The Utah Theatre here in Logan regularly shows old movies, but barely registered as a blip in my consciousness until its movie posters for the original Star Wars trilogy recently stopped me in my tracks. First of all, Star Wars. Second, I had just been talking with a coworker about how if she only ever saw one more Star Wars movie in addition to the one she's seen, she should see "The Empire Strikes Back" because it's widely regarded as the best one (an opinion I share, though "Rogue One" makes me reconsider just a little before ultimately coming in second due to its lack of character development). So on Monday I invited her to go to that with me, reasoning that whether she said yes or no I could stop being nervous as soon as I asked. Because of scheduling difficulties I didn't get a definitive answer until today. I actually find that kind of comical. Regardless, I had every intention from the beginning of seeing all three of these movies in the theater with or without her. After this run-through, "Attack of the Clones" will be the only theatrical Star Wars movie I haven't seen in a theater. Oh, and "The Clone Wars", which I forgot about like everyone else.
So on Friday I went to "A New Hope" and my friend Scott went too and we could have tried to get in together with the "Date Night" package which includes two tickets and popcorn and candy for $14, and in my opinion is a bargain well worth lying about my sexuality for, but I was nervous that there would be a huge crowd and the tickets would sell out so I showed up forty minutes early. The theater was empty. So I picked out the best seats in the place and watched the Neil Diamond concert that was playing for some reason. I think it was a DVD, and periodically somebody skipped around through the scenes so that we only had to watch/hear his big radio hits. Scott showed up and we watched the rest of the concert and then, when it was time for the movie to start, the theater surprisingly didn't make us watch forty commercials and movie trailers. We only had to watch the original theatrical trailers for the next two Star Wars movies and re-release trailers for "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz". The Utah Theatre's next offerings, I presume.
Then Donald Duck's face appeared on the screen, I presume because Star Wars, for better and for much worse, is owned by Disney. And I thought it was the coolest thing to bring back that tradition of pre-movie cartoons. But I hated this one, which shall remain nameless because it doesn't deserve publicity. First of all, it ends with a non sequitir "joke" where the characters look like racist Chinese stereotypes. I certainly hope I wasn't the only person in the audience bothered by that. I was bothered by it at face value and even more so when I thought of how mortified I would be if I'd brought somebody Asian, or for that matter any non-white person (like, oh I don't know, my coworker) to see it. There's also quite a feeling of cognitive dissonance when you see beloved cartoon icons being offensive in ways they would never dream of today. It shatters their illusion of being timeless, ageless, larger-than-life figures unrestrained by the shortcomings and shortsightedness of mortality. The "old" Bugs Bunny who once wore blackface is the same character as the "current" Bugs Bunny who would never ever ever do anything like that. Yeesh.
And admittedly, I first made the uncharitable assumption that the people responsible for selecting this cartoon just didn't see anything wrong with it because they were all white and didn't have any Asian friends. Sadly, that didn't seem too far-fetched as I've heard and read more than a few complaints from minorities in Utah about the microaggressions they're subjected to by stupid white people. But I complained to the theater and they said they had missed the racist part because it's right at the end and they'll discuss how to improve their cartoon screening process and not let it happen again. So I forgive them as long as it never happens again. And that was the extent of my complaint because I realize the theater isn't responsible to cater to my personal tastes or accomodate my broken psyche, but here in my safe space I'll let y'all in on a little secret: even before the racist ending, I hated this cartoon. I mean really hated it.
It opens on a cheerful Donald Duck singing as he makes himself a whopping stack of pancakes which he intends to have for breakfast. Little does he know that Chip and Dale live on his roof. They decide they want the pancakes for themselves, and in the process of stealing every single one - amounting to several times their own combined body weight and mass - they subject him to a great deal of abuse and humiliation as he tries to stop them. Eventually, they win and he loses and I'm left feeling physically ill even without the racism factor. Scott confided, "Honestly, I was rooting for Donald Duck. I should have known better." Me too, brother. I held out hope that the furry little turds from hell would get their comeuppance at the end and Donald Duck would be compensated for his tribulation. But nope. They just abuse and humiliate him to the very end and steal all his food and we're supposed to root for them and find it funny because they're cute? I guess? I know people in the forties were idiots, but were they really that depraved that they found this storyline appealing?
Maybe on some level I'm afraid that no matter what I do or how well I try to live, someone more likeable is going to abuse and humiliate and screw me for no reason, and the universe or whoever's out there watching has already decreed that I deserve to be laughed at, not sympathized with, for no reason. Am I a Donald Duck in the story of my own life? If so, the prospect of being alive is a nightmare devoid of hope. But mostly I just feel bad for the cartoon character. Duh, he's not real, but that doesn't magically make it funny to watch him subjected to suffering he's done nothing to deserve. (In this cartoon, anyway. In some cartoons he's a jerk to somebody and then gets his comeuppance and that's fine, but those have no relevance to this instance because these old cartoons cared as much about continuity as Trump does about climate science.) Now I would pay good money to watch an R-rated sequel where Donald Duck gets his thorough and final revenge on Satan's sentient armpit hair. That would make the trauma I experienced worth it.
Cartoons, of all places, should be a world of unrealistic karma catharsis where, by the end, good or neutral characters are rewarded and bad characters are punished. If a good character just has a bad time with no reversal of fortune at the end, it needs to be something relatable that makes the audience say in their heads, "We may chuckle because we've all been there, bro, but we're still rooting for you to get back on your feet." Not "You deserve to suffer because you're not as cute as a chipmunk." And for the record, though I'm obviously supposed to, I don't find the merciless miniaturized monstrosities cute at all. Cute is as cute does. And for the record, I'm not even wild about cartoons where carnivorous animals are made out to be villains because of the instincts and physiological requirements that God gave them, but at least in those cases I can rationalize that their prey is abusing and humiliating them out of self-defense and not pure sadism. So in summary, the racist ending was just a gratuitous sucker punch to my already sick stomach.
These were not the Ch-Ch-Ch-Chip 'n Dale, Rescue Rangers that I grew up with. I don't care what anybody says. In my personal canon these demonic owl pellets are not the same characters as the noble defenders of truth and righteousness that I looked up, er, down to as a kid, full stop, end of discussion.
As for the movie itself, what can I say? It was freaking Star Wars. Even though I could have gone in blind and deaf and played along in my head beat-for-beat with the actual movie, and even though the CGI additions really haven't aged well and look like PlayStation cutscenes on a screen that large, it was every bit as magical as the last time and the next time. Scott wrote a post about it too and called it "some delightfully stupid movie about intergalactic teenage war heroes." That's as apt a description as I've ever heard for a movie whose plot basically comes down to "These are the good guys and these are the bad guys and they each have a space wizard with a laser sword, and the good guys have to shoot this hole to blow up the giant space egg." It's a very paint-by-numbers approach to the Hero's Journey, but that's exactly why people across eras and cultures love it. If Disney wants the franchise to survive it needs to break more new ground and push more boundaries let go of its incestuous dependence on nostalgia and inside jokes, but without forgetting its roots as some delightfully stupid movie about intergalactic teenage war heroes.
It's also a galaxy where, despite the apparent lack of eternal judgment and ultimate justice, the good guys always win sooner or later instead of getting abused and humiliated for laughs. Just a thought, Disney.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.