Let’s take a trip down the rabbit hole together and look at Disney’s Alice in Wonderland! In this video essay we try to wrap our minds around why it remains such a pop-culture icon, even 7 decades after its initial release! Happy 70th Anniversary Alice!
This is my new video analyzing two amazing Masterpieces! I hope you all enjoy it!
Bring out the tissue boxes and open your minds up for some deep thinking, because today I’m reviewing one of my favorite Pixar movies of all time!
My video essay and review breaking down the storytelling potential in Disney’s Tron Legacy.
I attempt to explore the main theme of this beloved franchise and why I think it’s an unparalleled masterpiece…
WEBSITE UPDATE: As you may have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot more time making video essays on YouTube than writing new blog posts these days. There’s a reason for that. Although my first and foremost passion is writing about the things that I love, there is no denying that more and more interest is being generated in audio/visual content. While I’ve been stuck at home during this unprecedented situation, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the extra time on my hands to grow my YouTube channel and hopefully offer more of this type of content. However, my goal is to always create what I love, and not what I think others want to see, so I have put great care into my writing of the video’s scripts to accomplish this. I have poured my heart and soul into these videos and I hope my passion for writing still comes through in it. The long and short of this update is to say that I am absolutely 100% planning on making more written content in the future. I have not abandoned that. Videos just take a long time to make, and as I currently do everything by myself, it naturally has taken up most of my time. In addition, my current situation during this pandemic has made it difficult to create an accurate schedule or reliable method of creating content, at least for these last few months, and it will take some time to figure out how to move forward in the changing landscape of the future. My goal is to eventually balance the two forms of media and find a schedule that works for releasing fresh and original content in both video and written form! I can’t wait! Thank you for reading this and I hope you have a magical week! 🙂
In this video, I try to explain why audiences of all ages still love Winnie the Pooh!
A very special sneak peak on what’s coming soon to DisneyMagicFanatic!
I’m so incredibly excited for the video essays that I’ve been writing, and all the super-nostalgic content I’ve gotten a chance to create during this season of staying at home and I can’t wait to share them with you all!
Keep an eye on the horizon 😉
I spent the last three months painstakingly editing this video…It’s the last episode of Season 1 of my Masterpiece Series. I will soon be releasing the original scripts I wrote for these videos, as well as exclusive content (including fascinating behind-the-scenes anecdotes), exclusively on this website! 🙂 Don’t worry, as always, whether it’s on YouTube or here, my content will continue to be free for all to view!
A Special Behind-the-Scenes Look at Disney’s Top Villain Vocalists
It’s that time of year again when the leaves start falling from the trees and the aroma of Pumpkin Spice is everywhere, to the joy (or chagrin) of many. It’s also what I like to call ‘spooky season’, and that means that it’s time to get the ball rolling on costumed candy-corn content for those of you who enjoy alliterations with your hot cocoa. During this season, Disney fans everywhere are delving into their own unique brand of October fun. These Disney fall festivities include movies like The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Hocus Pocus, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Coco. They also consist of Disney Park offerings like The Haunted Mansion, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. However, there is one Disney Halloween tradition that is wholly unique; the Disney Villains.
I’ve noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve visited this specific Disney brand. And since I’m not really that good at “traditional” Halloween fare because of my strange aversion to the macabre and my dedication to being obnoxiously cheerful, I’ve decided it’s the perfect time to delve into some fascinating topics relating to the Disney fiendish foes…Do I really need an excuse?
For our first “Villains Month” offering, I’m diving deep into some of the greatest vocal performances in Disney history! This is a countdown of The 15 Most Iconic Disney Villainous Voices!
(Note: This list only includes the 57 films of “Disney’s Animated Canon”, and due to the sheer number of Disney Villains, not every iconic voice could be included)
- Queen of Hearts
Her royal red highness from Alice in Wonderland (1951), is a bit more obscure when it comes to vocals. However, she’s earned a place on this list due to a voice that was highly iconic for the time. Radio veteran and accomplished voice-actor Verna Felton, known for her iconic work as Dennis Day’s mother in the Jack Benny program, lent her talents to this short-tempered villainess. The constant cries of “off with their heads” should sound familiar too, because Verna ended up voicing characters in 6 different Disney features: the cruel Elephant Matriarch in Dumbo, The iconic Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, The Queen of Hearts, the antagonistic Aunt Sarah from Lady and the Tramp, the fussy Good Fairy Flora from Sleeping Beauty, and finally another elephant in the Jungle Book! That’s an impressive track record!
- Man in the Bowler Hat
Meet the Robinsons is definitely one of the more obscure Disney movies, and although it has become a cult classic with legions of fans all around the world, it’s not exactly the first place you’d look for something like this. However, Meet the Robinsons is actually a treasure trove for amazing vocal performances! The Man in the Bowler Hat (yes, that’s his actual title), better known as Goob, is on this list because of his hilarious portrayal by Director Stephen J Anderson. Stephen is known for his work as a story artist and writer on films like Tarzan, Zootopia, Frozen, Moana, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-it Ralph…and the list goes on and on! His ridiculous, over-the-top, and irreverent portrayal of the charismatic, and yet incredibly pathetic, Michael Yagoobian is one of the many reasons why Meet the Robinsons is so fun to watch!
Ratigan is somewhat of an icon for fans of Disney’s “Dark Age” of animation. People who grew up on films like Robin Hood or Aristocats, remember The Great Mouse Detective fondly for it’s unique reimagining of Sherlock Holmes as a mouse called Basil. And of course, every Sherlock Holmes needs his own Moriarity! Ratigan, a criminal genius of a rat, fills this role perfectly and is portrayed wonderfully by one of the most refined and iconic actors of classic cinema: The King of Macabre himself, Vincent Price. The sophistication, menace, and dark humour of Ratigan come through in every line of this unique performance thanks to Vincent’s phenomenal vocal range.
Don’t know who Vincent Price is? There’s actually a big chance that you’ve heard of Vincent Price’s work, even if you don’t recognize his name! Seriously, just take a look at his filmography!
This villain from Tarzan often gets passed over in the grand scheme of things, and that’s a real shame. He’s a well-crafted antagonist, but Disney’s precarious licensing deal with the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate ensures that he stays out of most movie-related products, and thus out of the public eye. Such is the world of copyrighted trademarks, unfortunately. But even if he isn’t an incredibly popular villain, he still deserves a place on this list for his highly entertaining vocal performance.
British actor Brian Blessed, known for his long and illustrious career in film and television, and roles in cult-classic franchises like Flash Gordon, lends his booming sophistication to this heinous hunter. The pleasant bass tones of Brian’s educated vocals lend themselves perfectly to Clayton’s persona of the refined and menacing Englishman.
- Shere Kahn
The Jungle Book was the last animated feature that Walt Disney himself worked on before passing away in 1966. As such, it has earned a place of reverence not just with Disney fans, but also with artists inside the Disney company itself. The movie focused on character above anything else and presented the culmination of Disney’s refinement after 30 years of animating animals. Each character is full of life, authenticity, and fluidity, and each has a distinctive voice that matches their personality perfectly. And the villain is no exception!
Academy Award Winner George Sanders was tasked with bringing the powerful Shere Kahn to life and he did not disappoint! Sanders’ filmography is incredibly extensive, with his most iconic role being The Falcon, and he has played characters ranging from heartless villains, to charming royalty. His resonant vocals gave an air of confident control to Shere Kahn and the performance, along with the sophisticated animation that was paired with it, were quoted as direct inspirations for one of the greatest villains in Disney history; Scar from The Lion King.
There is plenty of irreverent self-aware humor in the The Emporer’s New Groove, so it’s no surprise that the casting wouldn’t be any different. Eartha Kitt was an incredibly accomplished singer and actress who is revered around the world as an icon of civil rights in show business. She used her talents to rise from poverty and oppression into worldwide fame. In her later years, she remained humble and was often known for her ability to find the humor in serious situations. She is also remembered for her willingness to poke fun at her own life.
Known for her beauty and alluring voice, Eartha’s work includes iconic songs like her original holiday hit Santa Baby (yes, that Santa Baby!) and roles like Catwoman in 1966’s Batman television series. So, it’s no surprise that her self-aware role in the Emperor’s New Groove would reference her career. Eartha, who was in her 70’s by the time of the film’s debut, was delighted to learn that Yzma would encapsulate her unique sense of humor. In the film, Yzma is an old woman trying to appear young and beautiful to creepy affect, poking fun at Eartha’s own history as a showbusiness icon.
Most stars wouldn’t be comfortable making fun of themselves, but apparently Eartha loved this self-referential humor so much that she signed on to play the character again for the sequel and the subsequent TV show!
There are more villains to get through on this list, but unfortunately, we’ve run out of time here. But don’t fret! October is a long month, and we have many more fiendish foes to follow! Check out Part 2 here!
Which Villainous voice is your favorite? Let us know in the comments down below!
There’s something incredibly special about Mickey Mouse. Even 90 years after his debut, he’s still making people smile all over the world. But why is Mickey Mouse so special? This is a peculiar question, because I don’t think people ask it very often…or even think about for that matter. For a lot of people, he just is. Today, I think that it’s kind of easy to take this cartoon character for granted and miss the spirit which made him popular in the first place.
Today, I wanted to explain what Mickey Mouse means to me. I wanted to talk about why Mickey Mouse is my hero…
As I was growing up, I knew that I loved animation. I was already interested in movies, but there was something unique about the hand-drawn films of Disney’s heyday that captured my attention. There was an intangible charm that set them apart from most of the live-action movies that I had seen. Animation was the playground where anything was possible.
And of course, you couldn’t be a fan of animation without at least hearing the name Mickey Mouse. He was an icon; his face was everywhere.
So, as a small child who didn’t understand how films were made, I think I took Mickey for granted and just assumed that he went with cartoons the same way that peanut butter went with jelly. But as I got older, and began to study the film industry in earnest, I began to realize that Mickey Mouse represented so much more. And in order to understand why, we have to go back to his creation.
The story of Mickey Mouse’s inception is a long one, so I’ll try to keep this recap brief for context. The most important thing about his creation was that Mickey Mouse was born out of desperation. He was created during one of the lowest points in Walt Disney’s life. In fact, Mickey Mouse’s creation was a direct result of Walt Disney losing everything. During the 1920’s, in the early days of his animation career, and before his name would become synonymous with high-quality animation, Walt produced cartoons for established industry leaders. But it was hard work for very little return and Walt was having trouble making ends meet. Still, ever the perfectionist, Walt strove for greatness and a standard of quality that made his competitors balk. But in this season of pushing for the best product possible he may have done too well. first truly successful creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was popular enough to run a series that Walt’s Distributor, Charles Mintz, coveted. But Walt Disney poured every cent the company had back into his cartoons to make them better. In addition, he spent as much time and talent as was possible on improving the quality of the animation which slowed production and limited the amount of cartoons that Mintz could cash in on.
Of course, this didn’t sit too well with Mintz’s avarice. Mintz, who still retained the right to distribute Oswald and therefore could make his own cartoons (despite Walt having been the one who created the character) decided that he didn’t want Walt’s quality control. He believed that he could pump out cartoons twice as fast and make double the profits on low-quality animation. He believed Walt to be unnecessary to his own chars and swindled Oswald out from under Disney’s nose. And if that wasn’t enough, Mintz then proceeded to bribe most of Walt Disney’s top animators into leaving him. Effectively, the entire studio, save for a few loyalists who believed in Walt’s standard of quality, abandoned Walt to work on Oswald for Charles Mintz.
Even after working years for what little he had, Walt had lost everything.
Walt Disney, along with his wife Lillian, claimed that on the train ride home from this heartbreaking and potentially career-ending event, he refused to give up hope. No matter how bleak everything looked, Walt was determined to survive. So, with no creative assets to his name, Walt decided to try and create one more character to make new cartoons with. In his desperation, he sketched out a little mouse, and although the design would end up changing significantly thanks to the collaboration of a genius animator named Ub Iwerks (one of the few employees that remained loyal during the Mintz fallout) the spirit of the character was created. Mickey Mouse had been born. And without knowing it, Walt Disney created the most recognizable and popular cartoon character of all time. And he had done it during a time when everyone thought he would fail. That fateful day, Disney proved Mintz wrong. He proved that the Disney touch was crucial to his cartoon character’s success!
The rest is history…and that’s the point.
Mickey’s history, and what it represents, is what is most important about him. What makes Mickey Mouse so special isn’t his popularity, or even his bankability (although he has both in spades), but rather what he meant to Walt Disney himself. For Disney, Mickey Mouse represented perseverance. Mickey was proof that hard work, perseverance, and quality were the keys to success. He represented Disney’s own humble beginnings, and this was something that Walt Disney never forgot.
“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing-that it was all started by a mouse.”
Walt would say this years later, recalling the humble start of his artistic legacy. It remained a lesson for Disney to never forget how he had started out with nothing, and that he had a responsibility to treat whatever he earned with respect. To remember that he was no better than anyone else, and that what he had was a blessing.
Ironically, Mickey Mouse came to eventually represent that very thing; an average, humble, everyday citizen who could do something extraordinary if he put his mind to it. And knowing the history behind it all, there’s no way that this could have been a coincidence. Walt put his very identity into this little mouse, because he had risked everything on him, and as a result Mickey became Walt’s alter ego, literally and figuratively. Walt even voiced Mickey for several years in his classic cartoons; turning Mickey into who Walt Disney wanted to be.
Mickey is special because he reminds us of what it means to persevere; to never give up on your dreams. Without Mickey, Disney would have never found success, and because many consider Disney to be the pioneer of modern animation, the art form itself might not have become the prevalent and memorable industry that we recognize it as today. Mickey changed the way we look at animation and shaped The Disney Company into what it would one-day become.
So, when I look at Mickey Mouse, I cannot help but be full of gratitude for what he’s done for the movies that I love. When I see him, I’m reminded of what animation means to me, and why I love film in the first place. Filmmaking inspires me to live out my dreams and to never give up on them. It pushes me to tell stories that impact the world and invites me to bring a smile to faces everywhere. Mickey Mouse is simply a physical reminder of this love, and for that, I owe him my undying respect.
So, when I go to a Disney Park and see the statue with Walt Disney holding Mickey’s tiny hand in his, gesturing to a world of imagination, I must thank them both for being brave enough to follow their dreams… and in turn inspiring me to do the same. Mickey Mouse is more than just an iconic face. He’s the representative of a legacy that spans generations, and reminds dreamers everywhere, that they can do anything that they set their minds to. It shows them, like Walt Disney said, that “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
Why do I love Disneyland so much?
This is a question that i’ve been asked many times during my tenure as a Disney blogger, both in the context of mocking and legitimate inquiry, and It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.
So, why do I love ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’? It seems like a simple question on the surface, but any Disneyland fan will tell you that it really isn’t. It’s so hard to put into words why a single place makes you feel so happy and how memories made in that place could bring you so much joy years after the fact. But I thought about it long and hard, and I can finally narrow it down to one core idea.
It feels like coming home.
Whenever I walk through those gates, no matter how many times I’ve been there before, I always feel a deep sense of longing and belonging. It’s a similar feeling to seeing your hometown for the first time in 15 years, or that inexplicable warmth that washes over you during Christmastime. Some people chock it up to mere nostalgia, and while that’s partially true, I feel like that limits the full breadth of emotions present in the experience.
Yes, I have nostalgia for Disneyland. After all, I had my first visit there before I was even a year old, and I’ve been going with my family ever since. But that’s not the only thing that stirs up this feeling of home in me. It can’t be. How could it explain the hundreds of people who have never been to Disneyland before, that weep at their first time going as an adult? No, there’s something far more… dare I say…magical about the happiest place on earth.
I never get tired of Disneyland either, and as anyone knows nostalgia can only go so far…can only last so long. If the age of reboots and sequels hasn’t proven that, I don’t know what will. No, my joy in Disneyland goes deeper than that!
As a child, I adored Disneyland, and while my childhood visits were comparatively few and far between, every single one of them was an event to remember. It was a real treat, and an extremely special occasion, for me to go to Disneyland. My love for Disneyland only grew with each consecutive visit.
So naturally, when I became an adult, I would want to save my own money to keep going to the the place which had brought so much joy to my childhood years. I saved every nickel, and eventually was blessed with the chance to buy an annual pass. This allowed me to go to Disneyland more often than I had ever been before. Everyone warned me that I would get tired of Disneyland if I went too much. They said that it would stop being special to me and that I would get bored with it eventually.
They were all wrong.
Now I adore Disneyland more than I ever have before! Sometimes, I don’t even ride any rides, and simply go in the park to window shop or sit down on a bench to eat. It’s no longer a trip every few years, but a place I visit on the regular. In light of this fact, nostalgia seems like an underwhelming explanation for my love of Disneyland. Due to this continuing enjoyment, I often struggle to find and adequate explanation for the experience.
So, I keep on coming back to this concept of coming home. They say home is where the heart is, and that is indeed true for the happiest place on earth! I may call the place where I live home, but Disneyland definitely feels like a second one. Every time I walk down Main Street U.S.A, sit down in the view of the castle, or ride the Disneyland Railroad, I’m hit with an overwhelming sense of peace and calm. No matter how rough the outside world might be, no matter how stressed I might feel, as soon as I walk through those turnstiles, it’s very hard to remember those things. Instead, all of my senses are flooded with creativity and imagination.
Suddenly, I smell the popcorn, I feel the brickwork underneath my feet, I see beautiful works of immersive art in every direction, and I even hear the music and sounds of a fantasy world come to life. It’s by no means perfect, but it does give you a sense of safety and freedom. It may all just be pretend, but sometimes it’s fun to let go and pretend. Too many people expect perfection from Disneyland, or are too eager to fulfill their plans like a checklist, that they miss the magic that happens right under their very noses. You don’t happen to Disneyland, Disneyland has to happen to you! And once you get into that frame of mind, if you let yourself be immersed in the world that Disneyland tries to create for you, and resist the temptation to act like an adult, you might just find yourself having that same feeling of home.
It’s that feeling of being a kid again and playing in a world of your own imagination. It’s that sense of escapism that comes with visiting a place from your favorite book. It’s the feeling of adventure that comes with fantasizing about the past or dreaming about the future. It’s the feeling of your dreams coming true. Like a warm fire on a cold winter night, Disneyland is a comfort for those that let their inner child reign.
If you let it, Disneyland can be like coming home to the innocence of youth.
That is why I love Disneyland. Why do you?
Read Part 1 HERE!
The year is 1966. A thrilling adventure on the high seas has just been added to Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. But there is something else that grabs the attention of guests in the area. Something new and mysterious. Wide-eyed children look through a pair wrought-iron gates at a strange building…an opulent mansion. No one knows what will be inside, and the only hint of what’s to come is a sign that reads:
“Notice! All ghosts and restless spirits. Post lifetime leases are now available in this Haunted Mansion”
It’s followed by a description of the mansion’s offerings for retired haunts and ends with the phrase:
“For reservations send resume of past experience to: Ghost Relations Dept., Disneyland. Please! Do not apply in person.”
This sign is all guests would get about the Haunted Mansion for several years. However, instead of disappointing them, it only raises their expectations to a whole new level.
Fast-forward to early 1969…All who visited Disneyland were eagerly awaiting the future attraction; none of them even realizing the development nightmare that had been going on behind the scenes for nearly half a decade.
They could have never known that in 1964 work on the mansion (which had already been in development for 10 years) came to a screeching halt when Walt Disney diverted all of his attention to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Everyone who was anyone at Disneyland was sent to work on the extensive lineup of attractions that would debut at the fair, and no one was left over for work on any of the ongoing home-projects at Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion would have to wait for a while.
However, fate was on the Haunted Mansion’s side, because the World’s Fair actually provided several technological breakthroughs that effectively solved any future storytelling problems that the Mansion’s had! You see, the story that the Imagineers could tell In the haunted mansion was limited by the technology of the times. The World’s Fair provided an unprecedented stroke of luck that greatly broadened these borders to previously unimagined horizons. The first of these lucky breakthroughs, and arguably the most famous, was the “perfection” of Disney’s Audio Animatronic technology; which had first debuted in the Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963. With the technological innovation of the photo-realistic Mr. Lincoln at the World’s Fair, it was finally possible to populate the Mansion with a believable cast of characters in movement, rather than in static scenes, allowing the story to be told in a much more efficient manner.
The second breakthrough, and probably the most important for the future of the Mansion, was the advent of the Omnimover Ride System. This ingenious vehicle design was an evolution of the PeopleMover system developed for the Ford’s Magic Skyway attraction at the World’s Fair. In essence, this system was a chain of individual swiveling vehicles that ran on a hidden track underneath the ground moving at a constant speed, so that passengers could be unloaded and loaded in an efficient manner and at consistent rate.
The reason why this second innovation proved such a game-changer was the fact that, up until that point, the Haunted Mansion was supposed to be walkthrough exhibit. The Omnimover system allowed the attraction to become a continuous ride-through experience; raising its hourly capacity tremendously. It also allowed Imagineers to control what riders would see, by preplanning the track layout and the programming of the individual cars to swivel or turn; effectively controlling the audience’s view of the story and special effects just like a camera lens does in a feature film.
Now with the technology to tell an effective story, Disney simply needed storytellers that could execute these tools correctly. Luckily, after the World’s Fair ended, two of Walt’s greatest storytellers were now available for the mansion. Marc Davis, known for his brilliant animation of Cinderella, Maleficent, Cruella De Vil, Tinker Bell, and more, was brought onto the project for design, especially in regards to the characters. After his concepts for Pirates of the Caribbean proved so crucial to its success, Walt wanted him to help guide this new masterpiece. At the same time, Claude Coats, a Disney background painter who was known for designing many of Fantasyland’s famous storybook rides and providing the layout for Pirates of the Caribbean, was brought in for his familiarity with the spookier aspects of fairy tales.
However, there was one problem with this dynamic duo; both had completely different ideas for what the Haunted Mansion’s tone should be. Marc wanted the mansion to be funny and lighthearted, believing that a real haunted house would be too scary for a family establishment like Disneyland. On the other hand, Claude Coats believed that you shouldn’t even make a “haunted house” attraction in the first place without making it scary. The two conflicting ideologies became a temporary problem, so much so that Walt was forced to bring in a third party to reconcile the two of them.
Xavier ‘X’ Atencio was an animator at the studio in whom Walt saw something very special. Even though Atencio had never written a script before, Walt thought he would be good at it, and had him assigned as the lead writer on Pirates of the Caribbean. Walt’s insight would prove prophetic as that ride became what many consider to be the greatest ride in theme park history, and Atencio’s lyrics for “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me” would be sung around the world; remembered by thousands to this day! Walt thought Atencio might be able to pull it off again with the Haunted Mansion.
Again, Walt Disney was right! Atencio managed to somehow juggle Claude Coats dark tones with Marc Davis’s silly characters and create a script that balanced the macabre with the satirical. After a few drafts, a final story focusing on that “retirement home for happy haunts” was approved. This final draft would tie together separate side-stories based on Marc Davis’s unforgettable characters under one sinister-looking roof of Claude Coat’s design. Finally, the Haunted Mansion had the story it deserved, and although Walt never got to see the finished product due to his untimely passing in late 1966, the ride would have made him proud. The Haunted Mansion opened to critical acclaim in 1969 and has been entertaining guests for 50 years!
It may have taken over 15 years to create, but it was worth it! And with 999 happy haunts to visit, you’ll want to hurry back again and again! After all, there’s room for a thousand… Any volunteers?
WANT MORE DISNEY HISTORY?:
Storytelling is a profound expression of the human soul. It has the ability to interpret our greatest joys as well as our deepest sorrows. It allows us to express ourselves in a unique manner that connects to the souls around us. As an art form, storytelling can encompass countless mediums and talents. I think it’s safe to say that every art form is capable of telling a story, and we can learn valuable lessons from all of them. But lately, I’ve been wanting to talk about some hard storytelling lessons that I’ve learned through my own personal mistakes and experiences in writing. And I’m going to use the art of filmmaking to illustrate these ideas since it’s the medium I’ve studied the most throughout my lifetime, and the medium that I can most easily apply to other forms of storytelling. Today I wanted to talk about a concept that has seemed to become a problem in the filmmaking industry, and also one that I believe has been incredibly misunderstood: The concept of nostalgia.
In a world of sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, and spin-offs, the concept of nostalgia has garnered a bit of a negative reputation. These days, nostalgia is unfortunately seen as a cheap trick, a false feeling that’s built on the foundations of our rose-colored memories and recycled to sell movie tickets. But I personally believe that this is because nostalgia has become misused by Hollywood, and therefore vilified by the masses. I personally believe that it’s all about perspective on this one. In fact, I propose that nostalgia can be a powerful tool to craft amazing stories, and doesn’t have to be a trick used by studios to shirk their work or responsibility. Nostalgia, if applied properly, shouldn’t be an easy thing to use. In fact, nostalgia should take hard work to apply.
To understand what I mean by this, we must first understand what nostalgia truly is. And it all comes down to the perspective of what we experience, versus what we remember of those experiences. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman refers to this as the “Focusing Illusion”. He says that what this means is we have two “selves”: our experiencing self, which is our self that is in the here and now and is experiencing life as it goes by, and our remembering self which is how we remember these experiences after they have happened.
Kahneman explains “the remembering self is a storyteller. And that really starts with the basic response of our memory. It starts immediately. We don’t only tell stories when we set out to tell stories. Our memory tells us stories. What we get to keep from our experiences is a story.”
This means that, whether we like it or not, our experiences inform the stories we remember and resonate with. This, in essence, is what nostalgia is. It is a powerful memory which is created by something good that we experienced in our past. It’s a story of what we remember that we log away in our minds until something triggers it. It is our remembering self, taking away the best parts of our experience and filing them in our subconscious to bring to the forefront when reminded…even when we least expect it. And this is why nostalgia is so powerful. Because the audience’s memory already contains an entirely fleshed-out story to conjure up with only the slightest reminder, before a new storyteller even says a word of their own devising. Now of course, this requires some responsibility on the part of the storyteller to not abuse the power of remembrance in his/her audience. More on that later.
It’s also important to note that nostalgia can be nearly subconscious, and has the power to trigger emotions connected to memories we never knew that we had. This is why even certain smells or tastes can make us cry without us even being able understand why. That’s how powerful the stories of nostalgia are. The psychology of storytelling’s impact on the subconcious mind is a truly fascinating concept and I would love to delve deeper into it sometime. However, for right now, I just wanted to focus on how nostalgia has become misused and how we can maybe fix these problems in going forward.
Kahneman continues “What defines a story are changes, significant moments, and endings. And endings are very, very important.”
Now I believe this statement explains the problem with nostalgia in today’s storytelling landscape. The problem with nostalgia as it is used today, is that it seems to be the only thing the storyteller uses. There’s a reason why sometimes a movie’s ending can ruin the whole film (or in the case of Avengers Endgame, elevate it). It’s because a bad or lazy ending is felt by the audience, and often remembered the most out of the whole experience. It’s the feeling the audience walks away with as they leave the theater, and if that’s not a good feeling, it could jeopardize the whole film.
But it’s not just endings that can cause a problem. Your audience knows when they’re being shortchanged. They may not know how, but believe me, they still know! An audience can sense when a plot is shallow, or when their memories are being manipulated to create a screen for lazy showmanship. The truth is that, in modern Hollywood, there is often no substance to back up the feeling of nostalgia, and the audience knows it. I usually try not to be harsh with my criticism when it comes to storytelling, but the truth is that nostalgia is often used simply as a misdirection to hide a weak story, rather than a tool to enrich one. In this form, the experience of nostalgia is hollow and is therefore often rejected as fake or manipulative. It is easily conjured up in the minds of an audience, but it is also quickly forgotten. It feels empty and cheap, because it does not create anything new for the memory.
But there’s good news! This also unlocks the secret to using nostalgia properly in storytelling going forward. They key is this: nostalgia, if used properly, should not just remind you of good memories from your past, but it should also create new ones!
A great example of how nostalgia can be used properly is found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like any fandom, there is a significant amount of nostalgia for the characters and brands of this franchise amongst its audience. Entire generations grew up with memories of reading the comics, playing with the toys, or watching the tv shows and they carry that with them into the theater. This brand has nostalgia in spades. Of course, Marvel could easily ride on those memories and let their audiences childhood experiences carry the films and sell their tickets…but for the most part they don’t. It’s because they realized one very important thing: that nostalgia is ultimately unfulfilling without putting substance behind it…The reason why Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has become the highest-grossing franchise in history is because they focus on making good stories first. Then, only after they have created something of genuine substance as a foundation, do they insert nostalgia to heighten the experience. They create something new to give the audience first, and then they reinforce it with their audience’s memories. They use nostalgia, and their audience’s previously made “memory stories” as a tool to enrich an already well-crafted story.
There are many examples of this, but let’s use Black Panther to illustrate my point. There are comparatively few people who watch Black Panther and walk away saying “Wow, the image of Wakanda reminded me so much of Jack Kirby’s drawings from the comics!” Of course, you are more likely to hear people say “Wakanda felt like a real place with real people and authentic culture!”
And the truth is that the filmmakers absolutely do reference Jack Kirby’s famous drawings, and they absolutely do have them in mind when making the movie…but that’s not the point. Ryan Coogler crafted a beautiful story inspired by the comics that was deeply personal and close to his heart first. Only then, after he felt like had expressed his message properly, did he add the nostalgic factor as icing on the cake.
He used the nostalgia of the comics to make an already amazing story, even better. Not only do fans walk away with the joyful feeling of reliving their childhood and experiencing the joy of their wonderful memories, but they also create brand new ones to bring with them into future experiences. The nostalgia reinforces the experience. That is the true power of nostalgia.
For contrast, you can look at a film like The Rise of Skywalker. Among a multitude of storytelling issues, Rise of Skywalker struggles with its identity. It doesn’t really know what kind of story it wants to tell. It has a bit of a shaky foundation, and to cover this up, they rely on a great deal of nostalgia to carry the movie. Nostalgic music cues, familiar imagery, and self-referential scriptwriting are bombarded at the viewer in hopes that they will make up for a lack of clear vision. It’s an admirable attempt from J.J. Abrams to try and salvage the mess he was left to work with, but in the end, it just didn’t work. Even if you love this movie, there is no denying that the average audience member felt cheated. It feels empty to them, because they don’t walk away with anything new. They are simply reminded of a past good experience (the stories they grew up with) and are in the same place they were when they entered the theater. They have nothing new to remember, and nothing new to be nostalgic about going forward. All you have is the old memory and this feels like “sameness” which can leave you with a hollow sense of disappointment.
And just to clarify, nostalgia doesn’t have to be defined by memories of a specific franchise or a character that you grew up with. It can be abstract memories or simple life experiences that resonate with you. But as a storyteller, if you’re going to use this form of nostalgia, it has to be authentic and flow from a uniquely personal place. For instance, in the story of Peter Pan, author J.M. Barrie based a good deal of the plot on wonderfully innocent childhood memories from his own life and the lives of the people around him. He delved deep into childhood memories of fighting imaginary pirates, pretending to be heroes that could fly like fairies, or dreams of adventures in the woods. Because these were deeply authentic storytelling efforts on Barrie’s part, they deeply resonated with his audience on the story’s debut in 1904. People who watched the play, had their own similar happy childhood memories, and this caused an already memorable story to become even better. The story would skyrocket in popularity, becoming one of the most popular tales of all time. This wasn’t the only factor in its success of course, but it certainly added to its charm.
The truth of the matter is that a memory, of any kind, is an incredibly powerful thing. Nostalgia is simply one useful manifestation of memory, and as such it carries a great amount of influence on the audience…and requires a great deal of responsibility not to misuse.
At the end of the day, nostalgia is a powerful tool that can be used to both positive and negative effect. Like any tool, it all depends on who’s using it and how they choose to apply it.
Thank you for reading!
The Power of Nostalgia and How It’s Been Misused (Lessons in Storytelling)