Sunday, June 24, 2012

Novelizations: Why a Book Is Not a Disney Movie

A few weeks ago I noticed a new display in Barnes and Noble. It may as well have screamed Brave: The Adaptation, featuring not one, not two, but SIX different versions of Brave in book form in front of the usual children's books. One even included a watercoloring set for illustrating the pictures beautifully.

The display first inspired irritation and then fury in me. How dare they release a book adaptation of a Pixar film that hadn't even been released in theaters? Hadn't they heard of spoilers, or why spoilers were given that particular name? Did they WANT kids to skip out on the movie?

Then another thought occurred to me, and I started reading the different books. One was a "junior novelization" told from Princess Merida's point of view as she went through the movie, reading like a teenage fantasy novel. I tried, but I couldn't "see" the witch and her house of wood carvings. Another was a miniature encyclopedia, like an Eyewitness book of Brave's world. Yet they had no background music, voice acting, or visual movement; the book thus felt incomplete. It would be like trying to watch How to Train Your Dragon on mute, without hearing Jay Baruchel's sarcasm or John Powell's Oscar-nominated soundtrack.

That same week I was reading The Lion King, the picture book we have at home, with my younger brother as well as watching the movie five days in a row to prepare him for the stage play. Even though the picture book had dialogue ripped from the movie, reading it wasn't the same as running with Simba and Nala as they sang Elton John's entertaining songs. The words didn't have life or vigor, the reason why we watch the movie and sing along. Nor does this travesty happen to the Lion King, or even Disney exclusively; it happens with any picture book or novelization of an animated movie. Live action can get away with novelizations because we can see real people in the story, not cartoon ones.

One critical complaint of movies, especially animated movies, is that is deprives viewers of imagination, unless you're watching the original Fantasia. When a person goes to see a movie, there are few visual blanks to fill in because the movie provides visuals and sound, which appeal to our strongest senses.

Is that a bad thing?

We don't go to a movie to exercise our brains. We go to a movie to have fun, escape from our problems for two hours, and get immersed in someone else's life. Sometimes a book can't cut it because regular books don't have memorable soundtracks or sarcastic voice actors, even when you're listening to audio. A movie builds a new world for us to jump into.

I still read books, but I don't think I could reread Brave without seeing the movie and hearing the bagpipes firsthand. I won't be able to judge Merida as harshly for making a foolish wish instead of showing her mother why she shouldn't get married to a bore. Now that I've read the books, I'm even more excited and realize why the novelization were released two weeks in before the big premiere.

Pixar wants us to watch the movie, even it has princesses and curses and a controversy with Brenda Chapman. By teaming up with Barnes and Noble, they have succeeded beautifully.

Brave: The Junior Novelization. N.d. Photograph. Target. Web. .

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How to Regain Your Compassion

This semester I made the best decision possible: taking Literature of the Holocaust. I requested a spot because I needed a Modern Lit requirement for my major, and my adviser recommend the teacher. As a teenager I become highly interested in the Holocaust, only to abandon it after learning in 9th grade how the Nazis mistreated Jews and there was nothing the United States could do. Fighting prejudice and injustice seemed much harder when certain stereotypes are ingrained in your psyche, and when genocides continue to occur around the world. We only learned one thing in World Civilization when covering the Holocaust: "Never again." We were then showed why "never again" becomes a difficult motto in the face of Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, and the Native Americans. 

That perspective changed when our teacher turned off the lights for one class, rolled down the screen projector, and showed us America and the Holocaust. We learned to our shock that the US DID know about the Holocaust in its early stages, could have saved six thousand Jews just by granting them visas, and ignored the problem until Jews working for the government alerted the President, getting fired for their trouble. Even worse, the government bureaucrat who stopped most of the visas from getting delivered never got punished. Breckenridge Long retired to a ranch and rode horses for the rest of his life. He never admitted his mistake, even when denying Jewish orphans an American sanctuary.

Our teacher then balanced this injustice with All But My Life, a memoir by a Holocaust survivor who has font memories of the US soldiers, even marrying the one who rescued her and ten other girls from an abandoned camp. Gerda Weisman Klein maintained an optimistic determination to survive, since surviving a death camp "was the greatest revenge". Her optimism helped the class brace itself for Night, a much more harrowing and traumatizing read, as well as Tzili, a fictional account of a mentally-delayed girl avoiding the death camps but still suffering when the Holocaust hits close to home.

Holocaust Literature didn't change my life, but it changed my perspective on the individual's power. If we had stopped Hitler when he invaded the Rhine lands, 5 million lives would have been spared. If Breckenridge Long had let go of his Anti-Semitism, then we may have had less refugees crowding the European ports, waiting for Nazi soldiers to drag them onto camps. If Eli Wiesel had listened to the nurse wanting to escort him to safety, he could have avoided Auschwitz.

The novels we read focused on the individual's power by proxy, since they were novels: Tzili, The ShawlWartime Lies, and The Plot Against America. Tzili through her quiet, persistent search for a new home invites compassion for every individual, no matter what their position in life; Wartime Lies explores what a false identity can do to a child's psyche as he hides from war as well as his courageous aunt; and The Plot Against America showed the growth of the author's fictional counterpart in a much more hostile America, with a Nazi-sympathizer as the president and the Jews slowly losing political power.Our teacher combined traditional English teaching to emphasize how the Holocaust stripped the individual of an identity and basic human rights, whether or not someone encountered the horrors of the camp.

I learned how to care for people again in this class, through my love of books and dormant righteous fury. I found what I could do: obtain an internship talking with a Holocaust survivor, write a comic expressing my conflicted feelings, and find more books on the subject.

Will I march in Poland, facing a hail of stones and seeing the horrid barracks? Probably not, unless for research. Will I write a comic that explains an appropriate punishment for Breckenridge Long? Probably, if I do enough research about the time period. Will I remember that every person who suffers is an individual, though? Yes I will. I will remember the voices of real and fictional survivors, those who told us to look at the Holocaust in a new way. We prove Hitler wrong when we see them as people, not as potential hair suppliers or cattle to be herded in trains. Let's keep doing so, even if there are no more Jews in Europe.