Saturday, February 3, 2018

Classics: A Valentine's Day for the Young and Young at Heart By Lauren Ennis

With the plethora of chocolates and teddy bears lining the store shelves there’s no doubt that its beginning to look a lot like Valentine’s Day once again. In keeping with the holiday’s celebration of all things romance, this week I’ll be turning the spotlight on three films that lent many a viewer their first glimpse of romantic love. While all of these films are geared towards young audiences, their exquisite animation, lilting tunes, and compelling storytelling capture the full sweep of romance at its most thrilling, transformative, and powerful in a way that will inspire both the young and young at heart. Tell us your favorite Valentine’s picks in the comments!

The days when carbs were still acceptable on dates
Lady and the Tramp: Easily one of the most iconic love stories in all of cinema, this 1955 Walt Disney film has come to define romance for several generations. The film tells the deceptively simple tale of a well-bred cocker spaniel and her whirlwind courtship with a mutt from the wrong side of the tracks in turn of the century middle-America. The film’s use of two dogs as protagonists allows the filmmakers to tell a surprisingly adult tale of romance against class lines, as affluent Lady pursues an unlikely romance with worldly rogue Tramp. When her human family push her aside in favor of their newborn son and leave her in the care of a borderline abusive aunt, Lady finds unexpected solace in the street-smart stray, Tramp. While she initially rejects him at the urging of her prejudiced fellow house pets, she begins to see him in a new light after he rescues her from an attack by a gang of vicious strays. When she learns that he has suffered similar rejection from his former human family the two eventually bond over their shared trauma, and she begins to appreciate the freedom of his life without a leash and collar.  The two then embark upon a journey across town in which each begins to see the world from the other's very different perspective . While the pair’s adventure includes some truly magic moments (particularly the famed spaghetti dinner), it takes a decidedly sober turn when the revelation of Tramp’s past as a womanizer and stints in the pound make Lady question his feelings. The film continues on this mature trajectory when Lady breaks off her relationship with Tramp only to face the full weight of her actions when she returns home to confront her ruined reputation. Even the plot’s final resolution is surprisingly gritty, as it is not until Tramp risks a fatal trip to the pound for the sake of Lady’s human family that the two are finally reunited. Rather than diminishing the film’s romantic sensibility, the script’s mature tone lends the film greater emotional resonance as the characters face all too real obstacles and consequences that set their relationship apart from the studio’s usual idyllic fairy tales. Beyond its emotional maturity, the film contains some of the most charming characters ever to grace the big-screen, and a date night that put’s many a real-life couple’s romance to shame. For a bella notte to remember look no further than Lady and the Tramp.

Let's see you top that, Pixar
Beauty and the Beast: Arguably Disney’s most ambitious effort, Beauty and the Beast remains one of the most successful animated films from any studio. While most animated films feature life-altering quests and evil villains, Beauty and the Beast maintains a firm focus upon the relationship between its characters, and is all the better for it. Even in the midst of enchantment spells, talking furniture, and a beastly hero, the film possesses a surprisingly human core as it chronicles the unlikely relationship between its leads. The film manages to move beyond its fantastic premise by revealing the ways in which the ahead of her time Belle and the Beast are able to relate to each other through their shared status as social outsiders, despite their obvious physical differences. The film also adds realism to its story by showing the ways in which their relationship progresses from mutual respect, to friendship, before finally blossoming into romance. The story further engages audience by making Belle and the Beast’s own inner demons a far greater obstacle to their happiness than any of rival suitor Gaston’s schemes. As a result, audiences are able to invest in both characters’ emotional development in a way that other animated films cannot. Perhaps the film’s greatest romantic draw is its portrayal of the ways in which love can ultimately change us for the better. While the Beast’s transformation into the handsome prince is indeed a sight to behold, it is the inner transformation that he undergoes earlier in the film that lends the script its greatest emotional resonance. In an act of self-sacrifice the Beast shows his love for Belle by putting her happiness above his own and finally letting her go. It is in that moment that the Beast undergoes his true metamorphosis and it becomes obvious that, regardless of his unchanged physical appearance, his love for Belle has helped the Beast to become a better man.  For a tale as old as time that remains truly timeless, hit the ballroom floor with Beauty and the Beast.

Proving that dogs can make the best wing-men
One-Hundred and One Dalmatians: Although this film is best remembered as a children’s take on the classic style crime caper, it is the love stories between two dogs and their owners that forms the heart of this Disney classic. When we first meet Pongo and his ‘pet’ (a/k/a owner), Roger, the two are living a less than swinging existence as London bachelors. Frustrated by their monotonous lifestyle, Pongo becomes determined to find a wife for Roger and a mate for himself. After a hilarious montage of Pongo’s search for woman and dog pairs that are reminiscent of a date search, Pongo finally locates the ideal pair in Anita and her Dalmatian, Perdita. In a fairly realistic representation Anita and Roger initially fail to notice each other, and even after Pongo intervenes by tangling his leash with Perdita’s the two nearly clash before bonding over the absurdity of the situation. The film breaks with most traditional love stories by placing its focus upon what happens after happily ever after through its depiction of the struggles of married life. While both couples truly love one another, their relationships are continually challenged by financial difficulties as Roger struggles to make ends meet as a songwriter, even as Pongo and Perdita begin their own large family.  In spite of their troubles, both couples’ bonds grow stronger in the face of adversity as Anita supports Roger’s artistic career, while Pongo and Perdita share the responsibilities of parenthood. When Anita’s fur-loving acquaintance, Cruella De Ville, arranges the dognapping of Pongo and Perdita’s puppies, both couples doggedly pursue the case until the puppies are safely returned. As Pongo and Perdita face one danger after another in pursuit of Cruella’s henchmen the two remain admirably united as they rely upon each other for support and refuse to give up hope. Even when faced with the challenge of what to do with the other eighty-four puppies Cruella’s held captive, the couple remain united and mutually agree to adopt and raise the other puppies as their own. Similarly, Roger and Anita rely upon one another as they grieve over the supposed loss of Pongo and Perdita and the puppies.  While it may not hold the full romantic sweep of its counterparts, One-Hundred and One Dalmatians offers viewers some of the best relationship role models in cinema and reminds us all that some of the greatest happiness comes after happily ever after.

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