Friday Flotsam: Depression, Thrawn, and Lady (and the Tramp)

1. This week was overall pretty miserable: I was strangely exhausted most of the time and my depression flared up badly. I want to say it’s some form of burnout, but you know what they say about self-diagnosis. In any case, I was able to get through by severely curtailing my activity and schedule to a few specific, measurable tasks.

The result is that, despite having thrown my entire schedule off, I actually feel I’ve been pretty productive. So put that in the toolbox for when you’re feeling overwhelmed or trapped.

2. In other news, I finished the ‘Thrawn’ trilogy. Overall a worthy follow-up and a good scenario of ‘what happened next’. As I’ve said before, Thrawn is an excellent villain, the kind of guy who is always three or four steps ahead of the good guys, much to their (and our) frustration. He also has a lot of personality, and his evil acts are all limited and logical to his goals. For instance, there’s a bit where he executes an underling for failure. Later on another crew member is in almost the exact same situation and again fails. He expects to be executed, but instead Thrawn promotes him because while the man failed, he showed creativity and quick-thinking in the process, which counts for more in Thrawn’s mind. By contrast, the earlier crew member could only plead that he wasn’t trained for the situation, so he gets the axe for lack of originality (if only certain film companies operated on the same principle…).

Honestly, I liked Thrawn so much I actually found myself rooting for him. Not that I wanted him to conquer the good guys, but I did kind of want him to at least emerge unconquered himself. Without giving spoilers, that’s not what happened, so unfortunately my idea of a situation where our heroes end up in an uneasy alliance with Space Napoleon couldn’t come to pass.

3. I will say that I’m not entirely satisfied with the climax. The bulk of the action has Luke and Mara Jade fighting a crazy Jedi clone, while Thrawn is more or less occupied with the B-plot that gets wrapped up rather abruptly. The force-based action is perfectly fine (with one or two annoyances that would be spoiler filled to comment on), and I really liked Mara, so that was good, but evil psycho Jedi is just much less interesting than Space Napoleon.

Though granted, Thrawn’s downfall is occasioned by the heroes’ actions, but it’s still disappointing that Luke etc. never got to confront him face-to-face. For such a great villain, his fall felt too quick.

4. Also revisited Lady and the Tramp last weekend. Given that it’s classic Disney, I don’t suppose I have to tell you that it’s good, but what struck me most this time around was how very different all those films are (I mean the early, Walt-overseen films). True, they have (mostly) similar styles of art and storytelling sensibilities and such, but in terms of plot, tone, atmosphere, theme and so on none of them are quite like any of the others (ironic given what the studio would become in later years).

Lady and the Tramp is basically “A ‘30s screwball romance with dogs, set around the turn of the century”. That’s a completely different set up even from the other canine-based film: One-Hundred and One Dalmatians, and even further removed from the film immediately preceding it (Peter Pan) and the one following (Sleeping Beauty).

5. Stylistically, it’s mostly show from the dogs’ point of view, so that the humans are usually seen as legs and lower-torsos passing to and fro, making the whole thing reminiscent of childhood (Lady’s storyline is very like an only child dealing with the arrival of a younger sibling).

Also really like the turn-of-the-century setting, which was a favorite of Walt’s (the setting was also based on his hometown of Marceline, Missouri). You really don’t see that time period in stories much anymore these days, at least not as far as I can see. Something that ought to be remedied in my opinion.

6. And the beautiful emotion! Most of the first, what, five, ten minutes is just a puppy repeatedly trying to be allowed to sleep in her masters’ bed. Who today would even consider opening a film that way? But it works: we’re invested in seeing Lady get her way because the film does such a good job of conveying her feelings to us, her being lonely, uncertain of herself in a great big house, needing love and reassurance that she is part of the family. And all with very little dialogue, just a lot of visual magic.

It also sets the tone for her relationship with her family, so that we feel it right along with her when that relationship changes in a way she doesn’t understand.

Oh, and that scene where she meets the baby! The changes of expression as she works out what this means and what her place in the scheme is, the little flinch she gives when Jim Dear moves to pet her again. So much emotion and such a sure hand behind it, knowing exactly how to convey it in this medium.

7. That’s all before Tramp even really enters the picture, by the way. Which, furthermore, means that our heroine has her own story arc, interests, and identity apart from the hero, making the romance that much more interesting. Both have a life of their own, and one or the other is going to have give it up if they’re going to be together.

Oh, and on the subject of our heroine, I really like Lady’s voice, provided by the wonderful Barbara Luddy (who also voiced Merryweather in Sleeping Beauty, and I doubt you could get two more different characters while still having both be good guys). She has this remarkably deep, purring kind of voice, very unlike what you’d expect from a romantic heroine, but oddly perfect for a dog.

8. Something else that stood about the film was how much frankly mature material they skirt in there. They really make no, ah, bones about the fact that Tramp has been a philandering, love-em-and-leave-em type up until now. The ‘bella note’ sequence…well, let’s just say it, they literally sleep together, and while there’s no indication they did anything else, the visual language is pretty much the same as you’d see in a live-action film of the time. Later, when Lady’s been disillusioned, Jock and Trusty come by to offer to marry her, which, frankly, looks a lot like they’re trying to save her reputation or take care of her following an unwed pregnancy.

Not to mention the prison scene, which includes an execution (the same fate threatens Tramp in the end), the jailbirds swarming the pretty society dame, and of course Peg is basically your typical 30s jail floozy, complete with an implied history with Tramp.

I mean, none of this stuff is explicit and it’s all very tasteful, but like I say, the story is definitely skating parallel to some pretty mature concepts.

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