By Craig Joseph
It’s horrifying when you discover yourself the lifelong adherent of a hideous deception, and that you’ve been duped by a seemingly innocuous animated film. I’ll explain.
I’ve always enjoyed being the villain. When Ryan Bagueros and I played Transformers in the backyard, I claimed the Decepticons. Never the magnificent ones – Megatron, the gun, or Soundwave, the boombox. I portrayed the cassette- tape-turned-buzzard (can’t even recall his name) and the beetle (not Volkswagen, but insect) that engaged in psychological warfare (I suspect, because he couldn’t fight for shit). Mrs. Henderson’s church choir staged an annual musical. Did I play Moses, bravely leading the Israelites, or Daniel, emerging strong from the lion’s den? Of course not. This youngster clamored to embody the Pharaoh in pajamas, whining about the plagues, and Nebuchadnezzar, a Biblical Roddy McDowall seeking out the paparazzi’s attentions. Numerous examples abound; in my prepubescent mind, sissified, effete, emasculated (and always British) bad guys were all the rage. And the adult manifestations of this predilection are far less cute.
Walt Disney tricked me, this week’s viewing has me convinced, because the funniest parts of this flick revolve around Prince John (the phony thumb-sucking monarch) and his serpentine sidekick, the hypnotic Sir Hiss (psychological warfare – again!). Their banter fostered the belief that these guys – rather than the fox who flies through the trees, helps the poor, brandishes weapons, is handsome and gets the girl – were the ones to emulate. Paging Dr. Freud.
Or is this a chicken and egg proposition? Maybe I was navel-gazing enough at age ten to know that I was a bookish, theatrical, ironic and eccentric little fellow who’d do well to aim for self-deprecation and laughs, rather than heroism and romance. Thank God they weren’t casually medicating kids back then; my parents would have spent a fortune, and I’d be an actuary.
All this has me thinking about little boys, their heroes and identification. I wonder if the young Tim Barlow loved this movie because of the adventure, the chases, the archery contest, the jailbreak rescue scene, the moments where it looks like the jig is up for Robin – and then it’s not. I wonder if he jumped on the furniture in the family room, with a makeshift feather in his cap, vanquishing his foes. And I wonder if the adult Tim watches and thinks, “Every day is still an adventure,” or “I yearn for that freedom and exhilaration,” or “That’s great, Robin, but I prefer routine and predictability and to know how I’m going to eat this evening.” Did the boy and the man identify with different parts of the film, or different characters? Or is there continuity between then and now, since we never really outgrow needing, or wanting to be, a hero?
Or maybe he just really likes cartoons. Admittedly, these musings are of a Prince John variety. And at the end of the day, who has time for them when the neighborhood kids have to be directed and choreographed in a restaging of “The Phony King of England?”