Understanding My Fave (and Least Fave) Characters

Being as huge an animation fan as I am, I’m starting to realize that the more I like the characters, the more I’m likely to love their respective media. Consequently, if I absolutely despise the main character or too many characters, I’m not going to like their series one bit.

I love Teen Titans and Avatar: The Last Airbender because of how fleshed-out and likable all the main characters are. I like The Legend of Korra because even though I have some problems with the show, I do really love Asami and Korra. I don’t have the most comprehensive knowledge of Overwatch but I really love the character of Symmetra because she’s a beautiful and powerful autistic woman (and really all the women of Overwatch are beautiful and powerful how can I not love it). Cybersix is an okay show itself but Cybersix herself is amazing. And I have a lot of fave Disney heroines either from nostalgia or from personal empowerment (Belle, Mulan, Pocahontas, Vanellope, Honey and Gogo, and even Aurora). But I hate Steven Universe now because I really dislike most of the main characters (ESPECIALLY Steven, who’s become a mouthpiece for the writers) and the characters I DID love have been regressing into tropes (Garnet is mostly just Ruby and Sapphire in a trench coat and Peridot is nothing but comic relief).

So when it comes to my absolute faves, Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph, it’s probably not a coincidence that Hiro Hamada and Ralph are actually my fave characters of all time.

File:Wreck it Ralph pose transparent.png

Why is that?

Because, as someone who is autistic, has struggled with mental illness, has a limited social network, and is only NOW really starting to figure out my place in the world, I relate to these characters so, so much. Not to mention they’re brilliantly well written too.

Not only is Hiro absolutely adorable, but he’s also a brilliantly well written teen boy character. It would have been very easy to just make him another whiny teenager, but he’s not. At the start of the movie he becomes enthusiastic at the idea of bettering his life, even if he needs some encouragement. When his brother dies he doesn’t become all brooding and angsty, he becomes seriously and realistically depressed. He has trouble letting people in at first, but his world brightens up when he makes close friends and becomes a superhero. He hits a road bump when confronting the villain, but he’s able to let out his grief in a peaceful manner, is comforted, and gets back on the right path. Eventually he’s able to rebuild his closest friend and start his road to a promising future. For me, that kind of parallels my own life: how I was in a horrible mental stage for almost two years before this movie came out, and how I started my path to recovery. Now, for the first time in 22 years, I no longer feel like killing myself, I have a wonderful friend, and I’m determined to get a job as a social service worker. (Have you figured out why this movie is my absolute fave yet?)

And Ralph, man, he’s just such a good hero. He goes through a LOT of character development (going from a lonely but still kind of selfish ‘bad guy’ to a true hero who’s willing to sacrifice himself for the only person who was ever nice to him) and is someone I wouldn’t mind actually being with. Like I know a lot of people find Tadashi Hamada attractive, and while he is, I don’t really know Tadashi well enough. But Ralph? Not only is he big and burly and very cuddly, but you know he’d never leave you behind and would do anything for you, and you’d have a lot of fun with him.

But I think there’s another major reason. Both characters have their flaws. Ralph, being a bad guy, doesn’t always do the right thing or have the best sense of morality (he takes obvious enjoyment out of interrogating Sour Bill for information). Hiro initially wanted to partake in dubious bot fighting and was at one point enraged enough to actually kill a man. But despite their mistakes, they’re fundamentally good people and actively make an effort to change. They TRY to be better people.

The same cannot be said for some of my absolute least fave characters, Anna from Frozen and Joy from Inside Out, movies that I cannot stand.

Joy is just…a bully. I’m sorry, but she is. She is obsessively controlling over Riley’s brain and making sure she only feels HER emotion, nothing else. But she always pushes the blame on Sadness. On their road trip Joy is consistently rude and condescending to her, and even at one point is willing to let Sadness DIE just because “Riley needs to be happy”. It’s only when Joy realizes that Sadness is useful that she goes back to get her, but even then, she never actually apologizes to her or acknowledges that she was wrong. That just constantly made me uncomfortable and made me feel the wrong way.

And Anna…ugh. Anna literally makes everything all about HER. She constantly disrespects her sister’s boundaries, even when she’s trying to ‘help’ her. But does Anna actually love Elsa? Of course not. When Elsa kicks her out of the ice palace Anna doesn’t even acknowledge her sister until she’s literally about to die. I know I’m supposed to feel sorry for Anna and find her sacrifice meaningful but, like, it’s your sister, of course you’re going to want to save her. That doesn’t mean you actually LOVE her. I understand I have a HEAVY bias against Anna because I identified with Elsa and was upset that she wasn’t the main hero, but…yeah I don’t like Anna.

But you can see why I hate their specific type of character (cheerful quirky girl protagonist): they feel like the universe revolves around THEM. Hiro and Ralph have to realize that other people matter, too. They have actual character development and give a damn about others. Anna and Joy are ‘perfect’ and only care at the very last minute.

Anyway, this was slightly more personal than my other posts, but I felt like it was important to share.

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Masculinity and the Disney Revival Era

The older I get, the less I feel attached to/need to defend the Disney Princesses. The only time I’ll get defensive is when a critic gets their characters completely wrong (Belle is not a victim of Stockholm Syndrome or pretentious), or claim they’re sexist by…making sexist statements (the original three Disney princesses are not ‘weak’ for being ultrafeminine and passive, it’s because they don’t get enough character development and screen time). They princesses I grew up with will forever hold a place in my heart, but I don’t worship them now like I did when I was a kid, basically.

So I guess that partially explains why I’m hyper critical of the new Disney Princess movies (The Princess and the Frog and onwards). I’ve talked in length on my issues with the new princesses themselves (Tiana should not have been a frog for most of the movie, Moana needed more character flaws, and Anna is literally just a quirky ‘relatable’ character that isn’t interesting at all), but for now let’s talk about the male roles in the Princess films compared to those of the non-Princess films.

Quick quiz: what do Naveen, Flynn Rider, Kristoff, and Maui all have in common, besides being the male leads of the recent Disney Princess films?

And at the beginning of their movies they are all extraordinarily rude and condescending to the female leads. While it is true that they all get better, the only one who’s character development feels the most believable is Flynn’s because he stops being rude to Rapunzel very quickly (after they escape from the Snuggly Duckling) and naturally grows more caring and concerned for her (and thus they grow an attraction to one another). By contrast, Naveen, Kristoff, and Maui are assholes to their respective female counterparts for almost the entire movie, and only stop when the girls either prove themselves to him or after a contrived moment. Kristoff falls in love with Anna right the hell out of nowhere, and Maui is suddenly all better right in time for the climax.

By contrast, look at Wreck-It Ralph. He has his flaws, but it is established at the very beginning that he had a hard life and wants to be loved and appreciated for who he is. When he meets Vanellope and Calhoun, he does NOT act like a jerk to them for no reason or behave like a sexist prick, even when they yank his chain. While he doesn’t think Vanellope is capable of being a racer at first, she doesn’t need to prove himself to him in order to make him sympathize with her; once he sees how bad her situation is he is willing to help out no matter what.

Why the huge difference?

Because, again, the Disney Princess movies have to have a contrived “Look how Feminist TM we are!” message hammered into the audiences heads after all the criticisms their predecessors got. The male characters feel less like characters and more like audience/critic surrogates. Oh, you think our Princesses are ‘weak’? Well fuck you, here’s our Princess doing something reckless to show how brave and strong she is!

This sucks because it makes it harder for me to get invested in their respective relationships. I love Belle and the Beast together because despite a rough start they find comfort and joy in one another. I love Aladdin and Jasmine together because they mutually respect and like each other and he’s willing to expand her horizon. I love Mulan and Shang together because they work efficiently as a team. And, ultimately, I do love Rapunzel and Flynn (or perhaps more appropriately, Eugene) together because they organically grow closer and will do anything for each other. By contrast…I’m supposed to like Kristoff and Anna together despite Kristoff being an absolute prick to her because they survived escaping Elsa’s palace and suddenly like each other? I’m supposed to like Maui and Moana as a friendship even though he demonstratively does not see her as an equal?

But what bothers me is that this is only happening with the Princess movies. Look at Calhoun and Felix, Ralph and Vanellope, or even Nick and Judy. Felix adores Calhoun from the moment he meets her, respects her boundaries, and helps her move on from her traumatic past. Ralph and Vanellope bond over being outcasts in their own games, enrich each other, and would die for one another.

And oh my god, Nick and Judy have some of the greatest chemistry between a male and female lead. They just work so well together, even when they don’t get along at first. Keep in mind, when Nick acts like a jerk to Judy at the beginning, she is always able to get her own back at him. We also understand WHY Nick acts like a jerk at first, and he is able to get better. And it’s not JUST him being a jerk to her; Judy also does something pretty shitty to him, and they BOTH have to make up to each other. In between that they make an excellent and engaging pair.

And of course I have to mention Big Hero 6. What makes that movie even more remarkable is that NO ONE is a jerk to anyone, AT ALL. Hiro, Aunt Cass, Gogo, Honey, Wasabi and Fred (and Baymax) all love and respect each other. No one needs to prove themselves to another. No one acts like a jerk to a woman because they perceive her as weaker. Everybody is equal.

In short, the insistence of making the male and female leads in Princess movies act antagonistically towards each other is just unnecessary and exhausting, and a half-assed attempt of making themselves look ‘progressive’ and ‘feminist’. So I’ll say this:

Women having to prove themselves to antagonistic men is NOT progressive.

Women and men having mutual respect for each other, seeing each other as equals, and working as a team? THAT is progressive.

And why Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 are my fave movies of all time.

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.

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:

‘Wreck-It Ralph’, ‘Big Hero 6’, and the Importance of Self Care

Mental illness is pretty prevalent among users of social media, so self care posts are often made and passed around in an effort to help people. They tend to be cutesy reminders to eat, wash, that they’re worthwhile, that strangers love them, etc.

At first, I thought these were wonderful. But when I found myself in my deepest, darkest depression, I didn’t find these helpful at all. And now that I’m in a better place mentally, I (and other members of my family, who also have their mental health problems) kind of find these self care posts a little patronizing and condescending.

And what bothers me the most is that there’s this major cognitive dissonance because for all the people who keep passing around saccharine self care posts, they don’t seem to do anything about it afterwards. They often make posts on how they’re so depressed all the time, that they want to die, that they’re awake all night and sleep all day, and such. There seems to be this pervasive attitude that once you’re on your own, you’re REALLY on your own. No meds or therapy unless you REALLY need it (because apparently all doctors are untrustworthy), not even support. There even seems to be a negative attitude towards seeking help and comfort from parents, which would make sense when parents are genuinely abusive, but social media tends to make all parents out to be The Worst. Basically, young people feel the need to be on their own and only seek help from their peers, who, while they can certainly offer some support, can’t entirely help you in the long run. Or they don’t seek help at all, and just wallow in their depression and share self-care posts in an attempt to feel better.

When I was in my darkest hour, things were pretty bad. I did feel better with talk therapy, but I could not for the life of me partake in cognitive behavioral therapy. I was too scared to take meds, and didn’t really want to do anything while I waited for different doctors appointments.

And then the intrusive thoughts came.

If you don’t know what exactly intrusive thoughts are, it’s like having nightmares during the day. Basically, whenever I tried to think about something I like, something gross or disturbing would barge itself into the thought and wouldn’t go away. That was when I knew I HAD to get help. I HAD to take action. And I did. Now, I’m medicated, I see a social worker every few weeks, I make efforts to drive and get out of the house, and I go to school, and I’m searching for work. None of that wouldn’t have happened if I had just accepted my lot in life.

And that’s what I feel is wrong. I feel like all these depressed people feel like they HAVE to be depressed or anxious or such. And that’s not true. If your mental illness prevents you from living life, you cannot just accept it. You NEED to go out and do something about it, even if it means getting help from your parents and doctors. There’s nothing wrong with that.

For those of you who have trouble finding an epiphany as a motivator, I suggest re-watching Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 and really pay attention to them.

Ralph is lonely, depressed, is stuck in a shitty job with bosses and co-workers who don’t appreciate him, has a crummy living situation, and has trouble with food and hygiene. You know what he did? He sought to change it. He knew he couldn’t accept this anymore. So he went out to change his life. And while he couldn’t fully change it, he now has a support system in place, he reaches out to people, and has made amends with his job and has a better living situation. He’s taking things ‘one game at a time’.

Hiro is depressed after the death of his brother and doesn’t eat, is tired a lot, and doesn’t want to leave his room or go to school. A healthcare robot and four wonderful (older) friends reach out to him and give him all the love and support he needs. By letting them in and realizing his own mistakes and the importance of actively doing things to help others, Hiro makes a wonderful recovery, even if he still misses his brother.

The important thing about both movies is that both characters are valid and loved and are getting the help they need. But they got that help by either seeking it out or accepting it when it was offered, both of which are things people in real life can learn from.

Mental illness is a lifelong battle, but it doesn’t have to define you or hold you down. And when you watch these movies again, take in how the characters get better and see how you can apply that. Because things will get better, but they won’t get better unless you TRY.

WRECK-IT RALPH 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay quick little thing because I’m excited as all hell but WRECK IT RALPH 2 IS OFFICIAL AND IT HAS A RELEASE DATE!

https://www.facebook.com/Disney/?ref=nf (I have no idea how Facebook works but you can see the first two things that appear are news on it.)

As you can tell I am beyond ecstatic. Wreck-It Ralph is one of my all time fave movies and they kept talking about a sequel but news would be few and far between and rather vague about it so it was hard to keep hope up. But now, Disney officially announced it AND THERE’S AN ACTUAL RELEASE DATE (March 9, 2018).

And what makes me especially happy is that Disney’s making a pretty big deal out of this. Yesterday they posted “Tune in Thursday June 30 at 9 PST For some BREAKING NEWS from Disney Animation” on all their social media accounts, posted it LIVE, and then made a separate video on how Ralph returns. This shows me that Disney still cares about the original movie and considers it a hit (since after the movie came out all the merch for it practically disappeared and no one talked about it).

Ooh I am so ready to be able to see some of my fave characters soon. Wreck-It Ralph is one of Disney’s best movies and I’m so happy to see it revived soon. Be sure to see the sequel and support the franchise! I know I will!

Five Reasons Wreck-It Ralph is More Feminist Than Frozen

Wreck-It Ralph is one of my fave movies ever, but since it came a year before Frozen, it kind of got forgotten amidst all the hype. When Frozen came out, so many people praised it as being the most feminist/progressive Disney film ever. After awhile, a lot of people emerged saying it was the opposite, and I’m one of them. While I do like the character of Elsa, I don’t like how she was handled, and I don’t like how the rest of t he movie was handled either. And while I won’t harp on people who find some empowerment in the film, I want to implore people to give Wreck-It Ralph the credit it deserves, because…

1) There’s actual gender equality—and a little gender subversion

Despite Wreck-It Ralph being about and named after the male lead, the female leads are just as memorable, well-developed, and dynamic. There are four main protagonists, two male (Wreck-It Ralph and Fix-It Felix Jr.) and two female (Vanellope Von Schweetz and Sgt. Calhoun), plus the male antagonist. Each character is important to the story, and there are some additional female characters (including Moppet Girl and Taffyta Muttonfudge) that help play a pivotal role in the plot as well. The female characters aren’t just there for fanservice or tokenism, they all actively serve a role. Vanellope’s role is just as large or even larger than Ralph’s.

What’s more, each of the four protagonists don’t fit neatly into a gender binary. Felix is a successful handyman but is polite, petite, soft-spoken, innocent, emotional, and not aggressive in any way and even vulnerable. Yet he is never shown as ‘inferior’ or a joke. Calhoun is very tough, militaristic, dominant, and has a lot of traits associated with a man (mainly the tragic backstory) but can still be feminine when she wants to. Ralph looks like a manly man but is actually not. He’s very expressive and emotional, as well as very caring and loving towards Vanellope. And Vanellope herself is a tomboy who doesn’t like femininity but doesn’t actively put it down either, and is very sharp-tongued.

By contrast, the characters in Frozen are kind of stuck in the gender binary. Anna and Elsa are both very girly and often need to be rescued (no, the movie does NOT teach that girls don’t need a man to save them, as Anna depends on men throughout the whole movie and only saves herself at the very end, and Elsa is constantly in danger), and Kristoff is very manly and gruff. His caring attitude is kind of rushed and comes out of nowhere.

Onto a related point…

NUMBER TWO: The female characters are all distinct and expressive

In regards to Frozen’s character designs, there was (and still is) a lot of controversy of how the designs of Anna and Elsa are Rapunzel knockoffs and their facial expressions are very stiff. This has been talked about endlessly by people who are way more versed on this type of topic than me, so I won’t go into too much detail. One thing I will say, though, is that what really bothers me is that BOTH girls look like clones of their MOTHER. Apparently the father’s gene didn’t factor in at all. In addition to having similar facial features, Anna and Elsa are all thin, white, youthful (Elsa looks a touch too young for Idina Menzel’s voice) and conventionally pretty. Whereas in the background, you get to see women of all different shapes, sizes, and colours. This arises all sorts of questions about our main heroines’ designs. Why couldn’t they have made Anna and Elsa biracial? Why couldn’t they have made one of the sisters a little wider around the midsection? Why not make Elsa more gaunt-looking in order to symbolize that she is a woman who is cold, restrained, and depressed? Why not make Anna more muscular (the movie demonstrates that she has amazing physical strength, after all)? The possibilities are endless, and instead they look very, well, safe. The women of Wreck-It Ralph, on the other hand, took a look at those requirements of what makes a female character appealing and went “fuck that shit”. Calhoun, while still attractive, is clearly a WOMAN. Her features are more mature and better defined. We see her look proud, determined, distraught, horrified, displeased, angry, and happy throughout the film. She’s actually allowed to snarl and look harsh. Anna and Elsa are more limited to happy, tearful, and awkward expressions, at least for the most part. Elsa looks restrained even when her sister is frozen solid. The female Sugar Rush racers (including Vanellope), while they do have a similar ‘chibi’ (large heads on tiny bodies) mould, all have distinct features (they all have different faces, in addition to different skin tones and eye shapes) save for the recolors (which are INTENTIONALLY made to look alike). Nobody is mistaking Vanellope and Taffyta for twins. And whereas Elsa gets to express joy in her “Let It Go” sequence, we see complete, utter, unabashed enthusiasm and ecstasy whenever Vanellope is close to achieving her dreams, and all her other emotions (from sassy to snarky to angry to determined to miserable) all look and feel real. Plus, we have Moppet Girl, who looks like an actual Average Jane (complete with glasses and imperfect teeth) and even the female Nicelanders, in all their roundness, have distinct looks to them that tell them apart. Obviously there are still some problems with the main heroines being, well, white-passing and thin, but there is definitely a vast difference between how expressive and distinguished they’re allowed to be versus how Anna and Elsa have to look.

Now let’s get to the female characters as actual characters…

NUMBER THREE: Vanellope is disabled, and damn proud of it

Elsa and Vanellope are both coded to have a form of disability (Elsa is meant to have anxiety and depression, according to writer and co-director Jennifer Lee, and Vanellope is often read by viewers as having autism and/or a form of physical disability) and face shit for it. You can look at my “Your Fave is Autistic” category for more of my thoughtson these characters, but while neither representation is perfect, I would argue that Vanellope’s disability is done in a more tasteful manner. You see, one thing that really pisses me off about Frozen is how, whenever Elsa gets a chance to truly express herself and be relieved of her mental woes, she’s constantly held back. After the “Let It Go” sequence, the rest of the movie is basically how the entire world brings her down. Elsa is harshly reminded everywhere she goes that she has done something wrong, but nobody tries to help her calm down and deal with the situation properly. Like she has to believe everything is her fault, but there’s no form of relieve or reassurance offered to her. Her boundaries are very often violated, even by her own sister.  Elsa is left in a state of utter depression and doesn’t get a chance to redeem herself until the very end of the movie, AFTER Anna sacrifices herself and we’re suddenly shown that “love will thaw”. After that, Elsa’s powers are best put to use…making an ice rink and rebuilding the castle (in other words, she has to express herself in a way that’s socially acceptable). Maybe it’s just me, but I constantly got the message that Elsa’s powers (and by extension her disability) were something to be ashamed of and carefully controlled. This is why I can say that, whereas Elsa’s representation left me feeling empty and wanting more, I felt really and truly empowered (yes, empowered) by Vanellope’s representation. Rather than have her conform to society in order to be accepted, society has to learn how to accept HER for who she is. Ultimately, SHE’S the one who takes control of her glitching—while at first she is lead to believe that she HAS to stop glitching altogether, she soon realizes, on her own, that she can use them for awesome purposes—using them to their full potential in a way that makes her powerful without causing the amount of destruction everyone believed she would cause. In fact, it’s her glitching that helps save the day in the end! Throughout the entire movie, Vanellope knows exactly who she is, what she wants, and who she wants to be—she KNOWS she is capable of greatness despite what people tell her, and is determined to prove that she’s more than just a glitch, and won’t let her oppressors bring her down. Whenever someone gives her grief because of her disability, they are proven very wrong indeed. In the end, Vanellope fully embraces her glitching, becomes fully comfortable with herself, and is beloved by all because of who she is, and there is absolutely NOTHING holding her back. She keeps her glitching in the end because there is nothing wrong with her being a glitch. Ultimately, whereas Vanellope’s glitching is at first seen as something purely destructive and she’s not entirely proud or confident about it, throughout the entire movie Vanellope learns to embrace her powers, and herself, to their full potentials. Elsa’s powers, on the other hand, are constantly reinforced as beautiful but dangerous and she can only use them for the most benign things. While it would have been fine if it was part of her recovery process of starting slow and simple, the problem is that she’s supposed all better at the end. Which leads to…

NUMBER FOUR: The recovery process is natural

At the end of the movie, Ralph didn’t get EXACTLY what he wanted, but it’s not all that bad. He says that he’s going to start taking life “one game at a time”. We see that his position in life is gradually getting better (the fact that he’s finally acknowledged as integral and important to his world is the biggest thing), but we, the audience, can infer that, if things make a turn for the worst, he has places to go and people to turn to in order to cope. While it’s not perfect (as many might argue it’s better for Ralph to just leave the Nicelanders entirely if the situation allowed it), the point is things will improve with time. This is a realistic message. Frozen, on the other hand, implies that love is the be-all, end-all, instant cure for all your troubles. The minute Anna is thawed, Elsa is instantly better and quick to unfreeze the kingdom and we soon see that everything is fine and dandy in the kingdom. There’s no point where Anna and Elsa have a conversation, even a short one, where they say that everything will be okay, and that they’ll start rebuilding their relationship and make things better bit by bit. The movie just sort of ends with everything being okay, no questions asked. Since Elsa is supposed to have anxiety and depression, this is not a really good message; dealing with these two ailments are a long (almost lifelong) battle, and recovery processes need to be taken slowly and with care. I should know. Love will help, but it takes more than that in order to properly heal.

Finally, and most important of all…

NUMBER FIVE: The relationships are genuinely HEALTHY (and genuine)

Oh yes. I will actually fight you over this, but I stand by my beliefs: the relationships in Wreck-It Ralph are much better handled than in Frozen. Kristoff and Anna spend so much time bickering and arguing and Kristoff makes it clear that he thinks Anna is annoying…but then suddenly when they’re chased out of the ice palace, they’re attracted to one another? And he really cares about her? And they fall in love? What? What’s worse is Anna and Elsa’s relationship. For a movie praised for being about sisters, those said sisters barely interact with each other, and when they do, it’s not happy or healthy. Elsa is either constantly shutting Anna out, or Anna is forcing herself upon Elsa. Worse still, when Elsa kicks Anna out of the ice palace, Elsa doesn’t bother looking for Anna even though it’s pretty clear she knew she froze Anna’s heart, and Anna pretty much leaves Elsa behind. But then, at the climax, oh wait! They do love each other more than anything! And love will thaw all! No, I’m sorry, that does not work. You can not have these two sisters estranged throughout the whole movie and then suddenly have them hold hands and be all loving with each other at the end.

But with Wreck-It Ralph, even though Ralph and Vanellope know each other for about a day, their friendship feels very real. They are both misfits who want a better life, and decide to help each other out with it. They routinely save each other’s lives and while they do tease each other, it’s not serious, and you can see how as the movie progresses their bond gets stronger. They ultimately helped each other, and will continue to see each other whenever they can. Felix and Calhoun have a better romantic relationship because Felix genuinely adores Calhoun and she realizes he isn’t so bad, and when she asks him to leave, he respects her wishes. I could’ve had a little more development, but it’s pretty clear that they both respect each other and that Felix is helping Calhoun move on from her dead would-be-husband and they make each other happy, and that in itself is great.

Overall, Wreck-It Ralph is one of Disney’s most progressive films and it’s a shame it’s not getting the recognition it deserves. It’s a good film for children of all genders to be empowered with and teach them good messages, and I would certainly recommend it over Frozen any day.