My Love/Hate Relationship With the Disney Revival Films

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When John Lasseter and Ed Catmull took the reigns of Walt Disney Animation Studios in the late 2000’s after almost a decade of bombs, they ushered in a new age, known as the Disney Revival. Not only are these films huge critical and commercial hits, they are also beloved by many. The films that are officially considered part of the Disney Revival are The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and Moana, with sequels to Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph on the way. (There’s another film called Gigantic which is constantly being pushed back, so who knows if it will actually see the light of day.) I have seen all these films in theatres and am probably not going to break the habit for the foreseeable future.

I have a weird relationship with this new era. Whereas I love pretty much every film from the Disney Renaissance era, I have mixed feelings for the Revival. If I could put them into tiers of fave, I’d make high tier (Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph, my faves), mid tier (Zootopia and Winnie the Pooh, the films I’m mostly neutral towards) and low tier (Frozen, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana, the films that I seriously dislike). (Tangled would fit somewhere between high and mid tier.) I think it’s because they are all extremely relevant to my life right now in terms of character and theme, and how they are handled can either make or break the movie for me.

Big Hero 6, Frozen, and Wreck-It Ralph all came out at very crucial points in my life, when I was deeply depressed. (I’m going to skip over The Princess and the Frog because I think I’ve already said everything I wanted to about it before, and I don’t have much to say for Tangled or Winnie the Pooh at the moment.) Wreck-It Ralph helped me a lot because, in addition to being a damn good movie, the characters of Ralph and Vanellope resonated with me very strongly. They were both shunned by the people around them, and I could definitely see it as because they were coded to have a disability or disorder (in my view, autism). I cheered for Vanellope when she became a champion racer, and I cried for Ralph when he became accepted for who he was.

A similar situation happened with Big Hero 6. At that point I was neck deep in my depression and the movie’s message that people will love you and you can get better when you are in a bad mental state meant a lot. The film never fails to make me happy due to the frenetic action, amazing directing, beautiful animation, and lovable characters.

By contrast, when Frozen came out (I was in the midst of my depression) I was…really offended by it to be honest. Okay, you have Elsa, a character who is severely mentally ill and clearly the much more interesting character than Anna, and you don’t even focus on her? You don’t let her be the hero? You constantly show her fucking up and sinking deeper into her misery? And then suddenly she’s better with one act of love (but not really, as the shorts reveal she’s constantly blaming herself and trying to make Anna happy)? And she only gets to use her powers for the most mundane things? Yeah, that wasn’t the kind of message I wanted at that point in my life. That, and the film was the definition of overhyped.

When Zootopia came out, I had mixed feelings for it. I thought it told a fun mystery story with great chemistry between the two leads, but it wasn’t really that great at portraying the message of prejudice and tolerance. I think for me it was because predators and prey are too broad to neatly symbolize as white people and people of colour; there are legit reasons for prey to not want to always trust predators, and you can be both a predator AND a prey in nature. When it first came out I was still a bit of a social justice warrior, so I was hypercritical of it at first, but now that I’ve moved on from that movement my feelings towards the film have calmed down a lot. I think the film got a little overrated, but it’s still enjoyable enough, even if I don’t go out of my way to see it.

Moana on the other hand, is not enjoyable for me. Full disclosure: I was SO hyped for this film, I thought it was going to be a masterpiece and an ultimate fave, that it would be the greatest Disney movie ever, and when I finally got to see it, I was left with a feeling of great disappointment. And I think I finally know why: it’s the only Disney Revival movie to come out (aside from Frozen) that feels like it was aimed SQUARELY at little girls. Everything just feels really dumbed down. There’s a lot of TELLING rather than showing, the story and conflict is really simplistic and stupid (Moana thinks something’s wrong with her because she wants to go sailing?), there’s a lot of comic relief and some cliches (of COURSE Moana and Maui are going to fight at a crucial point in the movie but he’ll come back at the climax), and Moana is so devoid of flaws or interesting development that she’s clearly meant to be a shallow Girl Power TM mascot than an actual character. The whole film just feels more juvenile than the others. I guess most of this praise the movie gets is from nostalgia value, which I can definitely appreciate, plus it’s a movie that takes a look at non-white/non Western culture with some truly gorgeous visuals (although, I think some people ONLY like this film and Princess and the Frog because the main characters aren’t white). But for me, that is not enough.

I guess overall I can say that whereas the non-Princess films are trying to take risks and be more interesting, the Princess films are just there to make a lot of money from little girls and nostalgic millennials. This bothers me because previous Disney films were meant to enjoyed by the WHOLE family. Beauty and the Beast isn’t just a film for little girls, it’s a work of art that people of all ages and genders can enjoy. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a movie that got EVERYONE into animation. But now it seems that Disney feels that the princesses are just meant to be safe, marketable, and deliver shallow girl power messages. As an adult Disney fan who wants to see these films as actual films and not just cartoons for kids, that’s disappointing–but also why I latch onto Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph so easily.

So you’ll understand why I’m so excited for Wreck-It Ralph 2 and not excited for Frozen 2, and won’t be excited for any more princess films either. I don’t know what kind of film Gigantic will be like so we’ll see.

And with that, these are my final thoughts/explanations on why I like some of the new Disney films better than others. You don’t have to agree, but I’m not going to change my mind. This is my current stance on the matter.

Beyond that, I am definitely going to be excited and curious for other movies in store for us in this era and how they’ll have an impact on my life.

Voltron Is Back With A Vengeance

Spoiler warning!

When I last talked about Voltron (here) I pointed out how a lot of fans were starting to lose their patience with the show. Mainly, people were suspicious on how Allura, who’s supposed to represent a black teenage girl, looks and barely acts anything like a black person or a teenager. There’s also some frustration on how a Keith/Allura romance might end up being shoehorned in.

And, to be fair, I don’t think the second season was really that good. The first season was enjoyable, but the second season was kind of boring at parts because there was a lot of filler, and the plot could be a little hard to follow. I ended up skipping or skimming through most of the episodes. I know a lot of people complained about the lack of character development for Lance and Hunk, so there’s that.

But now that the third season has arrived, the fandom’s faith in the show seems to be fully restored. And I can definitely say I liked this season the best.

It’s only seven episodes long, which means that there’s less filler and better plot development and world building. The characters of Lance, Keith, and Allura all got more character development (from what I’ve seen online Pidge will be getting an arc next season) and we got some cool new characters as well.

Lotor is a great addition to the show. Suave, intelligent, and devious, he makes a competent and engaging new villain. I especially love his four female lieutenants. It definitely helps ease the show’s problems with a lack of female characters because now we have four new interesting ones who aren’t just stereotypes. My fave is definitely Narti, a blind (and possibly mute) female warrior that is allowed to actually look monstrous and uses a cat as a telepathic tool. I’m definitely looking forward to the new villains.

The Keith/Lance relationship has blossomed from constantly arguing and petty rivalry to true friendship. You can tell how much these two really care for another now; I especially love how Lance has become Keith’s right hand man. I don’t know if the Klance ship is going to become canon, but it’s nice to know that they genuinely respect each other now.

I got to say, though, the best episode is definitely the season finale. In it we go into Zarkon’s backstory and find out he was never truly pure evil so much as corrupted. When he was a young king, you could tell that he was a happy, friendly person who wanted what was best for his people and his wife, who happened to be Altean. But after prolonged exposure to Quintessence, their bodies and minds became twisted, leading to their downfall. It was ultimately love that spelled Zarkon’s doom, as the effort to save his wife led to him dying and coming back as a hollow shell of his former self that has lost all his virtues.

Unlike a certain other show, which has tyrannical, genocidal dictators but tries to make us like them because they happen to cry, this show actually succeeds in having us sympathize with the villain but still understand what he did was wrong and needs to be stopped. It’s hard to know what will ultimately happen, but I can definitely see and actually WANT to find a way for him to be redeemed in some way (either he dies doing the right thing or he atones for his crimes; at any rate, you want to see him restored to his old self).

I still have some problems with this show (Hunk is still mostly used as a comic relief character and something about how Allura is written rubs me the wrong way, it’s hard to explain it), but I can definitely say I’m gravitating towards it better now than I did before. I’m looking forward to what’s going to happen next.

In a Heartbeat vs Bad Animation Oversaturation

The 2010’s feels like the best and worst decade for western animation. While (CG) animation is more profitable and prolific than ever before and more people are finally realizing animation can be honestly amazing, it seems that the only people taking the craft seriously are Disney, Pixar, and, to an extent, Warner Bros. with their LEGO movies. DreamWorks, in the light of their falling revenue, has started to dumb down their projects to make a profit, and studios like Sony Pictures Animation and Illumination seem to see the medium as a way of making cheap entertainment squarely for children and nothing else.

This year, in particular, has not been very good, with films like The Boss Baby’s memery encapsulating why so many people don’t take animation seriously and The Emoji Movie becoming quite possibly the worst animated film of all time. Anything else this year has been met with a resounding “ho hum”. Unless Coco turns out to be a surprise hit, the only animated movie that seems to have had any positive impact is The Lego Batman Movie, and that came out much earlier.

But, despite animation not doing well in theatrical full length films this year, there has been one animated short that has captured the hearts of people all over the world.

That short is In a Heartbeat.

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When I first heard about the short as it was in development, I didn’t think much of it, but when it was released recently, I decided to give it a watch. And boy, am I glad I did. It tells a sweet, simple, but VERY powerful story.

In the short, Sherwin (the red haired boy in the picture above) is in love with Jonathan (the brown haired boy), but is in the closet about it. He prevents himself from pursuing his love, but his anthropomorphic heart decides to take matters into its own hands. What follows is something that will make you cry, but also warm your heart.

The short has amassed over 18 million views (and counting) on YouTube and, with the exception of hardcore religious and conservative groups, has gotten almost universal acclaim and an overwhelmingly positive reception. And it deserves it. The animation is very good (especially considering it’s a low budget college film), the music is excellent, and it tells an innocent but effective story that doesn’t rely on dialogue.

The makers of the film, Esteban Bravo and Beth David, are considering making this into a full length movie, and I hope it happens. Again, considering how there are so many animated films but only a fraction of them are really that great, we could use a film like this. One that doesn’t rely on low brow humour and cheap gimmicks and tells an emotional story about the love between two boys.

Please support this short any way you can. You can start by watching it below.

 

Big Hero 6 and Fred’s Private Pain

In Big Hero 6, the titular team is united over Tadashi (and his subsequent death). We know that they all mourned his loss, and that Hiro took it the hardest. But I have a suspicion that one of the characters who also took it very hard but didn’t show it was Fred.

Out of the adult teammates (Fred, Gogo, Wasabi, and Honey Lemon), Fred is the one who has the most backstory. We know that he is filthy stinking rich (but not spoiled and is actually very discreet about his wealth), that his father is Stan Lee (who also happens to be a superhero), has a loyal butler, is a huge comic book enthusiast and very genre savvy, and is the main benefactor of the team.

Recently, people have developed a theory that Fred had an unhappy childhood. His parents were always away and he was often alone, with only Healthcliff for company. That could be true (even if I hope it isn’t, I hate the idea of Stan Lee being a neglectful parent), but I think Fred does have his own personal grief: he is also reeling over the death of Tadashi.

While the gang all loves each other, Fred has been seen by the others as sometimes weird and gross. But not Tadashi, who complemented Fred’s laundry habit as being “both disgusting AND awesome”. They also seem to be the most physically close:

For the first act he is very expressive and frenetic and happy, but extremely subdued at the funeral:

For the rest of the movie, Fred is cheerful and positive, but there are definite moments when he looks really upset, more so than the others.

Note how this is when Honey Lemon says “no, don’t push us away Hiro, we’re here for you”.

Fred perks up considerably when Baymax suggests that they talk about their feelings. Fred is the first to volunteer, saying that is has been thirty days since his last…something before the villain appears. That line is funny, but when you think about how Tadashi was probably dead for that amount of time (in the Cinemastory comic, apparently Tadashi had been dead for three months) suddenly that line might suggest he had a serious drinking or drug binge to deal with his grief (it is implied that Fred is a stoner).

Later, this is his face when Tadashi’s killer is revealed to be none other than their trusted professor:

Fred’s reaction is not quite the same shock as the others.

And then there’s this face Fred makes in the aftermath of Callaghan’s escape and Hiro’s rage:

That is a face of pure and utter distress.

When the team reunites with Hiro, he has a sort of calm but sad look, like he just calmed down from crying:

And then there’s the part where Baymax is lost in the portal. We get shots of Wasabi’s, Gogo’s, and Honey Lemon’s reactions, but interestingly, not Fred’s. Perhaps because he was absolutely devastated to hear that the last thing his friend made is gone.

Given how much detail went into this movie, I’m pretty sure this is intentional and is telling a secret story within the main one. You can tell that Fred does have a hidden pain that only reveals himself at the mention of Tadashi. Considering how he leapt at the opportunity to talk about his feelings, it’s very likely that, given how he comes from a rich and upper-class environment, he had been encouraged to be discreet and private in his affairs. That would explain why, even though he looks visibly distraught at several points, he doesn’t get to cry like Hiro does.

Seeing as how he likely closest to Tadashi and has the biggest role after Hiro and Baymax, I think this is setting up his own major character arc that will be shown in either a sequel or the series. I think we’re going to find out how he real feels about Tadashi and how badly his death affected him. And how Hiro and Baymax will help him recover from it. I certainly hope so.

 

The New Planet of the Apes is a Modern Exodus Story

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Spoilers!

The new Planet of the Apes prequels are some of the most intelligent, thrilling, and emotional blockbusters I have seen in recent years. While I can never see the original 1968 film a second time (the first viewing just disturbed me too much), I can enjoy the new movies thanks in large part to the character of Caesar. He is one of the most compelling characters of all time, brought beautifully to life by the great Andy Serkis. And one thing I couldn’t help but notice immediate after watching War for the Planet of the Apes is that Caesar’s life has a lot of parallels to that of the Biblical Moses.

The first movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, parallels the origins of Moses. Both he and Caesar have tragic beginnings: they were born into slavery and would face certain death if it had not been for their mothers’ love. They are raised by their captors and live a very happy life for a long time. But then, the protagonists commit a crime to protect another, and are both exiled for it. It is during their exile that they discover their destiny to free their respective peoples, unleashing a plague upon their captors in the process.

The second movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, references the Hebrew’s newly found freedom. They escape to greener pastures and build their own communities, with the law of ‘do not kill’. But conflict within the community rises (in this movie and in some film versions of the the Exodus story, it is stirred by a specific opponent) and the teachings of Caesar and Moses are rejected, and blood must ultimately be shed. The quest for true freedom for the apes and Hebrews are thus prolonged.

War for the Planet of the Apes has the most direct parallels. You see the apes being whipped and imprisoned and forced to work hard for their captors, building a stone monument. Caesar routinely begs for his people’s freedom, but the Colonel (Pharaoh) refuses, mocking him, instead increasing the workload of the slaves. The apes escape and the captors and would-be captors are wiped out by an avalanche, which echoes the scene of the Egyptian soldiers being wiped out by the Red Sea. Freed, the Hebrews and Apes both cross a desert to safety, to a Promised Land. In the end, both Caesar and Moses die atop a high place overlooking their people, knowing they are free. It all makes for a very intense story that kept me glued to the screen from start to finish.

Do you think this was intentional or just a coincidence? Did you spot any more parallels? Feel free to let me know!

Why I’m Okay With Ralph Getting a Love Interest

This past weekend, the D23 Expo took place, allowing Disney fans to take an exclusive look at all the upcoming projects. One project that got a particular amount of hype (after the Kingdom Hearts 3 trailer) was an exclusive look at Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2.

From what we know so far (and keep in mind things can and will change), a wifi router is plugged into the arcade to boost attendance, and something breaks in the Sugar Rush game. Vanellope and Ralph go to the internet to find something to fix it, and meet a wide array of new worlds and characters. One major character they meet is an algorithm from a Buzzfeed knockoff site called Yesss, who guides them around the strange new world. There’s also a potential plot point of Vanellope meeting the Disney Princesses on the Disney fan website, OhMyDisney, and revealing that she feels a little overshadowed by Ralph.

A lot of people are hyped, but also nervous as hell. I get a little annoyed that some people are already expecting the worst when they haven’t even seen anything yet, but one thing that makes me really agitated is the revulsion people have towards Ralph and Yesss potentially becoming a couple (people who went to the expo report that Ralph was clearly in awe of her).

Why am I upset?

Because Yesss is extremely likely going to be a black woman.

She has been described as having an afro, and is voiced by Taraji P. Henson, a black woman. Given how the first WIR film got criticisms for being overwhelmingly white, it is extremely likely Yesss is either going to be black or black-coded.

When was the last time you saw a lot of good black female characters in animation? With natural hair? Who weren’t just aggressive and sassy? And who was able to have a proper romance that didn’t either dissolve or was pushed aside for the main white couple? In Disney’s history, they’ve only really had Tiana, and that isn’t enough, especially with her being a frog for most of the movie.

You can see how her being in a romance with Ralph is going to be important. Seeing a black woman be loved in a interracial relationship in a major Disney movie is going to have a HUGE impact.

But apparently for some people that’s not good enough. “Ralph doesn’t need a love interest” or “he should be with a man” or “Ralph being with a woman of colour is acceptable but not good”.

Can you see how that might be an issue I have?

Now, we don’t know for sure that this couple will be endgame. Ralph could fall in love with her and she could reject him and they’d still be friends, or she might be the main villain. We don’t know. But if she IS going to get together with Ralph, it’s kind of shitty to get angry over it.

The most important thing is that Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship will get stronger as a result no matter what happens. Until then, let’s wait until we get more information to pass judgement.

PS

The opening title for Big Hero 6: The Series dropped and it looks AWESOME. But people still want a sequel, so, hop to that, Disney. Watch it here:

Zootopia (Alternative Version)

When Zootopia first came out, everyone loved it, praising it for its timely message on bias and prejudice. But some people have pointed out that the theme of predators vs prey doesn’t really hold up as an allegory for modern racism.

A good video that discusses the problems can be seen here:

Basically, if this movie was just about prejudice in general, that would be one thing, but the problem is that it tries too hard to mimic real world racial dynamics in modern America and it doesn’t work because sometimes the predators look like the marginalized group, other times it’s the prey, and the prey technically have a right to be afraid of the predators. What makes this worse is that, in the early drafts of the movie, it hit much closer to home: predators were definitely a stand in for minority groups, had almost no rights, and were forced to wear shock collars. This was cut because this would’ve made the story and setting too unlikable, but you can tell that they were originally going to go all the way with this.

I think to myself, you know what could have made the allegory a lot more apparent and have a bigger impact without being too depressing?

Add bats.

Think about it. Bats are often depicted as freaky and scary. They’re mammals and can resemble foxes and rats, but they have wings. Some bats eat meat, others don’t. They can be both predator and prey. Some are nocturnal, others are not. They’re, quite literally, freaks of nature. In a world like Zootopia, where there’s already bias, how do you think the other animals would feel about bats?

So instead of trying to be about predators vs prey, which is way too broad to be made into an allegory, have both groups harbor a common prejudice for bats. That way, you can have a clearer, more accurate metaphor for an oppressed group.

The hero would also have a bigger incentive for being a police officer and getting so involved with the case. In the original, I think that while Judy does have good intentions, I feel that her main motive for becoming a cop (as opposed to say, a social worker or a relief worker, jobs that actually do make the world a better place) is so that she can have a stronger sense of power in control in her life, what with her being a bunny with so many siblings being heckled by foxes. In this version, our protagonist, a bat, wants to become a cop so she can actively help and protect bats being discriminated against.

In this version you could have the missing mammals all be bats too. To be honest, I never liked the villain or thought her plot would hold up. Okay, so she hates her boss, so she wants to get him fired by…drugging every predator? So she can…stay in power and let prey become the dominant species? Um, you do realize that you can and will be voted out of office, right? This also underscores how messy the metaphor really is because, again, who is the discriminated species in this world? Because at first it looks like prey and small animals, and suddenly it’s predators. But in this version, you can have the villain be someone who actively hates and is trying to scapegoat bats. Maybe they’re angry at the fact that a bat got an important job in the city. This also makes the police’s chief disdain in letting the protagonist take on the case make more sense and make the protagonist’s stakes higher.

Zootopia definitely has good intentions, but because the metaphor is so messy, it didn’t have the impact on audiences as much as the creators would’ve hoped, as racial tensions in the states just got even worse as 2016 rolled on, and now nobody really talks about the movie that much. It’s hard to tell if Zootopia featuring bats as an oppressed group would’ve been as successful as the original, but I think it would have left a bigger impact on audiences, for better or for worse.