Why I’m Okay With Ralph Getting a Love Interest

This past weekend, the D23 Expo took place, allowing Disney fans to take an exclusive look at all the upcoming projects. One project that got a particular amount of hype (after the Kingdom Hearts 3 trailer) was an exclusive look at Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2.

From what we know so far (and keep in mind things can and will change), a wifi router is plugged into the arcade to boost attendance, and something breaks in the Sugar Rush game. Vanellope and Ralph go to the internet to find something to fix it, and meet a wide array of new worlds and characters. One major character they meet is an algorithm from a Buzzfeed knockoff site called Yesss, who guides them around the strange new world. There’s also a potential plot point of Vanellope meeting the Disney Princesses on the Disney fan website, OhMyDisney, and revealing that she feels a little overshadowed by Ralph.

A lot of people are hyped, but also nervous as hell. I get a little annoyed that some people are already expecting the worst when they haven’t even seen anything yet, but one thing that makes me really agitated is the revulsion people have towards Ralph and Yesss potentially becoming a couple (people who went to the expo report that Ralph was clearly in awe of her).

Why am I upset?

Because Yesss is extremely likely going to be a black woman.

She has been described as having an afro, and is voiced by Taraji P. Henson, a black woman. Given how the first WIR film got criticisms for being overwhelmingly white, it is extremely likely Yesss is either going to be black or black-coded.

When was the last time you saw a lot of good black female characters in animation? With natural hair? Who weren’t just aggressive and sassy? And who was able to have a proper romance that didn’t either dissolve or was pushed aside for the main white couple? In Disney’s history, they’ve only really had Tiana, and that isn’t enough, especially with her being a frog for most of the movie.

You can see how her being in a romance with Ralph is going to be important. Seeing a black woman be loved in a interracial relationship in a major Disney movie is going to have a HUGE impact.

But apparently for some people that’s not good enough. “Ralph doesn’t need a love interest” or “he should be with a man” or “Ralph being with a woman of colour is acceptable but not good”.

Can you see how that might be an issue I have?

Now, we don’t know for sure that this couple will be endgame. Ralph could fall in love with her and she could reject him and they’d still be friends, or she might be the main villain. We don’t know. But if she IS going to get together with Ralph, it’s kind of shitty to get angry over it.

The most important thing is that Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship will get stronger as a result no matter what happens. Until then, let’s wait until we get more information to pass judgement.

PS

The opening title for Big Hero 6: The Series dropped and it looks AWESOME. But people still want a sequel, so, hop to that, Disney. Watch it here:

Zootopia (Alternative Version)

When Zootopia first came out, everyone loved it, praising it for its timely message on bias and prejudice. But some people have pointed out that the theme of predators vs prey doesn’t really hold up as an allegory for modern racism.

A good video that discusses the problems can be seen here:

Basically, if this movie was just about prejudice in general, that would be one thing, but the problem is that it tries too hard to mimic real world racial dynamics in modern America and it doesn’t work because sometimes the predators look like the marginalized group, other times it’s the prey, and the prey technically have a right to be afraid of the predators. What makes this worse is that, in the early drafts of the movie, it hit much closer to home: predators were definitely a stand in for minority groups, had almost no rights, and were forced to wear shock collars. This was cut because this would’ve made the story and setting too unlikable, but you can tell that they were originally going to go all the way with this.

I think to myself, you know what could have made the allegory a lot more apparent and have a bigger impact without being too depressing?

Add bats.

Think about it. Bats are often depicted as freaky and scary. They’re mammals and can resemble foxes and rats, but they have wings. Some bats eat meat, others don’t. They can be both predator and prey. Some are nocturnal, others are not. They’re, quite literally, freaks of nature. In a world like Zootopia, where there’s already bias, how do you think the other animals would feel about bats?

So instead of trying to be about predators vs prey, which is way too broad to be made into an allegory, have both groups harbor a common prejudice for bats. That way, you can have a clearer, more accurate metaphor for an oppressed group.

The hero would also have a bigger incentive for being a police officer and getting so involved with the case. In the original, I think that while Judy does have good intentions, I feel that her main motive for becoming a cop (as opposed to say, a social worker or a relief worker, jobs that actually do make the world a better place) is so that she can have a stronger sense of power in control in her life, what with her being a bunny with so many siblings being heckled by foxes. In this version, our protagonist, a bat, wants to become a cop so she can actively help and protect bats being discriminated against.

In this version you could have the missing mammals all be bats too. To be honest, I never liked the villain or thought her plot would hold up. Okay, so she hates her boss, so she wants to get him fired by…drugging every predator? So she can…stay in power and let prey become the dominant species? Um, you do realize that you can and will be voted out of office, right? This also underscores how messy the metaphor really is because, again, who is the discriminated species in this world? Because at first it looks like prey and small animals, and suddenly it’s predators. But in this version, you can have the villain be someone who actively hates and is trying to scapegoat bats. Maybe they’re angry at the fact that a bat got an important job in the city. This also makes the police’s chief disdain in letting the protagonist take on the case make more sense and make the protagonist’s stakes higher.

Zootopia definitely has good intentions, but because the metaphor is so messy, it didn’t have the impact on audiences as much as the creators would’ve hoped, as racial tensions in the states just got even worse as 2016 rolled on, and now nobody really talks about the movie that much. It’s hard to tell if Zootopia featuring bats as an oppressed group would’ve been as successful as the original, but I think it would have left a bigger impact on audiences, for better or for worse.

The Overwatch Character We Need

Like a lot (and I mean a LOT) of people, I really love Overwatch. The major reason being the diverse and unique array of characters. Some of my faves include Symmetra (no surprise there), D.Va, Sombra, Widowmaker, Zarya, Lucio, Junkrat and Roadhog. I also have a soft spot for the Shimada brothers (I don’t really like Hanzo but I hope he and Genji get to reconcile) and Pharah.

Overwatch’s ever expanding lore takes the time to include more characters, with recent additions including Sombra, Ana (Pharah’s mother), and Orisa, and it looks like Doomfist is going to be next in line.

But I feel like there’s a major character who really needs to be introduced, both as a playable character and a significant member of the lore. Who would that be?

Pharah’s father.

When the game first came out, Pharah, an Egyptian character, had some Legendary Skins clearly inspired by the First Nations people of Canada’s Pacific Northwest:

File:Pharah Skin Raindancer.png

File:Pharah Skin Thunderbird.png

Cultural appropriation? A lot of people certainly thought so, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

According to THIS post from someone who is actually a Native Canadian from the Pacific Northwest (Eyak to be precise), it is actually not a bad idea at all to appropriate this particular culture. Why? Because Eyak and other Native cultures in that area are in extreme danger of dying off. What better way to keep the culture alive than by featuring it in such a popular game?

Nevertheless, there was enough of an uproar for Blizzard to try to rectify this situation. So they revealed Pharah’s father…sort of. We don’t know his name, his relationship with her or Ana, or how he fits into the Overwatch lore, but we do know that he is Native Canadian, making Pharah Métis.

Related image (note the Canadian flag on the TV screen in the background)

Image result for pharah's father

Now, I think it’s really cool that Pharah is mixed race with Canadian heritage! As a Canadian myself, I was so happy to hear that! However, it can be easy to see how making her father Native without actually including him can be seen as a get out of jail free card, especially since Pharah’s native heritage isn’t always explored and we only know about Ana, who is full-blooded Egyptian as far as we know.

So, why not make him part of the game and give him a bigger role in the lore? Let’s see him interact with the other characters. Let’s see how he feels about Ana being MIA for so long. Let’s see him bond with his daughter more. Let’s see what his relationship with Gabriel, Jack, and Reinhardt is like. You could definitely delve into some truly interesting and compelling lore of how Pharah, her father, and Ana are connected.

And of course, let’s give more visibility to Canada’s First Nations people. Recently, Canada just celebrated its 150 anniversary as a united sovereign country, but a lot of our Indigenous community called attention to the cultural and literal genocide they have faced in those years (just look up residential schools and the 60’s scoop to get a general, horrible idea). You can see how a Native Canadian character can do some good, especially when you consider the positive impact of Pharah’s skins on some people.

Overwatch is not going away any time soon, so there’s plenty of time for him to show up. When (hopefully not if) he shows up, I will be very excited to see his impact on the world of Overwatch and Native Canadian cultures.

 

The End of Pixar’s Glory Days

From 1995 to 2010, Pixar was the undisputed champion of Western Animation. They were hailed as one of the most innovative and creative studios out there, winning Oscar after Oscar and making classic after classic. They arguably reached their zenith with Up and Toy Story 3, which both got nominations for Best PICTURE, and the latter becoming the highest grossing animated film at the time.

Then, in 2011 (just a year after Toy Story 3), their reign started to tumble with Cars 2, their first film to earn a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. They’ve been getting fewer Oscar nominations, critical reception has been mixed to negative, and audiences are generally not as hyped for Pixar as before (with the notable exceptions of Inside Out and maybe Finding Dory). But basically, the message is clear: Pixar has lost its magic touch.

Some people think that once Disney bought Pixar, they defanged the company to make it more marketable. Well, they are likely right about Disney’s acquisition of Pixar harming it…but probably not for the reasons they think.

John Lasseter, who was then the Executive Vice President of Pixar, became the Chief Executive Officer of both Pixar AND Walt Disney Animation Studios. Ed Catmull is president of both companies, and they both have to report to Bob Iger, but Lasseter is ultimately in charge of all the creative choices of the movies. He picks which movie pitches go into production, he is the driving force behind the creative process.

As soon as John Lasseter was put in charge of WDAS, the company, which was then in a serious rut, started to improve, and now they’re making critically acclaimed hits that have become beloved by audiences, without necessarily dumbing them down. Notice how some people are starting to say “Wow Disney finally learned how to make Pixar movies!”, and John Lasseter is precisely because of it.

Given all the projects John Lasseter has to work with, I think he’s is stretched thin between the two companies, and has been focusing more on WDAS than Pixar. Before Pixar was bought by Disney, John Lasseter was more directly involved in the filmmaking process, writing, directing, producing, and even animating their projects. Now all the films are being made by newcomers, some of whom don’t have the talent of the veterans (it’s no surprise that Inside Out, the movie to get the most praise, was directed by Pete Docter, who had been with the company since the very beginning). He’s definitely not as involved as he was before.

And honestly? Whether he wants to admit it or not, I think he’s moved on from Pixar.

I mean, he’s worked at Pixar for a long time, and now he’s in charge of Walt Disney Animation Studios, the company that he grew up with and made some of his all time favorite films. You’d probably be more enthusiastic to work there, too. Just look at the way he talks about the creative process of WDAS films. Just look at how PASSIONATE he is in the making of these films. And most of all, compare the quality of WDAS compared to Pixar as of late. It’s pretty clear that, even though he’s in charge of both companies, he’s showing a bit of a bias, whether he is aware of it or not.

I think at this point, John Lasseter should be left solely in charge of WDAS and get a veteran architect of Pixar to run it instead. That might be best for both companies.

Now, this is mostly speculation on my part, but because Pixar is becoming weaker while Disney Animation has been getting stronger than ever, I’m pretty sure it’s because of a CEO who is stretched thin and would rather commit to one studio than the corporate overlords thinking Pixar should be more marketable. Sure, Pixar is making more sequels, but they are still making movies that deal with complex themes, they just lack the edge they had before.

Let’s hope Pixar can get back on its feet soon. Apparently after Toy Story 4 there are no more plans for any sequels and prequels, which is good, and Coco does look promising. I just hope they’re able to retain their good image and not end up going from one of the most beloved companies to the most scorned.

The Symmetra Test

In a 1985 comic strip for Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel inadvertently created the Bechdel Test, a tool used by feminists to critique media narratives. The rules are:

  1. The movie has at least two (named) women in it…
  2. …who talk to each other…
  3. ….about something other than men.

The test is NOT an indicator of a film’s overall quality (it is possible for a movie to past the test but still be sexist, or for a film to have empowering female characters who don’t talk to each other), and it was originally meant to highlight a lack of lesbian representation, but it does do a good job of highlighting a troubling trend in media.

Since then, there have been other tests. They include:

  • The Mako Mori test: a) at least one female character b) who gets her own narrative arc c) that is not about supporting a man’s story (this is mostly used for women of color)
  • The Furiosa test: the film makes the Internet angry for being ‘feminist’
  • The Babs and Kara test: the female characters are distinguishable and recognizable even if they were wearing identical bathrobes and their hair was covered (a critique of ‘same face syndrome’)
  • The Sexy Lamp test: if the woman can be replaced by a literal sex object, would the plot change at all
  • Ellen Willis test: would the character’s role in the story be the same if their gender was reversed
  • The Aila Test: a) is the character an Indigenous or Aboriginal main female character b) who does NOT fall in love with a white man c) who does NOT end up raped or murdered at any point in the story

You can read more about media tests HERE.

As an autistic person, I feel like there should be a similar test for autistic people. Representation for autistic people tends to be few and far between, and the most prominent examples tend to be stereotypical. So, I decided to create my own test: The Symmetra Test.

Here are my rules:

  1. Is there an autistic or autistic-coded main character
  2. Who ISN’T a white man
  3. Who ISN’T infantilized by the narrative or other characters

The test is named for the character of Symmetra of the game Overwatch, who is an autistic woman of color who is definitely seen, depicted, and treated as an adult.

If the autistic character in question is a child, they can behave like children, but it has to be appropriate for their age. So characters like Vanellope (who’s 9) from Wreck-It Ralph and Laura (who’s 11) from Logan, two characters I see as autistic-coded, would pass because they’re children but they’re not treated like literal infants or toddlers. Characters like Peridot would not pass because she’s at least a few hundred years old but is treated by both the crewniverse and the fandom as a baby.

The test is not a be-all, end-all indicator of quality autism representation and is not meant to discount white male autistic characters (as long as they’re not infantilized or rely heavily on stereotypes). This test is to bring attention to the fact that so few autistic or autistic coded characters are non male or non white, and fewer still are treated age appropriately.

If you’re autistic, let me know if you think there should be any amendments to this test, or if you can name any characters who would pass! I’d love to hear some feedback.

I hope this test can help bring attention to more autistic or autistic-coded characters of different genders and races, as well as help people when making any autistic characters of their own.

Animation Companies and Identity

Ah, Illumination Entertainment. Well known for films such as Despicable Me, The Lorax, The Secret Life of Pets, The Minions and Sing.

What’s that? You don’t particularly care for any of those movies? You think they’re cheap knockoffs of DreamWorks style movies? Well Illumination doesn’t care because after only 7 films they have made a combined total of $1.9 BILLION. (x)

Holy crap! How did a low budget animation studio become a recognizable brand name in almost no time at all?

The biggest reason, of course, is marketing. Illumination makes sure their films are very well advertised (just look at the Minions marketing blitzkrieg). But the reason why their films have consistently remained successful is because they have a clear identity. They all have simple animation and character designs, they all have pop culture references, they all have their own brand of humor, and they’re all fun family films that don’t require a whole lot of thinking for. Basically, all Illumination films have a similar theme and tone.

By contrast, look at DreamWorks Animation (their current sibling company now that NBC Universal has bought them both). DWA’s profits have always flip-flopped, and by the time they were purchased by NBC they were in serious financial trouble, having to lay off hundreds of employees. Why? Because they’ve never been truly consistent. DreamWorks can range from beautiful works of art (How To Train Your Dragon) to generic kids stuff (Monsters vs. Aliens) to “WTF am I watching” (Bee Movie). When most people think of DWA they think of snarky, in-your-face movies with pop culture references, so when they’re faced with a How To Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda, it’s enough to cause whiplash. And while Illumination movies tend to be generic, they also tend to be cute, harmless, and safe. DreamWorks can just come across as bizarre. You can watch more on how DreamWorks has an identity problem HERE.

By contrast, Pixar has a clear identity of making high quality, heartwarming, clever and original content that has given them massive success. They do get some backlash for making more generic or lower-quality films (The Good Dinosaur is their lowest grossing effort) and for making too many sequels, but not too much to the point where they get into financial trouble.

Laika also has a clear identity: unconventional, artsy stop motion flicks. This has won them massive critical acclaim, but not a wide audience appeal. Warner Bros. Animation, which has always struggled to find its audience and rake in money at the box office (their only theatrical feature length original film to win any prestige is The Iron Giant), has mostly settled on making LEGO movies, which has proven to be a hit.

I think identity is also a huge indicator of how Disney has gone through peaks and valleys during its 90 year reign. At their core, they’re a company that retells classic stories for a modern audience, and when the audience would change with time, so would they. One of the reason the early 2000’s was a bad decade for Disney was because, in addition to being overshadowed by Pixar, their movies were all over the place. Different animation styles, tones, and themes, and weird premises. Now, the animation is cleaner, softer, and more detailed, their genres and premises are simpler, and they deal with themes that are relevant to today’s society, such as female empowerment, mental health concerns, and prejudice.

In today’s age, animation companies are brands, and the audience comes to expect something specific from them; if they don’t get what they asked for, they won’t support it. It sucks that animation companies aren’t allowed to explore and have a wider range like live action companies, but until animation gets more respect as a medium, that’s going to happen for awhile. Identity can make or break an animation studio, because you can end up as a reigning champ like Pixar, or wind up being bought out and STILL end up in trouble like DreamWorks.

Magic or Mental Illness? The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of my favourite films, and for good reason: it’s a dark, beautiful film on love, lust, heartbreak, justice and faith. But the use of Quasimodo’s gargoyle friends Victor, Hugo, and Laverne have drawn some criticisms for being contrived and out of place.

To an extent, I agree. There are a few instances where they just appear out of nowhere for no reason. When Esmeralda tells Quasimodo that he isn’t a monster we suddenly and jarringly cut the gargoyles trying to listen in on them and crack a joke. But while some of their comedic scenes don’t work, they do serve a purpose. They represent the happy family Quasimodo never had. While I’m sure the archdeacon helped take care of Quasimodo at times, Frollo raised him under his controlling thumb. Ultimately, Laverne would represent motherly affection, Victor would represent fatherly advice and morals, and Hugo would be the supportive big brother. And they do play an active role in the third act in motivating Quasimodo and helping him fight.

The question I have, though, is this: are they meant to be real, or just a figment of Quasimodo’s imagination?

Under the trivia section of Victor, Hugo, and Laverne’s page on the Disney Wiki, it says:

  • In the DVD audio commentary Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale and Don Hahn suggest that it’s possible that the three gargoyles exist purely in Quasimodo’s mind and are in fact split off portions of his own personality created to deal with his loneliness. While this is only a possibility, it should be noted that the only other character in the first film to actually see a statue come to life is Frollo in the midst of his insanity. However, the true nature of these statues is open to interpretation, given Hugo’s endless flirtations with Djali. (X)

That brings up another point: Frollo seems to see things that aren’t there, either, at the end when he’s about to die (the aforementioned gargoyle coming to life) and during the “Hellfire” sequence.

Could Notre Dame be a living soul in this story? Or are Quasimodo and Frollo both suffering from mental illness?

One one hand, the gargoyles being magical beings that only reveal themselves to Quasimodo seems the most likely. (It is a Disney film, after all). They are able to witness and react to things from a distance, always manage to show up wherever Quasimodo is, and are able to partake in the final battle. Perhaps they are the reason Quasimodo didn’t become as cruel as Frollo; they actually raised him with their love. But on the other hand, why only Quasimodo? Why not turn to life in front of Frollo and chase him out of the bell tower? Why not reveal themselves to Esmeralda, Quasimodo’s trusted friend?

And there’s also this crucial moment at the end of the “A Guy Like You” sequence. This is Quasimodo’s worldview right at the end of the song:

And this is what happens once he’s snapped back to reality:

So are the decorations also magical? Do the gargoyles have awesome powers (that they never seem to use outside this scene)? Or…was the whole scene in Quasimodo’s head? Does he, with his immense strength, carry the gargoyles around with him as his comfort objects? Is he actually doing all these things by himself but doesn’t realize it?

If the gargoyles are indeed all in Quasimodo’s head, it lends a very tragic, dark part of the story. Poor Quasimodo has been kept isolated for so long under the control of his domineering master, constantly reinforced with the message that he is hideous…and these gargoyles appear to tell him to follow his forbidden urges, that he will be loved.  Ultimately, this is how his mind would create a way to cope.

And then there’s Frollo, who also seems to have powerful visions. But he’s also a God-fearing man who spends at least twenty years thinking Romani people are evil, that he is righteous, that he has a ‘duty’, and his worldview is shattered when he becomes attracted to Esmeralda. It is common for people under strict Christian doctrine with mental health problems to suffer from blasphemous religious thoughts or inappropriate sexual thoughts, both of which Frollo have.

Let’s also remember that this movie is set in medieval times, rife with disease and danger and where many people suffered from ‘madness’, ‘insanity’, and ‘lunacy’. Without modern medicine, it is easy for these visions to go untreated and blame it on the work of the Devil.

Ultimately, both the ‘the gargoyles are real and Notre Dame is alive” and “the gargoyles are just very vivid figments of Quasimodo’s immersive imagination” both offer compelling cases. What do you think is the most likely?

I’m just glad that Quasimodo now has a proper support system in place and that his friends will slowly fill the gap left by his loneliness. You can read more about mental health in the middle ages HERE.