Thoughts on The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast reboots

So earlier this week, it was announced that there was going to be a reimagining of The Lion King directed by Jon Favreau, after the success of The Jungle Book reboot.

To be honest, I’m not surprised at all. I’m just wondering what EXACTLY they’re going to do. We have very little on the plot or cast or other details. We can presume that it’s going to be filled with CGI animals, but we have no idea if there’s going to be any human characters or if it will be filmed on location in Kenya or something.

But you know what? I’m actually excited. Since I was totally enthralled by The Jungle Book, I can expect The Lion King to be utterly spectacular. Which is more than I can say for the Beauty and the Beast remake coming next year.

Image result for beauty and the beast 2017

I just…what is this? That’s not Lumiere and Cogsworth. Lumiere doesn’t even have a face! And there’s way too much detail, it’s distracting, and it doesn’t make the characters look appealing. They look too real!

And then there’s this lovely image, courtesy of Stitch Kingdom:

Look how fucking BORED Emma Waston looks. She should be gazing longingly at the Beast, especially since she’s wearing the famous yellow dress (which would indicate they’re at the part where they’re in love). Instead, she’s turned away and looks unamused. Or she’s trying too hard to be dramatic and serious.

The Beast just looks boring. Why couldn’t they have taken a cue from the Broadway show and gave him some makeup? Instead of CGI. He looks sad and pathetic, and not in a sympathetic way.

But the biggest problem is that there’s no love radiating out of these two. Which is kind of a problem when you’re making a movie about BEAUTY AND THE GODDAMN BEAST.

Okay, maybe I’m too hard, but ever since the teaser trailer, I’ve hated the look of this movie. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s just so boring. The colour palette is limited (whereas in the animated movie it had lush colours), and there’s a little too much CGI when practical effects could’ve been used. (I know The Jungle Book was CGI-heavy, but to be fair, it’s easier to work with CGI animals than animatronics or real animals!) The fact that Lumiere’s new voice does not fit at all doesn’t help.

I guess ultimately I’m biased. The original was perfect, there’s really no reason to remake it. I mean, of course they’re going to remake it for money and copyright reasons, but couldn’t you TRY to do something new with it?

I think I would’ve had more faith if it was directed by Guillermo del Toro or Francis Ford Coppola. del Toro is great for making really unique, awesome looking films without relying too much on CGI, and Coppola directed the 1992 Dracula movie, which was extremely sumptuous and romantic and had no CGI whatsoever. I can see them making a live Beauty and the Beast into something truly stunning. But, it looks like for now we’re getting another generic remake.

We’ll have to see how it all goes. But my expectations are going to be kept low for the time being. I’m going to be more excited for Disney’s original animated offerings than remakes of them.

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Preparation For Moana Review #1: The Princess and the Frog

Image result for the princess and the frog

Note: strict criticisms and unpopular opinions below. 

A long time ago, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, John Musker and Ron Clements became household names with The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, two instant classics that helped shape the Disney Renaissance. Later, they would make Hercules, which did not reach the status of its predecessors but was still successful enough. Then, in 2002, they would hit a wall with Treasure Planet, a colossal bomb that is only remembered by a small cult following.

At this point most directors would probably move on to another studio (when Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant bombed, he no longer made films for Warner Bros. and went on to work with Pixar), but John Musker and Ron Clements are still with Disney and their reputation remains untarnished. This year, they will release their first CGI animated film, Moana, which looks like it’s going to be another instant classic. And in 2009, they made what is considered to be the real stepping stone from the second dark age to the second renaissance for Disney, The Princess and the Frog.

At the time, this movie was pretty revolutionary. It had gorgeous 2D animation (a welcome break from the bad CGI animation that Disney was churning out without Pixar), it was the first Disney Princess movie since the 1990’s, and it was the return to the classic fairy tale formula that we all know and love (or love to hate) from Disney.

I remember, when I first saw the trailers for the movie, I was a bit skeptical. When the movie came out, I decided to see it, if not for the movie itself, then at least to help keep hand drawn animation alive. After I saw it I was…kind of underwhelmed?

I liked it, for sure, but I don’t remember thinking to myself, “holy shit, this is fantastic, a new fave” like I did with Up or Coraline. One of the things that bugged me the most was how underused the villain was. Beyond that, this movie was…alright. I hesitated to get the DVD but caved in for the sake of the special features.

Since then, I’ve only watched it a few times, and each time, I remember thinking afterwards, “this is good, but not great”. But now, I have a new attitude: I don’t think it’s that good at all.

I’ve made my stance on the whole “main characters spend the majority of the film as frogs in a bayou” quite clear, and I still stand by that. Not only is it racist, but it makes it very hard for me to relate to the characters or get involved with their story. I don’t generally like talking animal films, so to see two (very gorgeous and likable) human characters turn into talking animals was so frustrating, and the set piece is not very compelling either.

The other characters (save for maybe the villain and Tiana’s mother) aren’t very memorable, and the animal sidekicks aren’t very cute. I remember Lottie got so much attention for being ‘a great friend’, but it’s pretty clear that she and her father don’t see Tiana and her family as equals (if they did, they would’ve helped her out more to get her restaurant).

In relation to that, this movie has no idea if it wants to take place in the real world or a fantasy world. Most of the movie feels so grounded in reality, complete with racism and segregation, that the magic aspects feel so jarring. Are we supposed to believe Tiana’s restaurant will close down during the Great Depression or that she’ll be happy and successful forever?

And in Tiana’s pursuit of her dream, people always try to bring her down, saying “you need to lighten up” and “you really oughta get married”. There’s an entire song basically telling Tiana she’s focusing too much on her dream (and when she says she’s going to work even harder to get her restaurant, everyone is SO disappointed). It would be one thing if the movie said “Your dreams are important, but you need to look after your wellbeing first” (which would be SO important), but the movie basically says that Tiana’s ultimate goal should be to land a man first, then her restaurant. So, you can be ambitious, but not TOO ambitious without a man by your side!

The songs are really not that memorable. Except for “Friends on the Other Side”, I cannot catch a tune. As far as I’m concerned, Randy Newman has written and performed ONE truly memorable and great song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.

But really, all this pales in comparison to this one simple thing I find about this movie: it’s BORING.

The Little Mermaid has a shark chase, a ship getting wrecked in the storm, Ariel’s voice being taken and having to rise to the surface without drowning, a race against the clock, and an epic battle between the hero and villain. Aladdin had a collapsing Cave of Wonders, a rescue from drowning, and a showdown between an all powerful sorcerer while the princess was trapped in an hourglass running out of time. Hercules had a fight against the Hydra, the Titans causing chaos, and two scenes where it looks like both heroes are going to die for good. Treasure Planet has a star gone supernova and a planet that’s about to explode and the heroes having little time to escape. In all these movies, there’s a very real sense of danger for the characters, and the stakes are high. I never got this impression with The Princess and the Frog. There are very brief scenes of Dr. Facilier’s minions and other animals after the heroes, but not enough to sustain tension. The climax does have stunning visuals, but there is never any impression that Tiana’s life is at stake. The only scene that gives us some impression that the heroes lives are threatened is when the frog hunters come…and it’s an inept, slapstick scene with hideous, ableist, classist caricatures as ineffective baddies. Really.

And overall, compared to the the films that Disney’s been releasing since, The Princess and the Frog really doesn’t hold up. The later films are much more exciting and entertaining, and include more heartwarming scenes.

The ONLY thing I can really praise about this movie is Tiana herself. She is so important; she’s a beautiful black woman working hard to have her dream come true and doesn’t let anything get her down. But, I said this before, and I’ll say it again: she CANNOT be the only black Disney Princess, let alone black female lead. I find it really dangerous of fans to latch onto The Princess and the Frog as much as they do. They keep talking about this movie and how it needs to have a sequel or live action remake and more merch and I’m like…can’t Disney just make more films with black main characters? Why does Tiana have to be the ONLY role model for black children? Why are we so fixated on a movie that honestly isn’t that good?

I’m not really sure of what I would do to fix this movie without throwing out the entire fairy tale aspect. I would have made it more of a contemporary, realistic story about a woman working hard in the 1920’s, finding romance, and facing adversaries, accompanied by jazz music. Maybe you could have a side plot of dancing frogs or something. I don’t know, which basically goes to show how underwhelming this movie is.

Overall, a disappointment. But to be fair, this came out at a pretty tumultuous time for Disney, so all things considered, it’s not the WORST thing to come out of the company. It’s better than some of their other films. I don’t think it’s the BEST thing either. Hopefully Moana will be a vast improvement, and hopefully we’ll have more and better films of black heroines.

 

Before Criticizing Disney…

(Updated)

Now that Moana is edging ever closer to its release date, more footage (including the official trailer!) is being revealed, and merchandise is now out. And of course, the controversy ball is rolling.

The now pulled costume for Maui included brown skin and tattoos, and of course, a lot of people weren’t happy about it. The argument is that it allows non-Polynesian children to partake in ‘polyface’.

I’m not going to make any excuses for the costume, but what bothers me is that, with this simple mistake, people are frothing at the mouth and saying that ALL merchandise for the movie is bad and that Disney is exploiting Pacific Islanders and commodifying their culture and bodies, and that Disney is a Big Bad Racist Capitalist Machine TM.

This…upsets me.

Now, I’m not going to tell Pacific Islanders and Polynesians to see the film when they’re not comfortable doing so. They have a right not to support the film if they choose so.

But I hate this assumption that Disney is this monolithic AI with no thought process. Like nobody realizes that Disney is a HUGE company made up of many different divisions and hundreds (thousands?) of workers. The people who made Moana are not the same people who made the merch for Moana, who aren’t the same people who distribute and finance the film. Lumping them all together is disingenuous.

Furthermore…what is up with this assumption that this movie was ONLY made to exploit Pacific Islanders? That is fundamentally untrue. John Musker and Ron Clements wanted to make this film for a long time. They were inspired by Polynesian artwork and history and wanted to tell a story about it. They got together with hardworking animators, artists, and storytellers and consulted with actual Polynesian people (forming an Oceanic Story Trust) to make this film as culturally sensitive and enriching as they possibly can. And they went out of their way to have a majority Polynesian cast. Yet somehow this is lost to a lot of critics. The filmmakers aren’t real people, they’re cogs in a capitalist machine. And the Polynesians involved with the creative process? They either don’t exist, or somehow are too ‘wealthy’ or brainwashed or some bullshit and don’t matter.

And this whole “you can’t buy the merch, any merch” ideology is really harmful. Sure, brown children aren’t allowed to have toys of people that at least partially resemble them because you say so. Sure, girls who may feel empowered with Moana can’t have dolls of her because you say so. Sure, heavier set kids can’t have toys of Maui because you said so. Because you, an adult, think that Disney is an evil capitalist machine that only represents people when it makes them money. You can absolutely criticize how they only continue to market white and animal led movies (*side-eyes how Frozen got marketed do death for years but Big Hero 6 is struggling to get more merch in stores even though they’re both popular and successful*), but that doesn’t mean you can just say that nobody should buy the merch because it ‘doesn’t matter in the long run’ and that it’s not important to fight for more representation. For a lot of children, characters like Moana are going to be so important.

At this point, what really bothers me is that it’s really obvious that, no matter what Disney does, it’s never going to be good enough. People will complain and make wild accusations without doing any research (a lot of people were making assumptions about Big Hero 6 without reading into the making of the film to call it racist) and turn around and excuse other animation studios for doing the most basic progressive thing. I’m not saying people should like or support Disney if they don’t want to, but they have to stop acting like they genuinely care about Disney getting better when they clearly don’t, or try to make other people feel guilty for wanting to see a damn film. That’s all I’m going to say about this for now. I’m just tired of having to deal with so much inanity before a movie I’ve been anticipating comes out. It’s tiring and it goes absolutely nowhere.

On an endnote, this is my 100th post! To prep me for Moana’s release, I’ll do reviews of John Musker/Ron Clements movies and/or the Disney Revival!

Moana Update

Since I’m starting school, I might not be as active as I once was. But I’ll try to get stuff out whenever I can. One thing I’ll make sure to keep blogging about is updates on Moana. 

The merch for the movie is finally out, and it includes dolls, plushies, and costumes.

oh-that-disney-princess-emily:
“ She’s here!!!
”

The books are due to come in October (why they’d release the spoiler-filled books before the movie is released is beyond me).

Here’s the new poster!

My only problem is that Disney feels the need to latch onto Frozen. It’s been three years. You don’t need to keep reminding people that you made that movie. Plus I would think, for this movie, it would be better to say that it’s “From the creators of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin” since it’s directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. Other than that, this is a really great poster.

It looks like we’re going to get a new trailer on Thursday! I’m so excited! And it looks like after that, we’ll have #MoanaMondays, with new info on the movie released every Monday! Not only is that exciting, but it’s also rather appropriate. Hype for the movie has been few and far between, so now that the movie is only a few months away, they better get the hype machine revved up!

One bit of info I really want clarified before the movie is released is info on the villain. Apparently the main villain is going to be a lava monster, but there’s a lot of confusion on the villain’s name (apparently it’s Te something) and gender. For awhile the lava monster was described as female, but one source called it male? I can’t tell if that’s a mistake or if that’s an actual change. I hope it’s female (because I need more monstrous female villains in my life), but it’s possible they didn’t want to confuse the villain with Pele.

Here’s what the villain apparently looks like:

Moana Antagonist: Kakamora

(I can’t really tell by the chest if it’s flat or if the breasts are very small. But I’m LOVING the lava details.)

The only problem is that apparently the Disney Parks is thinking of hiring a white or Asian girl (instead of a Polynesian one) to be Moana’s face character (apparently so they can rehire the actress for multiple roles). That is, of course, not very good. I think it also proves how you cannot criticize Disney as a monolith; one division can be very progressive, another can be the opposite. So, you know, maybe make a fuss about it?

But I’m still excited for the movie itself. I think what made me REALLY excited for it now (since it was hard to remain enthusiastic for something with so little hype) is that it’s being co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, who directed Big Hero 6. So, that tells me this movie is going to be THE BEST.

Till then, can’t wait for more info!

Moana is an ‘Anti Princess’ and why that concerns me

So remember how there was buzz awhile ago about Moana possibly not being in the Disney Princess lineup? Well, turns out there might be a reason for that.

Turns out, in the movie, Moana explicitly makes it clear that she is no princess. At least, if TIME magazine’s interview with the directors is correct. The point of the movie is that Moana is going to be a HEROINE, and is markedly different from the classic Disney Princess TM with a thicker build and no love interest.

I think what’s going to happen is that, if Moana is successful enough, the movie will have its own separate franchise, kind of like Frozen‘s. That’s…actually kind of awesome! I just hope they don’t overkill it.

That said, I have a few problems with the direction they’re taking Moana’s character.

First off, what does John Musker mean by “I don’t know that any of the other princesses we’ve been involved with we’d describe as badass.”? What does it mean for a female character to be a badass? What’s the requirement? I know not every Disney heroine has had the opportunity to navigate the seas, fight giant monsters, and save the world with a hot as hell demigod, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do incredible feats in their own right.

Also, what’s really bothered me about Disney lately (and, to an extent, other animation companies) is that there’s this pervasive attitude of ‘we can’t make our female lead dainty and soft spoken and gentle! she has to be TOUGH and TAKE NO SHIT! she’s not like OTHER girls! she’s not waiting for her prince!’ and all that shit. Like…we get it. You’re ashamed that animated princesses in the past haven’t exactly been able to save the day. Shut up.

And what’s worse is that sometimes the character’s so-called badassery feels very forced, to the point where she’s often not as well-rounded or developed to her male counterparts. And I’m a little scared that this is what’s going to happen with Moana. I’m worried that they’re going to push her whole badass and “I don’t want to be a princess or fulfill my assigned role in life” at the expense at making her a really fleshed out character. I’m pretty confident at this point that they’re not going to build her up as this competent fighter who ends up being the damsel in distress at the end (a very common trope, can’t let the ladies be TOO independent!), but still.

I’m hoping, at the very least, she’ll be written similar to Mulan. She was an excellent soldier who saved the day and didn’t focus too much on romance, but she was still a well-written and enjoyable character. You could feel the pain she was going through and how she loved her family but also needed to love herself more. She wasn’t abrasive or too aggressive, and she could be awkward, but not to the point where it got annoying. Mulan is a fantastic example of the ‘strong independent woman’ done RIGHT, which is unfortunately something that tends to get lost with writers.

Now, of course, I have to remind myself not to be too harsh on Moana’s character if she doesn’t live up to my expectations. Remember, Moana is a Polynesian heroine, and the best people to critique her character are going to be Polynesian women. I don’t want to let my biased Western view of things taint the character.

Still, at this point, I can’t help but feel more excited for Maui than for Moana herself. From what we’ve seen and heard from Maui, I can already tell he’s going to be a dynamic and interesting character. I wish we had more info on Moana besides her being a badass.

Hopefully my interest will change soon, or the movie itself will prove me wrong. The movie is only about three months away, so, hop to the hype campaign, Disney!

‘Wreck-It Ralph’, ‘Big Hero 6’, and the Importance of Self Care

Mental illness is pretty prevalent among users of social media, so self care posts are often made and passed around in an effort to help people. They tend to be cutesy reminders to eat, wash, that they’re worthwhile, that strangers love them, etc.

At first, I thought these were wonderful. But when I found myself in my deepest, darkest depression, I didn’t find these helpful at all. And now that I’m in a better place mentally, I (and other members of my family, who also have their mental health problems) kind of find these self care posts a little patronizing and condescending.

And what bothers me the most is that there’s this major cognitive dissonance because for all the people who keep passing around saccharine self care posts, they don’t seem to do anything about it afterwards. They often make posts on how they’re so depressed all the time, that they want to die, that they’re awake all night and sleep all day, and such. There seems to be this pervasive attitude that once you’re on your own, you’re REALLY on your own. No meds or therapy unless you REALLY need it (because apparently all doctors are untrustworthy), not even support. There even seems to be a negative attitude towards seeking help and comfort from parents, which would make sense when parents are genuinely abusive, but social media tends to make all parents out to be The Worst. Basically, young people feel the need to be on their own and only seek help from their peers, who, while they can certainly offer some support, can’t entirely help you in the long run. Or they don’t seek help at all, and just wallow in their depression and share self-care posts in an attempt to feel better.

When I was in my darkest hour, things were pretty bad. I did feel better with talk therapy, but I could not for the life of me partake in cognitive behavioral therapy. I was too scared to take meds, and didn’t really want to do anything while I waited for different doctors appointments.

And then the intrusive thoughts came.

If you don’t know what exactly intrusive thoughts are, it’s like having nightmares during the day. Basically, whenever I tried to think about something I like, something gross or disturbing would barge itself into the thought and wouldn’t go away. That was when I knew I HAD to get help. I HAD to take action. And I did. Now, I’m medicated, I see a social worker every few weeks, I make efforts to drive and get out of the house, and I go to school, and I’m searching for work. None of that wouldn’t have happened if I had just accepted my lot in life.

And that’s what I feel is wrong. I feel like all these depressed people feel like they HAVE to be depressed or anxious or such. And that’s not true. If your mental illness prevents you from living life, you cannot just accept it. You NEED to go out and do something about it, even if it means getting help from your parents and doctors. There’s nothing wrong with that.

For those of you who have trouble finding an epiphany as a motivator, I suggest re-watching Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 and really pay attention to them.

Ralph is lonely, depressed, is stuck in a shitty job with bosses and co-workers who don’t appreciate him, has a crummy living situation, and has trouble with food and hygiene. You know what he did? He sought to change it. He knew he couldn’t accept this anymore. So he went out to change his life. And while he couldn’t fully change it, he now has a support system in place, he reaches out to people, and has made amends with his job and has a better living situation. He’s taking things ‘one game at a time’.

Hiro is depressed after the death of his brother and doesn’t eat, is tired a lot, and doesn’t want to leave his room or go to school. A healthcare robot and four wonderful (older) friends reach out to him and give him all the love and support he needs. By letting them in and realizing his own mistakes and the importance of actively doing things to help others, Hiro makes a wonderful recovery, even if he still misses his brother.

The important thing about both movies is that both characters are valid and loved and are getting the help they need. But they got that help by either seeking it out or accepting it when it was offered, both of which are things people in real life can learn from.

Mental illness is a lifelong battle, but it doesn’t have to define you or hold you down. And when you watch these movies again, take in how the characters get better and see how you can apply that. Because things will get better, but they won’t get better unless you TRY.