Fangirl Thursday: Feel the Magic

Henry’s speech about the power of belief and the necessity of magic in the Season Five finale of Once Upon a Time will always be one of my favorite moments in the history of one of my favorite shows. And that is because it touched on something I believe with all my heart: Magic is real. You just have to be open to it in order to experience it.

Kids find magic everywhere—the stars in the night sky, the waves in the ocean, the worlds they create in their own imaginations. But as we get older, we tend to stop looking for magic. We get cynical, and then we start looking for reasons to roll our eyes at others who still see magic around them. We learn facts about the world, and we think that means we need to throw away our sense of wonder because we know how things work now. We become busy, and we put our heads down to get where we think we need to be—losing sight of the places where magic lives.

But that magic is still there. It’s just waiting for us to find it again. And those places where we find it—where we reconnect with what it means to believe—are special. They are places where we are reminded of one beautiful fact: Sometimes even grownups can still be believers.

Belief creates magic. There’s something profoundly magical about a room full of adults who put aside their cynicism and even their logic in order to allow themselves to experience they joy and excitement that can come from the willing suspension of disbelief. I’ve seen it in movie theaters, during plays, and at TV screenings at conventions: the way a group of adults all cheer when something great happens, cry when something emotional happens, or gasp when something surprising happens. Logically, we all know we’re watching actors performing words and actions from a script. But something special happens when you find yourself surrounded by people who let themselves believe the emotional truth of what they’re watching and experiencing: You start to believe, too. And that is the strongest kind of magic there is—the magic that comes from a group of people believing together, even just for a moment. Communal belief. Communal participation in magic.

Everyone has their own special place where that sense of communal belief is at its strongest. For some, it’s a darkened theater the night the latest Harry Potter or Star Wars or Marvel movie premieres, where you get to watch and react with other fans who find the same magic on the big screen. For others, it’s a stadium or an arena, where sitting in your seat just the right way or cheering at just the right time or saying a prayer right before overtime actually feels like it might make a difference.

For me, it’s Walt Disney World.

Continue reading

Advertisements

“That Perfect Girl Is Gone”: A Letter to Elsa

This is the latest in my series of letters to inspirational female characters that will be compiled in a book alongside letters from my fellow fangirls and fanboys. If you are interested in being part of The Fan Mail Project, I’m still taking submissions on a case-by-case basis, and you can check out all the information here

elsa

Source: frozen.disney.com

Dear Elsa,

You weren’t around when I was growing up. Instead, I had a plethora of Disney princess role models who were all strong and kind and incredible in their own ways. I grew up with Belle teaching me to love books, Jasmine teaching me that I wasn’t a prize to be won, Pocahontas teaching me to follow my heart, and Mulan teaching me that I was just as capable and powerful as any man. I will always be thankful for the lessons they taught me, but a part of me will always wish that I could have grown up with you.

Those princesses were smart and fierce and courageous and…pretty close to perfect. And while it’s wonderful for little girls to grow up with an ideal image of all they can be, it’s also important for them to see that it’s okay to have moments when they’re not perfect princesses, even moments when they hurt people—not because they mean to, but because they are struggling with things that feel beyond their control. It’s important for them to know that every princess (or queen, in your case) is flawed, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make them unlovable or unforgivable; it makes them human.

So thank you for giving a new generation of girls something I didn’t have when I was little—a Disney princess who struggled with something internal rather than external, a Disney princess who lived out the conflict women often struggle with between the perfect image we feel we need to project and the messy reality of who we really are. The biggest fight many of these girls will face in their lives won’t be with some terrible villain; it will be with the darkest parts of themselves. And in you, those girls will see a champion, a symbol of their own ability to accept the parts of themselves they feel they’re supposed to hide and hate—and their ability to turn that acceptance into power.

Continue reading

Live Your Dream: A Letter to Rapunzel

This is the latest addition to my collection of letters to female fictional characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling (tentatively titled Fan Mail), and send your letter(s) to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

tangled

Dear Rapunzel,

You came into my life when I was well past the age when girls typically want to be Disney princesses. I was 22 years old, a recent college graduate, and a member of the “working world” of adults. I thought I didn’t have any use for fairytales anymore. Sure, I’d be entertained by the them, but I tried to tell myself that I couldn’t be inspired in any profound way by them now that I was “all grown up.”

Thank you for showing me I was wrong.

Thank you for bringing magic back into my life. The moment I saw you and Flynn Rider on that boat, surrounded by floating lanterns, something changed in me—or, more accurately, something changed back. I’d spent too long trying to push down the part of me that looked at the world with wonder and wanted to believe in dreams coming true—because I thought that would make me look immature to the rest of the “adult” world. But in that magical cinematic moment, I let myself feel like a little kid again. I felt my heart open up in that moment to the idea that this kind of story might still have the power to change my life for the better—not just by connecting me to my past, but by giving me hope for my future.

Fairytales aren’t just for little kids or even little-kids-at-heart. They’re for all of us. They teach all of us, but only if we’re open to it. And with my heart newly opened to the possibility of learning from your journey, I discovered you had so much to teach me. And the things you taught me I could never have understood as a little girl. I might have liked your hair and sang your songs, but I wouldn’t have needed you as a child. I needed you as I became an adult—and I still need you now.

We’re all stuck in towers. Sometimes other people put us there, sheltering us from the world and keeping us from experiencing life for any number of reasons. But there are also many times when we keep ourselves locked in our own tower. Sometimes we’re our own Mother Gothel, and we need to find the courage to be you instead.

Continue reading

Find a Happy Place

First and foremost, I wanted to once again thank the lovely and talented Heather for steering the good ship NGN while I was away. The posts she wrote while I was gone were fantastic, and if you haven’t read them yet, I suggest you do so ASAP.

11181336_10100201450873141_5680663899853797603_n

About a week ago, I returned home from another fabulous trip to Walt Disney World. I’ve said many times that I see WDW as my personal “happy place”—the place where I am the best, brightest, and happiest version of myself. Every time I visit WDW, I feel encouraged to be unashamedly enthusiastic about the things I love, and if that’s not balm for a fangirl’s soul, then what is?

I’ve written about Star Wars Weekends at WDW before (and I’m sure I’ll do so again at some point this summer), so I’ll try to keep this brief, but I think there’s no better representation of the way WDW fosters a true sense of community and joy among nerds of all kinds than this annual celebration of all things Star Wars. From the impassioned cheers when the movies’ theme begins playing before the park opens to the thunderous applause after the fireworks end at the conclusion of the day’s festivities, my Star Wars Weekends experience this year was once again filled with a sense of shared excitement and fun unlike anything else I’ve ever felt as a fangirl.

This year more than any other, though, I was reminded that all of WDW—not just Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends—is a place where people come together to experience what I feel is the very essence of fandom: celebrating what makes you happy and sharing that happiness with those around you.

Continue reading

Fangirl Thursday: Favorite Fan Experiences

Today at NGN, I’m kicking off what I hope will turn into a fun weekly feature: Fangirl Thursdays! This was inspired by some of my lovely commenters/Twitter followers (you know who you are), who always seem to find Thursdays a particularly good day for being enthusiastic about our fandoms (especially when Thursdays meant Once Upon a Time sneak peeks). It was also inspired by how much fun I’ve been having discussing the happiest of fandom topics over at TVexamined during Heather’s “Month of Love.”

Every Thursday, I want to celebrate the enthusiasm that comes with being a fangirl (or fanboy—don’t think you’re excluded from the fun, guys). I’ll start with a story about something that gets me excited about fandom—whether it’s about TV, movies, books, or the general experiences that come with being a passionate fan. But what I really want these posts to be is a place for you to share your stories. We have some great discussions here at NGN, so let’s carve out some time every Thursday to have even more of them!

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.

Those words from F. Scott Fitzgerald speak to the essence of being a fan. Being a part of a fandom is like finding a little place in the world where you feel accepted; it’s like finding a community of people who understand you on a fundamental level because they understand what it’s like to love something that you also love. No matter the fandom—whether it’s for a book series, TV show, video game, or sports team—what makes these communities so special is the sense of belonging they instill in their members. When you’re around fellow fans, you don’t feel judged for caring the way you do about the things that you love; you feel welcomed and encouraged to be as passionate as you want to be.

When members of a fandom come together, it’s a truly special thing. There’s a sense of unity and enthusiasm that can’t be matched. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in more shared fandom experiences than I can count—from midnight releases for movies to playoff sports games—and they all share one common trait: excitement.

Continue reading

My Disney Side

First of all, I just want to take another chance to thank Heather for the brilliant job she did over here while I was enjoying my little hiatus. Everything she wrote was excellent, so if you didn’t check out her posts, stop what you’re doing and do it now!

10394460_939959262451_6476161892311472730_n

As many of you know, I recently returned from a blissful Walt Disney World vacation. Last year, I wrote about how a trip to WDW always brings out my best self. It’s my “happy place,” the place where I find myself acting closest to the person I always want to be.

This years theme around the Disney Parks is “Show Your Disney Side.” For some people (including many who rocked their Disney sides with my sister and I at the 24-Hour Disney Day last Friday), their Disney side is represented by a specific Disney character: Mickey’s joy, the Evil Queen’s poise, Elsa’s strength, Rapunzel’s enthusiasm.

10411347_939965594761_1578585242259278488_n

What’s my Disney side? That’s a question I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I think my Disney side is the side of me that is at its strongest when I’m within the confines of Disney World. It’s my happy side, my positive side, and my enthusiastic side. In short, it’s the side that I also try to bring to everything I do here at Nerdy Girl Notes.

Continue reading

The Magic of Music: My Favorite Disney Songs

Is "The Circle of Life" one of your favorite Disney songs?

Is “Circle of Life” one of your favorite Disney songs?

Music has a way of moving us like little else on Earth. The right song—heck, the right note of the right song—can instantly bring tears to our eyes and goose bumps to our skin. Music has a magic that’s all its own.

Combining the magic of music with the magic of Disney only seems to amplify that ability to move people. The greatest Disney movies are made great by their soundtracks, and great Disney songs live on in pop culture forever. Hearing a specific song from a Disney film can transport you back to the movie theater where you had your first movie-going experience, or it can remind you of a time when you first watched a child fall in love with the magic of Disney. Disney music calls to mind Disney memories, and those are magical experiences for all of us.

While I’m enjoying my own magical experience in Disney World, I wanted to start a conversation here about your favorite classic and contemporary Disney tunes. Here are my 10 favorite songs from Disney films, and I hope you share yours in the comments!

1. Circle of Life (The Lion King)
The best Disney songs resonate on a level deeper than just their relevance to the film they’re in, and that’s certainly true of this song. Its poignant lyrics are matched by a sweeping score, which builds to a soaring crescendo that is guaranteed to give you the best kind of chills. There has never been a better song for introducing the spirit of a Disney film. The stirringly unique beginning of this song, coupled with the image of that rising red sun, created a truly iconic Disney moment.

Continue reading

Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Frozen

frozen poster

Title: Frozen

Rating: PG

Cast: Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), Josh Gad (Olaf), Santino Fontana (Hans)

Director: Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck

The Basics: Frozen, Disney’s latest animated feature, is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” Sisters Anna and Elsa are separated from a young age after Elsa’s ability to magically create snow and ice put Anna’s safety in jeopardy. While Anna craves companionship and romance, Elsa’s powers and her fear of them being exposed make her crave solitude instead. After a disastrous Coronation Day for Elsa in which her powers are revealed, Anna goes in search of her sister to stop the eternal winter Elsa has wrought upon their kingdom. Along the way, Anna meets Olaf, a snowman who longs for summertime, and Kristoff, a young ice salesman who challenges her naïve beliefs about falling in love. Frozen has all the makings of a classic Disney film: great songs, stunning animation, a surprisingly strong sense of humor, and a heart worn firmly on its sleeve. But what makes this film special is the way it adds something new to the tradition of great Disney princess films. Frozen is a story about true love, but this true love is not the stuff of princes and princesses and love at first sight. Rather, it’s the love between sisters that drives this film. Frozen is an empowering film that celebrates all kinds of love—familial love, romantic love, and love for ourselves.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Frozen is the first Disney film to focus on two princesses, and both Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell carry this film equally with their unique vocal skills. Menzel’s voice is peerless, and she gives Elsa a power and edge unlike any other Disney princess. Her control over her voice perfectly suits Elsa’s journey through the film—from the quiet tension in her part of “For the First Time in Forever” through her complete unleashing of her power in “Let It Go.” No other actress could have given this character the kind of depth Menzel gives her. Elsa is unlike any other Disney princess who came before her, and it seems fitting that she was given life by a woman whose voice is unlike any other.

The same can be said for Anna—she’s certainly not your stereotypical, poised and perfect princess. She’s awkward, naïve, and overly eager for companionship at times, but she’s also fiercely loving, brave, and warm. Bell brings a vivacity to this princess that jumps off the screen, but she’s also able to communicate a very real vulnerability in her voice. Bell’s pure, gorgeous singing voice was a huge surprise to me.

Menzel and Bell have very different but equally beautiful voices, and listening to them sing—alone and especially together—was a feast for the ears to rival the best Broadway performances.

Scene Stealer: Olaf the snowman is a character who could have gone extremely wrong, but instead turned out to be one of the highlights of the film. A lot of credit for that should go to the fact that he was used just enough to be entertaining and consistently funny but not so much that he became obnoxious. Also, a lot of credit should go to Josh Gad for the way he’s able to make Olaf silly enough for kids to love him and sweet enough to feel important to the story beyond just comedic relief. (“Some people are worth melting for” was one of my favorite lines.) His big music number, “In Summer,” is a highlight of the film and a fantastic moment of musical comedy. Gad makes the silly and the smart facets of the number work perfectly, and I found myself surprisingly charmed by this addition to the list of great Disney sidekicks.

Bring the Tissues? Frozen worked my heartstrings with a dexterity usually reserved for Pixar movies. It hits you with a sucker punch of heartbreak at the start (“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” somehow manages to be both a cute and devastating musical number.), and the rest of the film has moments of real emotion that sneak up on you with their power. The climax of the film put more than a few tears in my eyes, and I have to imagine I wasn’t the only one moved by the film’s message of love and acceptance.

Most Memorable Scene: Every Disney princess movie has a moment where the heroine sings about what she really wants and who she really is, and those are often my favorite moments in the film. “Let It Go” is another one of those moments, where Elsa embraces her power and vows to leave behind a lifetime of repression and fear of letting her true self be seen by the world. Sung with Menzel’s characteristic power, this song is sure to become an instant Disney classic. This is a love song a princess sings about herself, and it’s one of the best songs a Disney movie has featured in a long time.

The animation in this scene is just as incredible as the vocal talent on display. As the song builds, so does Elsa’s ice castle, and the combination of stunning visuals and inspiring music combine to make this scene a moment worthy of its place among others that defined their respective Disney films: Ariel singing as the waves crash behind her; Belle and Beast in the ballroom; and Rapunzel and Flynn Rider watching the lanterns.

Continue reading

Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Monsters University

MU Poster

Title: Monsters University

Rating: G

Cast: Billy Crystal (Mike Wazowski), John Goodman (James Sullivan, aka “Sulley”), Steve Buscemi (Randall), Helen Mirren (Dean Hardscrabble), Peter Sohn (Squishy), Joel Murray (Don), Sean Hayes/Dave Foley (Terri/Terry), Charlie Day (Art), Nathan Fillion (Johnny Worthington III)

Director: Dan Scanlon

The Basics: In this long-awaited prequel to Pixar’s 2001 hit Monsters, Inc., we travel back in time to when Mike met Sulley as freshmen in the prestigious Monsters University Scare Program. The monsters initially clash (Mike is a hard-working bookworm while Sulley tries to get by on pure talent and family reputation), but they learn to work together when both join Oozma Kappa, a fraternity full of lovable outcasts. This colorful, hilarious, and surprisingly deep film is more than just Pixar’s take on Revenge of the Nerds. It’s a story about what happens to our goals and dreams as we grow up and learn that sometimes life doesn’t go according to our best-laid plans. While it may not be as narratively original as the best of Pixar’s films, Monsters University is still a great example of what this studio does better than any other.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): The animators on this film deserve to be singled out for their incredible achievements. No two monsters look exactly alike (with the exception of the PNK sorority sisters), and that’s no easy feat. The color palette in this film was brilliant. The vibrant colors were a great fit for the energetic and youthful tone of the film; when you first go to college, it’s like entering a bright new world filled with colorful new people, and the animators captured that feeling perfectly. Also, they did an incredible job with the amount of detail shown on each monster. From the scales on Don’s skin to each strand of fur on Sulley’s body (especially his totally in-character spike of hair), I was blown away by the care taken to make each monster look as lifelike as possible.

Scene Stealer: While the entire voice cast was stellar, I cannot get over how genius it was to cast Helen Mirren as the voice of Dean Hardscrabble. Her voice oozes class and poise but also a sense of controlled intensity that was ideal for the character. Every time her character was onscreen, I found myself hanging on every word she said, which is exactly the way students feel when addressed by such an important faculty member. Pixar always manages to surprise me with the talent they put in their films, and this was no exception.

Bring the Tissues: Monsters University may not be a sobfest like Toy Story 3 or the opening minutes of Up, but it still offers some very powerful scenes about the realities of growing up and the struggles we all face in trying to determine if the dreams we had as children are compatible with the realities of who we are as adults. To make a long story short, if you’re 18 or over, you should probably be prepared to shed a tear or two.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? If you stay until after the (very long) credits, you’ll be rewarded with a cute and funny scene referencing an earlier gag in the film. It has no bearing on the plot or any future films, but it’s fun and gives you a chance to hear Bill Hader’s voice again.

Most Memorable Scene: I don’t want to give away any spoilers for the end of the film, so I’ll just say there’s a nice twist that takes Monsters University from being a cute film about a group of outcasts overcoming obstacles to a much deeper film about one of the hardest lessons of adulthood: Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you think they’re supposed to. With that twist (involving Mike, Sulley, Dean Hardscrabble, and a scare simulator), this film joined the pantheon of great Pixar films about growing up. It has lessons for kids about honesty and the importance of working hard, but it also has an important message for young adults struggling to carve out their identity: There’s more than one way to be successful, and being unable to live up to the expectations we put on ourselves (or our parents/teachers put on us) doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It just means we get to find a new dream—one more realistic to who we’ve become. Without that plot twist, this film is just another typical underdog success story, but with that twist, it becomes so much more.

Continue reading

The Force Was With Me

How can you make a Disney World vacation even more wonderful than usual? By adding Star Wars characters, of course!

Jango Fett did not seem impressed by my winning smile.

Jango Fett did not seem impressed by my winning smile.

If you love Star Wars, you have to get yourself to one of the Star Wars Weekends held at Hollywood Studios every May and June. It was an experience I’ll never forget and probably one of my favorite days spent in a Walt Disney World theme park (and that is high praise coming from me!).

Our Star Wars Weekends experience began before the park gates officially opened. A fantastic preshow to the day’s festivities happened along Hollywood Boulevard, with two Stormtroopers standing guard over the guests waiting to be let into the rest of the park. One of the best parts of Star Wars Weekends is the cheeky personality given to each Stormtrooper, and this preshow introduced them in a great way.

8677_817364687961_58387517_n

Before entering the rest of the park, we had to pass by this guy.

At the end of Hollywood Boulevard—in front of the iconic Sorcerer Mickey Hat—there was a giant stage that was the center of the action during Star Wars Weekends. As the day began, the classic Star Wars theme music blared from the park’s speaker system and a narrator gave an overview of the day’s events—from the afternoon parade featuring beloved Star Wars characters to special interview shows with celebrities held throughout the day.

My family and I attended one of those interview shows—Stars of the Saga—which featured guest emcee James Arnold Taylor (the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi on Star Wars: The Clone Wars) interviewing two giants of the original trilogy: Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian). Held in a special theater near the Streets of America, this is one Star Wars Weekends event I would recommend to everyone. Even if you only have a passing knowledge of Star Wars, it’s pretty cool to tell people you were in a room with Chewbacca.

Continue reading