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.

 

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The Failure of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure: What This Means

So I went to see Coco yesterday and I absolutely loved it. It is easily on par with Up and Toy Story 3 and proof that there’s hope for Pixar yet. There was an audience applause when the movie ended. When I get it on Blu Ray I’ll definitely be sure to write more about it (I want to see it again already) but right now I want to talk about something else: the short that preceded it, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.

This short, originally meant to air as a TV special, was suddenly placed in front of Coco, the unfortunate implication being that Disney did not have faith that a movie led by non white (and non American) people would do very well. Considering how much of a success this movie has proven to be already, beating out Justice League and becoming the highest grossing movie of all time in Mexico, it seems that this move was unnecessary.

And boy was it unnecessary because people fucking hate this short, drawing a slew of complaints from its 21 minute run time to its mediocre story and songs. It got so bad that it will be pulled from theaters in Coco‘s third weekend.

When I watched this short, I will admit I found it funny (one point honestly had me laughing out loud), but the characters have just gotten worse. I was actually rooting for Olaf to die at one point, and Elsa kept apologizing for EVERYTHING, even when it wasn’t her fault. My sister pointed out that the dialogue between her and Anna is sickeningly sweet and trite, not like something real sisters would say to each other. In other words, Anna and Elsa are less characters and more like cutouts for little girls to coo over. (My mental health side is saying “Elsa you’re STILL not better get the hell out of Arendelle”.)

So with the reaction towards the short, it looks like people are sick of Frozen. The first movie may still be relatively well received, but nobody needs to see this story continued, especially when it’s forced in your face.

The thing is, ultimately, Frozen isn’t a classic. It was a fad. Take a look at The Incredibles. That movie is 13 years old and it is still fondly remembered and the hype for a sequel NEVER died out. Now that the sequel has been announced the world is rejoicing. That movie is a definite classic.

But with Frozen, it’s been less that five years, any demand for a sequel has diminished significantly, and people are starting to realize that less and less effort is being put into the franchise. Too much time has passed since the first Frozen, and people have moved on to Disney’s other films, with demands for a Big Hero 6 sequel still going strong.

But I think the main problem is that Disney tried to treat this one singular movie like it was the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has a whole media franchise dedicated to it that released tons and tons of material while Disney’s other movies that are also very popular get next to nothing. You know how people got sick of the Minions after their faces were slapped on every single solitary product imaginable and taking the focus away from the rest of Despicable Me? This is what’s happening with Frozen.

From the beginning I knew Frozen 2 was never going to be as successful as the first movie, but now I’m starting to think that it might be Disney’s first actual failure in a long time. I’m especially worried that Disney’s not going to put any real effort into the sequel and try to rush it out in time to appease the remaining fans and little girls.

I guess we’ll ultimately have to see what happens, but Disney better be prepared for the sequel to not do very well and realize that they shouldn’t have propped the first movie up on so high a pedestal. They ran the movie into the ground, and now audiences have moved on. If their franchise ends on a bad note, they have no one to blame but themselves.

 

The Success of Baymax Returns: What This Means

According to Broadway World, Baymax Returns, the pilot for the upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, was a huge hit, garnering 2.2 million views when it first premiered on television and at least 12,800+ people watched it on the DisneyNOW App. It was also the #1 show debut for DisneyXD in ratings.

So what can we infer from this?

Well, it definitely shows that the love for Big Hero 6 is still alive and well. The show will definitely keep the hype going for how long it takes for a sequel. However, it also shows that the primary audience is going to be children rather than adult fans.

To be honest, that was pretty much the impression I got watching the pilot. Kids seem to love it (especially boys) but it got mixed reviews from older fans; I myself didn’t really like it because the plot is just absolutely ludicrous and it messed up the epilogue from the first movie. So this brings me to my biggest concern: is this show going to be canon, or just filler?

My guess is…probably filler. Not only are kids the primary audience, but they seem to be the only people who have actually heard about the show (beyond hardcore fans). When I meet people in real life who loved the movie and want a sequel, they act surprised when I tell them there’s going to be a series. There’s also the fact that a lot of shows based on Disney animated hits are typically ignored by supplementary and promotional material (I think I read somewhere that, if you ask a Face Character at the parks about anything related to a direct to video sequel or series, they’ll tell you it was just a dream). The fact that there’s zero continuity between the end of the first movie and the pilot kind of gives away that what I’m watching is probably not meant to be taken as gospel. I guess it will depend on whether the sequel takes place immediately after the first movie (and therefore renders the series moot) or skips ahead a few years to a more grown up Hiro (and therefore you can choose to consider the series canon or not).

At the end of the day, I think the series is basically meant to help appease fans and keep up hype for a sequel more than anything. Sort of similar to Tangled: The Series gives the fans something and continues the success of the first movie (even if in this case there very likely won’t be a sequel). And to be honest, that’s not a bad idea. It acknowledges that the movie is successful and helps create a bigger demand for it without being forceful. Whereas Frozen is being forced down everyone’s throats by playing two shorts before movies (one of them being a whopping 21 minutes long) and filling every corner of stores with it in order to remind people to see the sequel. Kind of proves Frozen was a fad, but Big Hero 6 will have a lasting impact.

Will I see the series? I’ll probably tune in for the first few episodes and see how I like it. Right now I’m mostly worried about the new Professor character giving Hiro too hard a time (and there’s one character who’s supposed to be an ‘antagonist rival’ to Hiro that does not sound appealing at all). But we’ll see. The main thing for me is that the first movie was popular and beloved enough to not be swept away, and that’s what matters most.

Compare and Contrast: Elsa and Cinderella

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Cinderella gets a really bad rap nowadays. I think a lot of it is due to how she’s marketed, where there’s more of a focus on her being pretty and feminine over any actual personality or talent she has. When people, particularly feminists, bring up everything wrong with Disney, she is usually the character they refer to.

When people bring up a Disney princess who they think is ‘feminist’, for the longest time they turned to Elsa from Frozen (and I’m guessing they still do, since Moana hasn’t nearly gotten the amount of praise Elsa has).

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I think it’s getting to the point where Elsa might be ousting Cinderella’s place as the most iconic Disney Princess. To a lot of people, Elsa is the modern woman, whereas Cinderella is the outdated doormat.

After looking at more analyses of Cinderella’s character, I can’t help but want to compare/contrast the two. In some ways, Elsa feels like a reboot of Cinderella, down to the similar palette and glitter. But, for me at least, it doesn’t work out too well.

So, with all that said, let’s take a look.

THE CHARACTER AND COSTUME DESIGN

Take a closer look at the above designs. You can tell that Cinderella is a young woman, but also physically mature. She has a face and body appropriate for a woman in her late teens or early twenties. She may be skinny, sure, but for the most part she’s realistically proportioned (her eyes don’t take up half of her face).

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And this is Elsa:

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Does this look like someone who’s 21 to you? Let alone a character who’s supposed to have the title of Queen? The body is about right, but the huge eyes and large, rounded face make her look really babyish.

Why does this matter? Well, at each point in their movies, Cinderella and Elsa get to wear their iconic dresses that represent their freedoms.

When Cinderella puts on her dress, she looks well and truly like a princess: stunning, serene, elegant, mature, respectable. Her outfit flatters her shape without being too sexualized, which is appropriate, since Cinderella is not very sexual. When she wears this outfit, it shows that Cinderella now looks and feels beautiful and important. It’s also appropriate for the occasion: she’s going to a royal ball where she’ll meet her true love. She has the appearance of a mature woman who is finally going to have a good time.

Now take a look at Elsa’s ice dress. Does that really look like the dress a youthful looking 21 year old who has been depressed all her life, is not sexual, and never really indicated that she liked the queenly life would wear if she wanted to be totally free and live in the mountains? That outfit looks more like something an older woman would wear at a very formal event, given how narrow and impractical it is. I get you want to show that Elsa is now a Snow Queen instead of an Arendelle Queen, but wouldn’t loose, flowing robes and bare feet make more sense? Show that she’s now comfortable and free? It’s pretty obvious the dress was designed more for audience appeal than to show Elsa’s character development.

HOW THEY BOTH HANDLE ABUSE AND ISOLATION

Both characters suffer from this. Cinderella’s parents died at an early age, and she was forced to live under the control of her Evil Stepmother, and only had animals for help and companionship. Elsa was raised to be scared of her powers (and herself) by her parents. They’re both pretty much cut off from the outside world. This is where most feminists would claim that Elsa is more feminist because while Elsa seeks to change her situation, Cinderella “waits around for a man to save her” (their words, not mine). But…that’s not accurate.

See, Cinderella is cut off because she’s a young, unmarried woman with no real status and no money. If she tried to run away…where do you think she’s going to go? Beg on the streets? Work as a maid somewhere else? Sure, Elsa runs away, but she ends up going all the way to the mountains, with no food or resources (and the movie shows that if someone wants to go after her, they can and will). For all the praise Elsa gets for being Strong and Independent, she spends most of the movie scared and crying. Which…yeah, is a valid reaction after being isolated for so long, but the problem is that she really makes no means to save herself or try to be a better person. She freezes her sister’s heart and makes no attempt to help her or ask if she’s okay, doesn’t even try to unfreeze the kingdom, and ends up deferring to her sister (who pushed her to run away in the first place).

Like, I wouldn’t mind if people were saying that Elsa proves it’s okay for people to need help, but people are saying Elsa is oh so badass and powerful and strong but she’s really not.

Oh, but you say, how is Cinderella any better?

Well, the thing about Cinderella is that even though she’s abused and alone, she does her best to not let it get to her. She may be sassy and sarcastic, but she’s never mean and doesn’t hurt people or animals, not even those that may wrong her. She is soft, kind hearted and optimistic, knowing that she will be free from her abusive situation (NOT that a man will come save her) if her patience and goodness pays off. She ultimately gets rewarded this with a trip to the ball. She has her moments of weakness, but at the end, she is able to save herself: she works together with her animal friends to escape the locked room and proves she is the girl the Prince danced with by showing the other glass slipper. She PERSEVERES despite all odds. Whereas Elsa melts down at the slightest form of adversity.

For those who still need convincing, please watch this excellent and informative video by ScreenPrism below:

CONCLUSION

At the risk of gaining the ire at other feminists, I would much rather have little girls look up to Cinderella than to Elsa. Cinderella is better designed, is a kinder person, and shows girls that they can make it through even the worst situations and that they’re not totally helpless. While Elsa, on the surface, looks like she’s meant to correct Cinderella’s supposed wrongs by being more active, she ends up being less strong because she gives up easily, ends up putting all her support on her sister, and ends up (intentionally or not) hurting others without properly making up for it.

While I admit that I’m not a HUGE fan of Cinderella, she really is so much better than people give her credit for. She’s not perfect, of course, but for people to dismiss her as a weak doormat while turning around to praise Elsa even though she can also be weak is unfair.

Is there a Disney Princess that is perfectly feminist? No, of course not. But just because Cinderella has a Prince Charming and no fighting skills doesn’t make her any lesser than someone who gets a lot of hype mostly for being single.

The World of Anime Directors

At the risk of sounding controversial, I must say this: I think that motion picture anime is significantly better than most television anime. I say this because the latter often relies too much on filler and fanservice. A lot of the most popular anime shows don’t hold up over time (it becomes very obvious that they were made only for specific audiences; I may have loved InuYasha and Sailor Moon as a teenager but now I can only see the flaws). Not to say all anime shows are bad (Hunter x Hunter 2011 is fantastic and the original Death Note anime is considered a masterpiece), but I feel like a lot of anime’s negative reputation comes from the abundance of low quality anime churned out at a higher pace than the shows with actual effort and meaning.

Film anime, on the other hand, is able to put more effort into the production and writing, creating some real works of art that have an almost timeless feel to them. So let’s take a look at some of them today.

First off is arguably the most famous anime director outside of Japan, Hayao Miyazaki.

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Often called the Walt Disney of Japan (though I think maybe calling him the Steven Spielberg of Japan is more appropriate), Miyazaki is famous for creating many classics, most notably the Academy Award winning Spirited Away. His works range from family friendly slice of life films (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Ponyo) to tightly-plotted action films with lots of themes and lore (Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke). Growing up now,  I think I enjoy the latter more, but that doesn’t mean the former are still good, even great, in their own right. His films have their own distinct style: cute, simplistic looking characters against gorgeously detailed settings. Most of his films take place in European inspired fantasy lands (allowing him a chance to show off his love of stylized aircraft) or ancient and contemporary Japan. I recently re-watched some of his films and was blown away by them again, and was able to notice his themes more. In most of his films, he makes one thing perfectly clear: War is Not Good. He is highly critical of the military, depicting them as overly violent and corrupt in a lot of his works. In Princess Mononoke, there’s a big battle between the boar gods and the humans that is not shown, save for a brief moment to depict the actual horror (rather than the thrill or action). Some of his earlier works have more black and white view of the world, while his later works start to show more nuance and grey morality for both the protagonists and antagonists. Another thing he makes very clear is the importance of preserving the environment, as in a lot of his films he takes a moment to reflect on the beauty and value of nature. A lot of his films deal with heavy themes; Princess Mononoke, which I have recently bestowed the honor of being the best animated film of all time, explores industrialism vs environmentalism, peace in times of conflict, greed vs survival, dying Indigenous groups, social structures, and so much more. But he usually ends his movies on a positive, optimistic note.

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Isao Takahata, the other major director of Studio Ghibli, takes a slightly more pessimistic approach. Whereas Miyazaki puts a lot of emphasis on the wonders of the world, Takahata tends to look more at the struggles. In a lot of his films, characters have to make serious sacrifices at the end of their movies. All his films are strictly rooted in Japan, and they have varying art styles. I think in some respects, Takahata might actually be a better director than Miyazaki; while Miyazaki definitely makes you feel things, Takahata actually got me to bawl my eyes out not once, but TWICE, with The Tale of Princess Kaguya. These two have made Studio Ghibli a master class of animation companies. While Disney is certainly the most prolific animation company, Studio Ghibli is arguably the greatest.

Not to say they’re the only anime legends out there.

Satoshi Kon

The late Satoshi Kon only made four films, but they all have gotten lots of praise. His films are set in modern Japan and tend to deal with the psychological and the blending of fantasy and reality. Perfect Blue almost feels like a live action film, extremely grounded in reality and looks at the objectification of women by fans and by executives. Mima starts her career as a pop idol dressed in childlike attire meant to appeal to older men; when she tries to switch to a more serious career as a drama actor, she faces backlash by her former fans (including a dangerous stalker) and is disrespected by her higher ups (being forced into filming a rape scene and later having to take naked photographs). Mima’s agent feels ugly and worthless in her older age and tries to “replace” Mima (that’s about as much as I’ll spoil). Kon is known for a masterful editing style, with rapid cuts and transitions to fool the audience into thinking we’re witnessing one thing and reveal it’s something else altogether (you can learn more about it in the video “Satoshi Kon – Editing Space and Time”. Satoshi Kon’s films are character studies, exploring their psychological states, their dreams, and their fears. You can get a brief glimpse of his themes HERE.

To close the post off for now, let’s give a quick mention to Katsuhiro Otomo’s cult classic Akira.

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This film is basically the polar opposite of anything Miyazaki makes. It’s extremely violent, very male-dominated, almost Kubrickian in style, and has a colder, harsher point of view and animation style set in futuristic Japan. I couldn’t watch the whole thing (it was very hard to follow, some of the visuals crossed the line from gorgeous to grotesque, and had too much stuff going on at once for me) but I did find the climax meaningful. It’s basically about a friendship torn apart by power and corruption. Put-upon Tetsuo is bestowed with psychic powers and ends up deteriorating both physically and mentally, losing everyone in the process. It’s a cynical look at the dangers of playing god, and an exploration of post-WWII paranoia.

Directors like these prove that anime doesn’t have to be just harem or long winded manga adaptations. They can be artistically stunning, thoughtful, and unique, and still be a success. I know the anime industry has a lot of problems plaguing it (lack of audience appeal, overworked and underpaid workers, lack of affordability and accessibility of merchandise), but I think (hope) that its future lies in something like this. If television anime proves to be a bust, maybe film anime can be saved. Allow artists to take enough time to make their vision come to life and promote it. Let it pick up traction overseas. Make it available on all streaming services. Show the world that anime is capable of interesting and even amazing art.

(While you are here, please read the updated version of a previous post on how the anime and manga industry is in trouble).

Popularity Does Not Mean Progress

For the longest time, Steven Universe and Frozen were on top of the world.  One of the main reasons being that, allegedly, they were very ‘progressive’. Frozen got praised for being about two sisters, for showing that girls don’t need men to save them, that romance wasn’t the center of the plot, etc. Steven Universe got praised for showing LGBT couples, having lots of women with diverse body shapes and kicking ass, for having an unconventional lead, etc. Recently, Zootopia has gotten a lot of praise for delivering a ‘timely’ and ‘important’ message on prejudice. Yes, it seemed that media for children and families had finally grown up.

But let’s take a closer look at each of these pieces of media, shall we?

For a movie who gets lots of praise for not being about romance and being about two sisters, Anna and Elsa sure don’t spend a lot of time together in Frozen, let alone together being sisterly to each other. Anna spends more time with Kristoff, who condescends to her repeatedly but she still ends up together with him. Elsa barely gets any screen time and doesn’t get a chance to really grow and develop. She gets one moment to be confident with her powers (the “Let It Go” sequence), but the rest of the movie she’s constantly scared and unable (or unwilling) to fix her mistakes and is awkwardly put into a sexualized outfit even though she’s not sexual whatsoever. You can actually read a breakdown of Frozen‘s problems HERE, with this being my fave part:

What else does Anna have going for her? She isn’t intelligent, no matter how many words she can spit out per minute. If she were, she wouldn’t rush into an engagement with Hans, nor — for that matter — leave a man she barely knows in charge of her kingdom while she rides out in the snow without a coat. She’s certainly self-absorbed, using the first opportunity to make Elsa’s coronation all about her; and she’s vain, believing absolutely in her ability to talk some sense into Elsa despite having had no relationship with her sister for what looks like roughly ten years. She has no awareness of her surroundings (riding out in the snow without a coat), no awareness of her own limitations (the cringe-inducing mountain climbing episode), and no awareness of the consequences of her actions (provoking Elsa not once, but twice). She’s outspoken, yes, but she’s also rude; she’s condescending towards Kristoff and belligerent towards her sister; and she has no ambition beyond finding her one true love.

(As you can imagine, this is EXACTLY why Anna is one of my least fave characters of all time).

For Steven Universe, while I will admit it started off pretty strong, it began to unravel after awhile. Ruby and Sapphire are a positive queer couple, but they’re barely onscreen. Garnet (who is queer and black-coded) used to be a strong, caring, and supportive character, but now has almost no character of her own (just there to talk about fusion and give pithy wisdom to Steven at convenient moments). Pearl, who is supposed to be a mentally ill lesbian, is a HORRIBLE character, constantly endangering Steven and Connie without apologizing for it, acting territorial of Rose, actively resents Greg (to the point  where he’s not allowed to live with his own son), and manipulated Garnet into fusing with her, violating Garnet’s boundaries. Every butch character (Jasper, Bismuth, Eyeball Ruby) get demonized and put on the shelf while the more feminine characters (Lapis and the Diamonds) get sympathized with and even redeemed despite also doing bad things. All the women of the show (the Gems and Connie) revolve entirely around Steven, who has pretty much taken up the leader position of the Crystal Gems (yes, go to Homeworld and expect to be executed without consulting the Gems first) despite being so much younger.

Zootopia, to its credit, isn’t really that harmful (to an extent). But there’s nothing in it about it’s message about prejudice (which is pretty much meant to be a metaphor on racial issues) that hadn’t been done before, and done BETTER, by The Hunchback of Notre Dame. That movie candidly and uncompromisingly takes a look at genocide, ableism, misogyny/rape culture and religious hypocrisy and makes a very clear statement: don’t just TRY to make a world a better place, DO IT, or these things will happen. But what happened?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame still tends to get shunned for being too dark, while Zootopia is constantly adored and is much more successful.

This brings me to my main point.

If something is popular (like VERY popular, not just well received), it can never be truly progressive. Why? Because, by and large, society will accept liberal messages up to a point. Then it starts to make us uncomfortable, and we’ll dismiss it as being “too PC” or “too heavy handed”.

Keep in mind, we still live in a world where inserting women and non-white people in any major role still causes controversy. My favorite example is the 2016 version of Ghostbusters. It’s a movie that features not one, but FOUR older women as main characters, are not sexualized whatsoever, are allowed to be unconventionally attractive, do not depend on men at ANY POINT, support each other, and are shown to be confident and skilled in science and history. And of course it bombed and is scorned by audiences. While I will admit it’s not necessarily a masterpiece, the amount of bile it gets is really unwarranted (it’s not like the original movie is going away forever), but it doesn’t surprise me that it got the reaction it did.

I’m not saying that everything that is a huge hit is regressive, or that you can’t find any empowerment from the above media. I’m saying that, in order for something to really be revolutionary in terms of how different groups are represented and how important messages are conveyed, it needs to CHALLENGE the audiences. Make them think. Not just pat themselves on the back and feel better because what they watched wasn’t just another show or man revolving around a white straight man. (And just because something features a white man doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be progressive, just read my posts on Wreck-It Ralph.)

Will such media reach great success? Probably not. But maybe they’ll inspire enough conversations to get an individual to start looking at things from a different perspective and make positive changes in their life and community.

Tropes Vs. Disabled People: Evil is Half-Blind

Warning: Spoilers

Steven Universe‘s upcoming game Save the Light (a sequel to their mobile game Attack the Light) will not only feature new gameplay, but also new characters. So far, we have two new characters: Squaridot and Hessonite.

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Right away, they reminded me of two other characters: Eyeball Ruby and the upcoming Emerald.

Now, what did you notice right away about all four of these characters?

They all only have one eye, and they’re all antagonists.

If you recall my post on Kubo and Casual Ableism you’ll remember I hated it for using blindness as a metaphor for evil and emptiness (I might not have minded except Kubo LITERALLY is at risk of going blind). I mentioned a little bit on how it’s not uncommon for a lot of villains to be disabled (and beaten by the able-bodied hero), but here I want to go into more detail.

It’s very common in media to give a villain a physical disability. In both Kingsman movies, the main villains’ henchmen sport missing limbs (Gazelle’s famous bladed prosthetic legs, and the new henchman has a robotic prosthetic that becomes a plot device). Hellboy, one of my favourite movies of all time, has a villain who doesn’t speak and suffered from surgical addiction, leading him to be extremely deformed (and of course he has a prosthetic hand). Lots of Bond villains sport disabilities. And of course, the famous Darth Vader is characterized as being “more machine now than man” until the very end of Return of the Jedi.

This is all a small sampling of a pervasive and dangerous trope: The Evil Cripple. A contrast to cases where a character’s disability is meant to elicit sympathy (or pity) or teach a lesson, this character is meant to be shown as dangerous and less than human. While we seem to be moving on from making villains queer-coded, it’s still very common for villains to have disabilities: the main villain in Logan has a robotic arm, and Dr. Poison in Wonder Woman wears a facial prosthetic.

I want to emphasize the one-eyed antagonist (from the embittered grump to the full on villain) because it his two targets: people who cannot see fully and people who don’t “look right”. It makes it clear if you have only one eye, you’re not “complete”. And it’s very easy to slip under the radar.

This is a trope that is very outdated and needs to stop. Instead of routinely making villains look “wrong” and “monstrous” and “robotic”, we need to make more positive characters with disabilities, like Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender or Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. In our current political climate where people with disabilities are either overlooked or outright ignored by advocates, we need to make sure we get more nuanced, accurate, and positive representation for all people, not just able-bodied members of marginalized groups.