Sunday, 28 February 2010

When you wish upon a star...

I've been in a bit of a Disney haze this week - not only because I'm involved in an uber-romantic musical made famous by the superbrand, but because on Thursday I went to see their new feature, The Princess and the Frog. It's the first in years to return to good old-fashioned 2D animation, and while I loved Nemo, Sully and Woody, for me it was a glimpse of the captivating magic I loved as a child. I've never met anyone who didn't love Disney films; they're the perfect combination of escapism, romance, music and humour. But in the cold reality of things, they have some serious delusions to answer for.

Everyone is taught through the magic of Disney that you get a happy ending. Not several stabs at a happy ending - the 'kissing several frogs before you meet your prince' theory isn't even integral to this froggy-themed tale - but one Prince Charming you will meet and just know is the one for you. Obviously this has been ripped apart in recent years by the Shrek trilogy, Enchanted and every feminist critic that could grip a pen, but something about those original 'damsel seeks hero' Disneys has endured - they are still the favourites.

If you watch the progression of their features, they go from zero-irony schmaltz (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) to fairytales with a fun twist (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid) and then distance themselves from the royal love story with animals, toys and monsters taking over from these prettier and luckier versions of us. I wonder how much of this shift came from audience and sales figures - the last human-based Disney before this one was the not wildly successful Hercules back in 1997. They then got a little siller with The Emperor's New Groove in 2000 (one of my personal cult favourites) and then the freakishness of humans in CGI basically drove us out their Noughties releases entirely.

The Princess and the Frog is a brilliant return to form - funny, clever, charming and sad - but it is acutely aware of all its Disney baggage. In jazz-age New Orleans, heroine Tiana is told that wishing for her dreams on the evening star will only get her part of the way there, and the rest will only happen with hard work and determination. This is a big dose of reality for cartoonland, where previously all a pretty girl had to be equipped with was a chirpy singing voice and a great figure, and she had 'happy ending' stamped all over her. A work ethic seems a funny addition to the list this late in the game. Still, it avoids being too preachy and fits into the formula; Tiana is more lovable than many of their early leading ladies as she scrubs, dusts, waitresses and cooks her way to the top. They couldn't completely ditch their 'All you need is love' mantra, however - Tiana is reminded by her father that while being successful is wonderful, if you don't have the man and the kids, it all means very little.

I think it's almost unfortunate that Disney chose to bring out their first black heroine at the same time as removing her fast-track ticket to dreams coming true. While you could argue that the reality factor comes with her not being a princess, it's also true that non-royal Cinderella had very little to do but sing and look pretty to find love and a crown, while Tiana seems to have an epic struggle before she finds her prince. There are hints of racial tension as her seamstress mother finishes making finery for a local plantation heiress and they subtly move to the back of the bus home. It would all be a little too political were it not for a trumpet-playing alligator, a toothless cajun firefly and a spectacular voodoo conjuror baddie. And fantastic songs. I almost choked on my popcorn as the credits informed me that the music was by Randy 'You got a friiiend in me' Newman, but the setting of the film in the roaring twenties means a jazzy southern score that is as stylish as any of the 2D classics.

As well as the toe-tapping songs, the hilarious playboy prince and spooky voodoo aspect, the performances are amazing - along with Anika Noni Rose's gutsy attitude and beautiful voice, they even got Oprah to appear as Tiana's mother. While there is one soul-crushingly sad moment (I won't ruin it for you) where you will literally feel like a five-year-old who just dropped their ice cream, The Princess and the Frog is a hugely uplifting couple of hours. I think it's safe to say that Disney's got its groove back.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Plan B

Maybe it's the whiff of desperation in the air that trails behind Valentine's Day, the drizzly, uninspiring weather, or just the come-down from my hopeful high, but this week I got to thinking about backups.

Way back in the depths of high school, probably at only 12 or 14, my friend Sam and I made a pact that if we weren't married by the time we were 40, we would get together. I'm not sure where the idea came from that we needed to cement a plan B even before puberty was in full swing, but it was probably an episode of Friends. It wasn't the fervour of intense teenagers either, it was done with a sense of whimsy and several of our friends made similar agreements. It seems sweet and funny in light of our current friendship, but I have no doubt I was on to something. It's the same argument made by writer Lori Gottlieb, who shocked the world's fairytale fantasists with her book Marry Him: The case for settling for Mr Good Enough. It suggested that women reaching for the sky is only ending in tears and prolonged singledom, and perhaps that perfectly nice, mildly funny guy who doesn't shake you to the core but maybe puts a smile on your face, is the way to go. Controversial, or just good sense?

My backups changed over the years, but as with every slightly vain girl there have always been one or two guys who I've assumed I could count on to be a great option if Prince Charming never showed up. The criteria is usually as follows: good friend, makes me laugh, good looking enough for me to have checked them out when we first met, evidence they're a good boyfriend, the hope that we wouldn't murder each other and the feeling that, being a little quirky, they too might be single years from now. At only 22, I am distressed to see this theory dissolving aeons before the big deadline, with the a mass coupling-up of my male network (with various women, not each other.) If I browse through my facebook friends - the little black book of the noughties - I find that only 25% of males that I might deem backup material are still single (let it never be said that I don't do my research.) I realise this doesn't reveal how many there are and thus how many are taken, but it would be unladylike to stalk and tell.

Only 1 in 4 of my attractive male acquaintances are still on the market, and this peturbs me. I was never a maths brain, but I know my probability and I need to increase my social sea in order to boost the plentitude of hot single fish, as it were. I met up with a good friend yesterday for a bit of a caffeine crawl (coffee, tea, coke...) and we whiled away a good few hours musing on relationships. This is mainly because we have a hilarious inability to synchronise our relationship status - every time I can remember being single, he has been taken, and now I'm single, naturally he's loved up to the max. It makes for interesting chat because a good straight male friend can hold up a mirror to your girlfriend potential and clarify your manic post-breakup thoughts. As I feared, my relationship accounts are not that healthy, but he nobly offered to help me on my 'more men, more choice' plan by introducing me to his extensive circle of male friends. Even if I don't find exactly what I'm looking for, a good solid backup would suit me fine.

Knight in shining armour: missing, presumed dead

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Male Order

This Valentine's Day (shudder) I don't feel as downcast as I had anticipated, but hopeful. I woke up with a great sense of purpose, and not just the purpose of drinking wine in the bath and sobbing my way through All By Myself.

Yes, my last couple of major relationships have crashed and burned, but couldn't that be a blessing in disguise? For every wonderful thing both exes had going for them, both relationships were completely devoid of excitement and hope for the future. Both involved an impending move for one of both of us, and that cloud hanging over the fun times was always pissing a little 'where is this going?' juice down on us. I suppose what I'm allowed to consider now is someone who I can have fun with, be compatible with, and have the heady sensation of just seeing where it goes. As opposed to knowing where it's going, and that the destination isn't great.

So this February 14th, I'm taking a leaf out of Jane and Michael Banks' book, and making a wishlist for Mr 2010. Imagine the tinkly music of the Sherman brothers, as I rip up this hopeful missive and send it out on the spring breeze in the hope that a clever, funny and hot Mr Write will come floating back and appear at my door...

If you want this choice position
Have a cheery disposition

Sparkling eyes, no warts!
Cooks well, all sorts

You must be kind, you must be witty
Fully straight and not too pretty

Take me on outings, buy me treats
Never, ever hog the sheets

Never be cross or cruel
Don't still think you're still in high school

Don't have a secret son or daughter
And don't drink vodka like it's water

I'll try not to irritate you
If you never give me cause to hate you

If you don't take yourself too seriously
There won't be any drama
Just love and laughs and tea

Hurry, boyfriend
Many thanks,

Miss Write

If, during some horribly deprived childhood, you have missed out on this charming cultural reference, here is the original.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

It's a Girl Thing

You may have caught the latest chunk of the Katie'n'Peter saga on GMTV this morning. The TV equivalent of coke and jelly beans for breakfast responsibly set up (for news purposes, obviously) the warring exes for some fresh feuding. Having had Katie on the sofa earlier this week, it was Andre's turn - desperate, bursting to promote his awful Valentines album - to weigh in about his former wife's behaviour. Luckily the former Celebrity Mum of the Year (who was she up against, Courtney Love and Britney Spears?) handed the researchers a story on a silver platter by posting a gharish picture of her and Andre's two-year-old daughter, Princess, in full make-up and fake lashes on Facebook.

The offending photo

Now, even before this picture was leaked, I have long had my suspicions about that kid. With two naturally dark-haired parents, Cypriot heritage and an appearance-obsessed mother, it wouldn't surprise me if that Barbie blonde hair was dyed. Princess and Junior (don't even get me started on the names) both appear to have their lashes curled and possibly coated with mascara in those endless OK! pictures, and they just don't look like happy, normal kids to me. In this picture, the gharish fake lashes - Urgh! Using lash glue on your child! - and pink lips stand out starkly against her little baby teeth and big blue eyes.

Andre broadly stated that he found the fake-lashes picture 'disgusting', but it sparked some debate over whether girls will be girls, trying on make-up and mum's shoes. The trouble is, this girl is two. At two, girls just aren't girly yet - me and my sisters were definitely in dungarees with short hair, probably some pink but not predominantly, at that age. Toddler interests usually revolve around their plastic cup of squash, the walls and floor, mud, farm visits and the odd tantrum. Girliness, that minefield of pink and sparkle, comes later. That's what troubled me about the Andre kids - their gender seems so enforced. Princess is pink, chiffon, big skirts, curled hair, make up (notably not smudged on by a child, but expertly blended by adult hands) sparkly shoes, even rocking a hot-pink buggy as a baby. Junior is surfer shorts, khaki, white trainers, Logo T-shirts and gelled-up hair on occasion. Because why worry about whether four is too young to break out the Brylcreem when your kid can look like David Beckham? It's the parenting equivalent of tiny jackets and shoes on a dog. Bizarre, and unsettling.

I have a couple of times felt compelled to blog about the Pink Stinks campaign, but have always found myself slightly on the fence. I don't think it is necessarily a terrible thing that small girls gravitate to pink, it is a larger WAG/popstar image that is worrying when imitated. When girls think only about who they want to grow up to marry or what reality TV show they want to go on, that's what makes me sad. Pink Stinks is a slightly neurotic-mum manifestation of today's concerns about girls being flooded with pink, playboy-logoed, princessy clothes and toys. It seeks to redress the balance by promoting cool role models like female Nobel Prize winners and Arctic explorers (good) and bombarding toy stores with angry letters about their stock (hmm).

I know several people who feel strongly that nothing is that black and white (or pink, for that matter) and that girls with strong female examples in their life will turn out great with or without a Barbie obsession. I wasn't half as obsessed with glam, freakishly-proportioned Barbie as either of my sisters, but that hasn't made me any more of a science brain or adventuress. I'm still pretty damn girly, and I swapped ballet for gym and refused to wear skirts for several years. So maybe it's a case of phases - little girls discovering the excitement of sparkly nail varnish, princessy costume and playing mummy. But I don't think opening their eyes to the range of career options and hobbies available to them can ever be a bad thing; it's so tempting to assume that girls like ballet and singing, and boys like football and computer games.

Incidentally, I don't think we'll be seeing any websites devoted to showing boys the perks of wearing pink and taking dance classes. Surely the best you can do is offer a range of fun activities and let both genders mix with each other as much as possible? Take heed, anti-pink mummies: beware becoming just as controlling as those youth-hungry Katie types who project their idea of glamour onto their small child. On Katie's TV show she is filmed proudly showing off her toddler's makeover, saying 'Do you like it?' With no prompting whatsoever, Princess responds, 'I look like a mini you!' Not exactly a rave review.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Green Shoots

Ok, so things have been a bit bleak lately. I'm not exactly what you'd call on track, life wise. But today, a perfectly good day to curl up under the duvet and quietly hate the world, I decided to get out instead. I wandered up through the park I used to play in as a child, I breathed in the air and I just had a look around. It felt strange at first to not be going anywhere - I always seem to be on a mission, whatever I'm doing.

I don't know if it was the time we'd spent apart or the insane early-afternoon light, but the park looked absolutely beautiful today. Still a few moody clouds peppering the sky, the sun had decided to resurface after what felt like weeks (months?) of grey, cold, unappealing days. The sunlight pouring through the trees and on to the lake really made me stop and look, and feel the warmth on my face.

The clouds have rolled back in now and it looks like it might rain, but the refreshed feeling I got from wandering around taking snapshots of my afternoon is still here.

This is all beginning to sound a bit Buddhist-hippie irritating, but my point is this. Someone like me is highly inclined to stay in, to mooch, to review the bad things, to dwell on the bigger picture. But getting outside, seeing the colours right there on your doorstep, hanging out with some more chilled out life forms like ducks and frogs - that's what makes you realise that right now is actually a really nice time to be alive. Then life stops being this horrific obstacle course and starts feeling like a walk in the park.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Girl Power Grammys

I flicked over to the Grammy Awards on Wednesday night and I couldn't stop watching. The award presentations felt like dull delays between each epic performance, and it must be said that the fabulous females of the music industry totally stole the show. Every time I thought I had been wowed by one pop princess, another came out and completely eclipsed them.

Lady Gaga was her usual level of extra-strength crazy, with an explosive hint at her upcoming tour in her performance of Poker Face and Speechless. They've taken the video off of YouTube now, but it was absolutely phenomenal. The girl has boundless energy and can really sing live, not to mention another geometric hit on the costume front. I loved the creepy ringleader guy and the faceless Gaga-esque dancers, and adored the Terence Koh-designed double grand piano, with sinister clawed hands reaching out of it. Mud-covered Elton John seemed like a genuine Gaga fan and let her outshine him as they duetted on a mix of Speechless and Your Song, even changing his lyrics to say 'how wonderful life is while Gaga's in the world.' Amazing.

Beyoncé came out in killer heels, leather dress and heavy eyeliner and blasted out If I Were a Boy in the theatrical style she uses on tour. I would have preferred the hair to be a little bigger than the ironed-flat look she went for, but I loved the ghetto-fabulous gold armour dress and hoop earrings she wore to pick up her (count 'em) SIX awards. She also slipped into her performance a version of You Oughta Know by Alanis Morrissette, a song I have loved since my angry teenage years, and an ingenious choice which was a perfect match for her huge voice. More power to the girls.

Just when I thought my popstar dreams had all come true, out walked Pink. I always forget how much I love Pink's sultry voice, as she's not a such a strong cultural presence as G and B, but her stunning performance of 'Glitter in the Air' was spellbinding. It was the first time that night that I put down all other distractions and just stopped to watch and listen. She twirled from the ceiling on with acrobatic ease and managed to keep her voice smooth and serene while spinning upside down with water cascading over her. If the 2010 Grammys was like the Diva Olympics, Pink definitely stole the gold. Unknown song, daring performance and understated vocals, but utterly beautiful to behold.

The only lame duck of the night was the unbearably bland Taylor Swift, who not only stole four epic awards from competitors like Beyoncé and Gaga, but quacked out irritating 'OhmyGod' speeches and gave a seriously below-par performance of her already forgettable songs. Organisers even had the gall to ask Fleetwood Mac legend Stevie Nicks to sing with her, who looked completely thrown at having to take part in this shoddy karaoke performance of the teen wonder's hits. I'm with Kanye, she must be stopped.*

The Michael Jackson tribute was a little cringey - Earth Song isn't even good when it's him doing it, who thought adding Celine Dion to the mix was the solution?! - and his kids looked horribly uncomfortable, as well as like little sedated zombies who have as much biological connection to him as cat food. Still, RIP and all that. Generally the live stuff was genius (the Dave Matthews band and Green Day with guests were also highlights), Jay-Z and Beyoncé's support of each other warmed my frosty heart and it just reminded me how slick and powerful the US music industry is. With Pixie Lott, JLS and Cheryl Cole topping the nomination list, I'm not holding my breath for the Brits to top it.

*Edit: After writing this, it popped up on that after poor wittle Taylor got a lot of flack for her 'singing' at the Grammys, the CEO of her record label decided to wade in with this defence:

"This is not American Idol. This is not a competition of getting up and seeing who can sing the highest note... This is about a true artist and writer and communicator. It's not about that technically perfect performance."

To my great amusement, original Idol Kelly Clarkson retaliated on her blog by writing:

"Thank you for that ‘Captain Obvious', because you know what, we not only hit the high notes, you forgot to mention we generally hit the ‘right' notes as well."
She signed the post,
"One of those contestants from American Idol who only made it because of her high notes."


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Bad Romance

I'm not romantic at the best of times. Secretly I love being spoiled, treated, and feeling special, but even when I'm in a relationship I find the whole Valentine's thing a little tough to take.
In a twist, this year I'm back out in barren Singletown just in time for V Day, spending the build-up feeling pure hatred towards heart-shaped balloons, cakes, chocolates and stuffed toys, shooting daggers at happy-looking couples on escalators and just wishing it was March already. This may sound sad, but factor in a work day that consists entirely of compiling a Valentine's day supplement for a Sunday newspaper. That's right. We're talking hearts, cherubs, love stories from history and art, and my slow loss of the will to live.

When did Valentine's Day become compulsory? When my relationship broke up I thought, bad timing, but at least I can keep my head down, keep composed and avoid the whole stupid concept of a 'romantic month'. It turns out, you can't escape it - Clintons is practically bursting with grotesque teddies and cards, the chocolate shop near my office doesn't have one box or display piece that isn't heart-shaped and BLOODY GMTV are doing 'Love Week', with special segments on their presenters' real love stories. Fabulous.

Where are the businesses or TV shows run by single people? Surely the CEO and manager of every store and channel isn't glowing and loved up? This enforced romance can only mean that everywhere, suicidal shop girls are stacking the shelves with 'I love you' cards (imagine), TV researchers are angrily brainstorming lovey-dovey ideas for next week's shows and people like me are being forced to research every famous couple that could make it work. It's too much to have to endure a heart-shaped world when your own heart is bruised.

I know I should be a little more detached and appreciate that for some people, Valentine's is a lovely exciting time to spend with their partner, but the more I think about it, the more it incenses me. Valentine's day will never be satisfactory - early in the relationship it's riddled with pressures and fear over doing too much or not enough, further in there are expectations to be met and disappointment when it falls short of perfection, and in marriage it just becomes another day to accidentally forget, along with birthdays and anniversaries. It's hard enough to enjoy a perfectly serendipitous moment with someone dreamy at all, without trying to schedule that moment for one particular day a year.

I have a bad record with Valentine's day. I remember awkward high school years of wishing my crush du jour would look my way, bringing in Love Hearts to give unsubtly (but also the excitement at that first card from an inarticulate teenage boy.) When I was seventeen, I broke up with my boyfriend the day before Valentine's - a dispute over what we were going to do on the day, but really just the culmination of several terse months. Even so, it tainted the experience and taught me that things are not likely to be rosy every February 14th. During university, my single girlfriends and I had cocktails in a sort of 'screw you, we're single' spirit - but even this inevitably turned to boy talk and became a little morose. The last time I was truly spoiled was two years ago, when the relationship was just at the right stage - new enough to be exciting, not too new to make the big gestures - and I enjoyed it in the moment, roses and dinner and all.

But me and Valentine's 2010 are not going to get on at all. I can feel it coursing through me now, as if I'm limbering up for a big fight with a long-term enemy.
Options for the day itself include:

- staying in bed and refusing to concede even consciousness to the vile charade (perhaps letting V Day win a little bit there)
- hosting a vicious 'Bad Romance' party for single friends, complete with angry music, a ban on red/pink/flowers/hearts/chocolate, drinking unromantic beers and spirits and possibly watching a horror film. Or anything where the central love story is ultimately futile.
- combining the two and drinking in bed, crying like a mad person and screaming 'Liarrr!' at any love scenes that dare to cross my TV screen.
- accepting my own challenge to eat an entire jar of Nutella.
- turning up the speakers and caterwauling along to Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights. God I hope no hot men are reading this.

None of the options are particularly pretty but I just don't see how this day is going to be. I was all up for making it just another day of the week before the Hallmark gods started pissing artificial romance all over London. I'm off to stock up on the Jack Daniels and hide all the rom-coms - any suggestions for getting through Feb 14th very welcome. Bring it on.