Omir the Storyteller

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Monday, November 27, 2006

If It's Sunday, Does That Mean We Like Disney?


When you're married to a doll collector, some things just can't help but rub off. Case in point: A number of years ago I was introduced to the American Girl phenomenon, a series of interconnected books, dolls and movies. Yesterday the third in the American Girl movie series aired, and each time I see one of them, I am impressed anew.

The American Girl movies are formula, but that's OK. There's a reason why people use formula. Formulas work for storytelling, either in the execution (what six-year-old doesn't know how the Three Little Pigs goes?) or in the breach (the fact that every six year old on the planet knows how the Three Little Pigs goes is what makes The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf as told to Jon Scieszka so funny). The formula for American Girl movies includes these elements, probably among others I've missed:
  • A period of American history is interpreted through the experiences of a nine-year-old girl. Samantha, for instance, lives in New York (state and city) in 1904, a time of suffragettes and sweatshops. Molly's story happens in 1943, the middle of World War II.
  • The girl's life takes an unexpected, unliked and unwanted turn. Samantha's favorite uncle (who was going to take her to the St. Louis World's Fair) gets married instead and she moves from her grandmother's estate to stay with the new couple. Molly's father, a surgeon, volunteers for the war effort and ships off to England, leaving Molly, her mother and two sisters to make do as best they can.
  • The girl meets up with a playmate her age from a completely different circumstance. Samantha's grandmother hires an Irish immigrant laborer with three daughters, the oldest of which is Samantha's age. Molly ends up sharing her room with a refugee from the London blitz.
  • She butts heads with an adult she later befriends. In Samantha's case it's the new aunt, in Molly's it's a neighbor who talks incessantly about her son who is serving in the Army.
  • A miracle happens at Christmas. No, I'm not going to tell you what the miracles are.
  • Social commentary gets slyly snuck in. Samantha's aunt marches for women's suffrage and we get to see brief scenes of what life is like for nine-year-old orphans in the big city. Molly's story briefly touches upon scrap metal drives, victory gardens, and rationing, all well-known to anyone who lived in America during World War II.
There are people around who think television is evil and should be banned. Well, they have a point. Certainly there's a lot of garbage on TV that can only be explained by saying "they've got to fill all that air time with something. But then something like the American Girls movies comes along to remind me that not all television is trash, and that children's programming doesn't have to be so dumbed down that even children don't want to watch it.

Oh yeah, about the title. Last night's movie aired on the Disney Channel. I have a completely schizoid relationship with Disney. On the one hand they do things like "Path To 9/11" that make me think someone in their corporate boardroom has decided that to out-Fox Fox is the way to go. Then they air reports that a distributor of pornography has made some large contributions to the RNC. Or they'll come up with endless sequels that should never have been made, some to movies that should never have been made in the first place, only to create something like Lion King II. For every "The Suite Life Of Zack And Cody," there's a "Kim Possible." (Yeah, I don't believe the tech or the superteen shtick, but the writers sometimes come up with great stuff:

Ron: 'Scuse me, scary orb thing? Where are you taking us?
Robot: The attitude adjustment center.
Kim: Isn't that the high school?
Robot: Prepare to be drained of all individuality and spirit.
Ron: Yep, high school.

And I'm wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt even as I type this.

What's a guy to do?


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