Why I’m Excited for Wreck-It Ralph 2, Less Excited for Big Hero 6: The Series

I love to analyze media. I love to challenge how people see things. I look to look at things from a different point of view. And I have no problems not being completely satisfied with everything that comes out and wanting more. So if I come across as hypercritical, it’s not because I’m constantly looking for something to hate. It’s because I believe everything should have high standards and be quality entertainment. It’s important to think critically about what you love and consume.

So with that in mind, because of how GOOD Big Hero 6 was, I set my expectations very high for the upcoming series and unfortunately, it did not meet them. I was able to see both Baymax Returns and an episode released for UK audiences (that of course the Internet managed to spread around the world) and I just didn’t like them.

Being as critical as I am, I couldn’t help but point out how ridiculous some of the plot elements were (so there are 80’s dancers in San Fransokyo who can control electricity like it’s nothing?) and how the overall tone and themes made it clear that it was meant more for kids. I’m not necessarily saying that’s bad, of course kids should have a show like this, but it proves to me I’m no longer the target audience and that the show is more of a fun, separate thing from the movie. (Remember, the creators made the show with the deliberate intention of generating hype for a sequel, which means that the show itself is not the actual sequel.)

I know the animation gets dragged a lot but I don’t really mind it too much (though there are times when it gets really stiff). What baffles me the most is that the design team took inspiration from 101 Dalmatians for the style. What the hell does that movie have to do with Big Hero 6? It’s way too angular and pointy for the first movie’s soft, round style.

But for me, the biggest reason why I cannot get into the show is because I HATE all the new characters. HATE.

Professor Granville, the replacement for Professor Callaghan at Hiro’s school, is one of those ‘tough but fair’ teachers that thinks being harsh on students is the best way for them to succeed. As someone who has had to deal with that type of person, I can say, no, we do not succeed when you are a hardass to us. Seeing her in the vicinity of one of my most beloved characters made me really uncomfortable. Fred has an 11 year old rival named Richardson Mole who creeps on Gogo (eww) and has a whole basement where he has games like Whack-a-Fred and video games that involve shooting at or beating up Fred. Again, that made me SUPER uncomfortable to see one of my fave characters like that.

Worst of all, there’s a new character called Karmi who is incredibly rude to Hiro (but is creepily obsessed with his superhero alter ego) that I’m supposed to sympathize because apparently she doesn’t have a support system in place. I don’t mind flawed characters, but when the first thing she does is talk about how Hiro is pathetic for liking Baymax because he’s not alive, I have absolutely no interest seeing her become Hiro’s friend.

See, Big Hero 6 is my ultimate comfort movie and the characters in it bring me so much joy. Seeing them have to deal repeatedly with characters who are bullies honestly hurts to watch. I know that may sound weird but as someone who has been bullied and identifies with these characters, that’s too much for me to handle. So, unfortunately, I cannot watch the show while it airs. I don’t even understand WHY all the new recurring characters need to be jerks when they’re already dealing with supervillains!

So yeah, it really sucks, but I cannot get excited for the show as much as I wanted to. Yet despite my feeling of dread and concern, I’m still excited as hell for Wreck-It Ralph 2. Why is that?

Well, I think I’m more confident in Wreck-It Ralph 2 because it’s a legit sequel made by the same production company (so we know it will be for everyone, not just kids) and made by the same people. Rich Moore wanted to make a sequel since pretty much when the first movie came out, so you know that he’ll be telling the story he wants to tell instead of handing it to totally new people. So I’m more comfortable knowing who is making the sequel.

And while I don’t like the new characters for the BH6 series I’m actually excited for a new character in the WIR sequel, Yesss. We don’t know much about her but from what I’ve heard from people who went to the D23 Expo, she’s probably Ralph’s love interest and not an absolute jerk.

See, having all new characters in the BH6 series seems a little superfluous since the first movie already had so many characters. I understand having the new teacher, but why do we need a character like Karmi when we need to develop the relationships between each member of the team first? Wreck-It Ralph has more room for a new character, and it would be interesting to see how a character from the Internet gets along with old video game characters.

The idea of Yesss being Ralph’s love interest is actually appropriate. Ralph has been really lonely for the thirty years of his existence and has been told that he’s ugly and worthless and bad. So, having a love interest that finds him desirable is kind of important. It would also be a realistic way to add an interesting conflict to the story: what happens when Ralph realizes he finds himself being romantically involved with someone, and how will Vanellope take it?

Am I still nervous for the sequel? Of course I am. (I’m a little worried that the crossover material will draw attention away from the main characters.) But I’m more comfortable because I know it’s the same people with the same standards of storytelling rather than completely new people having to rework something for children’s television.

So far it looks like I’m not the only person who is ambivalent towards the BH6 series. And that’s okay. You don’t have to like EVERYTHING about the show. You can just be okay with it. You can like it without having to justify it. You can dislike it! You can absolutely want more!

And it’s okay to not like the new characters, especially Karmi. I’ve seen people on social media gushing over how she’s a precious bean and must be protected (which strikes me as completely artificial given how aggressive she is to Hiro) and that you’re sexist if you dislike her. I scoff at that notion. While more representation for minority groups is important, you don’t have to like EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM, especially if they’re assholes or underdeveloped. You can demand better. You can demand more female characters that have more development and are kinder while being assertive and not be a misogynist.

Furthermore, you don’t have to like every follow up product to something you love. You can admit when something is flawed or just okay. You can dislike some aspects of it, or not like it at all. You can demand better stories, better characters, and better representation.

Never settle for crap when you can have gold.

 

 

Advertisements

From Book to Film: Perfect Blue

If you’re an anime fan (or a fan of animation in general) you’ve probably seen or at least heard of the anime film Perfect Blue, directed by the late Satoshi Kon.

Image result for perfect blue poster

What you probably didn’t know was that the anime is actually an adaptation of a book: Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi.

Originally published in 1991 (the anime came out in 1997), the book was only picked up for an English translation and release this winter. It’s pretty short and simple to read, but man, what a read!

Recently I’ve had trouble reading actual books (that weren’t comics); I would pick up one book with interest only to abandon it later. But with this book, I could not put it down. It kept me hooked from start to finish. It was a genuine thriller, with a lot of twists and a smashing ending.

It is worth noting, however, that the book is actually quite different from the anime.

In the book, Mima does not switch careers from a pop idol to an actress; she stays an idol but decides to revamp her image. An unnamed male stalker does not like the idea of his seemingly pure, perfect, virginal idol becoming sexier and ‘tarnished’. He’ll go to any lengths to keep her the way she is. It’s a really chillingly accurate and scary depiction of an obsessed, misogynistic fan who views female celebrities as icons and not as real people, feeling entitled to them and not taking it well when they no longer fit his image, but takes it to a very, very, VERY extreme.

The book is actually pretty simple and straightforward. This is an instance of a film adaptation that actually adds MORE detail and layers rather than simplifying it. The film focuses less on the stalker and more on Mima and how the pressures of changing careers and how the world views her takes a toll on her mental health, blurring the lines between what’s real and what’s not. It’s not just a stalker she has to worry about; someone she thought she could trust turns on her as well.

I can definitely understand why the adaptation is not totally faithful to the book though. If it was, the film would be too short (probably only about an hour long) and WAAAY too gross (flaying is involved. That’s all I’m going to spoil). It also explores the messed up world of pop idols in further detail from the pop idol’s point of view.

While the movie is a definite work of art, there were a few things I actually did like better in the book. Mainly, the characters. While Mima has a bigger role in the movie, I find her more confident and assertive in the book. And I like how the people she works with genuinely care about her and want her to succeed, rather than exploit her. The movie also isn’t exactly the best depiction of mental health, either.

That said, I can absolutely enjoy both versions of the story. They serve as great companion pieces for each other. They both share the same premise: what happens when a seemingly ‘pure’ girl tries to sex up her image, and how people react to that.

If you like the premise but find the movie too hard to follow (I admit I got a little annoyed at parts), I recommend the book. If you’re interested in a scary, intense thriller, I also recommend the book. If you’re interested in exploring the mind of a stalker and predator that also humanizes the women he preys on, I recommend the book. Actually, I recommend the book to everyone. It helped reinvigorate my love of reading.

Just a few warnings: the book is suggested for ‘older teens’, but I think a mature rating is more appropriate. There’s a lot of graphic violence and sexuality. A child is killed at one point in the story, and another female character is raped and murdered (the rape is censored though). It’s not necessarily exploitative or meant to titillate readers, but it can be upsetting.

If you can get past that, the book is amazing and a great way to explore the world of Japanese storytelling beyond anime and manga. I hope to find more Japanese novels and short stories translated into English; maybe the success of this book can help.

 

The Missing Voice in the Diversity Conversation

I’m not sure if I’m going to back to a regular blogging soon (I’m in my last term of college!) but I am bringing this up because it’s a serious issue that effects me personally and persists even today.

When people on social media talk about the need for diversity, there is a huge focus on three groups: people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, and women. And it is true, we absolutely need to talk about the need to represent these groups in a meaningful and positive way. But in these discussions on diversity, there is a huge problem: the focus is ONLY on these groups. You know who gets left out almost all the time?

Disabled people. Autistic people. People who have mental health problems other than anxiety and depression. People who have developmental disorders. In other words, people like me, and the people I work with as a social service worker.

It bothered me for awhile, but after coming across a particular Disney critical blog, I finally pinpointed why this is a big issue. When we talk about how damaging it is to have an all white, all male, or all straight cast (and it is), no one talks about how having absolutely no positive disabled and neurodivergent people can be just as bad. When you go on lengths on why representation for neurotypical and able bodied marginalized groups is important and that there needs to be outrage when none exists, it gives me the unfortunate implication (intentional or not) that disabled people are just supposed to shut up and take it when there are no autistic characters, no characters in wheelchairs, no characters who can’t see or hear very well, etc. Where’s the outrage for people like me when every character is allistic and the only canon autistic characters tend to be stereotypes?

In many discussions about diversity and inclusiveness online people need to be reminded that disabled and neurodivergent people exist and are just as important. They need to be pointed out when a show or movie is ableist. They only add in the need for disabled characters as an afterthought. I have actually seen some people call bigotry a “disease” or “mental illness” a few times. Sometimes if a character is clearly coded to be mentally ill they’ll either completely ignore it or jump over hoops to say they aren’t in order to justify their hatred for them.

The point is, even in places that are supposed to be inclusive, and even when people claim they respect diversity and want representation for all people, disabled and neurodivergent people (again, people like me and the population I serve) typically get left behind, and are only brought up in the most extreme cases or when it is convenient.

This needs to stop. We live in a world where mental illness and disability are depicted inaccurately, as villains and monsters, or as stereotypes. Accurate and positive representation is still incredibly rare, and there isn’t as strong a push for it. Systemic bigotry against women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color are very real and present in the media, and must be addressed and dismantled. But you need to remember that systemic ableism is also very real and present and needs to consistently be part of the conversation.

The Problem With Princesses

If you’ve read my thoughts on Moana and Frozen, you know that I am done with new Disney Princess movies. I find that Disney is too focused on making their princess features as marketable and politically correct as possible, at the detriment of telling original, interesting stories and complex characters. But lately I realized that my disdain of new Disney Princesses is a symptom of a larger problem I’ve noticed: the overabundance of princess characters in media.

Princess Peach. Princess Zelda. Xena, Warrior Princess. Princess Serenity. Princess Sally Acorn. Princess Allura. Princess Diana of Themyscira. Princess Leia. Princess Bubblegum (and all the countless princesses in the land of Ooo). Even the great Miyazaki has some of his female characters be princesses when they could easily be ordinary girls. This is just a small sampling of the many, many, MANY princess characters in media aimed at kids. You can find a (possibly incomplete) list HERE. After looking at that list, what did you notice they all seem to have in common?

That, if they are in media aimed at boys, the princess is sometimes the ONLY prominent female character, and if they’re in media aimed at girls, it’s the princess who is the most important character out of all the other girls.

This is a problem for a few reasons. The biggest reason to me being the sheer lack of other roles female characters in kids media get. Boys can be soldiers, knights, kings, pilots, scientists, adventurers, speedsters, plumbers, and even complete average joes and still be important and heroes. Girls by and large still tend to only get the role of princesses, especially if they’re the main female character. Obviously, not ALL kid’s media shoehorns their female protagonists into the role of the princess, but it goes to show that, in a lot of instances, the first instinct is to make her a princess and not, well, anything else.

Let’s go back to Disney for a bit. Take a look at all the Disney Animated Canon films that center on human female characters: Snow White, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Frozen and Moana (Aladdin doesn’t count because Jasmine is not the focus on the film, and I hesitate to include Lilo & Stitch because Stitch gets all the marketing focus and he carries the central plot). Out of 56 films released so far, only 12 films have female characters as the central protagonist, and with one exception, they’re all princess films. Meanwhile, Disney male heroes get a much wider range of roles like it’s no big deal. (No surprise: most of my most fave Disney movies are male-led because of this.)

There are two other problems with the princess trope. One of them being the sheer lack of positive QUEEN roles. Queens in media are either nonexistent, villains, or only provide a tiny supportive role. In either case, it’s the princess’s father who is more important. There are also situations where the princess is the only person in charge and her parents are either dead or out of commission, but she still doesn’t go by the title of queen. This is still apparently a problem today; in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Luna and Celestia were supposed to be queens, but the marketing team intervened to have them be called princesses instead. The princess role isn’t really that empowering the more you think of it (it’s a role you are assigned at since birth and you’re expected to look and act a certain way as you find a husband) but at least as a queen you get some real power. Apparently that’s too much for some people.

And finally, my big problem with the princess trope is that it kind of reinforces that only princesses get to be beautiful and important. In some cases, the princess character can be harder to sympathize with because they come from a place of immense privilege. Why should I care if you want more when you have everything you could possibly want? But more than anything, any other female character in the princess’s respective media gets left out in the cold so the audience and other characters can coo over her.

I feel like now is the time to introduce girls to other types of female characters. Show them that the they can be more than just princesses. Give us female knights, pilots, explorers, scientists and blue collar workers. Give ordinary, everyday girls the fantasy that they can save the world.

And of course, let’s have more female rulers that aren’t princesses. In a world where women still struggle to be in positions of power, I think it’s about time we show girls that it’s better to be a president than a princess.

File:President-Vanellope-Von-Schweetz-vanellope-von-schweetz-34727009-1920-808.jpg

The Current State of Animation and How We Got Here

It’s the New Year! Am I officially out of hiatus? Not quite. But I have gotten some inspiration back.

Animation has struggled to be taken seriously for a long time, but people forget at the very beginning it was seen as a legitimate art form. The Golden Age of Animation (1920’s and 1930’s) was a time when the medium thrilled audiences of all ages for its ability to show literally anything. You could show action sequences that would be impossible to do with real people, offer political and social commentary, and get away with showing more risqué or scary content. But as the decades passed a chain reaction led to animation’s current state of frequently being seen as kid’s stuff, at least in North America.

First, the Hays Code eventually started to enforce censorship on animation, neutering them. There’s a great Prezi on the history of animation and the Hays Code HERE. This affected feature animation as well. The earliest Disney animated films could get pretty dark, but as time went on they adopted a softer image that ultimately made the edgier theatrical short obsolete. When animated shows became more prolific on television during after school hours, parents groups demanded that they be as kid friendly as possible, launching a plague of cheap animation in the 1970’s. The reinforcement of animation as a kids medium began to rear it’s ugly head in the 80’s, with animated shows being made mostly to sell toys. Animated films were few and far between. You can watch the full history of 70’s and 80’s animation HERE.

The 1990’s was probably one of the better decades for the medium, with Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Warner Bros. creating a plethora of well written and nice looking shows and movies…but they were all family friendly. There was also a distinct lack of competition during this time as well.

Come the 2000’s and there was a boom of cartoons from different studios. Some shows were crap, but there were also true classics like Justice League, Teen Titans, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Samurai Jack, Kim Possible, Danny Phantom, and more. Again, though, they were all family friendly. The only animation for adults were crudely drawn comedies at night. Film animation was still struggling as it was mostly a battlefield between Pixar and DreamWorks.

As for our current decade of the 2010’s? I think it’s a mixed bag. Disney TV has proven successful, with hits like Gravity Falls, Star Vs. The Forces of Evil, Wander Over Yonder, and the new Tangled series. Nickelodeon has been dragging Spongebob Squarepants through the ground, and messed up the scheduling of the better received Legend of Korra. Cartoon Network is practically nothing but Teen Titans Go! aired ad nauseam. For some information on the state of TV animation, I highly recommend Saberspark’s videos. You can find his channel HERE, where he has info on the history and decline of the most prominent cartoon channels in America.

For animated films, it’s great that now there’s now a lot more competition than in the 2000’s, but I feel like since animation is more profitable than ever too many movies are made at too fast a pace. While Disney is doing better than ever and smaller animation studios are crafting some truly awesome films, Illumination, Sony, Blue Sky, and even DreamWorks have garnered a negative reputation for churning out mediocre to downright crappy films several times a year that offer no nutritional value for anyone over the age of 12. It seems that one year we’ll have a bunch of quality animated films only to be followed by a conga line of crap the next year.

At any rate, the damage has been done: too many studio executives see animation as something to make a quick buck out of kids and produce them as quick and cheaply as possible, not caring about actual quality. Now awards ceremonies and most of the general public see it as well.

I was originally going to make a list of animated films that are honest to god works of art to check out instead, but the list was getting too long! (Basically what you really need to know is that you need to forget everything bad you associate with DreamWorks and go watch The Prince of Egypt and Pinocchio is probably the best Disney animated film ever.) Instead, I’ll leave you off with this:

It will probably be several decades until animation is no longer considered cheap or kid’s stuff, so in order to make any real change, you have to actually SUPPORT quality animation whenever you can. Be selective of what you take your kids to in theaters, and don’t be afraid to buy the Blu Ray of that foreign cartoon. Don’t just complain on the situation and do nothing about it. Animation is a legitimate art form, and we need to make production companies realize that with your wallet.

 

How Coco Succeeded Where Moana Failed

Okay since it’s the last day of 2017 I want to finish the year on a high note with what little writing inspiration I have. Be warned for Coco spoilers!

So, as I’ve made it abundantly clear, I don’t like Moana. At all. Whenever I watch Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 I cry over how they’re so much better and lament on how I was hoping Moana would join their ranks of my ultimate faves. Alas, it was not meant to be.

But, I have found a new Disney movie that filled the void left by Moana. That film is Coco.

Image result for coco

For this movie I kept my expectations relatively low given the controversy surrounding it. Once it came out and it got a more welcome reception I decided to see it, and man, it is so good. Probably Pixar’s second best movie (after Up) and the best animated film of 2017.

So how did Coco fill the void Moana left?

Well, my biggest problem with Moana was the fact that the titular character is…kind of a Mary Sue. She lives a charmed life on an island where everyone adores her and she’s set to be the chief, is chosen to save the world, is able to outsmart and outrun monsters, and helps not one but TWO gods…but she feels like something is wrong with her because she wants to go sailing. Oh the horror. But don’t worry we’ll have contrived moments where we’re made to doubt about her legitimacy as a navigator and the chosen one, and she’ll turn out to be exactly right in the end.

Well, it turns out that the reason why her conflict is supposed to be so major is because, as one commentator pointed out to me, in Polynesia respect for your family and elders is paramount. You’re supposed to carry on the traditions of your family, and you need to be obedient to your parents. So, okay, that would make sense for Moana to feel conflicted if that was the case. The only problem?

THE MOVIE DOESN’T ESTABLISH THIS. Like for all the praise the movie gets for honoring Polynesian culture it couldn’t be assed to explain a VERY important custom and plot point. Because we, as the audience, aren’t informed of how important family piety is in Moana’s culture, her relationship with her father and her central conflict just come across as angsty for no reason. But again, Moana turns out to be EXACTLY right in the end because lo and behold navigating was part of her culture’s tradition all along.

And this is where Coco succeeds. We understand Miguel’s plight better because we know WHY it would be a huge deal for him. He has actual talent and passion for music, which has been forbidden from his family after his great-great-grandfather left the family to pursue it. And the movie shows us how important family is in Mexican culture in an organic manner because of how significant Miguel’s family members are to him (not just the one grandma who understands him). Therefore, we understand WHY his conflict is a big issue, and how it ties in with the story and world-building.

Adding to this, the characters in Coco are MUCH more likable than in Moana. Miguel is a sweet twelve year old boy who learns throughout the movie how important family and remembering the ones before him is, and is ultimately able to use music not to pursue his own interests, but to use it to bring his family together. Hector is a sympathetic and lovable companion who genuinely cares for Miguel and his family. Imelda starts off rather stubborn and strict but learns that reconnecting with your roots and loved ones is more important than holding a ban on music. And Ernesto is a chillingly realistic villain, who can be genuinely affable but ultimately puts fame and fortune above everyone else. And of course the character of Coco herself is the heart and soul of the movie. I can get attached to these characters more because Miguel’s central conflict is better established and goes through more natural development, and Hector isn’t an asshole companion.

You’re probably wondering why I feel it is necessary to compare these specific films. Well, that’s because they’re both meant to be authentic representations of non-white/non-American cultures made accessible to a worldwide audience. And because Coco actually takes the time to establish how significant family and music are in Mexican culture and weave it into the story, I walk out of the movie feeling like I’ve actually gotten a celebration of a different culture than mine. Moana felt like another by-the-numbers Princess movie with a different culture tacked on for diversity points. They’ll show you how they eat and dance and bits of their mythology, but they’ll spend most of the movie in the open ocean and not explore important customs that crucially explain parts of the story.

Happy New Year! Hope to get back to you soon to write about The Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse!

Hiatus

Hey guys, it’s been a pretty rough couple of weeks. I’ve been feeling really tired from school (which includes field work) and I’ve found myself deleting a lot of posts I had just published over not feeling proud of them. The news of John Lasseter in particular really wore me down.

I want to use this blog for what I do best: analysis. And unfortunately my analytical brain has been kind of spent.

So with that in mind, consider this blog on hiatus for awhile. I want to refuel so I can feel truly inspired to write here. I hope to be back refreshed for the new year. That might not happen until school ends (I finish in May), so be patient.

In the meantime, check out my twitter for my thoughts on the latest media news. It’s easier to write quick thoughts there than try to make a post here.

Happy Holidays and I’ll see you soon,

Laura.