The Unique, Heartbreaking Tale of Princess Kaguya

For all the praise Studio Ghibli gets, I can’t help but notice that the praise mostly goes to Hayao Miyazaki. And while I do genuinely love Miyazaki’s work and have great respect for the man, it’s really unfair for him to be the only anime director that has gotten worldwide acclaim. In fact, it’s important to note that one of his greatest influences was another director at Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata. And he has done some truly great works. And his latest (and arguably greatest) work came out just a few years ago. This film is The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

If you think anime is nothing but creepy fetishization, gratuitous sexuality and violence, exaggeration, and general weirdness, I highly suggest you give this movie a look. It’s a much subtler, more down-to-earth movie, with very brief (and nonsexual) nudity and brief violence that isn’t glorified. The animation is stunning, and shifts at the appropriate times. When Kaguya is in the mountain, the animation is bright, colorful, and detailed, looking like something out of a child’s picture book. When she’s at the palace, the colours are more muted. THIS SCENE is one of the greatest pieces of animation I have ever seen (you can see a great breakdown of it HERE).

The story at times feels like a brutal satire of the western fairy tale. Kaguya is actually much happier living as a peasant girl and loathes the life of a princess (where she’s seen more as a prize rather than a person; her suitors can’t even see her when they propose to her), and refuses to belong to any man. She also has an extremely close bond with her mother (something quite rare to see in Western media) and doesn’t overly depend on animal sidekicks.

The film is over 2 hours long, and manages to work in a range of beautiful animation in addition to great characterization, allowing you to become really attached to Kaguya and her family. Watching it for the second time, it’s a story of a young girl learning the beauties and ugliness of life and how precious it all is, but I feel like it also serves as a cautionary tale. Had the father simply listened to his daughter and respected her wishes rather than assuming what would make her happy, things would’ve gone much differently for them all.

This movie is also extremely sad. While I do think the movie is simply a masterpiece, I can’t watch it because it always makes me cry. I’m not going to spoil the ending for anyone, but basically, it’s an emotional roller coaster at the end.

Despite being a Studio Ghibli movie, this film didn’t generate a lot of hype when it came overseas. I’m not sure if it was because GKIDS/Universal dubbed and distributed it instead of Disney, or because it wasn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki, or if it’s because it got swallowed up by all the good western films that was released in 2014. I can sort of understand and accept it not winning the Oscar For Best Animated Film (well, then again, I do have a bias for the film that won that award), but I find it atrocious that it did not win any Annie Awards (you know, the awards ceremony that’s supposed to care about all animation) and only won a few obscure awards.

I’m not really sure if there’s much I can say. You just need to see it to believe it and take it all in. If you get a chance to see it, please do. You’ll probably cry, but it will be worth it.

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The Reaction to Pocahontas

If you’re a hardcore Disney fan, you probably know the story of how, in the mid-9os, the company believed that Pocahontas would be the next epic masterpiece classic in the vein of Beauty and the Beast and the like while The Lion King would be filler. Well, you know what happened. I kind of marvel the amount of effort put into a movie that was supposedly just meant to be filler, but that’s for another post.

While Pocahontas does have its fans, a lot of people consider it snark bait, or boring, or both. And of course, a lot of people lambasted the film for not being historically accurate.

As a kid, I really loved this movie (it still has a place in my heart), and I knew it was meant to be historical FICTION, not fact. I found it odd that this movie got bashed for not being entirely accurate whilst a lot of live action historical fiction films get praised and revered despite taking a lot of liberties with history.

I think the reason why this movie gets a lot of flack (along with Don Bluth’s Anastasia) for not being historically accurate is because 1) it’s for children, most of whom don’t know the REAL history, and 2) because it becomes less of a historical drama and more like a fairy tale/fantasy. I don’t think people like it when you add magic to history. Then it no longer becomes historical.

But as I grew up, I realized that the biggest reason why people get mad at the film for not being historically accurate is because of how it portrays Native Americans (in this case the Powhatan Nation) during colonial times. There’s a stereotype of First Nations people being ~~magical~~ and *~~in tune with nature~~*, which the movie unfortunately utilizes despite trying to be AGAINST racism. And of course the film glosses over the horrors of what ACTUALLY happened during the real Pocahontas’s time.

But because of that, I get a little iffy when people’s first reaction to the movie is to say “it’s boring” or “it makes me giggle because of how silly and heavy-handed it is”. Like with Anastasia, whenever people point out how inaccurate THAT movie is, they almost always do it angrily or negatively. With Pocahontas, a lot of people go ‘lol it’s so inaccurate’.

So, the movie that’s racist makes you giggle, but the movie that doesn’t accurately portray white Russian history makes you legit angry. Okay.

Now I know there are people who genuinely hate Pocahontas for it’s inaccuracies and racism (mainly, actual Native people), but still. I don’t like how a lot of reactions to this film are to make fun of it.

I guess the reason why people prefer to make fun of Pocahontas is because, as a whole, the film takes itself too seriously. I actually think that’s the main reason why the movie wasn’t as successful as Disney hoped; while The Lion King was allowed to have fun, Pocahontas tried too hard to be serious and adult and as a result came out as too grim. So people make light of it. But again, shouldn’t that inspire more anger, not snark bait? That they woefully misrepresented an entire group and have the audacity to claim that it’s a serious epic? Well, I can’t really change people’s reactions to it.

What do I think of the movie?

Well, visually, it’s stunning. I have some issues with the character design, but overall, it’s pretty gorgeous. The music is okay, but not as good as in anything Howard Ashman did. The animal sidekicks are pretty annoying and take too much screen-time. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for the animals not to talk but for the tree to do so. But, the “If I Never Knew You” song (which was added in for the 1oth Anniversary Edition) is perfect. It is an emotionally powerful and beautiful song, and it makes the love between Pocahontas and John Smith feel real and genuine. (Seriously, why was the song cut from the movie? I feel like the movie could have avoided a lot of detractors if they had just kept that scene in.) And I also love Pocahontas herself.

While I do understand people who find the movie itself boring (it’s not as lively as Disney’s previous hits), I get a little offended when people dismiss Pocahontas as boring or dull. Yes, her design is pretty bad (you can read more about it HERE) and the story team used elements of the racist “Indians are so stoic” trope in her character, but even beyond that, she’s not just boring. She’s playful, she’s athletic, she cares deeply about her people, believes in the best in everyone and wants to help people look at things differently, is against violence, is against racism, war, and is pro environment, and is torn between following her passion for John Smith and her duty to her people to stay in the village and marry Kocoum. You should absolutely criticize how the writers couldn’t make her AS full of life as Ariel or Jasmine or Belle because of the stereotype of how Indians can never be fun, but don’t dismiss her as ‘dull’. There’s a lot more to her.

Granted, I could be biased. Growing up, I absolutely loved Pocahontas. I loved how free-spirited and independent she was. I wanted her hair. She was my first fave Disney Princess. And let’s be real, despite the problems with her movie, she’s still important for a lot of girls of colour (especially a lot of young native girls), and it’s a shame she doesn’t get as marketed as much.

Still, I have to ask this: if Disney wanted to make a film based on a Native American ‘legend’, why distort someone’s actual life and not, you know, adapt an actual Native American legend? There’s an ABUNDANCE of stories among First Nations people Disney could’ve adapted (with consultation from the Nation it was taking inspiration from), it’s odd that they picked something with a historical background.

Well, there’s nothing we can do about it know. The movie has been made, for better or for worse. I guess it’s a good thing it didn’t gain The Lion King level success at any rate.

I think the best thing Disney can do about Pocahontas as this rate is to make sure it ISN’T their only movie about Native Americans. I hope Moana (which is going to be set in ancient Polynesia) is successful enough to encourage Disney to make more movies about different ethnic and indigenous groups and give them the proper respect they deserve to create some beautiful films. I just hope they remember to have fun with them too.

Blog Traffic

So, I love WordPress as a blogging platform. I like having my own space and being able to post whatever I feel like. So WP is great for CREATING stuff.

But I find it incredibly hard to actually SEARCH for stuff on this site. Maybe it’s because I’m used to Tumblr’s format of searching for stuff (which is way more expansive and you can get a general idea of what to expect/how to find things), but I find finding stuff relevant to your interests on WP difficult or even impossible to find. If you ‘follow’ a tag, you get extremely random results. I want to find more people that talk about animation, but it’s so hard. When I type in ‘Disney’ or ‘animation’, anything goes.

I think that might explain why it’s so hard for my blog to get views, even when I use the tags and categories liberally (though I am a little concerned about pissing people off so I don’t ALWAYS tag things properly; again, I’m used to Tumblr). Finding relevant content can be hard.

If you find my blog and share my content, don’t hesitate to send me a message or a comment on how you came across it. I find that some of my posts get more traffic than others, and I would like to know why that is. So if you find, like, and share a post (which I encourage and would be grateful for), let me know! And don’t hesitate to share stuff that you might find relevant to my blog as well!

Rant: Why DreamWorks ISN’T More Progressive than Disney

I was about to do a “Best and Worst of DreamWorks Animation” post, but I realized THAT was boring too. I think it’s just another review format for me. I guess I hate LISTING the positives and negatives of things.

While they have produced some great works of art, I hate, hate, HATE the mentality of a lot of their fans. A lot of DWA fans like to put down Disney, claiming the latter is regressive and boring and sexist and racist blah blah blah while acting like DWA is more progressive than it actually is.

Here’s a (very negative) post (I originally had drafted a long time ago on another site, now with a few edits) on why I don’t like DreamWorks Animation as much anymore, and why I refuse to put it on a pedestal as being more progressive than Disney. Here we go.

Continue reading “Rant: Why DreamWorks ISN’T More Progressive than Disney”

Under New Management for DreamWorks

As many of you have probably heard, the independent animation studio DreamWorks Animation has been bought by Comcast (specifically NBCUniversal).

A lot of people are pretty nervous about this. Comcast isn’t a very popular company, and a lot of fans are worried on how this will effect future films. While I don’t think DWA is AS progressive as a lot of fans say it is, and they have released some pretty ridiculous movies, they do take some pretty bold risks a lot (my personal faves are Megamind being obviously q*eer coded without being demonized, Po being fat, and Hiccup being disabled) and can release great works of art (I want another Prince of Egypt style movie), and I would hate to see all that go away.

Right now, we’re not sure what’s going to happen. When I read THIS post (not a CB fan but this has good info) saying that DreamWorks was going to end up making only films for the small fry, I was pissed, and a lot a lot of respect for DreamWorks Animation because of that (and while I did enjoy Kung Fu Panda 3, I sometimes think it may have suffered from that; I noticed it was comparatively tame to the second movie). So my main concern right now is whether the new deal will reinforce this or encourage DreamWorks to continue to make more progressive films for all ages (not just toddlers).

But you know one thing that I’m absolutely, positively happy about with the new change?

That Chris Meledandri is taking over Jeffrey Katzenberg’s place.

Whether or not you’re a fan of anything Chris Meledandri produces, you have to admit, he’s always managed to make a hit. He gives his films modest budgets but lots of marketing and sets a clear target demographic, making sure people see the films his company (Illumination) makes. When I read THIS post (I know, another CB post, but hey, good info is good!) I was blown away utterly. This man is a genius. I get the impression that he genuinely loves and encourages creativity and doesn’t JUST care about making money. With him in charge of DWA, I can definitely see new life being breathed into the studio. I can definitely see their financial troubles diminishing for sure.

I’m not going to go on about Jeffrey Katzenberg (there’s a lot of info online that explains why he’s unpopular among the animation community), but I get the impression that he’s not very good at marketing/budgeting (at one point, he donated $10 million to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures along with Steven Spielberg, even though that money could’ve been used for his studio), and is more interested in franchises rather than original content. He’ll milk any film that is a good hit to death, even when the content created for it isn’t very good. In the span of 21 years, DWA has released 32 (!!) films, which gives me the impression that he’s more interested in rushing out films to make a quick buck than taking their time to create something that’s good and market it properly.

In short, while I do think Katzenberg cares, I don’t think he entirely knows HOW to care. Under his reign, his studio went from biggest animation company in the world next to Pixar to something that a lot of people don’t really care about. A lot of their franchises are better known for making money than being household names that people genuinely love (beyond the How To Train Your Dragon films) and as a whole the company has garnered a bad reputation of being crass and self-indulgent. That’s my theory, at least, as to why a lot of their films have been so unsuccessful and unpopular recently.

So I think with Chris Meledandri in charge, DWA can get a fresh start. My hope is that DWA will be allowed to make films with beautiful animation, clever stories, and progressive elements (not just for little babies) with better marketing, budgeting, and management, which in turn should lead to DWA becoming truly successful.

Only time will tell if the new deal and management will truly help DreamWorks Animation. But considering the looming threat of bankruptcy in the near future for the studio, this is probably going to better than their current state at any rate.

Avatar: The Assault of Korra

HEAVY CONTENT WARNING FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND SEXUAL ASSAULT/RAPE ALLUSIONS

We need to talk about The Legend of Korra.

When Korra herself is introduced, she’s a strong, brash, confident, wide-eyed, ambitious, free-spirited young woman. She’s also one of the few prominent woman of colour leads in animation, and she can be muscular but still beautiful. Great! Brilliant! What a refreshing lead! I could do without the love triangle, and I wish she has a little more autonomy and wasn’t constantly chastised, but hey, still a great lead.

Now, how can add some more depth to her and help her grow? Can we see her become compassionate and caring to non-benders and find a way to solve the conflict in Republic City peacefully, putting aside her bias for fighting and bending? Can we have her learn airbending by finding her way to spiritual freedom in a more unique way? Can we show her dealing with her fear of the Equalists by talking about it with others and working on coping strategies?

Oh wait, no, we’re not going to do that. Not only are we going to solve the conflict in the most violent way possible, we’re also going to give Korra some depth by having her be violated and threatened by a man. First when she’s alone, restrained, surrounded by masked men, and have the leader uncomfortably grab her by her face and warn her about what he plans to do with her before knocking her out; and later, by the end of the series, have that man take away her bending, leaving her broken inside (despite finally finding a way to airbend). But don’t worry! We’ll have another man come and restore her bending out of nowhere!

Huh. Okay.

Well, maybe now she’s learned to be more careful and less reckless. Maybe we’ll see her really grow from there! At least she now she finally has a support system with her previous incarnations and…

Oh wait, she looses that connection? In the most violent and intrusive way by literally having her source of power ripped out of her through her nose and mouth (by her own uncle no less)? And she needs a man’s help to get back in touch with her spiritual side? And even when she gets her powers back she looses that support system forever?

Okay then.

Alright, so the stakes have been raised a bit. Now Korra has to deal with a bunch of anarchists who want to destroy her to restore chaos to the world. But she’s grown up a bit, now she’s finally making a mature choice. She’s going to surrender herself, but her friends will make sure she gets out safely. How does that end for her?

What.

WHAT.

Okay, this is where the show goes from questionable to absolutely disgusting. In this scene, the villains decide that the best way to take down Korra is to poison her, thus forcing her into the Avatar State, and hope to kill her and bring down the Avatar cycle then.

The whole scene is akin to a scene of sexual assault; you have Korra stripped down, restrained, penetrated, writhing in pain and trying to keep her, ahem, reaction under control. Luckily she is able to stay alive and bring her captor to justice, but not without lasting consequences.

After being poisoned and assaulted, she FINALLY really gets to grow and develop as a character. She becomes humbled, more spiritual, and finds a way to defeat the new villain peacefully and even sympathize with them. Yet not without people constantly telling her she’s weak, she’s not needed anymore, and that they don’t believe in her. And while she manages to get most of the poison out, she’s still reeling, having PTSD flashbacks and hallucinations, even having to resort to visiting her assailant in order to try to move past what happened to her.

And what does she make of all this in the end?

“I know I was in a pretty dark place after I was poisoned. But I finally understand why I had to go through all that. I needed to understand what true suffering was. So I could become more compassionate to others. Even to people like Kuvira.”

NO.

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.  

NOBODY HAS TO GO THROUGH THAT. NOBODY HAS TO OR DESERVES TO BE POISONED, ASSAULTED, AND DEAL WITH TRAUMATIC FLASHBACKS AND HALLUCINATIONS, LET ALONE TO BECOME A BETTER PERSON. THAT IS LITERALLY ON PAR WITH ABUSIVE APOLOGISM.

And you know what’s worse?

The writers literally couldn’t find a way for Korra to grow and develop as a character organically. They literally HAD to put Korra through a traumatic incident with long lasting effects in order to make her compassionate and understand ‘true suffering’.

You know, when Aang was the Avatar, he understood true suffering when he was told about the genocide of his people. A horrible thing that didn’t personally violate him, and he was able to find a way to make things better by slowly rebuilding the air nation. Avatar Roku understood true suffering when he couldn’t save his oldest and dearest friend from himself. Avatar Kuruk understood true suffering when his wife was spirited away forever. Yet why does Korra need to understand true suffering by being poisoned?

Why not have something bad happen to her loved ones? What about having to lose a close friend to the dark side? Why not have her NOT be poisoned, break out, and have her kill her would-be assailants in a rage, and have to deal with that?

Considering all the abuse Korra had to deal with from men before, the third season could’ve made a bolder statement by have Korra look at the poison, go “I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”, enter the Avatar State on her own accord, and break free and punish the villains. The fourth season can have her trying to prevent herself from ever becoming that violent ever again, and deciding to deal with villains peacefully. That would be actual character development.

Instead, the writers need to violate and traumatize Korra. What’s worse, her mental health problems aren’t fully dealt with. The most we get of her recovering is having to confront her assailant (and actually show him sympathetically despite what he did to her). After that, we’re just supposed to assume she’s mostly all better.

All in all, the show took a bright young girl and had to physically, mentally, and emotionally break her down in order for her to become a better person and raise the stakes of the final season.

As you can see, this is all absolutely disgusting. I’m honestly shocked very few people seem to be upset over this. But it’s important that we talk about it. Why?

Because the show is still popular. Because many people are getting into this show. Because it’s being sold on Blu-Ray. Because it’s available for all to watch online. But most of all, because this is a show aimed at CHILDREN, and it’s telling them that going through a traumatic assault is necessary.

After all Korra had to go through, I’m very glad that she goes to the Spirit World with Asami. After all the abuse she had to go through (especially from men), she deserves to spend some time alone with someone who genuinely loves and cares for her. It’s just upsetting that more people tear apart the show for the ending and its supposed underdeveloped final couple than for the unnecessary violence it put the main character through.

 

 

The Shrek Effect

You all remember DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek, right?

Of course you do. It was HUGE hit back in 2001, raking in $484 million at the box office (which may seem like a more modest hit nowadays but was a big deal back in the early 2000s), winning the the very first Oscar for Best Animated Feature (this was before Pixar took over the world for awhile), and spawning an abundance of merchandise and (to date) three sequels.

So why is that today, nobody seems to talk about it besides making fun of it?

Seriously, this movie has sparked a lot of Internet memes, some of them rather disturbing (don’t Google “Shrek is Love Shrek is Life”, and I might avoid looking up Shrek on Google Images as well), jokes about how it has an infinite number of sequels, cheap shots at all the merch it spawned, and questions as to whether or not any love for this film is genuine or ironic. A lot of posts in general on Shrek are sarcastic or, well, weird.

While most people can agree that the second film is actually good (thanks in large part to the “I Need a Hero” cover) and the last two films are bad, nobody can really seem to agree on whether the first film is a true classic or a parody onto itself.

I think I can call what happened to Shrek (and DreamWorks in General) the Shrek Effect.

When Shrek first came out, it was rather unique. You had a main hero who was ugly and crude and pretty much the opposite of Prince Charming and proud of it. You had a Princess who knew martial arts and could also be pretty crude and turned out to be happy with her ogre form. You had the two of them getting married and remaining ugly and living happily ever after in the swamp. You also had a lot of pop culture references, scathing parodies of Disney, a snarky overtone and lots and lots and LOTS of crude/rude/sexual humour that wouldn’t let up. In short, it was different, and people, at the time, loved it. So much so, that DreamwWorks decided to copy the formula for almost all their other films (mainly their CGI films, as their more original 2D films weren’t very successful), and other companies followed suit.

What happened was an oversaturation of crude, snarky, and almost bitter films that tried to be edgy and in-your-face. Whereas Pixar stuck with making heartfelt, down-to-earth movies, DreamWorks would create cynical counterparts (or rather, ripoffs) that would try to convey a positive message while being weird and sometimes gross. Walt Disney Animation Studios, which had been struggling to keep up in the 2000s after having ruled the animation roost during the 1990s, tried to ride DreamWorks’s coattails with films like Home on the Range and Chicken Little, which ended up hurting the company even more until they bought Pixar.

While DreamWorks did enjoy some success during this time, now they’re in serious financial trouble and their reputation has been forever tarnished. While Disney has managed to recover from their Shrek-inspired days (thank you, John Lasseter), and other companies have gained a new life, DreamWorks is still widely seen as a crude company that cribs inspiration from Pixar and makes too many sequels and merchandise to films that weren’t that great. The only franchise DreamWorks has that seems to be universally loved is How To Train Your Dragon, and even that series isn’t making enough. And, of course, the film that started it all is now ridiculed.

I think what a lot of people fail to realize is that, where other films failed, Shrek actually WORKED.

Shrek wasn’t just an asshole misanthrope for no reason; you understood how he felt he had to shut himself off because no one liked him. Fiona wasn’t just a princess who knew kung fu; she also had some hidden depth (mainly she thought she had to be beautiful, but realized it was better to be ugly and loved). Donkey wasn’t just a comic relief sidekick, he was Shrek’s truest friend and companion. And the movie has an important message of how looks don’t matter as much as what you are inside. But because of the neck-deep crassness, dated pop cultural references, constant middle finger to Disney, the excess of sequels and merchandise and other weird moments (mainly the fact that the Donkey had an intimate relationship with a dragon much bigger and less sentient than him), and how a lot of other DreamWorks films did almost the same thing, nobody really remembers Shrek that fondly anymore. It does have some loyal fans, but generally speaking, Shrek has become nothing more than a collective joke for a lot of people.

It’s kind of sad that while Shrek only hurt other companies for a brief period of time, it’s still hurting its parent company. While I do have some problems with DreamWorks Animation (I’ll probably get to that in another post), I don’t think it’s fair for them to be suffering just because they’re not allowed to move on for their early days. What’s really upsetting is that they feel like they have to make all their films squarely for young children now just to make a profit (though there is no excuse for them to do this because they feel only children are watching their films; Disney has proven people of all ages are flocking to see their animated works).

I refuse to see Shrek as nothing  more than meme fodder, but I will unfortunately remember it as the film that helped and harmed the animation industry, especially DreamWorks. As it stands, Shrek will likely not be remembered the way DreamWorks would like it to be in animation history.