Lego Batman, Maui, and the Jerk With a Heart of Gold

A long time ago, I watched Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go To Heaven and hated every minute of it. The reason being is that, quite frankly, the character of Charlie Barkin is the most reprehensible main character I have ever seen. He’s rude, he’s greedy, he’s manipulative, he’s a liar, and extremely self-centered. Yet because he gives some puppies pizza and suddenly gives a shit about Anne Marie at the climax, we’re supposed to like him and sympathize with him. I did not buy that for a minute.

See, Charlie Barkin was an attempt at writing the Jerk with a Heart of Gold character, but a failed one. Stories about redemption and second chances are important, but Charlie was too unlikable for it to work.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of this trope and how it’s used in media. It is used a lot for secondary characters. Arguably the greatest example is Grumpy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. At first he resents Snow White and wants nothing to do with her, but as the movie progresses Snow White’s kindness rubs off on him and he grows to truly care for her, and he becomes a better person. We believe that he’s a jerk with a heart of gold because his reveal isn’t sudden or forced, and he has some redeeming qualities early on.

Writing this type of character takes skill because it’s very easy to just make them an actual jerk who isn’t a wholly awful person. And this is pretty relevant thanks to two recent animated hits: Moana and The Lego Batman Movie.

In Moana, Maui is extremely narcissistic. That makes sense, he is a demigod. But throughout most of the movie he’s, quite frankly, a humongous asshole to Moana herself, constantly dismissing her and putting her life in danger, from trapping her in a cave to using her as bait for Tamatoa. He starts to warm up to her after she reassures him that he’s not worthless (he was abandoned as a baby), but he still snaps at her. But then, by the climax, SUDDENLY he values her life more than his and will help her complete their quest.

What? No, I’m sorry, that doesn’t work. That literally does. Not. Work.

You cannot have this character act like a complete ass, make us feel sorry for him almost a third into the story, and then expect us to believe that he can overcome his narcissism and abandonment issues in only a few minutes. That is not good characterization, and a poor representation of someone with mental health issues. (This is one reason why I was really disappointed in Moana and cannot love it like everyone else.)

So that is an example of a Jerk With a Heart of Gold that doesn’t work. Thankfully, Lego Batman does.

SPOILERS FOR THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE AFTER THIS POINT

See, we like Lego Batman right away because he’s FUNNY, and we KNOW why he’s a jerk at the beginning (his parents died and he doesn’t want to get close to anyone because of that). After Batman accidentally adopts Robin, he decides to get the Phantom Zone Projector from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to banish Joker for good. At first, I was horrified because he was going to use Robin to go get it in what was essentially a death maze. BUT, to my great relief, we see that Batman really and truly does care for Robin. He panics after almost getting into a car accident when Robin doesn’t have a seat belt on before they even get there, and he guides and helps him into getting the Projector so he doesn’t get hurt. And when they leave, Batman almost admits he was happy. As the movie progresses we see him gradually and naturally start to let others in and care for them. And at one point, the narrative actually calls him out for the jerk things he did (I won’t elaborate because I don’t want to spoil TOO much). In the end, he is a happier, better person with lots of love.

See, THAT’S a lovable jerk. THAT’S how you do a Jerk with a Heart of Gold because he doesn’t spend the whole movie being a complete ass but then revealing that, awww, he DOES care after all.

Basically, the key to writing a main character who is a jerk but we’re also supposed to like is to make sure we like them from the very start and understand WHY they’re a jerk right away. They should consistently care about others, even if they can be grouchy or do morally dubious things most of the time, or they should be hilarious so we can still enjoy them despite not being the best person. Otherwise, you just end up with an asshole, and nobody likes those.

 

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(POST) Preparation for Moana Review #3: Pocahontas

This was supposed to be a full series leading up to Moana‘s release in theaters but I only got around to making two. Whoops. So, let’s say these are reviews leading up to the Blu Ray release of the film (March 7). With that said..

Pocahontas Poster #2

In the early 1990’s, Disney Animation was on top of the world. With hits like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, the studio was the undisputed champion of animated movies.

Until Pocahontas came out.

While it didn’t bomb, it made less money than its predecessors (The Lion King earned almost a billion dollars when it first came out; Pocahontas only earned about $346 million) and was not warmly received by critics and audiences. (To date, it is the only Disney Renaissance film to have a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a score of about 56%.) This is particularly embarrassing as Jeffrey Katzenberg and the people behind Pocahontas were so hoping that it would get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (like Beauty and the Beast did before). Instead, while it does have its fans, it will go down as one of Disney’s less beloved works (and for some people, the film that started the downfall of Disney Animation for awhile, and for hand drawn animation period).

So what happened?

Well, I think the thing that turned a lot of people off was the general tone of the movie. Whereas the movies before were light and happy with just enough of an edge, Pocahontas is overwhelmingly serious and adult. For some, it came across as too dark, for others, too pretentious. But I think the bigger reason it didn’t do so well was because it was released in 1995. You know what OTHER major animated film came out that year…

Yeah. I think you can tell which movie parents would rather take their kids to.

That aside, Pocahontas has its own problems. I’m not going to delve deep into how historically inaccurate it is (lots of people already have), and I’ve already talked about how I generally feel about the movie before (check my Pocahontas tag) so let’s focus on other issues.

For starters, it’s important to note that this movie was directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg. If you’re a Disney aficionado (or if you look them up on IMDb), you’ll notice that they’re prominent animators, not directors, writers, or story artists. Mike Gabriel had some prior experience with directing in The Rescuers Down Under, but Eric Goldberg did not. (After this film, they directed pretty much nothing else besides shorts.) As a result, the film LOOKS nice, but the story needs some work.

The character design is hit and miss. Chief Powhatan looks great: you can tell he’s a mature, strong, competent leader and a caring father. You can tell Nakoma is meant to be an Average Jane type person. Kocoum looks very strong and stern. But the main leads don’t look as great. John Smith just kind of looks boring and generic (his hair is not helping at all), and while I can’t totally hate on Pocahontas’s design, it has issues. Her nose is practically invisible when viewed on front (but it’s visible in profile), she has Barbie doll proportions, and despite being Native American, she was inspired not just by Irene Bedard (her voice actress), but by Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, neither of whom are Native. Why? Irene Bedard is gorgeous!

The worst offender is Governor Radcliffe: he’s every negative stereotype rolled into one character. Obese? Check. Hooked nose and dark colourings? Check. Pink bow ties and effeminate mannerisms? Check. There’s a way to distinguish a character as the villain without relying on offensive stereotypes.

And while I didn’t fully realize it before, it turns out this movie really is disrespectful.

I came across a Native American blogger detailing their problems with the movie, and basically, for a film that preaches against racism, there’s a LOT of anti-Native violence depicted in the film. While it makes sense for Radcliffe to be calling the Natives savages and wanting them dead since he’s the villain (and therefore we’re not supposed to like him or agree with him), a lot of the violent language is uttered by characters we’re supposed to like. John Smith learns the error of his ways, but the others don’t. They decide not to fight because they realize the Natives aren’t interested in fighting. Their main reason for not colonizing the shit out the place is because Radcliffe shot John Smith (but not because he was ready to commit genocide). The fact that this is a revision of a very horrible true story (the real Pocahontas faced a lot of racist and sexual abuse before dying at a young age) makes it worse. You can see why I don’t like it when people snark at the movie or dismiss it as ‘heavy handed’ or ‘boring’ (though it can be slow at parts).

I think the final nail on the coffin is that Pocahontas is the only official Disney Princess that doesn’t really get a happy ending. Mulan brings honour to her family and has found a friend/love interest in Shang. Tiana opens her dream restaurant. Jasmine found true love and freedom. Pocahontas has to watch her prince leave her, maybe forever, while the threat of colonialism looms overhead. You know how I say Tiana shouldn’t be the only black princess because she was a goddamn frog for most of the movie? Well, Pocahontas shouldn’t be the only Native one either.

So, now you know the real story of Pocahontas. But maybe you still want to be able to enjoy the movie. After all, it does look nice, Colors of the Wind and Just Around the Riverbend are good songs (Judy Kuhn is an amazing singer), and it has some really epic moments. And damn, I just can’t bear to dislike Pocahontas herself. She was important to me growing up.

Maybe think that this is the story of a DIFFERENT Pocahontas and a DIFFERENT John Smith. Or maybe this is a tale showing what the world could have been like if peace, not hate, won out in the end. But don’t forget the story of the real Pocahontas, and make sure something like it never happens to Native people ever again.

The Lego Batman Movie Review

Spoiler Warning.

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So I got to see The Lego Batman movie today and oh my god, it was absolutely incredible. I loved almost every minute of it.This movie is action packed, funny, has a lot of clever homages to past Batman incarnations (mainly the campy 6o’s series) and even has a good amount of heart to it! But the characters are probably the best part.

Batman of course is great. In addition to being hilarious (Will Arnett does a tremendous job voicing him), he’s also just the right amount of brooding. At the beginning he’s kind of an asshole (mainly because he doesn’t want to get close to people after what happened to his parents) but as the film progresses he goes through a lot of character development. Ultimately, the movie takes the notion that superheroes (especially Batman) need to be all alone an angsty and goes “fuck that shit”. Robin is absolutely adorable and compliments Batman perfectly. They’re a very cute father/son team, and the family dynamic between Batman, Robin, Barbara and Alfred is adorable.

I really loved this movie’s depiction of Barbara Gordon and Harley Quinn. Barbara is now Latina (with her dark skin and having a Latina voice actress; Jim Gordon is also dark-skinned with a Latino voice actor so you know this was intentional) AND the commissioner (not just his daughter). She is smart, quick-witted, determined, is able to call Batman out on his shit, is very heroic, and not shoehorned into unnecessary romances or brutalized. She’s a well-defined character in her own right. Harley Quinn is not sexualized whatsoever, and her relationship with the Joker is portrayed as partners in crime, rather than a creepy/unhealthy romantic relationship.

Alfred is also a really great character, playing a huge role in the story and even being able to kick some ass. He was able to actually be a superhero himself, and since you don’t see a lot of old people as superheroes, this was pretty refreshing.

One thing I liked about this movie was how it was able to use all sorts of villains (including characters from other WB property, such as King Kong, Sauron, and Lord Voldemort). It raised the stakes of the film significantly, and makes the action a lot cooler. The villains from Batman’s rouges gallery are of course a treat.

I don’t want to really spoil too much about the film (I really liked the climax and ending but I would have to spoil a lot of it in order to explain why), so go see it for yourself! You’ll have a blast. If you hated DC’s previous movies for being too dark and gritty or overstuffed or any other reason, this movie should restore your faith in the company’s ability to make good movies with their classic characters.

Why Does Finding Dory Keep Getting Snubbed?

Image result for finding dory

Ah, Finding Dory. The highest grossing animated film of 2016 and the sequel to one of the most beloved films of all time. Why has it not gotten any major awards?

Seriously, it’s only won at the People’s Choice Awards and the Teen Choice Awards. Not very major. It did not make a big splash at the Annie’s and only time will tell if it will win anything at the Visual Effects Society. It got snubbed at the Golden Globes (for Sing of all movies) and again at the Oscars.

I’m a little miffed. What gives? I mean, it’s not like people hate the movie, it has a 94% critical score and 85% audience score on rotten tomatoes (the only people who seem to hate the movie are IMDb reviewers, but honestly, IMDb reviews are where humanity and good taste go to die). Why is it not getting any serious recognition?

Well, I have a two theories.

One, and perhaps the most major one, is Pixar sequel/prequel fatigue. When people want to watch a Pixar film, they’re hoping for something completely original, nothing derivative, familiar, or continuing of a previous project. The only sequels that people honestly want are Toy Story and The Incredibles sequels. Notice how, after Toy Story 3, no other Pixar sequel/prequel has been nominated for an Oscar or won any awards. The last Pixar movie to win an Oscar was Inside Out, an original movie. The message is pretty clear.

Second is that, honestly, Zootopia is eating up all the praise. This is actually a trend I’ve noticed throughout the years; ONE animated film would typically get all the recognition and praise and awards, while the rest would get a passing glance. That’s not really fair. 2016 had a lot of good animated movies, but because Zootopia is original and has a ~*timely message*~ (that people apparently forgot when it was time to vote), it gets all the awards. I’m not saying Zootopia is a bad film, it’s pretty good (even if it’s not my fave), but I don’t think it needs to win everything.

Still, I’m pretty mad about this because, when you get down to it, Finding Dory is a really important film. Sure, it’s not as grand or epic as Finding Nemo, but it’s LEGIONS better than Brave, Monsters University, Cars 2, or the goddamn Good Dinosaur. It’s a movie that deals with loss, disability (and how, while it is part of you, it does not define you),and, as Ellen DeGeneres put it, helping others in need. It takes important and heavy themes and handles it in a graceful manner (if this movie was told with humans, let’s be honest, it would be too depressing). The scene where Dory is reunited with her parents is probably the most beautiful Pixar moment ever. And yes, I stand by this, but it does a better job handling mental illness better than Inside Out. While I like Inside Out‘s main message of how it’s okay to cry and important to talk about your feelings, Riley is barely a character, Joy is aggressively unlikable, and poor Sadness is treated like a burden until the very end (and Joy doesn’t even apologize to her). Finding Dory focuses on the character with the mental problem, addresses the hardships she faces, but empowers her by giving her solutions and allowing her to stand up to those who doubt her. She’s positive, she’s optimistic, she never gives up. She’s seriously one of Pixar’s best characters (female or not). But, because Inside Out is ~*original*~ it gets all the praise.

So yeah. I guess the reason why I’m bothered because disability is often a neglected issue and the movie that talks about it the most candidly has been getting snubbed (and for some people, seen as ‘boring’). We’re okay with films that handle allegorical themes (Zootopia) or where the metaphors are ableist (Kubo and the Two Strings and linking goodness and appreciating the beauty of the world with vision) but the movie that respectfully talks about disabilities is not worthy. And that’s just a shame.

Well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, it’s more important for an animated film to stand the test of time than to get all the awards, and that’s something Finding Dory will likely excel in. I’m just upset that it didn’t even get a NOMINATION for a Golden Globe or Oscar, which is something that it deserves at the very least.

I Kind of Want An Overwatch Doll

The Overwatch game is rated T for Teen, but the rest of the franchise is actually pretty kid friendly. Which is probably why I can’t stop thinking about how Overwatch would make for some really awesome toys.

The merch available is pretty generic. They’ve got shirts, Funko Pops, stationary, mugs, plushies of Winston, posters, other clothes, and the like. But mostly shirts. Not much else.I mean, come on, think of all the action figures you can make of the characters. What kid wouldn’t want to play with these characters? If a kid is interested in Overwatch but is too young to play the game, I think making toys of the characters is a great alternative.

And I know it’s unlikely to happen, but I would love to see dolls of the female characters. I know dolls for Zarya, Mei, and Ana might be a little harder to make, but I still think all the women would make beautiful dolls.

Now, there’s a market for adults that sells collectible dolls. Those with a lot of detail and care put into them. I wouldn’t be too surprised if there are some Overwatch fans who wouldn’t mind having them to collect.

But also, I feel like they could be great for little girls too, even if they aren’t interested in the rest of the franchise. The women of Overwatch are all diversely beautiful. I can totally imagine a little girl looking at a doll of one of them, getting excited, and wanting to have it. I can especially imagine a brown and/or amputee girl (yes they exist, look up the War Amps) loving a Symmetra doll.

At any rate, there’s a goldmine of opportunity released by this game. I do hope we get a better variety of merch soon, even if they’re not toys, because the current slate is kind of underwhelming. I’m hoping eventually we’ll get an animated TV series of movie, and when that comes, they’re definitely going to need a better quantity of merchandise to market the film and make it a success.

But more than anything, I want a Symmetra doll.