Morgon Newquist

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.”

Review: Beauty and the Beast

Spoilers ahead!

I will begin this review stating that I absolutely adore Beauty and the Beast. It has been my favorite Disney movie and fairy tale for as long as I can remember. In fact, I have a novel I’ve been working on for many years named Beast Child that I hope to be able to share with you all in the future.

I fell in love with the live action Cinderella film released several years ago, and so my excitement went through the roof when Beauty and the Beast was announced. If they did Cinderella so beautifully, whimsically, and perfect, perhaps they would do the same with my beloved tale.

Beauty and the Beast is not, unfortunately, as wonderful as Cinderella. However, I greatly enjoyed it (especially several aspects of it) and it was not as terrible of a message fiction mess as I feared it would be. I was worried – especially with a lot of the news coverage in the days before the film’s release. The points, as is common with journalism, were overstated.

First, to address the controversies. You’d have to really examine the film with a magnifying glass to find this groundbreaking “exclusively gay” moment. In fact, I am not entirely sure what it was supposed to be, though I have my guesses. This is good, as I wanted to be able to take my young children to see it. I’m suspecting it was a pure publicity grab to talk about it at all – and already those who care about that kind of thing are decrying how it wasn’t good enough. Otherwise other than some “wink wink nudge nudge” moments it is not a huge influence on the plot.

LeFou is most definitely gay, but not in a way that children are going to notice, and he’s mostly really funny. His character has been expanded well and I enjoyed him.

Belle “being brought into the 21st Century” to be a strong, independent inventor woman (apparently being a book worm isn’t enough anymore) is a bigger problem. And that brings me to the weak link of the movie, which is Belle. Emma Watson, despite her turn as Hermione in Harry Potter, was a poor choice. She is pretty, but not beautiful, and they had to auto-tune the hell out of her voice to make it merely passable. Her acting is good but not great. Many of the weaknesses of the film could have been fixed just by casting someone else in this role. Someone who could take a little of the edge off. Belle actually doesn’t do all that much inventing, so that also seems to be kind of tacked on to deflect criticism about her not being “modern & smart enough”.

I have mixed feelings on Belle as a character in this movie, to be honest. She is kind of an elitist bitch in the beginning of the movie – but in doing this, she is actually given a character arch as well. She doesn’t have much of one in the original film. She grows and softens, especially once the Beast embarrasses her for her inflated ego. I would have preferred that she wasn’t quite so unlikeable during the first third of the movie. This could have been done while still preserving the spirit of the character arch.

One scene in particular was heavy handed and out of place and could have been altered or left out. The villagers dump out Belle’s laundry because she is teaching a little girl to read. It was overly feminist, and literacy in France for women in the 17th century was actually quite high.

Gaston is, quite honestly, the highlight of this film. He is charming, arrogant, masculine, and perfect. I loved watching him. I liked the new bits to his character – like that he is a returning war veteran ready to settle down in life.

There are only two issues with him in the movie: 1) Belle and Maurice’s treatment of him in the beginning of the movie is atrocious. It’s like the movie forgets that he has not been established as the villain yet – he is arrogant and entitled, but he hasn’t actually done anything wrong. He doesn’t throw Belle’s book in the mud, he doesn’t harass her about reading – he is honestly attempting to woo her because of her personality and her beauty. And she is a complete bitch to him, as if he was as oafish and offensive right off the bat as he is in the animated film. Later on, Gaston goes out to help Maurice when he asks (instead of throwing him out of the tavern) and Maurice is an asshole to him. This bothered me, because in that universe, he might have been a little arrogant, but he had done nothing to deserve that treatment except apparently the cardinal sin of being attracted to someone who wasn’t interested in him. 2) The changes to his death scene are anticlimatic and he deserved better.

The film is beautifully romantic, from Maurice’s sad and quiet mourning of his wife, to the separated Cadenza and Garderobe, Lumiere and Plumette, and finally to Belle and the Beast. Their connection is much better done in this expanded version of the story. I love that it starts with the Beast teasing a haughty and offended Belle about not actually being as well read as she thinks she is. In an age where so few movies are romantic (especially not most “romance” movies) I appreciate that writers didn’t shy away from making the movie that way.

Some of the tiny story details added or expanded on are right on point. The addition of the servants losing more and more of their humanity as the end of the curse nears adds a wonderful dimension to the film. The scene where the last of their humanity vanishes and they “turn into antiques” despite their victory against the villagers is surprisingly moving.

The castle and its grounds being in eternal winter is a nice touch. And my personal favorite was perhaps one of the best of these additions – the shuddering and breaking of the castle every time a rose petal falls. Several plot holes from the original are closed – as part of her curse, the Enchantress makes everyone forget about the Prince, the Castle, and its inhabitants, including their own family members that were working in the castle.

The visuals are stunning, and I like the period feel – right down to the white powdered wigs in the beginning. The character design of the castle servants is really neat as well.

The new songs are a good addition, particularly the melancholy “Days in the Sun”. I still prefer the Beast’s soliloquies from the original broadway show to “Evermore”, however. Evermore is a touch emo for me.

Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen are two of my very favorite actors, and like I told Russell…Ewan McGregor singing Be Our Guest is about one of the only things that could make me like that song. (Yes, I love Beauty and the Beast but hate Be Our Guest. Well, I don’t hate it any longer, but the most I can ever summon for it is “meh”.)

So my final verdict: I enjoyed it significantly more than I thought I would, but it was not as wonderful as I hoped it would be.

Coming soon, a refutation of the common, snide criticisms of the Beauty and the Beast story.

My Top Five Disney Villain Songs

This is a fun little post I was thinking about as my kids and I listened to a Disney villain song collection in the car. It was a little random and missing some good ones, but it got me considering it.

Here are the best Disney Villain songs, ranked by me.

#5 Be Prepared – The Lion King

This song on the list was almost a given, as The Lion King is one of the best of the Disney animated films. Scar (with the exception of Ursula, who was originally Triton’s sister, a relationship removed from the movie but restored to the stage musical) is family to the characters he is destroying. He is kills his own brother in order to be king, and is completely willing to also permanently psychologically damage (and then kill) his own nephew for it too. Jeremy Irons is perfect for this song, and it is ominous as he plots the coup of the royal family. It’s also full of Nazi imagery, which should terrify today’s snowflakes looking for swastikas around every corner.

 

#4 Mother Knows Best – Tangled

I almost ranked this one higher – it was a little bit of a struggle, but the next song is a little shocking for a Disney song, even a villain, so this one ended up at #4. Mother Gothel kidnapped the baby princess Rapunzel to use her magic hair to stay young and beautiful forever, and has kept the child locked up in a tower her entire life. This song is the epitome of feminine abuse – catty comments, underhanded jabs, and most of all, scaring and manipulating a young woman to stay completely dependent on her. She is crushing Rapunzel’s self confidence and self reliance, all so she can be beautiful. Take note at the end of the song, when Mother Gothel tells Rapunzel “I love you most” she kisses Rapunzel’s hair and not her.

#3 My Lullaby – The Lion King II

So this is a movie that has mostly been relegated to the dustbin, as it was one of the direct to video sequels of the late Eisner years at Disney. I haven’t watched it again as an adult, but it isn’t too bad if I remember it correctly. It has had a tiny bit of a resurgence lately as they’ve chosen not to totally trash the canon from it; Simba’s daughter Kiara is in the new television show The Lion Guard. The music in it is actually quite good, and this song is one of the reasons.

The plot is that several of Scar’s followers were expelled from the Pridelands by Simba, including Zira and her three children. Her youngest son, Kovu, was chosen to be Scar’s successor. She is singing him to sleep in the song My Lullaby.

The corruption of a child, and her celebration of violence and wrath also make it noteworthy.

#2 Friends on the Other Side – The Princess and the Frog

This is The Shadow Man – Dr. Facilier – trapping Prince Naveen with voodoo in The Princess and The Frog. Keith David’s talent makes this song, as does the willingness to be explicit and creepy with his shadow summons. He is tempting both Naveen and his manservant Lawrence with their heart’s desires – money and respect. I also find it noteworthy  for using the temptation of a gamma – a cowardly man who cannot stand up for himself wanting to take the power and respect of another man. He thinks he deserves what Naveen has, despite never making any effort to improve his own lot in life.  He would betray and destroy Naveen in order to get it.

“In your future, the you I see…is exactly the man you always wanted to be,” sings the Shadow Man as he shows Lawrence a card with him as the king, abusing his master.

 

#1 Hellfire – The Hunchback of Notre Dame

With the exception of #3, this is likely to be one of the songs on the list that has been heard the least. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is – generally quite rightfully, I feel – scoffed at for the “Disney” changes made to Victor Hugo’s classic novel. And on the other side of the divide, many Disney fans didn’t like it because it didn’t have the requisite happy ending. But the music in it is incredible (Don’t believe me? Go listen to it). The musical, which changes the plotline to be at least slightly closer to the original story, also has amazing music.

Rumor is that Roy Disney gave the creators permission to push the envelope and do something different with this movie, and in Hellfire, you can see it. It is an intense song about Frollo condemning Esmerelda to eternal fire for not returning his affections.  

 

That is my ranking of the Disney Villain Songs! There are a couple of good ones (Poor Unfortunate Souls, Oogie Boogie’s Song, and The Mob Song, for example) that just missed the top five. What are your favorite Disney Villain songs and why?

 

Even Cinderella Had Haters

This is a post that’s been rolling around in my head for a while that I’ve been meaning to write. I think it is important to remember. I try to keep it as a sort of mantra (along with the tagline from the live action movie, “Have Courage and Be Kind”).

I like most people on an individual basis. I’m not a saint, there are some I can’t stand or don’t want to deal with. I’m generally unconcerned with whatever they choose to do with their time or attentions.  I can also see most people for the interesting and good things about them, even if I don’t want to be BFFs.

I spent a rather embarrassingly long time of my life naively thinking this is how most other people were. It is not.

It does not matter how charitable, how smart, how kind – how completely and generally unoffensive you are as a person. Someone will not like you. Someone will take shots at you, try to tear you down, or just make your life uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because they are bitter and hate everyone. Maybe they are jealous. Who knows?

The crabs in a bucket theory is real. Many (even most) people actually behave this way. You won’t escape their cruelty, jealousy, or dislike, even if you try to be nice and try to make everyone like you. Hell, sometimes the act of trying to make everyone like you makes someone hate you. It’s impossible.

You will not make everyone happy. Everyone will not like you. The end.

Cinderella was kind, beautiful, courageous, helpful, and loving. And even someone – her steprelatives – hated her. In fact, they hated her because of who she was. There was nothing for her to do about it.

If not even everyone loved Cinderella, a perfect fairy tale heroine, they will not all love you.

I get it. It is hard to accept. I still struggle with it, particularly because I am rather mild mannered and make a concerted effort to be kind. I have been a people pleaser for most of my life.

But it still hasn’t made me universally beloved. All her wonderful qualities did not save Cinderella from her stepmother and stepsisters.

Be who you are – whoever that is, and stop worrying about everyone else. It’s hard to do. I am trying to become that way. But I am sure it will make my life better.

Have You Seen: The 10th Kingdom

I am about to start running a couple of new “series” here on this blog. This post is the first of one of them. “Have You Seen” will be for me to share various works of writing, music, movies or television that I enjoyed but aren’t always super well known.

The first of these is The 10th Kingdom. I bring it up because we are currently watching it with my son. It has been a while since I’ve watched it, but it’s holding up quite well.

This was a TV miniseries originally released in 2000, and that is when I saw it the first time, too. I happened to be staying with a family friend while my parents were out of town. They were recording it…otherwise I might have never even known about it. It was not seen by very many people, it seems. The show wasn’t even rereleased on DVD until 2013, after it had been unavailable for quite some time.

It’s more than 150 years after Happily Ever After…and again the nine kingdoms are in upheaval. Prince Wendell White (the grandson of Snow White) is preparing for his coronation. The escape of his wicked Stepmother from prison is endangering him and his entire kingdom.

The story follows Wendell, and his unlikely companions – Wolf, a halfwolf escaped convict, and Virginia and her father Tony, New Yorkers.  After Trolls invade their apartment looking for the runaway Prince, they must escape through a magic mirror. New York is the mythical 10th Kingdom, only reachable by magic mirror.

It is a fun, tongue in cheek paean to fairy tales, with a good story to match. It happens to have two of the more impressive villains from fantasy shows from the aughts – the Evil Queen and her Huntsman. The Huntsman is unrelenting, calm, and intimidating, while the Queen hits all the right notes to be a truly feminine villain. Virginia, the female lead, is neither a manic pixie dream girl nor a badass flippy girl fighter. She is a normal girl, a waitress…slightly self absorbed, wary, and defensive, but not too bitchy or unsympathetic. It is refreshing for both Virginia and the Queen to be interesting and strong in their own way, without covering them with a veneer of masculinity. Long before Sad Puppies, when I was eleven, the pair of them made an impression on me because of this.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story (though I think I will analyze it and/or some of the characters in a later blog post), but I present it for your watching consideration.

Each character has a definite arc, the setting is fun, and the story works well. The writers manage to hat tip most of the well known fairy tales without being too excessive about it.

It also has one of my favorite TV openings of all time:

So if you’re looking to watch something during the cold winter months, this one will occupy several nights. And as an early aughts production, you won’t get beaten over the head with message fiction, either.

The Cinder Witch

The Cinder Witch has been released! I am remiss in posting this as it happened right around the holidays, but the third School of Spells and War story is finally out. You can purchase it at Amazon. It is also available on Kindle Unlimited!

Months ago, Alis joined with her new friend Cahan to fight a dragon beneath the School of Spells and War. Now she fights something altogether different: fame. Worse, her newfound notoriety has resulted in a mission to the far north. As if it weren’t bad enough that it’s so cold, she also finds herself in a tiny village whose residents innately distrust spellcasters of all kinds. Yet they tolerate her because she comes with Cahan – and because something is threatening their children. Can Alis and Cahan save them?

Please enjoy this 45 page story that is the next installment in the series.

More stories, and a big announcement about the School of Spell and War stories as a whole, will be coming soon. Please stay tuned!

A Midsummer’s Party

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I am pleased to announce that the next short story in the School of Spells and War is now available on Amazon for 0.99! You can purchase it here exclusively through Amazon. It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers!

It’s Cahan’s birthday and Alis didn’t know it! Now she has only a matter of hours to choose the perfect gift for him. But what do you get a man like Cahan? The answer involves shenanigans and BREAKING THE RULES…something that Alis has never done!

A Midsummer’s Party is what I’ve come to calling an “interlude” story – shorter than the novellas, just a fun one-shot adventure with the characters.

Down the Dragon Hole, the first story in the series, is free on Amazon until tomorrow, so you might as well pick that one up if you haven’t started the stories yet! The School of Spells and War is a fun, slightly tongue-in-cheek tribute to the old sword and sorcery stories. I’m humbled that it has been compared favorably to the wonderful Terry Pratchett. Check it out if you’re interested!

You won’t have to wait long for more Alis and Cahan either. The Cinder Witch is coming down the line soon!

School of Spells & War Update

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I have updates for my series of short stories and novellas The School of Spells & War. The first story about Alis and Cahan, the wizard and warrior duo, was originally published in the anthology Make Death Proud To Take Us, and later released on its own.  I’m happy to announce that two more stories – A Midsummer’s Party and The Cinder Witch – are scheduled for release over the next couple of months! There are also three other stories on deck in varying degrees of completion that should be out over the next six months too.

They’re a long time coming, I know, but newborns tend to put a crimp in book writing plans. There should be many more after these, too, so keep an eye out.

Art From Life

The real problems came with toddlers – when the parents had waited to have their kids baptized for one reason or another. Sometimes the parents were recent converts to the church. That he understood, and he always welcomed them, challenge and all. But most of the time it was just lazy parents who couldn’t be bothered – the “CE Catholics” who only came on Christmas and Easter, or who waited a year and a half until Grandma was in town to do the baptism.

Baptising toddlers was a pain in the neck. Most of them were just frustrating. The little tykes just couldn’t sit still. But some of them were downright infuriating. He’d had children sit on the altar giving him the stink eye.

That is an excerpt from my husband Russell‘s short story Knight of the Changeling, that can be found in the anthology Between the Wall and the Fire (which is an awesome collection by the way, if you need some new reading material). A deacon is talking about his experiences baptizing children after he just witnessed a supernatural occurrence at one.

I thought I would post the inspiration behind it, because it cracks me up and I like to see how life inspires art.

Our eldest son, S, was not baptized until he was a toddler. Russell and I joined the church at Easter in 2011, and we waited until we were full Catholics before having the ceremony.

And this happened:

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We printed a copy and gave it to the priest, who just laughed and laughed.  And there is photo proof of that throw away line in the short story.

Announcement: Tales of the Once and Future King

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I am excited to announce that my short story, “The Hounds of Camelot”, has been accepted into the forthcoming Tales of the Once and Future King young adult anthology! It is a collection of King Arthur related short stories that promises to be very interesting!

I’ll keep everyone up to date on that, and while you’re at it, go ahead and check out Superversive SF. Anthony Marchetta over there is putting together this collection, and you’ll also be able to find updates there, as well as excellent commentary by a variety of authors.

 

My Workout Playlist

I was tweaking my workout playlist the other week. We just restarted our local Y membership last month, so I’ve actually been working out again. Currently I’m attempting to hit a twice a week weightlifting workout, and then once the dojo merger is finished I’ll get back to twice a week Karate as well.

The Y has childcare, so I can work out in the mornings (my preferred time by far) without having to wrangle the kids. So far it has been working out very well. It’s the first time since before I was pregnant with kid #4 that I’ve been working out regularly, and with any intensity (I have been in and out of the dojo the past year).

I spend a lot of time reading a lot of lists with suggestions for music. My husband likes to work out to heavy metal, which I also like. But I kind of go on feel alone (factoring in beat/sound and lyrics) for my workout list. So I have a somewhat eclectic list that I thought I would share.

I have a premium Spotify account, which I love. It only costs $10 a month and I get access to almost any music I might want. It’s also saved us from spending tons of money on CDs for the Kids – like I could start playing the Frozen soundtrack for them immediately after seeing the movie. We actually just upped it to a family membership and added Russell and S to it. S has my old iPhone 4 just for Spotify use. He kept asking for a music player for his room and that seemed to be the easiest option.

So I have this playlist on my account, and just punch the random button every time I’m at the gym. Here are the songs:

  1.  I’ll Make A Man Out of You (Mulan Soundtrack)
  2. The Majestic Tale of A Madman In A Box (Doctor Who Soundtrack)
  3. I Hate Everything About You (Three Days Grace)
  4. Home (Three Days Grace)
  5. Diamond Eyes (Shinedown)
  6. The Bird and the Worm (The Used)
  7. We Were Men (Theory of A Deadman)
  8. The Bitch Came Back (Theory of A Deadman)
  9. Hot N Cold (Katy Perry)
  10. Raise Your Glass (Pink)
  11. Gangham Style (PSY)
  12. Lose Yourself (Eminem)
  13. Call Me Maybe (Carlie Rae Jepson)
  14. For Whom The Bell Tolls (Metallica)
  15. So What (Pink)
  16. Roar (Katy Perry)
  17. Something In Your Mouth (Nickleback)
  18. Not Afraid (Eminem)
  19. Applause (Lady Gaga)
  20. California Gurls (Katy Perry, Snoop Dog)
  21. Remember the Name (Fort Minor, Styles of Beyond)
  22. Right Now (Rihanna)
  23. Firework (Katy Perry)
  24. Just Like Fire (Pink)
  25. Try (Pink)
  26. The One That Got Away (Katy Perry)
  27. Get the Party Started (Pink)
  28.  If I Lose Myself (One Republic, Alesso)
  29. Headstrong (Trapt)
  30. Baby One More Time (Britney Spears)
  31. Oops I Did It Again (Britney Spears)
  32. Toxic (Britney Spears)
  33. Bulletproof (La Roux)
  34. E.T. (Katy Perry)
  35. Poker Face (Lady Gaga)
  36. S&M (Rihanna)
  37. Tik Tok (Kesha)
  38. Fancy (Iggy Azalea, Charli XCX)
  39. Royals (Lorde)
  40. Painkiller (Three Days Grace)
  41. Droppin’ Plates (Disturbed)
  42. Diamonds (Rihanna)
  43. Single Ladies (Beyonce)
  44. Timber (Pitbull, Kesha)
  45. Just Dance (Lady Gaga, Colby O’Donis)
  46. Stronger (Kanye West)
  47. Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You), (Kelly Clarkson)
  48. Pompeii (Bastille)
  49. Dark Horse (Katy Perry)
  50. Born This Way (Lady Gaga)

Like I said, an odd collection. I have to like the words, and it has to have a sound/beat that I feel like I can move to. A lot of these artists I don’t usually listen to, but I found their songs to work well for me. Just some inspiration for your next workout.

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