Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The "Princess" Problem and it's Answer:

A friend of mine was telling me how her sister doesn't approve of Disney cartoons because of the "Princess" role. The beautiful damsel in distress waiting for her Prince to rescue her. Women in very weak roles and depend upon men. She doesn't like or agree with them and rightfully so. My mother of course raised on Disney and had bought every movie available on VHS. I often wondered how differently I would have been towards men if I had been raised without Disney Princesses. However, as I grew older it didn't much matter because my favourite movies were always the ones with the female heroine! I always like this video game called Secret of Mana because in the beginning the gal rescues the guy from being turned into stew by cannibals!

I was trying to think of cartoons for little girls with strong female characters. Then obviously it hit me, my favourite cartoons to this day remain that of Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki movies are not only among the best non-CGI animated movies in the world, but carry important messages with strong character development and plots. For instance, "Naussica and the Valley of the Wind" is about a princess who is strong, confident, adventurous and courageous. She strives to save her village from a toxic jungle that threatens to invade their eco-friendly (wind powered) village. The movie takes place after the industrial age.The toxic jungle that suffocates them is the result of humanities environmental ignorance. The remaining humans are unaware of how their ancestors wronged the planet. The toxic jungle has evolved with it's own ecosystem and developed giant insects that remain peaceful unless provoked. The problem is the plants have become toxic.

This movie was released in 1984 and still manages to remain timeless. It heeds a great warning to all who watch it of humanities current situation in the world, while telling a story with fantastical creatures. The resolve of the story is that humans learn to live with the toxic jungle rather than try to destroy it and it's inhabitants. (the other details I won't mention for fear of ruining it)

Miyazaki re-uses themes over and over in many of his movies. Another man vs. nature feature is developed is "Princess Mononoke". This time there are two main characters male and female. Both characters have excellent qualities and have realistic personalities. Again conflict in the movie is created by the ignorance of man to respect nature. The resolve of the story is that humans learn to live with nature rather than quash it. This movie is a little violent for a small child but would be suitable for say, a 12 year old. There is no sexual content or course language in Miyazaki movies.

Miyazaki also toys with gender roles. Hence the switching of the damsel in distress role. The female role in the movies "Naussica", "Howls Moving Castle" and "Princess Mononoke" rescues the male character in many ways. Sometimes from physical harm and sometimes from his own emotional issues, such as in Howls Moving Castle. The male role is a wizard named Howl who is tortured by his own fear. Incapable of loving or courageous acts. (Howls Moving Castle is based on the novel by British writer Diana Wynne Jones, while his other films were developed from his own graphic novels) Also, the majority of his movies deal with the sadness and tyrany of war.

Miyazaki movies are released in North America (and endorsed) by GASP! Disney. There was a lot of controversy with the release of "Princess Mononoke" by Disney because of it's violent content. But of course the high demand for the movie forced Disney to release it. Disney being almight and powerful were smart enough to hire REAL actors to play the voices in the English dubs. Famous actors such as Uma Therman, Billy Crystal, Claire Danes, James Vanderbeak, Christian Bale, and many more translated the emotion of the Japanese voices with precision into the English version so that little of the original movies essence is lost. Many of the Miyazaki movies have been nominated for Academy awards although only a few were awarded.

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