Very Top Five... horrific stories which became Disney films

Monday, 26 October 2009
Disney have been delighting fickle kiddies for generations with tales of heroism and fabulousness. But just where did Disney get those zany story ideas from? Sometimes they made them up specially, but often they adapted a book, fairytale or myth.

Like strong coffee, these stories were often too hot and bitter for Disney’s taste, so they added saccharine and watered them down a bit, leading to this; the very top five horrific stories which became Disney films.

5. Hercules (1997):

This is from a Greek legend and they are always seriously messed up and usually involve a bit of incest or patricide (or both) or similar.

In the Disney film he does some quests, kills the Hydra and shiz, marries Megara, and the film ends. Happy happy.

But the fun is just beginning in the Greek version; Hercules and Megara have children and live together for many years. “That sounds lovely,” you might say. But then that naughty scamp Hades slips Hercules some potion, which drives him temporarily mad. “What fun this sounds,” you might delightedly purr, “but I’m sure Hercules wins out in the end, doesn’t he?” Well, sort of. He murders his Megara and their children in a fit of rage though. Woops.

Then he is all like; “Well, can’t be helped,” and gets married to another woman called Deianira. Then he starts having it off with Iole on the side, so Deianara soaks Hercules’ clothes in the Hydra’s acid blood, so that when he puts them on he is horribly burned. Now, as you may recall from the film, Hercules is immortal, so the burning just means that his skin is ripped off, and he survives, albeit in terrible agony. So he decides to voluntarily immolate himself on a funeral pyre, finally divesting himself of his mortal shell and joining his parents as a God on Mount Olympus.

Epic win for Hercules. But I can’t see Disney making that story into a sequel any time soon, to be honest.

4. Aladdin (1992):

Quite apart from the fact that Aladdin has a laughably (but apparently consolingly) white face among the other, swarthier denizens of Agrabah, this is another story based on an old legend. This one’s Arabic, from the Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

One main difference is that in the original story there were more genies, which might strike you as surprising. Surely Disney wouldn’t miss out on the chance to add to the cacophony of fun that is Robin Williams? Well, apparently they did.

Also, the Princess is called Badroulbadour, which has been sanitised for Western ears to the far less alien-sounding Jasmine. The change in name means that we are provided with a waft of exoticism, while actually it’s quite familiar and non-threatening. Plus Badroulbadour sounds quite like an embarrassing disease.

This logic of making the characters and setting as Western as possible did not apply to Jaffar the evil Vizier, who isn’t even in the original story and was caricatured to be as Arabic as Disney’s artists could manage before their pens split under the malign forces of xenophobia throbbing through them. Disney clearly thought that the original story had fewer evil Arabs than was suitable for a children’s story.

3. Snow White (1937):

Snow White is based on a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm, two writers who were renowned for having a good long think about stories that were completely unsuitable for children and then writing them into stories for children.

Although Snow White the film actually does contain many of the same elements as the book; An evil stepmother who tries to kill Snow White because she’s better looking (according to a magic mirror), and she gets some dude to take Snow White into the forest and chop her heart out as proof of death. But he takes pity on her and lets her go, and kills a pig instead. This is all in the film and book, and surely now that you’ve had a think about it you’ll agree that’s pretty intense. Oh, but in the book it’s Snow White’s actual mother, not her stepmother. Somehow a bit worse?

In the book, Snow White is encouraged to try and kill her mother, an aspect notably lacking in the film. One other difference with the book is that at the end the evil Mother comes to Snow White and Prince Charming’s wedding at the end. “They patch up their differences?” you say, “How jolly!” Well, no, actually, because the dwarves force the stepmother to wear iron shoes and dance until she drops dead. She conveniently dies in the film too, but due to falling off a cliff rather than being tortured to death at a wedding by some angry dwarves.

But Snow White the film and Snow White the book are daringly similar, on the whole.

2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996):

This one’s based on a book by Victor Hugo, a 19th century French writer (and all round dreary git.)

The book has a complicated plot and lots of moping. Some highlights are that Esmeralda is hanged for attempted murder, and Quasimodo, who she has been totally blanking all the way through the book, lies inconsolable with grief at her grave until he starves to death.

The book is littered with killings; many of the central characters are murdered by Quasimodo for looking at his cathedral in ‘a funny way’.

1. Tarzan (1999):

A poor English infant is left in the jungle, and adopted by apes. The book (1912, Edward Rice Burroughs) and film are in agreement on this, except the film involves more Phil Collins music.

In the film, Jane is the first human that Tarzan meets. Not so in the book. Here, despite being brought up by apes, Tarzan is well aware of humans from an early age. Black natives, in fact. And this is where the whole story starts to take a nasty turn down a very dark alley.

Most of the book involves Tarzan swinging around the jungle killing black people for fun, either by dropping out of the trees and stabbing them in the chest, or by garrotting them with one of his vine ropes. Then he steals their bangles and swings off again, laughing at his skills and the natives’ stupidity compared to those of “the white race”. Seriously.

Then there is the chapter unapologetically called “His Own Kind” where Jane and some other white people turn up. Jane has a Louisianan maid called Esmeralda who, perhaps not coincidentally by this stage, is black. She is seemingly there only for comic effect, and screeches things like “Oh Lawdy!” when she gets a fright. Which is most of the time. Jane tries to shoot Esmeralda in the chest with a revolver at one point because she thinks it’s a kindness to put “The negress… the poor, faithful, thing… [out of her misery].” Bit harsh…

Tarzan doesn’t even get the girl, she goes off with his posh cousin Clayton from England instead. And Tarzan learns French from naval Lieutenant D’Arnot (with whom Tarzan spends far more time than he did with Jane, even when Jane was still in the jungle) and sets off onboard a steamship to Paris with D’Arnot. WTF?

Very Top Five... Things to do if you're unemployed

Monday, 19 October 2009
Damn, so you’re unemployed? You might well deserve it due to your lack of ability and ambition, or it could be the random stroke of a cruel recession, but I’m going to go ahead and assume the former. Everyone else will, after all.

Suddenly twenty four hours seems an absurdly over-generous amount of time to idly flicker past, every single day. Conversely, the weeks will melt into months and years before you can say “I’ve wasted my only life.”

Ever so insidiously, you’ll notice that your daily expectations get smaller and smaller. You’ll get dressed up to go to the library, and make ‘posting that letter’ your task for the day, and feel all proud when you succeed, in this pathetic simulacrum of meaningful existence.

So you’ll be after some sort of method of dealing with the crushing desperation of feckless unemployment, I assume? By the way, I’ve left suicide off the list, ‘cos, y’know, it’s a really big downer, but remember it’s always an option. Just saying; one less person on government financial support is one productive step towards financial prosperity for everyone else.

Anyway, here we go:

5. Apply for jobs

I just thought I’d get this option out of the way early on, so we can have a good laugh at its ludicrousness and move on with the article. Obviously when you’re initially unemployed you’ll be all keen to seek employment, and lay out all your job application things on your desk all ready to go, with your selection of coloured pens at right angles to your headed notepaper and selection of paperclips (A different colour for every day of the week, to liven things up a bit).

But soon you’ll find that the thump of rejection letters on the doormat is just about as effective a dampener on your enthusiasm as if the postman had come into your house and punched you in the stomach for having the audacity to make him deliver your application letter when it was so obviously a massive waste of his time.

4. Watch daytime television

Let the bright light flicker over your tired eyes. Soon you’ll start to care about what happens to the characters in tedious soaps. You’ll then add these soaps to your daily list of things to do. You’ll set your alarm clock to remind yourself to switch on (You don’t want to be distracted by any of the many, many other many pressing concerns on your time, after all.)

Then there are those programmes where they round up some morons and get them to have a go at each other in a conversational format, normally with a patronising host who can whip out DNA test certificates at any given comically-timed moment. An audience will chatter excitedly like a mob of vultures who’ve just realised that one of their own number is limping.

Vultures also urinate down their own legs to kill the bacteria picked up from wading over stinking, bloated corpses. I think that TV audiences do this as well, but only metaphorically.

3. Masturbate angrily

Why not combine your simmering anger and constant low level unshakeable frustrated arousal with some furious masturbation? Make it the highlight of your day.

Just a thought.

2. Forage

Maybe you’ve toyed with the idea of self employment but lack the skills, capital and inspiration to actually do so? Well here’s something everyone is always over qualified for; scavenging junk from bins.

Go out and liberate things from skips. Then use them to fashion new and fantastic items, like Macgyver. I don’t think MacGyver ever used some brown lettuce leaves and a half-eaten pie to make a square meal, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.

And the brilliant thing about cigarette butts is that there is often still some tobacco in them. Collect five, stick ‘em back together and sell them to a tramp. They’re not fussy.

If people see you foraging they might chuck a few loose coins your direction too. Bonus!

1. Wither

Your personal range of skills is unacknowledged by a cruel society, so why not show your contempt for society right back by shuffling around the house, unshaven and wearing slippers even though it’s way past lunchtime.

Let tedium set in. Just relax, let the world speed up around you, and pass you by, and settle in for a long, long period of unemployment. Possibly for ever and ever.

And ever.

On the plus side, you’ll stop worrying. I’ve never seen a stressed person wearing slippers in the afternoon, after all.


If the unusually callous vitriol of this article offends you, please find consolation in the knowledge that surely my contempt of unemployment can only be derived from insecurity. But still, I have a job and you don’t. Nyer nyer.

Superior Scribbler Award

Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Well I'll be bejiggered, it turns out that I'm made of win. I've been given a Superior Scribbler award by Sondra Stinglash at callithumper blogspot. This is particularly funkalicious due to my only recently shattered viginity in this medium.

She said; "Very Top Five because his writing is so damn smart it makes me jealous."

How jolly nice. My writing is very smart though; I use Latin and shiz all over this domum. And big words, like 'loquacious'. I used loquacious just the other day in an actual conversation, as if it was a normal, quotidian word.

Anyway, this award now requires of me that I pass on this accolade, pyramid-scheme-like, to five more blogtastic bloggers in the bloge (That's like globe (it's even an anagram), synonomous with the more usual blogosphere). I like to think it's pronounced blogé. Fabulously, I specialise in doing lists of five. Hence the name; Very Top Five Blog. So this couldn't be further up my street.

Not including my actual-friends-from-real-life's blogs due to my shameless partisanity (a word?), here are five blogs that I really quite like, in either reverse/increasing/no/pyramidal order as you see fit to interpret:

Be Patient I Am Getting To The Point For her posts which manage to be perceptive, personal and often very funny all at the same time. And she likes cats, which is aces with me.

Cinema Obsessed for her posts on all aspects of cinema, with relentless updating. And the fabby quotable quotes. I can vouch for their quotablity.

Julochka I have always felt rather well disposed towards Julochka and her blog ever since she was the first person to leave a comment on one of my posts. Her blog is a mix of beautiful photographs and brilliant text to go along with them.

Sotto Voce More super duper photgraphs here! And she featured a poem on her blog a few days ago that I've been thinking about ever since. It's always jolly to be affected.

The Audacity of an Optimistic Pessimist is training for a marathon, and her blog is a journal of how that's going; a very funny journal, with the running theme (gettit?) that she is on a quest to get fit for the NYC marathon giving everything a nice zing.

Here are the award rules:

  • Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Very Top Five... Clever things mammals have evolved

Monday, 12 October 2009
Nature is great at inventing things because it has the time to tinker. Millions of years of evolution have gone into improving the best and scrapping the worst bits of creatures in an endless search for perfection. (Alternatively, God did it. And he’s jolly clever, by all accounts, so proponents of evolutionary theory and creationism are in agreement, at least on this; Creatures are very well suited for purpose.)

So what makes a great product of evolution? Firstly, usefulness is paramount. Often a good idea will be repeated in many creatures, while others are so unique to one animal that it automatically gains an upper hand. Also, when you get right down to it, it’s very important that the mammal feels cool about itself. For example, the streamlined cheetah’s body is cool, whereas the two-in-one anus/genitalia of the duck billed platypus (while undoubtedly an efficient invention) is definitely not. (Are platypussies even mammals? Who can say? Well, biologists, obviously. And anyone who can be bothered looking it up.)

With these criteria in mind; the best of Nature’s mammalian inventions:

5. Ears, Common Pipistrelle Bat

Ears could be considered quite anatomically simple when compared to the other sense organs but are just as functional and provide a wealth of sensory information, making them all the more elegant in their design. Hearing allows an animal to process a wealth of information about its environment which is vital for survival.

Insectivorous Bats like the Pipistrelle get the most out of their ears. These are so sensitive that they act as sonar sensor, meaning the bat can squeak and listen to the echo to build up a 3D picture of its environment - and consequently zero in on insects in total darkness. And the insects are totally all like bzzzzzz OMGWTFWASTHATLOL!ARgh…

4. Eyesight, Tarsiers.

Mammalian eyesight is pretty good all round, in both small and large animals, and in predators and prey species alike. Tigers need good eyesight to catch llamas or whatever, and llamas need good eyesight to catch those sneaky tigers red handed. Or preferably before they get red handed, of course.

As for Tarsiers, think of a hand-sized ET with fur, and you’re close enough. Tarsiers have huge eyes, which are actually bigger than their brains. (If that doesn’t sound all that big, imagine what human eyes would look like if they were same size as our brains. Exactly.)

And they need them, because they live in the jungle and only come out at night. This necessitates something extraordinary to put them beyond the competition; else they’re going to get face-slammed by the razor claws of screaming jungly death.

3. Circulation system, blue whale

The circulation system of the vertebrates is a superb system of intra-bodily transport, and is a marvel of engineering, complete with valves, pressurised pipelines and the great central pumping station of the heart. Beats the man-made pipe system of any city you’d care to mention.

This complicated system is most impressive in the largest vertebrate, the blue whale, complete with a heart the size of a car and arteries big enough for a human to slide through. Not that you’d want to, as you’d drown in blood (if the pressure didn’t kill you first. Which it would.)

2. Nose, Grizzly Bear.

Like animals which rely on their ears, animals which rely on their noses obtain a massive wealth of information about their surroundings which is vital to their survival. A good nose is an advanced chemical identification laboratory, and these are still far, far more acute than any chemical or physical man-made equivalents. So there, science.

Bears noses have about seven times as many receptors as bloodhounds do, which in turn have one hundred million times more than us puny humans.

This is one of the many reasons that you shouldn’t get into a smell-off with a bear, another being that bears often fail to understand the rules, and if they feel pressured or stressed, they may try to eat your face.

1. Brain, Human

Oh yes, we win! Hell’s yeah!
The brain in any animal is the literal (hah!) nerve centre, controlling movement, biological process, instinct and thought, and whether spread throughout the body (as in insects) or in a central position in the head (as in vertebrates), the brain is totally, irreplaceably vital to the creature’s operation.

In a few tens of thousands of years (An instant compared to the planet’s long history and short even to the ordinary rate of evolution) the human race has reached a pre-eminent position of dominance over all other animals. We even ride some of them around; that’s how much we pwn them.

The human brain has even enabled man to understand evolution, and thus gives us the ability to appreciate our own mechanism of creation. It also provides some humans with alternative hypotheses to evolution, which can only further demonstrate the boundless creativity of our dear grey masses, regardless of which theory is the correct one.

In first place, I give you: the human brain. Does knowing that give you a warm glow? If so, that was delivered courtesy of your brain. How pleasantly fitting.

Very Top Five... Ways to name a chemical element

Monday, 5 October 2009
So you’ve discovered a new chemical element and are trying to think of a good name for it? Well, it isn’t all laughs and fun, despite what you might think of the occasional joke names like ‘Uranium’.

You might want to pick a name which says something about the properties of the element, like the greenish-yellow gas chlorine, which unsurprisingly means “greenish-yellow” in Greek. The same logic of “give-it-a-name-that-describes-what-it-is” cannot be applied to either bohrium or boron, both of which only encourage proletarian anti-chemistry sniggering.

Oh, and the general rule is to whack a classical languages suffix on the end, usually ‘–ium’ but sometimes ‘–us,’ or ‘-on’. This makes it sound instantly pompous, complicated and alien to the layman’s sensibilities, which scientists like to encourage. Otherwise you might think science was accessible, which just won’t do at all.

Anyway, there are broadly five main ways for coming up with a name for a chemical element. Let’s get elemental:

5. After a place.

There are 25 elements named after places on Earth, and this has been a popular choice particularly in recent years. This is because scientists like almost nothing better than making a big fuss over whose right it is to name a new element, so it is generally easier to try and get people on side to name it after the city, country or continent where it was discovered rather than really push that campaign to name it after your favourite 80’s pop group. For example, europium is almost certainly named after the continent and not the band.

More examples in this place names category include Ytterbium, which is named after the Swedish village Ytterby; Yttrium, named after Ytterby; Terbium, named after Ytterby; And Erbium, also named after Ytterby. It’s a popular choice. Because obviously who doesn’t first think of little Ytterby when they come to name a new element?

4. From Mythology

Is there anything a scientist loves more than lording it over the proles with his fancy know-how and learnedness? I checked; there isn’t.

So, your typical scientist, when faced with the challenge of naming something very important, will reach for his big book of difficult and old words and try to come up with an obscure little joke that his colleagues can snigger at sycophantically, ‘cos they get the reference, partnered with the internal warmth that comes from knowing that you don’t.

Hence promethium, named after Promethius, who stole fire from the gods. Because promethium glows in the dark, this is very funny and clever.

Mercury is named after the eponymous messenger of the gods. He was jolly fast, and elemental mercury, since it is a liquid at room temperature, runs. Get it?

And Tantalum, named after Tantalus, who was condemned by the gods to stand in water that would sink out of reach when he tried to drink. Now, if you also know that tantalum does not react with water, I’m sure you can start to see how hilarity may ensue.

And so it goes…

3. From deconstruction.

Just give it a name that says what the element does, or describes a fundamental property of it. Obviously put it in Greek, Latin or even Arabic (sulfra means yellow, and sulfur is yellow), otherwise people will think that chemistry is easy, which is to be actively discouraged, as was discussed above. Calling an element ‘Yellow,’ simply because it is yellow, makes you sound about five years old. So sulfur it is.

Oxygen and hydrogen were named in this way. They respectively mean ‘to beget acid’ and ‘to beget water’. Retrospectively, it is rather hilarious to notice that the science guys got it wrong, and hydrogen is actually the component common to all acids, not oxygen, so they should really be named the other way round. Woops. You dropped the ball there, science guys.

Radium is named this way too; ray, from ray as in death-ray, and –ium, meaning complicated and sciency, with a cheeky wee ‘d’ sandwiched in the middle to give it that hard vowel sound to add more badassery than it would have if it were just rayium. (Radon was named in exactly the same way (with –on as the second most sciency suffix they could come up with), and Actinium is also from the Greek word for ray, so sometimes scientists can be really unoriginal.)

2. From how it was found.

Is your classical education so lacking that your attempt to deliver classy classical allusion would surely lead to a nomen nudum? Can’t you tell your Ares from your arse?

Don’t fear, there is a simpler way to come up with a name. Just name it after the types of place it was first found, or even the apparatus you used to find it. Did you find the element in the sun? Then call it Helium, after the Greek god of the sun Helios. If you first saw it as a band of colour in a spectroscope, then name it after the colour. Was it red? Call it Rubidium. Was it Indigo? Call it Indium. Was it a pleasant sky blue? Call it Caesium. Easy peasy.

1. After a person.

11 elements are named after people (More if you count mythological people), and it is the most popular choice in these days of international scientific squabbling and backstabbing co-operation. Naming stalemates are partially resolved by different research groups simply ignoring each other and proclaiming their choice of name as loudly as possible, but everyone gets hoarse sooner or later, and universal names have to be agreed.

So for example, most everyone can agree that Einstein was a jolly good chap, and so we ended up with an element called Einsteinium, (using the old rule of add –ium for instant elementality, and just when you thought “Einstein” was as sciency a name as you could get.)

Curium is named after two people; fortunately both called Curie (Pierre and Marie).

And good old mendelevium, named after Dmitiri Mendelev, who came up with the idea of a periodic table in the first place, but had to wait ‘til after he was dead for one of the elements to be named after him, number 101. That showed some restraint on his part, I think. After all, he could easily have ‘done a Ytterby,’ and left us with a legacy of Mendeliums, Mendeleviums and Dmitriums. So thanks Mendelev, for your restraint, for your humility, and for your periodic table of elements.