Disney Challenge #6: Saludos Amigos

Things took a sharp turn this week with our sixth film in the Ultimate Disney Challenge, Saludos Amigos, which is unlike any of the movies we’ve watched so far.


The Film

Both Zach and I feel pretty ambivalent toward this one. Comprised of four short films, only one of them really has a story; the other three are more like informational introductions to Lake Titicaca, the Argentine Pampas, and Rio de Janeiro. They don’t excite or inspire; they just inform. They don’t enrage, either, as Pinocchio did, thus leaving an overall impression of “meh.”

What’s nice about the film is that it encourages experiencing new cultures. It celebrates differences, and in today’s climate of xenophobia, that’s so refreshing to see.

It’s tough. I honestly don’t have much to say about this one. Except that I adore José Carioca, a suave parrot that takes Donald Duck on a tour of Rio de Janeiro.


 The Wine

An Argentinian Malbec, of course! Except I don’t have a specific recommendation because WOW I’m bad at this.

The Book

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder is a gorgeous book set in 1990s Bolivia. It’s the story of a teenage boy and his younger sister who must live in prison with their father. Gripping and transformative, it packs an emotional punch from the very first page.



Historical Research 101

A few days ago, I posted about using history to write about fantasy. I’d like to continue with history-focused posts, but before I touch on anything else, I want to do a short post on research.

Listen to Benedict


Research can be daunting, especially if you’re not sure where to begin. As much as some professors rail against it, Wikipedia is a great starting point, as it gives you an overview of a topic and easily allows you to narrow your focus. However, it shouldn’t be your only source, and this is where I tell you to read history books.

Of course, not all history books are created equal. So what’s good? What’s accurate?

I find that reviews aren’t very helpful, especially if you’re looking at sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Peer reviews are good, as the reviewer is deeply familiar with the topic, but they’re harder to come by. So I start with the introduction.

All history books should have an introduction. If they don’t, tread with caution. The introduction is where the author lays out their agenda — and yes, all history books have an agenda (a thesis, if you want the nicer term). It’s also where the author explains their research process and acknowledges other historians; in doing so, they’re showing the reader their qualifications, as well as recognizing that there are varying accounts/opinions of the same event. This is a good thing. When we talk about accuracy, we have to recognize that history is very much about interpretation. The whats and the whos and the whens are usually hard facts, but the whys and the hows are harder to come by, and that’s why there’s a constant discourse between different schools of historical thought. Thus, no one historical account should be taken as gospel. (That being said, there is such a thing as good interpretation and bad interpretation.)

(shh, the Muses are wrong)

When picking up a history book, another thing to look for is the way it uses primary sources: diary entries, government documents, personal letters, etc. History books should use these frequently, placing them right on the page so that the reader can see them for their self. A great example is This Gulf of Fire by Mark Molesky.

So how do you find all these fabulous books? Libraries tend to have fantastic collections, and those collections are often in ebook form, too. I’ve found that Google Books can have some great sources for free, as well.

Finally, I recommend getting in touch with a university. Most universities allow alumni to use their resources. Not only do their collections tend to be larger than those of public libraries, but they offer access to sites like JSTOR, which allow you to see articles published in academic journals.

Other places to research? YouTube. While researching or my latest project, I spent hours watching segments from a documentary called Einstein’s Big Idea. YouTube also provided me with demonstrations of period-appropriate music, dancing, and getting dressed. In a similar vein, look at art from the time period. What’s the fashion? How are the subjects presented?

If possible, go to museums. I frequently find myself in Williamsburg, Virginia (home of Colonial Williamsburg) and I love visiting the sites even though I tend to write about Europe. They always get the juices flowing.

That’s all I have for now. If you have any questions, shoot me a note or post in the comments below!

Using History to Think About Fantasy

Last night, one of my CPs asked, “How long would it take a new religion to spread through an entire country?”

Even though this CP is writing YA Fantasy, we found ourselves asking: Are we talking about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation? The Spanish Reconquista? Henry VIII and the formation of the Anglican Church? We started talking about real history, and how it can and should inform the Fantasy genre, and I realized that I wanted to discuss this more: how writers can study history to improve their craft.

Now, a disclaimer: I’m not a professional historian, but I do have a degree in History. I know my way around research. But I’m not an expert, nor do I pretend to be.

Moving on.

This post is not about the little details. Most Fantasy writers do a lot of historical research as is: they look at medical practices, modes of transportation, etc. That’s great, but those are little things, and this post is more about how understanding history can be helpful in other ways.

Later, I’ll talk about using history to develop characters, but I don’t want this post to get too long, so I’ll stick to worldbuilding and plot for now. Here goes:

I’m going to use the easy example — but it’s an important example. When I think YA Fantasy, my mind usually goes to, “Yes. It’s time for some kickass teens to take down the Man.”

In other words, a great chunk of YA Fantasy is about rebellion and revolution. Not always on a grand scale, but so much — the majority, perhaps — of YA Fantasy is about the transfer of power. A few examples: The Cruel Prince, Shadow and Bone, Rebel of the Sands, Falling Kingdoms. (I adore all of these books, by the way).


But how do revolutions actually work? There is no one answer to this, but it’s important to think about, especially at the outlining/drafting stage. If your MC is hell-bent on bringing down a monarch who doesn’t give much thought to the lower classes, then you should look at the French Revolution. If your princely MC isn’t too keen on the way his parent sits the throne, spend a few hours reading up on Brazilian Independence. If your protagonists are desperate and cunning and fighting for freedom with everything they have, then study the Kingdom of Palmares. So on and so forth.

Now — and I know I’m stating the obvious here — you can’t just fictionalize these events. If your YA Fantasy revolution played out exactly like the French Revolution, it would be boring. Lots of meetings. Lots of declarations and constitutions and pamphlets and whatnot. Things that don’t really belong on the page when you’re trying to keep readers engaged. That being said, don’t be afraid to fictionalize certain aspects; the key is making sure that you know why you’ve incorporated those aspects into your story.

And that’s how understanding history helps the most: it forces us to ask why? and how? Nothing in our world happens in a vacuum, and nothing in your fantasy world should happen in a vacuum, either. Why do your characters want what they want? Why do they do what they do? What are the consequences? When you read a history book, it zooms out, and forces you to look at the far-reaching effects of something. It can change the way you think — and therefore change the way you write.

I think I’m going to do a few posts on how writers can study history to improve their craft, as it’s a BIG topic. I’d like to touch on: research processes, how to draw on historical figures when developing characters, the difference between Historical Fantasy and Fantasy Inspired by History, and the representation of marginalized groups in historical books/documents. If there are other topics you’d like me to touch on, please leave suggestions in the comments or shoot me an email through the Contact form.

Disney Challenge #5: Bambi

Hello! This post is written by Zach! This is the fifth movie in our Ultimate Disney Challenge.

When we began the Ultimate Disney Challenge, we understood that certain films would require more ”patience” than others, simply because of their age. Older films, like Snow White, were made within a much narrower range of animation techniques, production, and understanding when compared to modern Disney masterpieces, and will forever be challenged by the “cultural curse” of time (see “Grumpy’s misogynistic bullshit” for reference. Age well, it does not). Sam and I are thus armed with this ‘lens of respect’ (likely applied to “anything before our childhood”, aka, pre-Disney Renaissance), and so approach each film with a kind of pretense that (appropriately) limits our expectations…

And yet, with all of this considered, we come to a film that may be (at least in some parts) a timeless achievement – a film that shatters the lens, stands tall today, and compels me* to whisper, “wow”.

*Me, meaning Zach. Sam and I disagree on this one, as you’ll see below.

Sam is the hater here, seeing as she does not quite appreciate this movie the way I do.

BAMBI (1942)

The Film

So, let’s get one thing out of the way: Sam and I differ on Bambi (I being the ‘gushier’ of the two), but we do so for very good reasons. Sam rightly affirms that Bambi has no story, no arc, and no relatable characters. In fact, Bambi spends the entirety of his transition from fawn to buck OFFSCREEN, and we see LITERALLY NO DEVELOPMENT. He’s just a dude, with antlers, in a forest, full of critters voiced by the ‘Happy Days’ cast (seriously, adult Bambi, Thumper and Flower sound like they all spend their weekends at Al’s Drive-In). Bambi-the-film also suffers from an unhealthy dose of chauvinist validation, wherein: the bucks are all free and wild and sire their fawns with little or no parental guidance; the does and the bucks are rarely together; Bambi routinely ‘protects’ his ‘powerless mate’, even from rival males; Bambi chases Faline, a female fawn, away from ‘the running of the bucks’, which I read as “this is a world you’ll never understand.”

Oy! So, WHY do I really love Bambi, in spite of these capital sins of storytelling (and respect)?  Well…there is something truly miraculous happening with the animation (and NO, I don’t “think it’s pretty”). In Bambi, we see animation MASTERED. Bunnies, birds and mice FEEL soft, water FEELS wet, and wind FEELS cold. That is damn near impossible to capture well, and yet, Bambi does it. It’s a living, hand-painted, hand-drawn, lovingly crafted ecosystem of artistry. I wanted to live in this forest! I wanted to hide underneath the leaves, soar across the starscape, and take a drink from the nearest raindrop. I cared very much about the little quails crossing the road, about the mouse trying to cleverly return to his tiny home in a storm, about the spring flowers blooming after a terrible winter…


This is what I love about animation, ESPECIALLY traditional, hand-drawn animation: we are relying on a person’s good sense and physical talent to capture the textures of world around them. Bambi is, I feel, the first Walt Disney Animated Feature to successfully enter that higher realm of true talent and master-craftsmanship.  THIS is what “Disney” means to me – I am walking into another world, with good hands WHO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING to guide me.

The Wine

How about water this time? Because Bambi has the “Drip Drip Drop, little April Showers” song, and it’s a wonderful showcase of how lovely water can be. Also, Sam told me that she likes to sing this when it rains (which is a great idea; I think I’ll do the same).


The Book

As Bambi was rich with nature, I would love to recommend an ecological delight (and our first Nonfiction entry): Audubon Regional Field Guides. These are fantastic showcases of plants, animals, fungi, fossils, constellations, minerals, habitats, and parks – nearly ANYTHING you want to know about the wild – common to specific regions in the United States. I personally enjoy the New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Florida editions of these guides, but I would love to get my hands on West-Coast entries as well. While far from complete (which I find exhilarating; the North American wild may be too rich for a single book to capture), these are THE GUIDES to use if you wanted to begin exploring the lands and seas around the U.S.


Disney Challenge #4: Dumbo

I. Love. Dumbo.

I never in a million years thought I would say those words, but after Zach and I watched Dumbo for our Ultimate Disney Challenge, here I am. Saying them.

DUMBO (1941)

The Film

Going into Dumbo, I expected to hate it. Not quite as much as I hated Pinocchio (will there ever be a film I hate as much as Pinocchio?) but a good bit. After all, I remember not liking it as a child, and it’s one that a lot of people seem to hate on.




The animation takes a sharp turn here. It’s significantly lower quality than the animation in its predecessors, Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia. It feels cartoony, and yes, it is a cartoon, but it looks like a Candyland-esque board game. The train seems to have chugged off a cereal box. (Fun Fact: the train alludes to The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper when it says “I think I can, I think I can.” As an aside, Watty Piper is not an actual person, but a name that the publisher, Platt & Munk, attached to the book).

While the animation is lacking, the emotional beats are superb. In Snow White, the main emotion is fear: you’re afraid for Snow Whitebut you don’t necessarily feel for her. Dumbo, however, tugs on the heartstrings as you watch Dumbo be picked on, humiliated, separated from his mother. You really hurt for him. I haven’t sobbed so much during a movie since I saw Disney-Pixar’s Up for the first time.


The saddest scene in the movie, in which Dumbo visits his mom in jail. We see all the other baby animals getting to snuggle with their mothers, but Dumbo can only get so close. IT’S SO SAD.


The character of Timothy (the mouse that befriends Dumbo) is very important as well. In a way, he’s the Jiminy Cricket of this movie, except he’s so much better. Jiminy Cricket helps Pinocchio because he’s told to help Pinocchio; Timothy stands up for Dumbo because he sees an injustice being done. Let’s keep in mind: Timothy is an itty bitty mouse standing up to several (five, maybe?) gigantic elephants who could step on him. He tries to cheer Dumbo up, but doesn’t discount his feelings. He lets him be sad, and you see how Dumbo comes to trust him. Visually, some of the most touching moments are when Dumbo uses his trunk to hold onto Timothy’s tail, believing that this little mouse will protect him. Gah, the emotions! It’s so beautiful.

That being said, Dumbo is not without its problems. The song “Song of the Roustabouts” is incredibly racist, and the crows (representative of Jim Crows) depict racial stereotypes.

The Wine

You have to drink Rosé with this one. “Pink Elephants on Parade” is a weird song. I have no idea what to make of it. Except that you should drink Rosé while watching it. I don’t like Rosé, so I don’t actually have a recommendation here. Wow, I suck at this.


wut the actual fuck


The Book

Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen is the perfect book to pair with Dumbo. This is easily one of my favorite books of all time, one I turn to again and again. It’s lush, gorgeous historical fiction that brings circus life in the 1930s to life. It also features a pretty stellar elephant.


Disney Challenge #3: Fantasia

Hello! This post is written by Zach! This is the third movie in our Ultimate Disney Challenge.
Have you ever been bored by Fantasia? Have you ever caught yourself saying, “This is incredible; when is it over?” Or, “This is so…so ‘high concept’…why can’t I get it?”
Why don’t I get this? WHY?
If so, don’t be ashamed; it’s not you, it’s the Two-Time Academy (Honorary) Award-Winning film. Sam and I saw it, liked it, and rejoiced at its conclusion – but why? Why is it that this Walt Disney Masterpiece feels like a drag, while others are a delight? Well…

#3 FANTASIA (1940)

The Film

Fantasia does not work.
As far as structure goes, this film is a hydrogen bomb, meticulously crafted by Disney scientists attempting to combine the atomic structure of a 2-hour film with that of a 2-hour concert. Innovative? Yes. Ingenious? Sure. Stable? NOOOPE, THINGS EXPLODE.
Colliding the elements of Film and Concert DOES NOT create a ‘higher medium’: it collapses the integrity of both (contributing) mediums. Why? Because…
Film: NEEDS A NARRATIVE. All the beauty and power of Walt Disney animation is worthless WITHOUT. A. NARRATIVE. And in Fantasia, we are denied a narrative because it’s part-concert! The events are UNRELATED! Random! Chaos! There is no cohesive whole that is Fantasia; it’s a jumbled bag of excellent pieces that DO NOT ADD TO A SINGLE STORY. And this, I feel, is exhausting; we are jostled from one piece of unrelated emotion to the next, without any sole purpose, direction, or vision; we might as well be watching eight (extremely well put-together) movie trailers in a “grand new experience” known as Trailersia.
What the actual hell IS this? (Spoiler: it’s a sequenece from Fantasia. You probably don’t remember it. Neither did we.)
Concert: NEEDS FREEDOM! The power of a concert is inherently different from the power of film; in the latter, we are stimulated by sound, sight, narrative, and the higher work that is their sum, but in concert, we only have music as a stimulus (or maybe the movement of the players, if you’re into that). I argue that one of the greatest aspects of concert is the minimization of stimuli, because it frees our minds to INTERPRET THE MUSIC. As we embrace the sound and apply our own vision, we become whisked into wondrous—and perhaps highly personal—places that only we could know. This is a beautiful, highly creative interplay – as if we were waltzing with the music!
But in Fantasia, there is no waltz for us; we are sitting on the sidelines, slightly admiring Walt Disney’s lightness of foot, but profoundly wishing for our own turn with the music: where there are dinosaurs, hippos and assy cherubs, there might have been…
…there might have been literally anything else. Like this. Which is awesome.
Now don’t get me wrong; I largely agree with the praise bestowed upon Fantasia, and personally enjoy many of the pieces as individual units (my personal favorite is Dance of the Hours …you know, the fat hippo one?) But I believe that, as a disjointed whole, Fantasia sinks from memory, beneath Snow White, Dumbo and other early Disney narratives, under the weight of its own implosive ambitions.

The Wine

I randomly chose a sauvignon blanc called Drops of Jupiter; it’s a little…olivey? For my taste at least. But hey, cool name.

The Book

Vathek, by William Beckford. I had this book in mind weeks before we actually saw the film, in anticipation of the Night on Bald Mountain sequence. While in Fantasia, we begin with the devil and close with a pilgrimage, Vathek delights us with the complete reversal! This story is an exemplary journey of Gothic Horror, in which an ambitious Caliph renounces his kingdom, his people, and all morality in pursuit of the deepest secrets (and riches) of the earth, found only in HELL. Vathek and his (unwitting) caravan attempt the quest to the unholy gate, but to what end? Can they brave the deserts, mountains, and weirdos of the ancient world to fulfill their dark purpose? Or will the twisted cords of suffering, enticement, betrayal, and delight forever consume them? Find out in this genie-infested wonderland of horrible things: VATHEK.

2017 in Photos


My friends and I headed to DC to march in the Women’s March. My grandma knitted the hats.


My roommates and I hosted our first ever Galentine’s Day Party!




Mom and I did one of those drink-and-paint things.


Passover! Note the Traditional Crazy Wheel in the background.




The trolley deserves two pictures.


NIAHD Reunion. In 2010, I attended the National Institute of American History and Democracy at the College of William & Mary, where I made some amazing friends. We’ve had reunions almost every summer since, but this July, we returned to Williamsburg, VA, where we met seven years ago.


Another amazing party theme, if I do say so myself! We threw a Superhero Party, and my friends and I dressed as the Powerpuff Girls.


I met author hero LEIGH BARDUGO!


The infamous Harry Potter Party. This year, we had a theme within a theme, and the theme was Triwizard Tournament.




No caption necessary.








Disney Challenge #2: Pinocchio

Happy Holidays! After a not-so-great time with Snow White, we’ve tackled the second film in our Ultimate Disney Challenge, Pinocchio. It was even worse.

#2: PINOCCHIO (1940)

The Film

Oh God. Where to begin? We weren’t sure what to expect going into this one, as neither of us really remembered it all that well. Zach predicted we’d like it less than Snow White, but neither of us suspected that we’d hate it with a burning passion. Guys. This movie sucks.


Me, during the entire movie: “What the actual fuck?”


It’s harder to place a finger on why we hated it so much, but let’s start with Jiminy Cricket, arguably the star of the movie. He’s kind of…the worst? I for one take issue with the concept of an external conscience. As Pinocchio’s “conscience,” Jiminy has this overarching authority, but the question is: who the hell is he to tell anyone what to do? I kept comparing him to another representation of the conscience in Disney. Remember these guys?


They’re hilarious, but they’re also a much better representation of the conscience, for they’re part of Kronk. They are his internal struggle. Jiminy Cricket? He starts the movie by breaking into Gepetto’s home to sleep there for the night. Him being Pinocchio’s authority on right v. wrong is like me asking the homeless guy at my subway stop to be my moral compass.

Ok. That particular rant is over. Now on to the actual plot. I’m not going to go into every little detail because then I’d have to write a book, so let’s break it up into Pinocchio’s three challenges: Stromboli, Pleasure Island, and Monstro the Whale.

First, let’s take them piece by piece.

The Stromboli scene is horrifying for many reasons, but perhaps most disturbing is its depiction of Roma. At one point, one of the characters refers to Stromboli himself as a “dirty gypsy,” and Stromboli proceeds to embody every negative stereotype to the exteme. In a word, it’s terrible.

The scene itself is odd, too. In it, Pinocchio sings “I Got No Strings,” which is a shitty song. Here is a better version. It gets extra weird when it starts to objectify women — and Jiminy Cricket is into it. (I told you he’s the worst.)

Things go from bad to worse when we move to the Pleasure Island scene. In this scene, misbehaved boys are taken to Pleasure Island, where they get turned into donkeys and sold. If this doesn’t scream “child trafficking,” I don’t know what does. While Pinocchio manages to escape, the rest of the boys don’t make it…and nobody seems to care.

Then, we move to Monstro. Monstro is definitely the highlight of the movie, but boy, is this scene way too long. It drags, and it’s also never explained how Pinocchio’s father, Gepetto, got eaten by a whale in the first place. How?

Perhaps what makes these scenes so difficult is that they aren’t connected at all. Good stories are not just sequences events; they’re events that influence each other, with one scene rolling into the next. Pinocchio is a prime example of things just happening.

Long story short, it puts the moral before the story to terrible effect.

The Wine

No wine this time because I’m on antibiotics. Instead, Zach and I ate lots of cookies and candy. My treat of choice? Homemade Hanukkah fudge. (I didn’t make it).

The Book

Hooray, I have a real book recommendation this time! I highly recommend Amanda Foody’s DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, a deliciously weird YA Fantasy that pairs perfectly with Pinocchio. No puppets here, but the main character, Sorina, creates masterful illusions that she more or less controls with “strings.” But when she finds one of her illusions murdered, she has to wonder: if her illusions aren’t real, how can they die? And why would someone want to kill them? This book is unlike anything else on the shelves — and it’s utterly fantastic!


Have other book recommendations? Wine pairings? Opinions on Pinocchio? Leave them in the comments!

Disney Challenge #1: Snow White, Sauvignon Blanc, and another person named Snow.

Well, we did it! We started the Ultimate Disney Challenge with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and if you’re as bothered by the spelling of “dwarfs” as I am, congratulations.


The Film

From an animation standpoint, the film is pretty impressive. I knew very little about the historical background, but Zach informed me that people had laughed at Walt Disney when he said he was going to make a full-length animated feature. It just wasn’t something that was done in the 30s. So that he proved the haters wrong is interesting.

Also, the artistry. We spent a lot of time admiring the ripples of the water in Snow White’s wishing well, the glint of the diamonds in the mind, the minute details of the woodwork in the dwarves’ (YES, I AM SPELLING IT “DWARVES”) cottage.

It’s still not a good movie.

As we watched, we played a drinking game, in which we drank every time the movie reinforced the White Heteronormative Bourgeois Patriarchy (get used to that term, because I use it a lot). Essentially, we were waterfalling the entire time. Fun!

Snow White cooks, and cleans, and takes care of old, hairy men, and never gets angry or even annoyed when they’re mean and misogynistic (looking at you, Grumpy), and her only dream is to get married to some rich guy whose name she doesn’t even know. As modern viewers, we found ourselves rooting for the Evil Queen. She is the one with agency. Sure, her motivations are crap, but at least she does interesting things.

The Evil Queen gets things done.

Speaking of motivations, SNOW WHITE is a classic example of pitting women against women. The Evil Queen wants to kill her because she’s jealous? Really?

I could rant about this movie forever, but I’m going to end it with one final thing: I never want to see a Grumpy t-shirt again. Seriously, this guy is NOT charming. His lines reek with misogyny. Here’s an actual quote:

She’s a female! And all females is poison! They’re full of wicked wiles!

Ooooookay. I don’t care that he learns to like her by the end of the film. Most of us know that “racist learning to not be racist” is not a good character arc, and neither is “man learning to not hate women.” So please, let’s not idolize his “attitude.”

The Wine

Not noteworthy, but perhaps that’s just because I had to drink it so fast to keep up with our game. I will say that I thought it appropriate to pair Snow White with a Sauvignon Blanc, as it’s, you know…blanc.

The Book

I’m a sucker for a good fairytale retelling, but I’ve never found a Snow White one that I’ve deeply enjoyed, probably because I’m not a big fan of the source material to begin with. So I’m just going to recommend A GAME OF THRONES instead. Why? Well, it has my favorite dwarf, my favorite evil queen, and my favorite person named Snow.

I know, I know. This is boring — a truly terrible choice for my first film/wine/book pairing. I’m assuming you don’t live under a rock; therefore, you don’t need me to review A GAME OF THRONES. So here’s a gif of Jon Snow instead:


I promise my next book pairing will be better. If you have other suggestions for books to pair with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, please leave them in the comments!

Disney Challenge: Get to Know Our Favorites

As we get ready for our Ultimate Disney Challenge, we want to talk about our favorites, which might change as we go through these movies. We’ll reevaluate every once in a while to see if these opinions still hold true.

Favorite Film:

Sam: Do the opening credits of The Haunted Mansion count? If so, that; if not, then The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I love that it points out the flaws of organized religion while simultaneously exploring the beauty of it. It’s a bold, powerful film that takes on prejudice, racism, xenophobia, and ableism to greater effect than any other Disney film. And the music! It gives me chills!

Zach: I. AM. THE LION KING. Honestly, this is my favorite film of ALL TIME (yes, even beyond the Disney brand). The Lion King is one of those very rare films wherein the deepest truth (call it Dharma, Dasein, The Ultimate, The Ideal, whatever you prefer) seems to flicker between the frames. Its scope is IMMENSE (and impossible to encapsulate with justice); in a modest attempt to describe why this film is so great, I can only say that The Lion King is not a film about life, but rather, a masterpiece of life.”

Least Favorite Film:

Sam: Unpopular opinion, but Atlantis: The Lost Empire. My problem with it is that it had sooooo much potential — a fantastic premise, a great cast of characters, an amazing steampunk world — but it falls flat because a) Milo is an uninspiring protagonist, and b) because of the way it treats Atlantis itself. The world of Atlantis doesn’t have the same depth of characterization that the rest of the movie does, which makes for a disappointing finale. However, I will say that Vinnie is one of the greatest Disney characters ever.

Zach: Meet the Robinsons; holy shit, where do I even begin? How about, “nothing makes sense in this film, and everyone is crazy?” Honestly, this has got to be the most insane thing Disney has spawned into the looney pond; its plot is an emaciated spider with 10,000 legs that have no coordination whatsoever. Everything is loud, random, and senseless, and I completely hate this movie. Believe me, it has its defenders (who continue to challenge me to be a better person), but I am sincerely dreading to cross paths with this 2007 fiasco once again. 


Favorite Hero/Heroine:

Sam: HOW DO I CHOOSE? Um, Esmeralda, I think. She is one of the few Disney heroines who doesn’t come from money, so she has to work hard for everything. She has learned to survive in a society that thinks her very existence is a crime. She knows she isn’t in a fairytale and that there’s no “happily ever after,” but she believes in “someday” (cue cheesy credits song. But actually, if you haven’t heard it, the version that’s in the stage musical is STUNNING.)

Zach: Yep, it’s Simba. Aside from my love of The Lion King as a whole, I think I have an additional bias in that I’ve personally identified with Simba in my own life (when it comes to self-reflection, disappointment, atonement, and forgiveness). Simba’s struggle to discover and accept his identity (and forgive himself for his “mistakes”…which I KNOW TECHNICALLY didn’t happen because he didn’t “kill Mufasa” but oh well…) are played out at a perfect, highly relatable pace. Moreover, Simba’s act of listening and accepting the means to forgive (which are brilliantly explained by RAFIKI!!!) shows a rare, very powerful arc in character that’s not often seen in (Disney) films.



Favorite Villain:

Sam: I love Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove. She’s hilarious, and honestly, she isn’t wrong in her desire to rule, considering Kuzco is a terrible emperor.

Zach: Ok, so it would be Scar…except for Gaston. Honestly, I have no idea why, but Gaston from 1991 Beauty and the Beast has become extremely meme-able in our culture, and it is this meme-ability that has enriched many a friendship. In fact, my buddy Dave and I have made YTP Gaston a staple to game nights, food runs, and pretty much 75% of our inside jokes. Is it weird? Yes..but no one delights like Gaston.

Favorite Sidekick:

Sam: Lumiere. He is one sexy candlestick.

Zach: How can there be Gaston without LeFou? Again, I vastly prefer the 1991 versions of these characters (because 1: 1991 Beauty and the Beast is 2nd only to The Lion King in my book, and 2: they are highly meme-able). Really, I don’t get it, but 1991 Gaston and LeFou have become a subculture of their own, and its hilarious all of the way.


Favorite Soundtrack:

Sam: WOW MY ANSWERS ARE BORING. Guess? Yup, it’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. While this soundtrack doesn’t have the catchy songs that everyone sings in my local karaoke bar, I love the large choirs, the bells, the grand scale of everything. Every song more or less asks the same question posed in the opening: “Who is the monster and who is the man?” It’s brilliant! And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the back-to-back pairing of Quasimodo’s “Heaven’s Light” and Frollo’s “Hellfire.” Pure genius.

Zach: The Lion King. It’s God, that’s it.

Favorite Song:

Sam: Zach will probably judge me for this, but “One of Us” from The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride. That film is not on our list at the moment, but it should be!

Zach: I’m torn between “Can You Feel the Love Tonight (swoon!) and “Hellfire” (…saywhat?). Yes: “Hellfire” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is actually one of my favorites to sing. It starts out so simple, with the unassuming “Heaven’s Light,” then WHAMO! Holy Hell, we are in the throes of Judge Claude Frollo’s whacko insane, deeply evil internal conflict, with a goddamn impressive instrumental to match! It’s powerful, Gothic, horrible, weighty, and completely ballsy for Disney; in fact, “Hellfire” may be the “intellectual high water mark” of the Disney Renaissance, and is sure-as-hell fun to sing. So yes, that might be my favorite.

Favorite Wine:

Sam: Portuguese red.

Zach: Anything from Williamsburg Winery, though most reds.