snow White & Co. covered with tattoos, piercings and dramatic make-up. The entire Princess Line with a punk rock attitude, in other words, the tops were awesome. I got myself the Jasmin one: dolled-up, holding a joint, wearing a Misfits shirt instead of her famous turquoise ensemble. I fancied how this artist revisited these characters –– not because they got the 'badass', actually non-princess-like makeover; but mainly because the premise and frame of mind of being a princess was spot on. I remember why I admired Mulan so much in the first place: love of family, love of country, against the odds, being a courageous and independent woman in this man's world. It was not only about the fairy-tale ending. It was never only about the boy. However, it does come down to becoming a woman with character and integrity. Mulan lived on her own terms –– which, I reckon, I manage to apply to my own life. I am a princess. A badass at that. This is the guidance I will give and the aspiration I wish upon the youngsters in my circle: make your own path. The Disney charm begets different points of view depending on whether you watch the movies with childlike innocence, adolescent qualm or mature experience; but in the end, one thing remains the same through the ages: even if life, and love especially, taught you that it cannot always be a fairy tale, your story can still be magical.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Past tense

She was,
She used to be,

I still startle

There will no longer be
Any new memories.

I look up
When the skies cry
When there is not a cloud in sight

I talk about her in the past tense now.

Eye on my arm
God squeezes my heart,

I remember the feel
Of toying with her
Sagging skin
’Til mine ages,
I will beam at my ink.

I talk about her in the past tense now.

On nights I cry,
On fine nights
I burst with life,

She cradles my heart.