Moana Review

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Finally. After months and months of suffering and waiting, it came, and I got to see it.

AAANNNNNNNNNNNNNNDDD…

It was okay.

Yeah, that’s how I feel. I was expecting this movie to be a masterpiece in the vein of Beauty and the Beast, but I was underwhelmed. I still enjoyed it, but I felt like it could have been more.

Let me clear: the animation and effects were absolutely stunning (the lava demon, Te Ka, is a masterpiece of animation onto itself), the music was fantastic, and there were some truly beautiful and thrilling scenes (especially the climax). But it had some serious problems.

If you don’t want to read spoilers, let me just say, in terms of John Musker/Ron Clements movies, it’s better than The Princess and the Frog, but not as good as Aladdin. In terms of Disney Revival movies, it’s legions better than Frozen but nowhere near as good as Wreck-It Ralph or Big Hero 6. Of course I’m extremely biased, so make what you will of that. My recommendation is that if you want to see a SPECTACLE, then this movie is great. But if you want something with substance…you’re not going to get it.

My issue with the pacing is that there are some parts of the story that get really slow (especially the entire first act). But then again, I realize the movies I cling onto are films with brisk, livelier paces, so I could be biased. What I really have problems with, is the characterization. And with that, here’s my spoiler review below.

Continue reading “Moana Review”

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Holy shit.

 

Whenever a Disney/Pixar film is about to be released, even if said film is more dark and/or serious, the teaser for it is always light and comedic in tone. Not this time.

There’s a distinct lack of music, instead relying on a heartbeat and the sound of the cars revving and the crowds. The colours are muted. We focus on the wheels of the cars; we can’t see their faces. There’s a conspicuous shot of one car in particular that’s speeding ahead. We see that Lightning McQueen is in the lead, but is looking rather dirty and worn out. And then there’s the dramatic crash, and it looks BAD. Again, we can’t see his face, but we hear his heavy breathing, and how he’s falling apart. Then it fades to black, with the emblazoned words “FROM THIS MOMENT EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE”. Then there’s a beat, and we see the franchise logo and release date.

Ho. Ly. SHIT.

This is a masterpiece of trailer editing. In less than a minute we are treated to an intense, dramatic, compelling glimpse at the story, and just how bad the situation looks for the characters. It grabs your attention and gets you interested in what’s going to happen.

What makes this stand out is that it’s fucking Cars. Cars! The Pixar franchise that gets derided all the time for being more about profit than storytelling. And here it is, turning everything on its head.

So what does this mean? I can’t imagine that they’re actually going to kill Lightning McQueen off (he’s too profitable), but I think what’s going to happen is that he’s going to be seriously disabled/incapacitated. In that he won’t be able to race anymore. That would actually be a really compelling storyline, as well as an important one to help people cope with serious injuries and traumatic experiences.

I really do hope this movie is going to deliver after such an awesome teaser. I’m definitely intrigued for what’s in store for this franchise!

 

 

Motherhood is Not a Woman’s Only Worth

For most of my life, I’ve made it clear that the very last thing I want in life is to get pregnant, give birth, and have kids. Yet throughout the way, a lot of people insisted that I’d change my mind, that I’d be a good mother, ask “don’t you want to get pregnant? it’s great!” and just generally be disappointed. But I made up my mind. I want to be free to be a successful woman who can focus on my own problems and responsibilities.

Too bad Hollywood doesn’t think that.

While it’s a little different for animated family films that focus more on budding romances, a lot of live action movies and shows seem to reinforce the idea of motherhood (specifically being a mother to your own children) as THE MOST IMPORTANT THING for any woman.

To name some examples off the top of my head, Black Widow feels worthless and ‘like a monster’ because she was made infertile. Not because her body was violated, but because ‘oh no I can never have any kids’. Even though Natasha never seemed like the motherly type, and she keeps bouncing between potential love interests (which would indicate she’s in no way ready to settle down).

The Bride from Kill Bill decides to stop  being a mercenary and live a more peaceful live in the name of her unborn child, and the catalyst of the plot relies heavily on avenging the child she thought died in utero.

In The Girl on the Train, all the main women’s lives revolve around the ability to give birth. Rachel feels worthless and  her marriage crumbles because she can’t get pregnant, and Megan decides to keep a baby that she had in an affair in order to ‘take responsibility’ after what happened to her last baby (even though not having the baby is also a responsible decision, and the movie makes it clear she’s not exactly the type of person you’d want to leave babies with).

Teen movies also reinforce this. In the Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads, one of the main characters is a pregnant teenage girl who is going to give her baby up for adoption. When she loses the baby in a miscarriage, she is upset because she was planning on keeping it. Kind of a bad message to be sending to your teenage audience!

Family and children’s movies don’t focus on potential mothers (because what kid would want to see a movie about that), though there are occasions where this message does slip in. For example, at the end of Treasure Planet, Captain Amelia married Doctor Delbert and has not one but FOUR children with him. Not only is that incredibly sappy, but it doesn’t really fit Amelia’s character. But considering how Amelia gets injured and dependent on a man in the third act as a way to become softer and kinder, maybe it does fit!

And of course, in a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and supernatural films and shows, female characters often get pregnant (violated, really) with unholy demon spawn. Instead of, you know, aborting it, the female character just takes it. In The X-Files, Scully gets impregnated with alien spawn, gives birth to a daughter, and instead of feeling angry or hurt that she was made into a brood mare without her consent and almost died because of it, she feels a motherly attachment to her offspring. And of course, when she does grow to love her child, the child dies. She has another child with Mulder, she can’t keep it. So, you’re going to make this woman pregnant not once but TWICE, reinforce her as someone who wants to be a mother, and takes it away from her.

And of course, there’s the infamous Twilight installment(s), Breaking Dawn. Bella gets pregnant through impossible means and her fetus ends up literally draining the life out of her, but she’s still adamant about keeping the baby even though her entire family begs her not to because, hey, she’s a living, breathing human, she matters more than an unholy fetus. When she gives birth in a very graphic scene, she actually does die. It sort of works out in the end because now Bella is a vampire and married to Edward and has a domestic family and blah blah blah, but still…who the fuck wrote, directed, and edited this shit without throwing up? Why did this need to happen? Why did Bella need a child with Edward (when a child with Jacob would’ve been more interesting and probably less creepy and wouldn’t kill her)? Why did she have to become a vampire without her knowledge or consent? Gross, gross, gross.

This is just a handful of ways media reinforces the idea that somehow every single woman, even strong, independent women, all really want to be mothers, and that in a lot of cases, their worth or character development hinges on the ability to have children. Adoption is rarely brought up and abortion is only used in dramatic, negative situations (see the above Twilight example). We live in a world where reproductive rights are constantly contested and not always guaranteed due to unscientific, religious, patriarchal beliefs that a potential person matters more than an actual, existing pregnant person, and where women’s sexuality and sex lives are constantly scrutinized.

I want more stories that say it’s okay to not want to be a mother. Where it’s okay to not have to remain pregnant or keep a child. Where, if they DO want to be mothers but can’t, they can go out and adopt a child. I want women (and anyone who can get pregnant, really) to be told that they don’t HAVE to get pregnant, give birth, and raise a child in order to be important or valid. Don’t make them suddenly maternal for plot or character development reasons. Show them happy, successful, and childless and don’t make it look like a bad thing. Motherhood should be an option for women who really and truly want it, not something that must be a requirement for a woman’s worth.

 

My Top Five Disney Musical Opening Numbers

Like a lot of people, I really love Disney musicals. Some of my fave films (Disney or not) are musicals and I’ve seen Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King Performed live. I’m not really an aficionado of musicals so I’m not the best critic of what defines the best of the best in musicals, but I will say one thing that can really make or great a musical is the opening number. It has to really hook you in. And these songs, in my opinion, do their job. Here are my top five fave Disney opening numbers. They are…

#5: Frozen Heart (Frozen)

Putting this at the bottom because I really don’t think Frozen is that good a musical (people only really remember Let It Go, and there’s no use of reprises or a finale song to make the whole thing flow), but this song is pretty badass. It brilliantly uses the cutting of ice picks as acoustics, and the men singing this song have very deep, powerful voices. It helps set up the role ice is going to play in the movie (foreshadowing just how powerful Elsa could be). The only problem is that it talks about a Frozen Heart, but we never figure out what exactly it is. We know that A frozen heart is what happens when you get magic ice stuck in your chest, but the song makes it sound like it’s going to be something more sinister, like it’s going to be what Elsa would become. Well, despite it, this song is pretty chilling (pun intended) and probably what helped sucker people into the film.

#4: The Circle of Life (The Lion King)

I think this song is the main reason why so many people love this movie. Right away it hooks you in with the stunning imagery and vocals. The scope of the whole scene is so grand and amazing. My only gripe is that I find it hard to believe all these animals would be so happy over the birth of a lion like it’s the second coming of Christ (yeah…not a big fan of this movie), but at any rate, the song itself is still amazing.

#3: Two Worlds, One Family (Tarzan)

This movie isn’t technically a musical but the opening to this movie is really intense so I had to put it here. The song starts off quietly, then gradually gets louder and more intense, building up tension and excitement. Even if you don’t like Phil Collins’s voice, you have to admit he could really play the drums. The song does a great job establishing the backstory of the main characters and how they parallel each other. The lyrics also do a good job of matching the visuals without necessarily stating the obvious. Overall, this is an underrated opening number. It’s fantastic.

#2: Bells of Notre Dame (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

This song masterfully incorporates a Latin choir and church bells to make a powerful song. It does a fantastic job setting up the plot, characters, theme, and general tone of the movie. Right away you can tell this is no typical animated kiddie fare; this is something that (for the most part) takes itself very seriously, and is a masterpiece in its own right. I couldn’t find the whole opening with the visuals in one video, so check out the movie for yourself. It’s worth it.

And my number one pick?

#1: This is Halloween (The Nightmare Before Christmas)\

Definitely the best Disney musical (along with Beauty and the Beast). Why? Because all the songs are good and unique in their own way and serve an integral part of the story, helping it move along. When I saw this opening number for the first time, it completely blew me away. Some of the imagery looked REAL. There are times when you go “how did they do that?” The scene grabs you and never lets go, introducing you to the eccentric but amazing world of Halloweentown, with eye-popping imagery and brilliant music. There’s also a great sense of community established right away with the citizens of Halloweentown, and their adoration of Jack is very clear. There’s also great use of foreshadowing the sinister and ominous Oogie Boogie and the inquisitive Sally. But more than anything, the opening is FUN. You know that you’re going to have a great time with this movie, singing and dancing along with the rest of the movie (I know I do from time to time!).

And there you have it! We’ll see how Moana stacks up against these!

 

The New Beauty and the Beast Plugs Right Into the Uncanny Valley

Disney finally released their first official trailer for their remake of the beloved animated classic, and oh god, it’s worse than I thought.

This is quite possibly some of the worst CGI I have ever seen outside of a bad animated film. The designs and movements of the household objects are absolutely horrifying. In hand-drawn cartoon form, they looked adorable, but here they just look WRONG.

The Beast’s face isn’t too bad, though it could have been more, well, beastly. However, there are some shots of him moving and they look off.

And that’s the whole problem. Everything looks OFF. And it’s creepy.

What makes this bad is that we just had The Jungle Book remake, which had breathtaking CGI. The animals almost looked REAL. And the setting was very believable. But here, none of the nonhuman characters look or move right.

What the hell happened? Was the budget slashed? Did Disney want to rush this out? Either way, the entire look of the movie is terrible. Again, the colour palette for this movie is weak. With the exception of a few scenes, everything is dulled and muted down. And the costumes for Belle are underwhelming (what have they done to her iconic golden gown???).

The only thing that this movie has going for it is the SOUND. The Beast’s voice is great–he sounds coarse and rough but still emotional and haunting. And the music sounds like it’s going to stay true to the original. And I guess from what I can discern, the story looks pretty loyal to the original as well.

But then, this raises the question…what’s the point?? Why take a classic film and remake it if you’re not going to do anything new with it and have horrible effects? This was my problem with the Cinderella remake…there was literally nothing new added (if anything it made Cinderella herself a weaker character) that it ended up becoming dull.

This is really disappointing. I could be wrong; maybe this movie will turn out to be amazing. But as it stand, I don’t like how the movie LOOKS, and I’m going to stick with the animated version. At least that movie is beautiful in every way. This movie is trying too hard to be beautiful but ends up looking ugly.

Costume Design and Teen Titans Female Characters

One criticism that pops up in a lot of media analysis is the Madonna/wh*re dichotomy: how ‘good’ female characters dress more modestly while ‘bad’ female characters dress more provocatively. Related criticisms include the femme fatale/evil seductress, who shows off more skin and dresses sexily.

Well, when I watch Teen Titans, I find an interesting subversion.

In the show, all the female Titans and Honorary Titans show a little bit of skin. We all know how Raven bears her legs and Starfire wears a miniskirt and shows her midriff, but all the other female characters show some skin too. Bumblebee bears her midriff and arms and wears fitting black pants and boots, Kole and Argent wear short skirts (with Argent showing her bare shoulders), and Pantha proudly shows off her muscly arms and legs.

There’s also a minor but very important character, Sarasim, who, when not wearing her full-body armour, wears significantly less clothing.

For the most part, none of these girls are sexualized.

By contrast, the important female villains are all completely covered up. And they use their wit and skill, rather than their bodies, to get what they want. The only female villains that show any skin are extremely minor villains with no speaking roles. (There’s also Kitten, who only shows a little skin when she’s wearing a ball gown on a date with Robin; in other scenes she’s covered).

This even extends to the heroines. When Starfire first came to Earth and posed a threat, she was fully clothed. But once she had settled on Earth and became a heroine, she wore the freer outfit we know her.

And of course, there’s Terra.

When she’s with the Titans, she wears shorts and at one point, shows her midriff:

Then, when taking over the world with Slade, she is completely covered up:

File:Terramocks.jpg

(I couldn’t find a better image, sorry)

Then, when her loyalty to Slade wanes, she starts showing skin:

File:Slade-and-Terra-teen-titans-11193606-720-572.jpg

I just find all this very interesting in terms of character design. I’m not sure if there was any intention to give the villains more clothing than the heroines or not. What do you think?

Zootopia and Cognitive Dissonance

Well, it happened. And unless a miracle occurs, it’s going to stick around for about four years (hopefully no more). It probably won’t be AS bad as we think it will be, but things are going to be difficult from here on out.

Still, watching the election gave me this negative, nagging thought: did Zootopia teach us nothing?

Zootopia came out earlier this year and was a huge success. In addition to grossing over a billion dollars worldwide (!), it got lots of praise from critics (with a Rotten Tomatoes score of like 98%) and plenty of adoring fans. The reason? It delivered a ‘timely’ and ‘important’ message about bias and prejudice in a racially charged environment. People were praising its message of ‘uwu try to make a difference change starts with you’.

Yet apparently this message didn’t stick because soon after racism and other forms of bigotry just got more and more intense in the coming months, and ultimately, hate won out in the election.

This also got me thinking: how come THIS is the movie that got so much praise for tackling a (metaphorical) issue? Where were these people with Pocahontas or The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Those are movies that tackle actual problems with racism and prejudice (with people of colour, not animals!), no metaphors, and deliver a definite, clear message of “don’t just try, DO make a difference, or else the worst will happen”?

No, those movies got derided for being ‘preachy’ or ‘boring’ or ‘serious’.

So, to recap: when you show kids a movie that takes the subject matter of prejudice and bias seriously, with no metaphors and with marginalized groups present and onscreen, it’s a bad movie, but when you show kids a more sugar-coated, metaphorical movie on similar issues, all of a sudden it’s a masterpiece and important.

Yeah, I don’t like that. I’m not saying Pocahontas or The Hunchback of Notre Dame are perfect, but the point is, they TRIED to represent non-white people (and feature women of colour leads) and TRIED to discuss an important issue with depth and maturity. There’s really nothing Zootopia offers that is new, but because it has cute animals, it’s omg so important!

But again, it doesn’t really matter, because the message of the movie didn’t stick. And I’m not surprised. We live in a world where people like to pat themselves on the back for not being racist without actually doing anything to combat or change racism in real life. Zootopia just made white people feel better about themselves, but it didn’t actually have an impact to cause white people to go out and do anything. And that’s just disappointing.

I’ll leave on a positive note: we still have Moana and the Big Hero 6 TV series coming out, which will remind children of colour that they are still important and powerful. That should help us stay afloat while we go out and actually do make a difference.