In a Heartbeat vs Bad Animation Oversaturation

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

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

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

That short is In a Heartbeat.

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

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

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

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

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

 

How Megamind Can Help Us With Pride

A lot of animated family movies teach the message of “Be yourself and proud of who you are”. For a lot of kids of any age, they need to be reminded not to let bullies or peer pressure get to them. But for some kids who are attracted to the same gender or present themselves outside of the masculine/feminine binary, simple “be proud of who you are” messages aren’t enough.

In 2013, Frozen came out and for a lot of people, “Let It Go” became a coming out anthem. But while the movie (mainly Elsa) does resonate with the LGBT community, it was actually meant to be about mental illness. Is there an animated family film that can be read explicitly as one for LGBT youth?

I think there might be. And that movie is none other than DreamWorks’ 2010 film Megamind.

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This movie wasn’t a huge hit (Disney’s Tangled, which also came out that year, made more money) but it does have a following. It’s a superhero movie with a twist: what if the villain won? And once the villain does win, what happens next? In Megamind’s case, he becomes bored and lonely. He doesn’t really want power, he just wants people to appreciate and acknowledge him. Eventually he becomes a real hero and gets the girl. But I think a queer narrative plays a huge role in that story as well.

For starters, I think you can tell from the poster that he’s queer-coded like a lot of villains tend to be. Skintight, spiky, over-the-top outfits (and some makeup!) and a thin, waifish built. He also has some, ahem, foppish mannerisms, lives with a male best friend who wears a pink apron and raises robot children, can be really emotionally expressive (but not macho or manly), and gazes longingly at Metro Man (the male opponent) just as he does with Roxanne (the female love interest).

And you know what? He’s never demonized for any of this. He isn’t made to be the butt of a joke or gross, that’s just how he is. He’s FABULOUS, and isn’t forced to change, even after he becomes a hero.

What makes me think this is a queer narrative, beyond just how Megamind presents himself, is how his story of discrimination is eerily reminiscent of LGBT youth.

His parents had to send him away, and he spent his childhood growing up (raised by other men) in a prison. When he goes to school he is immediately seen othered by the teacher and the other children, getting no gold stars, put in the corner, and not picked to be on teams. So he has to be independent. Eventually, he decides “if they think I’m a villain, I guess that’s what I’ll be!”

That definitely sounds like a kid from a marginalized identity facing prejudice, and internalizing it. There are unfortunately cases of young kids with internalized homophobia who become aggressive and unhappy. This is a definite parallel to Megamind leading a life of villainy, but eventually realizing that it is depressing and meaningless.

After donning a disguise of a white straight man, Megamind gets closer to Roxanne. He falls in love with her (but still shows a yearning for Metro Man) and even ends up kissing her. When his disguise fades, everyone stops and stares at them with shock and horror. That can definitely be reminiscent of how LGBT couples expressing affection in public are viewed and treated.

Frustrated, Megamind tries to return to being a villain by battling Hal aka Tighten, a ‘hero’ he created. But it turns out the ubermasculine Hal is the real villain, who takes delight in hurting others and is creepily obsessed with Roxanne, feeling entitled to her. Megamind, in all his FABULOUS glory, defeats him and saves the day, becoming the new city hero and Roxanne’s boyfriend.

I think it’s pretty obvious that the blue alien Megamind is meant to be a metaphor for a person of a marginalized identity taking pride in who they are and becoming loved for it. And given his mannerisms, attire, his contrast to the villain, and how he idolizes a male AND a female character, I think it’s safe to say that a bisexual, gender-noncomforming Megamind fits very well. And he can still find love, he can still be a hero, that he doesn’t have to conform, and that he is AWESOME. I think this is something that all LGBT youth can remember when they feel like the world is getting them down.

Happy Pride Month!

 

 

 

Tracer Comes Out and Proud, Korra and Asami Remain Stable

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Short post because it’s been a long day (I’m starting my Christmas vacation) but I needed to talk about this now. This has been a big week for queer women.

December 19th marked the two year anniversary of the series finale of Legend of Korra, where it was revealed that Korra and Asami are bisexual and in love with each other, and will go on to be happy together. The fact that people have been celebrating this on social media proves just how major this was, and how many lives it touched.

And just a day later, Overwatch (which never fails to impress me), as a warm Christmas gift, released a comic confirming that Tracer, the face of the hit franchise, is gay and in a happy, healthy, explicit relationship. Tracer was the first announced gay character from Blizzard (they had teased that at least one of their characters was gay), and hopefully this will pave the way for further LGBT characters in the franchise and for others.

This is huge. Two significant series that have given representation to the LGBT community. Not minor characters. Not offscreen relationships. Nothing that ended in death or misery. But main characters in loving relationships.

In a world where LGBT representation (especially for women) is rare and not well developed, it’s wonderful knowing that we’re getting closer and closer to showing happy, living characters together in mainstream media. And in our current troubled climate, lots of young LGBT fans will take comfort in knowing someone cares.

Merry Christmas, my wlw friends. You are valid and you are loved.

 

Your Fave is Autistic Part 5: Pidge Gunderson/Katie Holt

So out of curiosity I decided to check out the new show Voltron: Legendary Defender. (Disclaimer: I have no nostalgic ties to Voltron. I didn’t even know what it was until recently. Also, spoilers if you haven’t seen the show.) What did I think?

I thought it was good, but not great. I especially would’ve liked more female characters. But, I did love Pidge. And the reason why was because I could definitely see them (I think Pidge might be non-binary or transgender so I’m using they pronouns just to be safe) as being autistic.

For starters, they don’t like it when people touch their things. I can relate to that a lot. Secondly (and perhaps most importantly) is that they are EXTREMELY smart and tech savvy (more than the rest of the team) and they absolutely LOVE robots, to the point where they form a really close bond with one (and is devastated when that robot can’t be with them anymore).

Another clue is that they’re oddly specific. At one point, when Princess Allura tries to dig more info from them, they go on a tangent and say how they like peanut bother and other peanut products but not actual peanuts (they think peanuts are too dry) and has a bit of a hard time picking up social cues. They are VERY close to their family and fixate on wanting them back and has some trouble forming with the rest of the team (the closest they get to is Shiro, who is very calm and soft spoken and patient).

I think a major clue is their gender presentation. There’s a lot of research that presents a link between autism and gender dysphora. Just google “autism and gender identity” and you should have lots of links to studies and articles on it (there are too many for me to link). And the thing about Pidge is that they were assigned female at birth (unless it’s revealed that’s not the case later), presented as a boy at the start of the series (for plot reasons) and just sort of stayed that way. Even after they said “I’m a girl” they still go by the name Pidge and don’t present more femininely. So I think that’s a major clue that Pidge doesn’t fully align with the gender binary and is probably figuring things out in addition to being autistic.

The show only has one season consisting of thirteen episodes so far but from what I’ve seen there’s enough evidence to suggest Pidge is autistic and non-binary or trans. I can’t wait to see where the show will take this character in the upcoming seasons.

Rant: Stop Seeing Scraps as Representation

So even though the movie hasn’t even been released, a lot of people are speculating that maybe, just maybe, there’s a lesbian couple in the latest Finding Dory trailer.

Skip to 1:08 to see it.

And of course, people are losing their collective shit over it. There are lots of clickbait articles asking “is this Pixar’s first LGBT couple?” or outright saying “it’s Pixar’s first LGBT couple!” And some people are praising Pixar already. Of course you have people being angry and homophobic, but we’re not going to focus on them (they can go to hell for all I care anyway).

Here’s my question, though.

Why are we so effing excited to see a split second, not important, maybe lesbian couple and see that as so progressive and revolutionary?

Here’s the thing. We are living in a world where we already have explicit, onscreen gay and lesbian relationships in children and family media. Steven Universe‘s Ruby and Sapphire are two non-binary lesbians who love each other very very much and can’t bear to be apart, forming into one person. And I can’t say anything due to spoilers, but let’s just say, the upcoming SU episode this week should dispel any gossip of them just being ‘friends’.

Yet no one seems to care. When we have onscreen representation right in front of us, there’s no major media hype or praising the show to high heaven or giving it mainstream media attention.

Because media seems to care more about POTENTIAL LGBT relationships then they do ACTUAL LGBT relationships. Implicit, offscreen, and/or minor relationships get more hype and praise than the opposite. There was a lot of buzz over a character in ParaNorman saying he’s gay (but we don’t see his lover) but whenever the relationship is RIGHT IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, IS CLEAR AND EXPLICIT AND MAKES UP A GOOD CHUNK OF THE STORY, there’s no hype.

So, forgive me if people making a fuss over a potential lesbian couple that’s not even integral to the story of Finding Dory grinds my gears. I don’t want to give Pixar any credit for reserving their representation to background characters. I want them to have MAIN LGBT characters in relationships. They can do it. Pixar is a rich and powerful enough company to handle any backlash, and I’m sure lots of fans will flock to theaters to support it. Plus, you know, they’re Pixar, a company praised for being so original and unique. You’d think they’d do something truly creative and make a family friendly movie about an LGBT couple with as much fun and adventure as any straight character in their films would.

EDIT: I originally included Korra and Asami as an example of a couple people were buzzing over, but after going back and thinking about it, the relationship does kind of deserve the hype it got, even if it wasn’t as explicit as it could’ve been.

Which Disney Character Should Be Q*eer?

WARNING: VERY, VERY, VERY, VERY HARSH FROZEN CRITICISM BELOW!

For a long time, people have been begging Disney to have a canonically LGBT/q*eer character (that wasn’t a sidekick or the villain) in one of their animated films. Considering how Disney is known for hiring LGB (not sure about the T) people for voice work and other behind-the-scenes work, it’s only fair that they should represent one on-screen as well.

For awhile, people wanted an original LGBT character, but now it seems that people want a pre-established character to be so.

Recently, people have been tweeting at Disney to make Elsa from Frozen LGBT (preferably a lesbian) in the sequel, with the hashtag #giveelsaagirlfriend.

And to be honest, I don’t think that hashtag is going to work.

See, the thing about Frozen is that it’s the epitome of safe. I’m sorry, but it is. The plot is simplistic, the dialogue is childish, it doesn’t delve deep into serious themes (like how Big Hero 6 dealt with the death of a loved one and how to cope with it, or how Zootopia dealt with societal prejudice, or how Tangled dealt with abusive relationships, to name just a few), the characterization isn’t that complex; even the animation and design looks really flat compared to other Disney films that came out recently. It’s not really ‘feminist’ because, for a movie about two sisters, Anna and Elsa aren’t happy together for most of the film, it has a muddled message on ‘not needing a man’ (when Anna hooks up with a boy who had to save her life a lot throughout the movie), and Elsa being single isn’t that revolutionary when we just had Merida the year before and Honey Lemon and Gogo the year after. It’s a safe, marketable movie meant to sell merch and make people happy. You notice how literally EVERYONE seems to relate to Elsa? It’s because she’s an empty shell; she has such scant characterization beyond being depressed and anxious and has things happen TO her (not making any real decisions by herself, beyond staying away from Anna because she feels that she’s too dangerous); and her powers as a metaphor is so vague it can be seen as a multitude of things, from mental illness to disability, to, yes, being q*eer. (The fact that she’s white and skinny and pretty helps a lot.)

So really, do you think Disney is going to risk losing money out of one of their biggest franchises by making Elsa a lesbian or otherwise q*eer? Probably not. Frozen is successful because it is basic; they can’t be TOO progressive with it. Elsa is simply too marketable for Disney to take risks with her. They’re taking advantage of the fact that she’s so relatable.

Besides which, I really, really hate how, if a woman is single in a Disney film, she HAS to be q*eer. Men can be single and no one will raise an eyebrow, but the minute a woman expresses how she doesn’t want to get married, suddenly she must not be straight. I have no problem with people headcanoning the heroines as having a different sexuality, but I don’t like how society as a whole sees single Disney women this way.

So, okay, maybe Disney should make one of their characters q*eer anyway. After all, shows like Steven Universe have been proven to be popular despite (or perhaps because) of their LGBT representation, Disney shouldn’t have to worry too much about backlash. But still, I think they’re going to do it with a character they’re allowed to take risks with. And who might such a character be?

This guy:

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Yes, Ralph.

Why do I say this? Well, for starters Wreck-It Ralph was a successful Disney movie that is (eventually) going to have a sequel, but hasn’t been marketed to death like Frozen has. So Disney is allowed to take a few risks with this character.

Secondly, Wreck-It Ralph, unlike Frozen, is VERY progressive and much more layered. I plan to do a separate post on it, but basically, Ralph is a man consigned to the role of a ‘bad guy’, and while he isn’t necessarily ‘pure’, and is a little rough around the edges, he still has a good heart, and would do anything for his friends (even die for them). He is an outcast, and it’s well established that people actually dislike him for who he is, and they have to overlook their prejudices and accept him. He rejects riches and living the good life, he’s fine having some recognition and friends. And, despite being big and burly, he’s actually very caring and sweet, not falling into a macho man stereotype. (Seriously, watch the movie. The differences between it and Frozen are like night and day.)  So not only is he a well written and unconventional character, why wouldn’t he be q*eer? It could certainly tie in with his narrative of a man taking life who had to deal with stigma and had to take life one game at a time very well.

I think Disney is allowed to be riskier with this movie, and Ralph is a fantastic, well-developed character that can pull it off. Granted I’m not sure if it WILL happen (and I think ultimately Disney should just make an original LGBT character), but I think WIR would be better for representation than Frozen.

I guess ultimately, we’ll have to see what will happen. Maybe Elsa WILL be revealed to be LGBT in the sequel and they’ll write her sexuality in effectively, who knows? But for now, I’m keeping my expectations really low, and I still think Ralph would be a better choice at any rate. But that’s just how I feel at any rate.

 

Is Mulan Non-Binary?

NOTE: For this post, I am referring SOLELY to the Disney movie. 

Out of the official Disney Princesses, I think the one most popular among fans is Mulan. Her narrative doesn’t entirely drive on her getting a man, she can hold her own in a fight, saves an entire nation, and is pretty relatable in her own right.

But one thing I found out through Tumblr and other social media is that she is very popular with trans and non-binary people. To the point where a lot of people headcanon her as such. Yet I’m starting to wonder if she actually might be non-binary in canon.

We all know that in the movie she’s very socially awkward and very clever, but you’ll also notice she’s not very competent with interacting with men or women. She doesn’t seem to have any friends beyond her family and animal companions.

We see that she feels very uncomfortable being overly feminine. She looks almost horrified seeing herself made up in the mirror, and throughout getting dressed and ready she doesn’t look too happy. She’s only really doing it in the hope of getting her family honour (needing notes in order to feel prepared to present) but throughout the whole thing she is extremely uncomfortable (the runaway cricket didn’t help). And then when it all goes south, there comes the famous song.

On the surface, it’s a song about someone who doesn’t fit in and wants to find their place in the world, but take a close listen to the lyrics:

Now I see / that if I were truly to be myself /I would break my family’s heart /Who is that is that girl I see / staring straight back at me? / why is my reflection someone I don’t know / somehow I cannot hide who I am / though I try /when will my reflection show /who I am inside? 

And the first thing she does is take off her makeup and look at herself with confusion and sadness. But it’s now starting to sound a lot like a coming out (trans/non-binary) song.

You can listen to both the original and the extended Christina Aguilera versions with the lyrics HERE, but with lyrics like “and be loved for who I am” “I can’t fool my heart” “Must I pretend that I’m someone else for all time” and “Must there be a secret me that I’m forced to hide”.

Like…that sounds a lot more passionate and beyond just someone sick of traditional gender roles. It actually sounds like a woman coming to grips with the fact that she’s q*eer/not a real ‘woman’ and it’s tearing her up in side.

Then, when Mulan begs her father not to go to war, he tells her “I know my place! It is time you learned yours!”, she gets beyond upset. I think what’s important to note is that she doesn’t just go to her room; she hides by her family’s dragon statue in the rain. This scene can double as being both scared and sad for her father and feeling like she no longer belongs with her family.

Yet because she still loves and is loyal to her family (the original story was about familial piety, and it’s still relevant in the movie) she decides to take her father’s place. When she joins the soldiers, she learns that she’s not comfortable with masculinity either. She becomes good at learning to fight and be a soldier and seems to like it well enough, but she doesn’t like actually being a man, and finds a lot of manly habits weird and gross.

She fights and succeeds in the war, but is immediately outed in a very invasive way (a pretty common narrative in a lot of stories with trans characters). She is soon shunned and left on her own. That’s when she delivers this line:

“Maybe I didn’t go for my father. Maybe what I really wanted was to prove I could do things right. So when I looked in the mirror, I’d see someone worthwhile. But I was wrong. I see NOTHING!”

Depression and self image issues are very common with LGBT people, and while Mulan shows signs of it throughout the movie, this scene, where Mulan has essentially failed as both a man and a woman, is really poignant in hindsight.

When Mulan decides to go defeat the Huns once and for all and gets the help of her friends, she is shown somewhere between being masculine and feminine; she wears a simpler blue dress that she can still fight in, keeps her hair short, and has no makeup. She also manages to use both the sword and the fan to defeat Shan Yu. It’s at the climax, when she is accepted and seen for a hero, when she realizes that she doesn’t have to be either a man or a woman. She can be both. She can be neither.

And ultimately, when she comes home, her family accepts her for who she is. The film ends with Mulan happy with who she is and starting to get to know Shang more without immediately rushing into a relationship with him (another potential piece of evidence of her being q*eer, since during the 90s, every Disney female lead would end up in a relationship with a man at the end).

As you can see, there’s a very valid interpretation of Mulan being a q*eer narrative. And given how Beauty and the Beast has more or less been confirmed to be a q*eer narrative (since Howard Ashman, who was a gay man dying of AIDS, was heavily involved with the story and characters in addition to the songs), it’s not completely out of the question.

Now, a lot of people will have different interpretations. Some people would like to see Mulan solely as a story about a woman defying gender roles and being empowered. Others might say that Mulan’s three male friends dressing in drag is transmisogynistic and therefore would hurt a q*eer narrative for Mulan herself. Others still might say seeing Mulan as non-binary is culturally insensitive, though the movie itself isn’t really culturally or historically accurate, and non-binary genders in China do exist (and in the original poem, Mulan says “How can they tell I am he or a she?”; make what you will of that). And, ultimately, Disney has yet to come out and say if she’s non-binary.

Yet what’s important is that Mulan, no matter what gender she is, has inspired so many people. She has helped trans and non-binary people feel valid, helped cis women feel empowered, and provided a cool and unconventional female lead for cis men. She is a great role model for people of all genders, and that’s what matters the most.