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Black Swan is centered on the life of virginal dancer Nina, a member of the New York ballet school. Portman plays her near perfectly as she is given the biggest role of her career, to play the lead in Swan Lake. The life she leads is claustrophobic, stuffy, and completely consumed by dancing. Her mother has projected her own hopes and dreams onto her after her own ballet career was cut short after she fell pregnant, resulting in a tendency towards bulimia, scratching at her skin until it bleeds and what starts off a mild psychological disorder.

The narrative of Swan Lake and that of the film soon begin to become more and more entwined. Nina’s innocent persona doesn’t fit with the dual role of the Swan Queen, as she is required to play both the white swan, whom, being graceful, poised and precise, she is naturally more attuned to, and the black swan, the antithesis of the white, ruthless, dark and twisted.

Artistic director Thomas encourages Nina to lose her frigidness, he tells her to look to new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), who is imprecise, tattooed, smokes, drinks and is free, for inspiration. He also advises her to use masturbation to explore sides of herself she is out of touch with.

Soon Nina’s psychological disorder becomes more exaggerated, the audience is unsure if what we are seeing is real or part of her consciousness as Nina’s transformation into the black swan becomes more consuming. This is perhaps where the brilliance of the cinematography is best represented. A grainy filter, muted colours and shaky point of view shot lets us see through Nina’s eyes, reminiscent of a documentary style of film making, resulting in an, at best tense and at worst terrifying atmosphere. Flashes of Nina’s face are almost seamlessly placed onto the screen, leaving us just as confused as to what is real and what is not as Nina must be.

Overall this film is one of those which stays with you long after your first viewing. You never quite know what is real and what is fake. Hallucinations and mirages crop up so frequently you can never quite relax and the effect is a psychological thriller which will have you engrossed from start to finish. If Portman does indeed win the Oscar for best actress, which I suspect she will, it is definitely deserved. If you watch it expecting a light, delicate film about ballet, you’ll feel short changed. If what you’re after is an uncomfortable, chilling psychological thriller, you won’t be disappointed.

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Not too come across as too big headed, but I consider myself a bit of a Disney buff. I’m 20 years old, so that would make such classics as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Pohcahontas the narratives I grew up on and, rather inevitably, fell in love with as a child.

Not only that, but last year I wrote my dissertation on the topic of morality in films to come out of the Disney studios, focusing mainly on what was at the time the most recent Disney Princess movie- Enchanted.

Princess and the Frog

In the process of writing my dissertation however the first entirely hand drawn Princess movie since Beauty and the Beast in 1991 was released- The Princess and the Frog and it’s about time I gave my thoughts on it.

Initially Princess and the Frog attracted a fair bit of attention because our protagonist Tiana is the first African-American Princess and therefore is the first Princess to go against the Disney mould of being fair skinned. (Ariel, Aurora, Snow White, Cinderella) That’s not to say she’s a complete first for Disney; Jasmine was from the middle-East, Mulan was of Chinese decent, Pohcahontas was Native American and Esmarelda I believe was Spanish. None the less, none of them for some reason or another were let into the Disney Princess “club” and she was, and that got people talking given the claims of racism which have fallen at Disney’s feet over the years.

Disney Morals

The general conclusion of my dissertation was that Enchanted provides a far from a perfect moral blueprint for your child to grow up with, assuming they internalise all of the ideas. However, Gisele knew what she wanted and went out to get it herself and this was a definite step in the right direction when compared to the weak and submissive females to come out of the 30s and 50s. (Snow White, pull your finger out love!)

And for the most part I think Princess and the Frog similarly updates the Disney morality to make it far more appropriate for children growing up in 2010.

Tiana displays the desirable traits of hard work and determination in the face of adversity as she works to fulfil her dream of owning her own restaurant and this represents a significant change from the Disney who seem to have always put success and dreams coming true down to “wishing on a star”, fate and destiny, as opposed to sheer hard work and graft.

The Bottom Line

Overall I must admit I liked it but it’s hard to say whether that’s for genuine brilliance or for aesthetic reasons. I am already a Disney fan, anything practically anything wrapped up in Disney magic is going to appeal to me, the cute alligator, the catchy songs and the style of animation are all things I find hard, if not impossible not to like.

But looking strictly at the narrative, and then comparing it to the latest films to come from Pixar, like Up, Toy Story 3 and Wall-E I’ve got to admit that I found all of these films far more watchable and enjoyable than I did Princess and the Frog. Maybe it’s because I’m not 8 anymore but I maintain that the best children’s films are those that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike, and so far Pixar’s attempts seem to be far more qualified at doing that than Disney’s hand drawn nostalgia films are.

Tangled

Later this year we will also see the release of Tangled (based on Rapunzel), said to be a hybrid of hand drawn animation and CGI so that images appear more like paintings on the screen so it’ll be interesting to see once again whether what Disney has made its name for, adapting classic narratives with its Disney stamp, is really working anymore when up against the excellence of Pixar.

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