My Love/Hate Relationship With the Disney Revival Films

Image result for disney revival

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.

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.

 

Did Tadashi Kill Himself?

Trigger warning: discussions of suicide

File:Big-hero-6-disneyscreencaps.com-2651.jpg

For a lot of people, the saddest scene in Big Hero 6 is the death of Tadashi. After Callaghan sets the showcase building on fire to cover his tracks, Tadashi, with the knowledge that he’s still inside, goes to save him, saying “someone has to help”. Callaghan escapes with his life, but Tadashi does not, to the horror and dismay of Hiro.

The scene is undoubtedly sad and very well put together, but I have to admit, I’m bugged by the fact that Tadashi didn’t wait for the firefighters to arrive. Since Tadashi wasn’t a firefighter or a superhero with special powers or training, he should not have gone inside a burning building like that. Every time I watch this scene I go “you fool, you wait for the fire department to arrive!”

But lately I’ve been thinking: what if Tadashi had ulterior motives for going into that building? What if he was fully ready and prepared to die?

We all  know that Hiro and Callaghan are both going through grieving and depression, and what happens when you get help/let people in versus not getting help/using it as an excuse to hurt others. But what if Tadashi was also grieving and depressed?

Let’s take a look at Tadashi’s situation. He lost his parents at a young age, but unlike Hiro, who was only three, he would’ve been able to miss his parents. He would ultimately have to become both a brother AND a father to his little brother, who’s very smart but also very vulnerable. Imagine your own little brother constantly going out at night to partake in illegal activities with dangerous older men, and having to be there in time to save him (in the supplementary material it is confirmed it got so bad that Tadashi had to sew GPS tracking devices into Hiro’s clothes). That would absolutely take a toll on you. Knowing that you stressed out and disappointed your aunt and only caretaker doesn’t help at all. He is shown as being altruistic to a fault, and works so hard on Baymax (who he intends to help a lot of people, rather than help a lot of people on his own) that he neglects his own health.

Like, this is a lot of pressure and stress for a college student. He may appear happy through most of the movie, but it’s possible he was hiding a private pain. There are people with depression and other mental illnesses who sometimes hide it through helping others or making people laugh.

So now we get to the infamous scene.

Look how distressed he is. In the fire is his beloved teacher, Callaghan, who was probably the closest thing he had to a father in such a long time. And now he’s in danger. Losing him would’ve been too much to bear. Tadashi takes a minute, looking to the building and back, before ultimately deciding to go in. He knew what he was doing. He was fully aware that he was going to die. But at that moment, he didn’t care. To him, Callaghan’s life mattered more than his own life, not thinking of leaving behind Hiro and Cass. If he would die if it meant Callaghan could live, so be it.

This may make Tadashi seem less sympathetic, but if you’re depressed, you don’t make rational decisions. If you see the opportunity to die, you’re probably going to take it without realizing it or against your better judgement. I think for Tadashi, after everything he’s been through, after losing his parents and constantly living in fear over losing Hiro and Cass, the fact that Callaghan was going to die in a fire pushed him over the edge.

I think it’s also important to remember Baymax’s role. Considering how committed he was to building that robot, it’s possible he may have (consciously or not) built him to be his ‘back up’. Like he thought, “If I die, Baymax can take care of Hiro and Cass and fulfill our intended purposes”. And ultimately, he would have been correct.

I think if Tadashi was depressed, he would have presented another side of mental illness: the hidden one. The one that is repressed and kept secret until it boils over to the surface and results in the worst outcome. That would add a very tragic, dark layer to the story, but it would make Hiro’s journey and recovery all that more poignant.

This is all just my theory/interpretation, so if this idea seriously upsets you, please do not take it to heart. And if you ever feel like you’re worthless or you’re better off dead/it wouldn’t matter if you died, please seek help. There’s always someone out there who cares and will help you.

Little Things I Appreciate About Big Hero 6

This week on Tumblr was Big Hero 6 Appreciation Week. Every day, fans of the movie would make a post (gifs, fan art, videos, analysis, etc.) describing their favorite character, location/set piece, song/score, quote, parallel, and scene, along with a free day to post whatever they want at the end. I wanted to participate but…that didn’t happen. (I think I may have executive function problems, but I can’t be too sure.) But that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about it here!

Fave Character

Well I love everybody, but my absolute fave is definitely Hiro. I loved him since the first teaser (where we see Hiro trying and failing to put armour on Baymax). My very first thought was “Oh my god he is beyond adorable”. My love for him only grew since the movie came out. Not only is he absolutely precious, he’s also a complex, layered character. He’s highly intelligent and skilled, relates better to older people and robots (something I can relate to), mentally ill and is totally ready and able to kill a man but is brought back from the brink through the power of love and friendship. He is also a total dork who loves gummy bears. Overall I just find him a really interesting, relatable, sweet, and adorable character that must be protected at all costs.

Fave Location

File:Big-hero-6-disneyscreencaps.com-30.jpg

The aerial view of city of San Fransokyo, especially when seen at the beginning and during the first flight scene. It’s a beautiful city, incorporating advanced (and eco friendly) technology and Japanese culture to create a truly unique environment. You can tell it’s a great city to live in, and that there’s plenty of opportunities. It looks so vivid and almost REAL and ALIVE. I wanna go there!

Fave Song/Score

The movie has a great soundtrack, it’s hard to pick an absolute fave. One score I definitely like is “I am Satisfied with my care”. The music goes with each moment–from the triumphant ones to the tragic ones–perfectly. It definitely makes the scene where Hiro and Baymax have to say goodbye even more heartfelt.

Fave Quote

“Hiro. I will ALWAYS be with you.”

This is a great quote because Baymax means this both figuratively and literally. Figuratively because, no matter what happens, Baymax (and Tadashi) will remain in Hiro’s heart and memories and will guide him in life. Literally because it shows just how much Baymax loves Hiro and will do anything for him. He has become devoted to him and will go to any length necessary to protect the boy and be there for him. The fact that a robot has become capable of love is so…*sobs*

Fave Parallel

I think any part where Hiro references or quotes Tadashi (such as sighing “Unbelievable” or telling his teams to use those big brains of theirs) is feels worthy. Of course the scenes where Hiro sees himself reflected in the mirror along with his brother/robot companion is a subtle, emotional moment, but the parallel that is perhaps most chilling is when Hiro and Tadashi both sense that someone is in danger and their first instinct is “Someone has to help”. It just goes to show how willing both these brothers are to put their lives on the line to help those in need, and how much of an influence Tadashi really is. I’m just glad Hiro got out of it okay!

Fave Scene

Hiro and Baymax hug

Easy pick here: the hug between Hiro and Baymax at the end. I just wish it went on much longer.

Be sure to check out all the amazing works of art made this week HERE and HERE and the blog bh6daily.tumblr.com for more! What are your fave things about this movie?

Big Hero 6 and the Four Stages of Grief

You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief under the Kubler-Ross model: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. You see it everywhere: it’s how grieving people deal with the loss of a loved one, right?

Not exactly.

See, Kubler-Ross developed the model while working with terminally ill patients. The model was actually originally meant to show the stages of DYING, not grieving. But since the model could also apply to the loved ones watching the patient dying, it became misrepresented to show how all people deal with grief. It’s also worth noting that the model has been criticized and not consistent with further research.

There is actually an earlier, less known model of grief: the FOUR stages of grief, developed by Parkes and Bowlby–Shock and Numbness, Yearning, Disorganization and Despair, and Reorganization and Recovery (and these stages can overlap).

When I learned about this model, I immediately remembered Big Hero 6 and how it dealt with grief. And I got to say, the filmmakers definitely did a lot of research into this aspect because the Parkes-Bowlby model is definitely present in the film.

Shock and Numbness: When Hiro realizes that Tadashi is dead, the world becomes hazy. All he can do is scream his brother’s name. In a deleted shot from the film (that’s present in the Japanese teaser trailer), this is his face during the funeral:

File:Hiro-JapaneseTrailer.png

You can tell he looks sad, but also numb. He can’t fully comprehend what’s happening or know how to react. (In the scenes that are present in the film, you don’t see his face at all, and all he can do is stay away from the wake.)

Yearning: He becomes extremely withdrawn, not wanting to eat or go to school, and is always thinking of Tadashi. He does not touch Tadashi’s part of the room, leaving his hat carefully on the bed, and becomes preoccupied with avenging Tadashi’s death (at this point, remembering Tadashi isn’t enough).

Disorganization and Despair: This overlaps with the yearning stage (loss of appetite, restlessness over avenging Tadashi, becoming more withdrawn), but it becomes especially apparent when Hiro finds out who killed Tadashi. He is unable to think rationally, pushing away his friends and trying to kill Callaghan. When he and Baymax retreat, Hiro starts to break down, stating that he doesn’t know if Callaghan’s death will make him feel better but that he has to do something, and when Baymax points out that this isn’t what Tadashi wanted, Hiro loses it. “Tadashi’s…gone.” “Tadashi is here.” “No…he’s not here.”

Reorganization and Recovery: With the help of his friends, Hiro does get better. He is able to go to school, becomes closer to his aunt and human friends, rebuilds his beloved robot friend (and Tadashi’s last invention), and places Tadashi’s hat in his new office. He decides to go out to do good things in his brother’s name.

This is a beautiful movie that gracefully and accurately portrays the death of a loved one and dealing with it; a lot of people have confessed that this movie actually did help them deal with the passings of their loved ones. It is one of the most important Disney movies and I hope it does become a true classic and it will continue to help people for years to come.

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.

Big Hero 6 Could Be a Powerful Education Tool

While it may  be awhile until Big Hero 6 gets a sequel, there will be a TV series continuing their adventures to help get by and hopefully kick the franchise into gear. I’m a little suspicious that it’s not coming out until the fall when apparently the show was supposed to come out earlier, but hey, better than nothing at all. I’m excited.

When (hopefully not just if) the movie becomes an actual franchise, I feel that, in addition to entertaining kids, it could be used to educate them too.

When I was a little kid, I was fed a healthy diet of educational shows. The Magic School Bus, Bill Nye, Schoolhouse Rock, Reading Rainbow, Wishbone, Zoboomafoo, Blue’s Clues…oh my goodness I’m getting nostalgic just typing this. And I used to play the ClueFinders games too. These all definitely helped shaped my appreciation for learning and academics (as well as entertainment). I believe educational media really hit its peak in the 199o’s, but has diminished a lot nowadays. You have stuff for really little kids, but not much for older kids. This is where BH6 could come in. It’s a movie with a wide audience appeal (kids of all ages, races, and genders) and a huge appreciation of science. Why not use the characters to help kids learn?

A few ideas include:

  • Playsets of the characters in their labs
  • A book series detailing the adventures of the team that also gives kids quick facts (this would also be a great opportunity to get boys to read)
  • Mobile game apps that feature puzzle solving, skill building, and learning
  • An additional TV show after the first one, either animated or live action (I bet a lot of kids would love seeing Baymax appear live), where the characters demonstrate science experiments and document facts
  • Mental health and self care posters, graphics, flyers, etc.

I think a lot about how much potential BH6 has and how it’s sad that Disney has been taking so long to actually do anything with it. Which is why I heartily encourage everyone to watch the show when it airs. Even if the show itself isn’t that great (but knowing that it’s made by the same team behind Kim Possible, we can expect it to not suck), it will show Disney that enough people want more of these characters and that more can be done with them.