“How Far I’ll Go”Analysis (Re: criticism)

Moana’s soundtrack is lauded as one of Disney’s absolute greatest, though there have been some people who disagree. Some people think Lin Manuel dropped the ball compared to his previous work.

While I do enjoy most of the songs for this movie (I can watch the “Shiny” sequence over and over again), I do have a few problems. Mainly, for Moana’s main songs, it ends up TELLING (rather than showing) her character.

Let’s look at “How Far I’ll Go”.

I’ve been staring at the edge of the water / long as I can remember / never really knowing why

So far, so good. It’s been established in the previous song that Moana has been attracted to the ocean but we’re not sure why.

I wish I could be the perfect daughter / but I come back to the water / no matter how hard I try 

Alright, stop right there. When did the movie establish she wanted to be the ‘perfect daughter’? At least when Mulan lamented on how she couldn’t be the ‘perfect daughter’, we knew WHY: she couldn’t fit into the cultural norm and bring her family honor. Sure, we see Moana get into a scuffle with her Dad, but there was nothing to establish before that she was desperate to make him proud/gain his approval.

She continues to sing about her desire to travel the sea and how she yearns for it. Which…we already knew. They’re nice lyrics, and Auli’i Cravalho sings them wonderfully, but it doesn’t really move the plot forward.

Then she gets to the next verse where she uses the word “island” FOUR. TIMES. That’s not good songwriting. It just sounds repetitive. She talks about how happy and content the islanders are with their role in the island (which was already established in the previous song) and how she wants to settle with her role (again, we already kind of settled that with the preceding song).

I can lead with pride / I can make us strong / I’ll be satisfied if I play along

Hold up. We saw that she is a competent leader, but nowhere did the movie show her leading with PRIDE. When we see her interacting with the villagers, she doesn’t look prideful. She looks rather nervous when she leads. Previous moments made it look like she did NOT really feel satisfied being the chief. And where did the movie say Moana could make her people ‘strong’?

But the voice inside sings a different song / What is wrong with me?

*sighs*

No, Moana, what IS wrong with you? You live in a village where everyone adores you, you have supportive parents, and you’re set for life as a chief, and you’re complaining that something’s wrong with you because you’d rather be a navigator?

Well no matter, because as soon as she said that she’s happy to rush back to the beach, sing about how the ocean calls her, and gets ready to set sail.

So you can see why the lyrics aren’t very strong. Instead of moving the story forward, it either rehashes what we already know, or TELLS us what makes Moana so special.

Which leads to my biggest problem. I don’t see what makes Moana so special.

Like…she literally has no flaws. She was chosen by the ocean to restore the heart of Te Fiti. She’s going to be the chief, no question, and is competent at it. Everyone loves her, and she loves them all. She is physically and athletically strong but still manages to look conventionally attractive. She is able to learn how to properly navigate and sail in almost no time at all. She snaps a demigod out of his funk. She outsmarts several monsters. She saves the day, not needing help. And in the end, she doesn’t have to choose between her role and her passion. The whole movie sets Moana up as someone special and powerful…yet I’m supposed to feel sorry for when there are contrived moments when Maui tells her “you think you’re something you’re not” and cheer for her when she almost immediately realizes “I AM MOANA”.

Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana all had realistic flaws. Jasmine’s impulsive decision to leave the palace puts her in danger. Pocahontas keeping her rendezvous with John Smith a secret, rather than being upfront with her father, caused the death of one of her people and escalated tensions between the Powhatan and the colonialists. Mulan aggressively does not fit her culture’s gender roles (either as a man or as a woman). And Tiana’s drive to get her restaurant wears her down and interferes with her ability to socialize with others. They all have to learn from their mistakes and fix them, or grow and develop as characters, or cause SOME form of change. And ultimately, they all become lovable, sympathetic characters. But Moana is literally perfect. TOO perfect.

I legitimately could not sympathize with Moana after she sang her song. Not only did it remind me waaay too much of “Reflection”, but there was nothing that really warranted her to feel so sorry about herself. Why not make Moana an outcast? Why not have her villagers actively challenge and doubt her future role as chief? Why not have people find her love for the ocean as weird? Why not have Moana be weak (both physically and as a chief) and come back stronger when she returns? That way it would make her bond with her grandmother and Maui more poignant, and her desire to restore the heart more altruistic. But no, she just REALLY loves her people and sailing and can do anything.

Yeah, I’m frustrated. I don’t see Moana as a three-dimensional, compelling character. I see her more as a role model, someone people can admire, but not relate to. I’m disappointed because she was being built up as this great badass character but she’s really not.

But then again, I’m in the minority. I know a lot of people who love Moana, and I can’t fault them for that. But for me, I’m going to stick with Mulan, Pocahontas, Vanellope Von Schweetz, Belle, Jasmine, Tiana, and Honey and Gogo. These are characters I can connect to and relate to; I’ll leave Moana to those that relate and connect to her.

EDIT:

As a commentator pointed out, there actually is an important character flaw of Moana. In Polynesian culture, family comes first, and you’re supposed to honour your elders and carry on your tradition/be obedient. The problem is that, if you’re non Polynesian like me, this is a very important detail that you’re going to miss. The fact that she turns out to be right all along that sailing is part of her island’s culture and tradition also kind of shows that Moana can never really be wrong.

Overall, I would’ve made a few tweaks to this movie so that the audience can actually be informed of Polynesian values and traditions (not just what they wear, eat, and dance), change Maui’s role, and make Moana a more well developed character. But that’s just me. Feel free to think differently.

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Why Not Having a Love Interest Isn’t Necessarily Feminist

In a world where writing female characters is still somehow a difficult task, a lot of praise is heaped on movies and shows where there is no romance. Creators pat themselves on the back for not making the female character have a love interest, the public gushes on how it’s oh so feminist and progressive. This is especially prominent in regards to Disney movies; the company, after receiving tons of criticisms for having their main characters fall in love and get together so quickly, has started to make itself appear revolutionary by phasing out on romance.

I think to myself, is this really the bare minimum a movie needs to do to prove that it’s female friendly? Not have a romance? Is this really what it’s come to?

Here’s the thing: it’s not always a bad thing to have romance. It’s only bad if it’s shoehorned.

Take a look at, say, Aladdin and Jasmine, Belle and the Beast or Ariel and Eric. All these couples have lots of onscreen chemistry and relationship development. They may have happened quickly, but it was clear they loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company. And it didn’t compromise any of the female characters. All these women still have an interest in exploring the world(s) around them, care about their family and friends, are kind, have distinct personalities, and have active roles in the plot. The romance didn’t harm any of that.

On the other hand, look at couples like Anna and Kristoff or Captain Amelia and Dr. Doppler. Kristoff is pretty rude and condescending to Anna for most of the movie and she doesn’t really show much interest in him but suddenly by the third act they love each other? And Dr. Doppler gets with a woman way out of his league and she becomes a mother (even though she’s not very maternal)? Yeah.

So there is nothing wrong with giving your female characters a love interest. It is a problem when the romance feels forced. But you can still have a romance without getting all lovey-dovey; you can just have one character asking the other character if they’d like to get a coffee or go on a date and that’s perfectly okay.

But the problem with Disney’s recent stance on not having romance is that it’s just starting to happen with their films focused on nonwhite people.

Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, and Frozen all featured romances for their white (or white passing) leads. When Big Hero 6 rolled around, there were no romances whatsoever, not even implied ones. Then Moana got lauded for not giving the main lead a love interest. And now apparently they are getting rid of Shang to replace him with a rival in the Mulan remake.

Why is this a problem? Because people of color don’t get to see themselves be in a romantic relationship a lot. Sometimes you’ll see two black people pair up, but the white couple has the main focus. Or it will look like the white lead will get with a woman of color only to ditch her for a white woman later. Sometimes you’ll see pairings between a white man and a woman of color, but never a man of color with a white woman (unless the movie is making a statement on racism), and you’ll rarely see interracial couples between two different nonwhite races. And of course you’re hard pressed to find any LGBT couples. You can see how there would be an unfortunate implication that white, heterosexual couples are the more ‘acceptable’ or ‘desired’ couples that people are willing to see. Disney does not have a lot of pairings with a person of colour involved and, with the exception of Aladdin and Jasmine and Tiana and Naveen (or not, if you think them being frogs for most of the movie doesn’t count), none of them get a lot of focus.

My main point is, it IS possible to have a romance and still be progressive if it gives representation to people of colour and LGBT people (and other minority groups, without relying on offensive tropes). You don’t have to add romance to everything, but if you do, it won’t hurt to add in minority groups.

And if you’re NOT going to give your female lead a love interest, don’t make it sound more important than it actually is. Making your female character single is not the be all end all for making her a ‘feminist’ character.

The Many Versions of Beauty and the Beast

With all the hubbub over Disney’s live action movie, I thought now would be a good time to look back at some of the other adaptations of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.

There are, of course, numerous versions. Some are genuine attempts at art, others just cheap knockoffs of the Disney version. Perhaps a knockoff most people are familiar with is the version by Good Times Entertainment, released a year after Disney’s.

This is…not the best version of the story. Mainly because the more problematic and creepy parts of the story are emphasized. In this version, Beauty comes to the castle under the expectation that she will die. When the Beast spares her (and she thanks him by getting down on her knees and behaving submissively, not a good image), she immediately takes a liking to him. She ignores any warning that he might be dangerous, dreamily talking about how ‘kind’ he is, and dances with him once before he begs her not to leave because he’ll ‘die of loneliness’. Still, better than the Golden Films version, where the Beast is really and truly abusive to Beauty (he yells at her frequently and actually causes her to fall down a flight of stairs in one of his fits).

The worst version is the Bevanfield one; a grotesque, hideously ugly, dreary and cheap as hell adaptation where Beauty’s COUSIN (voiced somehow by Christopher Lee) seeks her hand in marriage. Because that’s totally appropriate for kids!

Thankfully, genuinely good versions of the story do exist. They may not have the extravagance of the Disney version, but they still work.

There is a version by HBO’s Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child which takes place in Africa, but unfortunately I’m not sure if a good quality copy of it exists online. On YouTube it’s only available through poor quality VHS rips in small sections. Thankfully, good quality copies of other versions can be found.

This is from the anime series Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It starts off problematic, but gradually gets better as you see the couple actually bond. It’s silly, but it’s nice to see the titular characters get cute together.

This incarnation, by Britannica’s Tales Around the World, is rich in atmosphere. It is visually unique from other versions of the story, creating a moody and original setting and tone. I like some of the added details to the story (such as the Beast slowly losing his humanity) and it’s just overall a haunting and beautiful rendition.

Another visually stunning version by Stories to Remember. Mia Farrow’s narration makes the story warm and comforting. You really feel for the Beast here. It’s like a painting come to life.

But I got to say, I think my fave is probably the version from the Simsala Grimm series.

Why? Because the relationship between Beauty and the Beast is just so POSITIVE. There is no abuse between them whatsoever. The Beast threatens to hold her father prisoner (and you understand why later), but doesn’t demand his daughters in exchange. He lets him go home to say goodbye, and Beauty voluntarily goes. Soon the two of them are happy together, enjoying the castle’s wonders and smiling and laughing. When she rejects his marriage proposal (and calls him out for keeping her hostage) the Beast lets her go. No deadline, no guilt trip (even though he will die). But she comes back, and actually kisses him in the lips! And it’s happily ever after. I just found this version so cute and refreshing.

There are many, many others, so check them out! It’s a tale as old as time, and chances are you’ll find more than one told well.

 

Why I’m Not Excited for the Mulan Remake

So more information on the upcoming live action Mulan has been released and while I am glad that it will have an all Asian cast, I am not too thrilled on some of the other choices.

For starters, none of the songs will be featured in the new movie. Not even the iconic “Reflection” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”. And according to the director, this movie is going to be a “a big, girly martial arts epic. It will be extremely muscular and thrilling and entertaining and moving.” And I’m not sure, but there are doubts as to whether Mushu or Li Shang will be in the movie.

*Face palm*

Remember how I said that Disney should refrain from making any more Princess movies? This is why. They feel the need to inject pseudo-feminism into all their new princesses. “Ooh, this princess isn’t like those old weak and useless princess. This is the hip NEW princess who will kick your ass who don’t need no man and will get mad at you for even calling her a princess but is still oh so quirky and relatable!” This is why I couldn’t get invested in Moana’s character, and am extremely anxious to watch the new Beauty and the Beast because apparently they couldn’t leave Belle well enough alone.

See, the reason why Mulan is so special is because it’s about a young woman struggling with her gender, her duty to her family, and her place in the world. I hate this description of it being a ‘girly martial arts epic’. The whole point of Mulan is that she’s NOT girly, nor a tomboy. She’s in between. She can fit the role of both a man and a woman, or be her own unique identity, and that she can still save China and be loved by her family. The action scenes make the film exciting, but they’re not the main focus of the original. That’s why “Reflection” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” are so important. Aside from being fantastic songs, they also convey the core themes of the movie, how Mulan struggles to fit as either gender. I can see why they wouldn’t want to make this a full fledged musical (the original movie had only about four songs, not really enough to sustain one), but why did they have to cut them out entirely?

So yes, this current description of the movie is really rubbing me the wrong way. I’m afraid that they’re going to take a movie that has empowered people of all genders into a shallow action fake girl power movie. The director did take on a description that it would be ‘moving’ but after all this, that’s hard to fully appreciate and believe. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I’m in no rush to see it. I’m just glad the original film will always be a classic that will be appreciated for years to come.

The Tangled and Big Hero 6 Series Thoughts

Last Friday, the Disney Channel premiered Tangled: Before Ever After, the pilot to the upcoming Tangled: The Series.

And…I don’t like it.

Now, the animation was lovely (a good substitute for the first film’s computer animation) and the songs were nice (it is Alan Menken), but…I had this nagging feeling that I’ve seen the same story before.

Basically, Rapunzel has to adjust to her new life as a princess. She has to get used to overprotective parents, royal duties and customs, and having security around her at all times. She doesn’t really like her new life, and just wants to be free.

Gee, haven’t heard that story before! Except, you know, every other Disney Princess movie ever made. It’s BORING.

I got to be honest, I don’t see why there needs to be a Tangled series. I do love the first movie, but I think it wrapped up pretty well. We know she marries Eugene, we know she becomes a great and beloved queen, we know that she is on good terms with her parents. Why do we need a whole series to show how she got to that point? Especially a full SEVEN YEARS after the first movie?

Now to be fair, in the series, Rapunzel’s magical blonde hair does grow back and she wants to know why. That is an interesting topic, knowing more about the source of Rapunzel’s powers and how it will affect her life (if her hair and tears have the power to heal, does this mean Rapunzel will never get sick and injured? how long will she live?) but I don’t think it warrants an entire series.

I think more than anything, this show is meant to appeal to little kids and hardcore Tangled fans. I’m more of a casual fan of Tangled, so this is probably not for me.

On the other hand, the Big Hero 6 TV series IS for me, and it’s already been renewed for a second season!

Disney…has placed an early order for a second season of the highly anticipated Big Hero 6 The Series ahead of its official premiere this fall. Based on Disney Animation’s Academy Award-winning feature adaptation of the Marvel comics, the Big Hero 6 show is executive produced by Emmy winners Mark McCorkle, Bob Schooley and Nick Filippi (the Kim Possible team). The announcement was made by SVP of Programming and General Manager for Disney XD, Marc Buhaj.

“Mark, Bob and Nick have delivered a dynamic adventure series that follows the Big Hero 6 superhero team, led by audience favorites Hiro and Baymax,” said Buhaj. “We are honored to have the opportunity to further expand the elaborate world and engaging characters of Big Hero 6 The Series with this early second season order.”

Produced by Disney Television Animation, the series picks up immediately after the events of the movie, and continuing the adventures of 14-year-old tech genius Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) and his compassionate, cutting-edge robot Baymax (Scott Adsit). Along with their friends Wasabi (Khary Payton), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Go Go (Jamie Chung) and Fred (Brooks Wheelan), they form the legendary superhero team Big Hero 6 and embark on high-tech adventures as they protect their city from an array of scientifically enhanced villains … all while Hiro faces daunting academic challenges and social trials as the new prodigy at San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. (x) 

I am beyond excited. The fact that it’s by the same people behind Kim Possible and premiering on Disney X D and not, say Disney Junior (which would mean it’s for a more older audience) reassures me.

I should mention though, that every BH6 fan I’ve talked to in real life really wants a sequel (not just a series). So, let’s hope this show will give Disney the push to make one. But I’m definitely looking forward to this show!

As a side note, you know how the iconic yellow dress in the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast looks kind of ugly? Well apparently it was a byproduct of trying to make Belle a “modern, feminist heroine”. Umm, Belle already was that. Don’t mess this up.

 

The Incredibles and Big Hero 6 are Opposite Ends of the Superhero Spectrum

On November 5, 2004, Pixar, which up until that point made films focused on toys, bugs, monsters and fish, released their first feature film with human characters:  The Incredibles.

It was an enormous hit with critics and audiences alike, with everyone clamoring for a sequel (it will come out…eventually). It expanded the superhero genre and showed that original superhero characters can be just as beloved as iconic comic book ones.

Interestingly enough, while live action superhero movies would see a boom (thanks in large part to Disney buying Marvel), there wasn’t a slew of theatrical animated superhero movies. For awhile, there were only really two movies that might’ve fit the bill: Megamind (which slipped completely under the radar) and Despicable Me (but at this point is more of a spy franchise than a superhero one, when it’s not focused on the minions).

But then Walt Disney Animation Studios, the first born child of Pixar’s parent company, developed their own superhero movie, inspired (very loosely) by an obscure Marvel comic book. On November 7, 2014–almost EXACTLY ten years later–they released Big Hero 6.

This film was also a huge hit (one of WDAS top grossing films), with lots of fans and demands for a sequel (it is getting a TV series, no word on a theatrical sequel yet).

It’s easy to immediately want to draw similarities between the two. After all, both films’ teaser trailers involved the heroes trying to get ready for heroics but had trouble fitting into their costumes because of their girth. But while there are a few similarities, in actuality, these movies are polar opposites.

The Incredibles is about a white, heterosexual nuclear family, with a focus on the altruistic older white male father figure; Big Hero 6 is about a mixed race adopted/extended family with the focus on a young mixed race boy who needs help getting on the right path. TI is set in the past (I think it’s implied to take place around 1970 or so); BH6 is set in the future. TI portrays technology in a mostly negative way and has a robot as a major antagonist, whereas BH6 portrays technology in a very positive and integral light (when used in the right hands) and features a robot hero. TI is long and rather slower paced, BH6 is shorter and very briskly paced. TI is dark and edgy and has a more complicated narrative, BH6 is light and soft with a simpler story (but still has a very heavy theme). TI is very violent and death is fair game, BH6 encourages nonviolent solutions to difficult situations. And most importantly: TI is about those born with superpowers, whereas BH6 is about ordinary people who achieve superpowers through science and technology.

And that’s the biggest thing that separates these two movies: Big Hero 6 leans more liberal whereas The Incredibles leans more conservative.

The Incredibles is a great movie, and is smarter and more intense than a lot of other animated family films, but it does have this weird elitist/anti technology theme that permeates it. There’s this awkward moment where Mr. Incredible goes on a spiel on “rewarding mediocrity” that has no bearing on the plot and just feels kind of forced. And for some reason, Syndrome stating that he’ll sell his technology so that “everyone can be super…and when everyone is super, no one will be”. Umm…why is this a bad thing? I’d be afraid of people misusing the technology, but for a lot of people, awesome tech can really improve people’s lives. For a lot of autistic, mentally ill, and disabled people, technology can be integral to their lives. As you can see, the anti technology theme in this movie has not aged very well at all. You can read more on how the movie swings more conservative (intentionally or not) HERE  (be warned, it’s a little harsh) but basically, natural talent and Supers are put on a pedestal whereas people who try to empower themselves and be rewarded for succeeding in other ways are almost demonized.

Big Hero 6, on the other hand, looks at the notion and tells it to piss off. Hiro is a natural genius but he is NOT shown as being somehow ‘superior’ to others. The students (of all races, genders, and ages) are encouraged to nurture and grow their talents, abilities, and interests. Even Fred, who doesn’t seem to have any particular special abilities or skills, is shown as special and important. Everyone can be super, and that’s not a bad thing.

I just find it very interesting that these are two animated superhero films from Disney that have wildly different themes, messages, and tones. I suppose ultimately that’s a good thing, since you wouldn’t want both films to be generic superhero flicks or for BH6 to be a complete TI ripoff, but it kind of says a lot on just how different Pixar (on a good day) and Disney really are.

That said, both films have one major similarity: the importance and value of family and friends, and how they can help you get through difficult times. And I think that’s what makes both films so great, and sets them apart from other superhero films in a special, positive way.

My Most Empowering Female Characters

Happy International Women’s Day! To celebrate, here are some of the female characters that I really love and consider my personal feminist icons. In no particular order, they are…

Asami Sato (Legend of Korra) 

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A beautiful bisexual woman of color. She’s very kind and caring but is the furthest thing from a doormat. Despite not having any bending she is extremely skilled and intelligent, excelling as a mechanic and businesswoman. Cunning, resourceful, and stylish, she’s a great example of a feminine woman who can still kick ass done right.

Symmetra (Overwatch)

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Another beautiful woman of color, who is also on the autism spectrum (and thus I can relate to her a lot). She’s a complex character who believes in doing the right thing but goes about it the wrong way, but has the capacity to change.

Honey Lemon and Gogo Tomago (Big Hero 6)

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Two women of color excellling in stem. Honey Lemon is very feminine whereas Gogo is slightly more butch (but with a few feminine touches) and neither of them are demonized for it or shoehorned into love interest or damsel in distress roles. Honey Lemon is unwavering in her sweetness, whereas Gogo can be more upfront and blunt but has her own hidden kindness. Very smart and skilled, they can both kick your butt in their own way. (Special mention to Cass, who is a successful businesswoman and a loving aunt to her nephews.)

Vanellope Von Schweetz (Wreck It Ralph)

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A well written and layered female main character. She is very confident, knowing exactly who is she and what she wants. Lives a difficult and is bullied but doesn’t let the worst get to her. Starts off a little rude (and maintains a more snarky personality) but gets gradually sweeter as the film progresses. A fantastic racer who’s glitch is seen as something special and empowering. And most of all, she becomes a president! I just love her.

Cybersix (Cybersix animated series)

Image result for cybersix (you need better pictures, baby)

A soft spoken, kind woman who owns and expresses her sexuality without being objectified or sexualized. She is a powerful fighter and can effortlessly glide across the city skyline. Cares for the lives of her fellow experiments and the people of the city and questions her place in the world, and eventually finds it (hopefully).

Raven, Starfire, and Bumblebee (Teen Titans)

Three awesome female characters from an awesome show. Bumblebee is a great leader and fighter who does not let men get the better of her. Starfire is a powerhouse who doesn’t always understand the world around her but still does her best and is extremely loyal to her friends. Raven is a withdrawn, quiet girl who has a lot of emotional baggage but is eventually able to put her life back into her own hands. All are well written and distinct female characters that lots of girls are able to look up to.

Mulan and Pocahontas

I love a lot of the Disney Princesses (especially Rapunzel, Belle, Jasmine, and Aurora) but these two in particular I hold in high regard. Mulan is a young woman struggling with her place in the world but above all is loyal to her family, eventually becomes comfortable with her gender, and saves China and brings honor to her family. And Pocahontas is able to bring peace and understanding to her people and others as she runs freely against the wind. They both find a unique way to save their people.

And of course…

Wonder Woman

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The greatest superheroine of all time. What else can I say?

Honorable mention to the great female villains: deliciously nasty and a reminder it’s good to be so bad sometimes.

And there you have it! What are some of your faves?