Why I Love Big Hero 6

I think I fell in love with this movie the moment I heard about it. The premise intrigued me:a diverse cast of superheroes with their robot go out on a mission to avenge the death of the main character’s brother. But when I read the tagline “the emotional story of a 14-year-old genius named Hiro who loses his big brother and a robot named Baymax that heals his broken heart”, I knew this was going to be a fave. Sure enough, when I got more info and images for it, my excitement would mount. It just looked so amazing and adorable.

It wasn’t always a pleasant journey. After coming off the heels of Frozen, which sparked the ire of a lot of animation fans and social justice bloggers, many people were extremely anal about BH6. They were quick to bash it to no end by claiming that the female characters looked like Rapunzel and/or Anna and Elsa, that the movie was racist and whitewashed, etc., and quick to put the movie down before it even came out and even guilt tripping people into not seeing it and seeing other movies instead. There were also die-hard DreamWorks fans accusing it of ripping off How To Train Your Dragon for some reason (which became a contributor of why I ended up hating HTTYD2). Still, I refused to let the negativity get to me. I was having one of my worst years and I needed something to feel enthusiastic over. I guess ultimately I got the last laugh because the movie ended up raking in over $600 million at the box office and became beloved by fans, but that’s not the point. The point is that, when I saw it (on opening day), it filled me with immense joy, gave me feels over Hiro and Baymax, and made me feel validated as a mentally ill person going through a bad time.

I’ve talked in lengths on how the movie helps me as a neurodivergent, but I think I’ll talk about the other things that make this film so amazing.

The animation and effects are absolutely incredible. It almost feels REAL and ALIVE. I wanted to reach out and touch everything. And the characters are distinct, relatable, and attractive without being too cartoony or too realistic. I think I can safely say this is probably Disney’s most beautiful CGI film, and one of Disney’s greatest set pieces in recent history. I legitimately want San Fransokyo to be real so I can go there.

I really love the characters. The female characters are brilliant: Aunt Cass is a successful businesswoman who legitimately loves and cares about her two nephews that she’s raised on her own. She’s gentle and passionate about her nephews’ accomplishments and lets them grow. She also eats a lot and likes B movies. Honey Lemon is ultrafeminine and uber positive and sweet but can run in heels and likes explosions and is extremely passionate about chemistry. Go Go is very passionate about technology and she can be tough, but also kind, comforting Hiro at his darkest moments. These are the type of feminist characters I love: the ones who have a lot of personality, are passionate in their fields, have hidden depths, and are confident in who they are and what they want to be. Fred loves media and his friends and can be a little weird but he’s very sweet. Wasabi has a lot of anxiety problems, but he can also be very brave. For all the crap that the side characters get for not being developed or having enough screen time, you can’t deny that they’re all VERY distinct and well-defined, and it’s clear that they all love and care for Hiro, each other, and their interests.

Of course Hiro and Baymax are the best characters in the movie. Hiro is a very complex and well-developed character, going through a lot of growth. He’s a genius young teenager who doesn’t have a real direction in life and not a lot of friends (besides his brother), but eventually learns the value of friendship and putting his talents to good use, apologizing for his mistakes and genuinely helping others. He’s a great example of a young, mentally ill, Asian protagonist. And of course Baymax is the heart and soul of the movie (and we all want him admit it). But what makes this film so special is their relationship.

I relate a lot to Hiro for obvious reasons and gravitated towards him very quickly. He’s one of my fave characters ever. So to see this robot love and care for him unconditionally filled me with emotion. Their relationship grows: Baymax sees Hiro as another patient, Hiro sees Baymax as slightly annoying. But soon, the gap closes between them, with Hiro finding a true companion in Baymax and the robot caring for Hiro beyond his programming. It’s a unique, heartwarming type of love, and it moved me a lot.

Beyond that, the movie is just so much fun! Daring chases, funny moments and lines, witty characters, daring action, compelling set pieces…this movie is just a sheer delight. It never fails to make me smile. I get totally invested every time.

This is my favourite movie ever and my go-to film whenever I need cheering up or to celebrate. And luckily, I’m not alone. This movie is getting a TV series (which will hopefully bring in more merchandise) and I’m excited as all hell. Maybe we’ll get a sequel at some point. I love this movie and I hope it receives the status as a Disney Classic it deserves.

 

Unpopular Opinion: No More Disney Princess Movies

In the early days of the Walt Disney Company, there were three Disney Princess films: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. The first two were major critical and commercial hits and helped keep the company afloat during the bad years (the third not doing very well initially but growing in stature over the years). All three of these movies boast spectacular animation, beautiful music, and some truly chilling antagonists. They are works of art.

After the fifties there was a huge dry streak of Disney Princess films, and in 70’s and most of the 80’s the company was in a rut. Things looked bleak until the return to the Disney Princess film format with The Little Mermaid, another huge hit and a beloved classic, boasting fantastic music, gorgeous animation, exciting action scenes, and a spunky princess.

Since then there were a string of Disney Princess movies, the official ones being Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Mulan. All of them are real spectacles, with the latter two touching on serious themes (the former dealt with racism and environmentalism, albeit rather clumsily, and the latter can easily be seen as a queer narrative, like I had).

Then, the company hit yet another rut, with something else in common with the earlier dark ages: no princess films. So when they finally started making Princess films again, the company got back on its feet.

But something’s wrong.

If you’ve read my review of The Princess and the Frog, you know I have negative feelings about it. While Tiana herself is a fantastic character, and the animation is stunning, the music isn’t really that great, the story is not very exciting, the plot is a little convoluted, everyone’s tearing the main character down, and it’s a movie about a princess being a damn frog stuck in a damn bayou. While it was better than a lot of films Disney was churning out at the time, it was nowhere near as good as the films of the 90’s.

Things did get better with Tangled. It was Disney’s first CGI film with fantastic animation, there were some truly beautiful moments, the story was fun and engaging, and Rapunzel was just so full of life. The music was a little lacking, but other than that, it was pretty close to the films of the 90’s we all know and love. Then things went downhill from there.

Although it was made by Pixar, Brave is still technically a Disney Princess movie (Merida is part of the lineup). While the mother-daughter relationship of the movie was pretty touching, the movie was so generic and basic; almost like a knockoff of a Disney Princess film than an actual Disney Princess film. There are no grand moments, no compelling set pieces, no show-stopping numbers, and the characters can be annoying.

Then we got Frozen. It’s a paper thin story riddled with plot holes and poorly developed characters and relationships but somehow, because it’s about two sisters and has no immediate romance, it’s considered the epitome of subversion of progressiveness. There, I said it. I have a feeling if it wasn’t for “Let It Go” (which is admittedly a really awesome number), this movie wouldn’t be nearly as popular.

So yeah. You got three out of four Princess movies that are underwhelming. By contrast, a lot of the non-Princess Disney films have been utterly amazing. Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Zootopia all deal with serious, even complex themes and tell exciting, heartwarming stories with lovable characters. Baymax is on his way to becoming an iconic character in his own right.

So what happened? Well, I think it’s simple: Disney’s too scared to take risks with their Princess properties. Since the Princess films have been Disney’s main money maker for so long and only now has the company gotten back on its feet, they want to keep them as safe and marketable as possible, but at the same time, they want to appease the critics who have derided the films for being antifeminist. The result? Movies that slap you in the face with “look at how progressive and self aware we are!” messages at the cost of just being able to tell a story while still somehow keeping to the status quo. You still have shoehorned romances, you still have superfluous sidekicks, you still have song numbers that technically don’t need to be in the movie, etc.  (There’s a reason I usually write Disney Princess TM.)

Despite the success of their non-Princess features, Disney still believes that their Princess movies (especially Frozen) are the only movies that are the real hits and deserve their own franchise. This made sense back in the early 2000’s, when there were no non-Princess hits, but at this rate, Disney doesn’t need Princess films to be successful anymore.

So when I saw Moana and was expecting a true masterpiece but got a cookie-cutter story, it sealed the deal for me: Disney should stop (or take a break from) making Princess movies. Instead, they should focus on marketing their other huge hits. And they should, because those films have some really strong, awesome female characters. You have Vanellope Von Schweetz, a confident racer and president. You have Sgt. Calhoun, a mighty soldier coping with PTSD. You have Honey Lemon and Gogo, two women of color excelling in STEM. And you have Judy Hopps, a female rabbit committed to doing the right thing no matter what. Yet because they don’t wear pretty dresses or sing or have cute sidekicks, Disney doesn’t want to market them. And that’s really sad.

We’ll see if there’s any change when Bob Iger leaves office. Until then, I’m keeping my expectations for Disney Princess TM films low. I want more HEROINES that are able to be well-defined and strong characters in their own right who are free to be part of whatever story they want. I don’t want a Princess who has to conform to certain tropes while trying to present herself as progressive in order to appease the masses.

Attack The Light will make you nostalgic for the old Steven Universe

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Remember season one of Steven Universe?  With beautiful bright colours, lots of creative monsters, rich worldbuilding and lore, and characters that were likable? Well, that’s all gone now. Instead it’s been replaced by filler episode after filler episode, horrible character and relationship development, and the lore is gone.

The problems really began midway through season two. Pearl’s characterization reared its ugly head. It became clear that she was so obsessed with Rose and feeling validated that she was willing to endanger children and violate Garnet in order to get what she wanted, and would not properly apologize without making it all about her, and she hasn’t really gotten any better (she was shown in later seasons to illegally race with Steven frightened in the backseat and tried to rip his gem out when he was a baby to get Rose back). Peridot’s transition from bad guy to good guy was rushed and it was during said transition she showed her ugly side. Garnet’s character development pretty much went out the window when she was revealed to be a fusion: now she constantly has to remind everyone she’s a fusion and how she loves fusion fusion fusion and occasionally be the wise old helper black woman. Amethyst has gotten a little development but not much. Lapis hated Peridot for an episode, had her boundaries violated, but suddenly, she and Peridot are BFFs. And oh god, Steven has become unbearable. He’s basically a mouthpiece for the writers and no episode is allowed to focus on a character that isn’t him. Where is Yellow Diamond? Where is White Diamond? I think after the Cluster conflict was resolved, the show didn’t know where else to go. We had a few good episodes, but by season four, the show has just gone way downhill.

So, I’m still upset about that. So when I looked through my iPad and saw that I had the app for the mobile game Attack the Light, I thought, “well, I’m finished school and bored, so let’s see what this is about”.

I was in for a ride.

The game reminded me of how good the show once was. The colours were lush, it was rife with unique and challenging monsters, and we got to explore the compelling set pieces. It explores more of the lore and worldbuilding that made the show so great in the first place. Best of all, it’s a really great game onto itself. It really makes you think: you have to come up with strategies to beat the enemies, and you go back and learn more about how to complete a level of the game.

I was so addicted to the game I finished it in about four days. The game is free last time I checked (if it isn’t it wouldn’t be too expensive) so if you can go download the app and play it for yourself. It’s a blast. It may be a little frustrating at times (some of the bosses are very difficult) but once you figure out how to beat them it’s so rewarding.

It makes me hope that one day the show can return to its former glory. No more filler about Steven’s racist family or domestic Lapis and Peridot: show me more of Homeworld and how to make peace with them. Until then, I’ll always have the game and the first season.

 

Tracer Comes Out and Proud, Korra and Asami Remain Stable

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Short post because it’s been a long day (I’m starting my Christmas vacation) but I needed to talk about this now. This has been a big week for queer women.

December 19th marked the two year anniversary of the series finale of Legend of Korra, where it was revealed that Korra and Asami are bisexual and in love with each other, and will go on to be happy together. The fact that people have been celebrating this on social media proves just how major this was, and how many lives it touched.

And just a day later, Overwatch (which never fails to impress me), as a warm Christmas gift, released a comic confirming that Tracer, the face of the hit franchise, is gay and in a happy, healthy, explicit relationship. Tracer was the first announced gay character from Blizzard (they had teased that at least one of their characters was gay), and hopefully this will pave the way for further LGBT characters in the franchise and for others.

This is huge. Two significant series that have given representation to the LGBT community. Not minor characters. Not offscreen relationships. Nothing that ended in death or misery. But main characters in loving relationships.

In a world where LGBT representation (especially for women) is rare and not well developed, it’s wonderful knowing that we’re getting closer and closer to showing happy, living characters together in mainstream media. And in our current troubled climate, lots of young LGBT fans will take comfort in knowing someone cares.

Merry Christmas, my wlw friends. You are valid and you are loved.

 

Inner Workings is Strikingly Similar to Life with OCD

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Contrary to popular belief, OCD is not all about being excessively clean and tidy. It’s also about having horrible intrusive thoughts. Basically they’re thoughts of you doing or wanting something that goes against your morals, having nightmarish images that clash with good images, or imagining the worst possible thing that could happen (obsessions), which often results in compulsions to avoid or relieve them.

When I saw Inner Workings before Moana, I gotta say, even though it wasn’t intentional (it’s about feeling torn between duty and heart), the main character definitely exhibits traits of someone who could have OCD.

Said character, Paul, has a set routine: get up at 6 am sharp, shower, go directly to work at 8:45 am to take the ten minute walk to the office, no stopping. Throughout the short, when his heart has other ideas (dance in the shower, have a good breakfast, go to the beach), notice how his brain always thinks of the worst possible outcome: that any change to his routine will result in immediate or eventual, painful death.

I got to say, that’s almost exactly like having intrusive thoughts with OCD. This isn’t just someone torn between head or heart, this is someone with massive anxiety. Again, even if this wasn’t intentional (the director of the short based it on being torn  between two cultures, and you can tell this wasn’t intentional because Paul recovers pretty quickly), it comes across as someone with bad intrusive thoughts that have been eating away at his life. As someone who has had problems with OCD that are relatively fine now, I related to this short a LOT.

You can read more about intrusive thoughts HERE, but I’ll say this: if you want to write someone with OCD, start with this short. It’s actually a good stepping stone in understanding the disorder beyond just being someone who frequently washes hands and organizes their desk perfectly.

Further Thoughts: Moana

SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE THING

So a lot of people are saying that while Moana definitely looks and (at least to an extent) sounds nice (I especially love the use of Pacific Islander vocals and music), the story is too familiar and/or has some pacing issues. For some people it’s only a minor gripe, but for others it seriously harms the movie.

And if you’ve seen my previous review, yeah, that’s kind of a problem for me as well.

It has one of the problems I had with The Princess and the Frog: the setting. So much of the movie takes place on a damn boat in the middle of the open ocean. We rarely go to other islands (it would have been really cool if we got to see other villages and how the curse was affecting them, and it would have raised the stakes even higher) or even go diving into the ocean; we just watch these characters go sailing. Whenever something happens, it feels inconsequential. What was the point of the Kakamora scene? We get some substance with the Lalotai/Tamatoa scene, but after we get the hook, we never deal with Tamatoa again. And I wouldn’t mind except there’s an entire song sequence that makes the character really cool, but we don’t see him again (except for a comedic end credits scene). Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have Tamatoa actively pursuing the heroes and preventing them from reaching their goal?

I could not get invested in Moana’s character, nor could I really relate to her. Her character design is beautiful and I like how she’s very physical and is a capable leader. But I couldn’t really sympathize with her when she asked “what is wrong with me?” so dramatically and lamented on how she can’t be a perfect daughter. You live a charmed life where everyone adores you, and it’s not like you have something to seriously be ashamed of. If people were saying she’s weird or doubting her ability to lead, or if there was the implication that she might not be straight or neurotypical, that would make sense, but that’s not the case. Why couldn’t she just say “when I’m chief, I’m going to lift the ban and we’ll all go sailing?” The movie makes it clear that it’s mostly her father who enacted the ‘no sailing’ rule, so why does she have to keep it? Why did she have to wait until the end of the movie to realize that she could be both? Basically, I just couldn’t get behind her when she started to doubt herself, and that prevented me from really LOVING her character.

Also, when Maui’s fish hook is cracked, he angrily tells her “the ocean told you you were special and you believed it” and “I’m not killing myself so you can prove you’re something you’re not.” She feels sad, but it’s okay because within a few minutes she’s all “I AM MOANA!” and off to put the heart back.

Which leads me to my next big gripe: people recover from shockingly bad things waaaaaaaay too quickly in this movie. Whereas Hiro and Ralph take their time and gradually and naturally recover from their mental woes, the characters in Moana bounce back immediately after something horrible.

I’ve already talked about how Maui, who clearly has mental issues, doesn’t really get any proper closure (he wants to be loved for who he is, and while his reputation is restored, we don’t see if people actually love him again), but I’ve also noticed how Tui is (realistically) traumatized after losing his best friend after sailing beyond the reef, but by the end of the movie he’s suddenly very accepting of way finding without any onscreen character development. Moana almost drowns when sailing for the first time but it doesn’t traumatize her whatsoever, and she is a little too calm and accepting when her gramma dies.

But while those might be personal issues, a lot of people will still say the movie is disappointing, familiar, typical Disney Princess, dull, etc.

Well there’s probably a reason for that.

See, this isn’t a John Musker and Ron Clements film. Not really. While directing, they apparently focused more on the look and animation of the film. Don Hall and Chris Williams were brought in later to resolve story issues. There were story issues because, probably, this movie was written by NINE PEOPLE (including Taika Waititi, who wrote the first draft that was subsequently rewritten). Jared Bush wrote the final screenplay, but Pamela Ribbon, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, and the four directors all had input on the story. That’s a pretty big writing team! Plus they also had to revise the story several times to keep it culturally accurate/sensitive. So it begs the question: whose story are we REALLY telling?

And remember, this movie was originally supposed to come out in 2018, but was bumped up to 2016. (I’m not sure what the exact reason is, but according to some, it’s to help ride the wave of Frozen.) It should be easy to see that maybe some things were possibly rushed.

And of course, there’s also the fact that this is, ultimately, a Disney Princess  TM film. Disney Princess TM films are allowed to add some new twists and ideas (as this movie does), but ultimately, they have to tread certain territory in order to remain marketable and commercially viable. Non-princess movies tend to be more subversive and take more risks.

Yeah. Things are starting to click into place now.

Despite all the problems, I cannot really say that I hate Moana or that it’s a bad film. I just can’t call it a fave, even though I really wanted it to be. This could’ve been a masterpiece, and it almost is…but not quite. Maybe the next Disney films will deliver instead.