Kingdom Hearts 3: A Heartless Review

The ultimate question.

Well, I’m halfway through Kingdom Hearts 3. I’ve been waiting for this to come out for 13 years now. How is it holding up?

While the graphics are stellar and the game mechanics are fluid and seamless, I find myself feeling disappointed with how much of each unique world was shown off in the trailers. I started swiping away long before the game came out, but that wasn’t soon or quick enough to avoid the truth: there are only two classic Disney worlds in this game, and one of those is certainly debatable.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Pixar, and its worlds based on Toy Story and Monsters Inc. are my favorites so far. I definitely appreciate their inclusion, along with the interesting in-world locations and apparent decision to set the plots to sometime after the movies have ended. It’s less predictable, and therefore more engaging.

But contrast all of the worlds here with that of the first Kingdom Hearts. Atlantica, Olympus, Monstro’s Belly, Wonderland, Neverland, Agrabah, 100 Acre Wood, Deep Jungle, and Halloween Town. Now we have Olympus, Toy Box, Corona, Monstropolis, 100 Acre Wood, Arendelle, the Caribbean, and San Fransokyo. There seemed to be a more even mix of older and newer Disney in the first game, but it mostly focused on the classics that made Disney a household name over the years. Some worlds were tedious, but at least there was variety.

As much as I love Tangled and Frozen, their movies have been overplayed in the last 5 years of my life. Particularly the latter. I could spend the rest of my life never seeing anything more from Frozen and be perfectly content.

Corona had a gorgeous setting, but it followed the plot of the movie so closely that I think kids would either find it boring or confusing, depending on how much they remember. It also contained the moment when Rapunzel debates with herself about whether she should stay the course or go home. It didn’t make sense with the flow of the game, and it was also laughable for a wholly-unintended reason; Sora, Donald, and Goofy are standing in the background every time the scene shifts, clearly in her line of vision, but Rapunzel only notices their presence and demands their names when they physically walk up to her.

Sora almost feels like he’s been pasted in. This serves as a good metaphor for their influence in this story, although Rapunzel does try to make up for this by calling out to Sora and making him do chores throughout the trip to the castle.  

Eugene getting stabbed was kind of weird. I know it happens in the movie, and it’s by no means the first time a Kingdom Hearts character has “died,” but there was something visceral about its depiction in this game. Even with no blood, it just felt too real.

To its credit, though, I did want to go back and watch the movie after playing.

Meanwhile, Arendelle also follows the plot of its movie, which sucks if you haven’t seen it in a while, but it changes up a few things randomly. And I don’t mean in a fun way. First, you have to navigate a dark, depressing, Heartless-infested ice maze, and another moment of hilarity comes when you wonder how Larxene even built the damn thing when she was just piling ice boulders on top of each other. Okay, whatever. It’s a metaphor for how Elsa feels inside, isolated and lost. Fair enough.

Then you have to climb the mountain to reach Elsa’s ice palace. Not once, but several times. This was a boring task constantly being slowed down by Heartless fights, and while the snowboarding down the mountain was kind of fun, knowing that it represented me having to make another hike back up was infuriating.

The face I made when told I had to do it all again.

Couple this with out-of-nowhere singing that sometimes obscures the dialogue, and the fact that Sora does next to nothing plot-relevant, making his inclusion in this story feel, once again, superfluous, and Arendelle becomes a half-assed sight-seeing tour. It’s telling that most of the movie’s important moments take place off-screen, or in a dinky way, like Hans randomly appearing at one point, carrying Elsa like a sack of potatoes.

That’s the one thing that bugs me about Kingdom Hearts games: so much wasted potential! The series has never been the best at getting you to take the story 100% seriously, but it can be a stretch even at 40% sometimes, given that it stinks of middle school fanfiction. Sora and the other characters still barely react to anything, and when they does, it’s only what the game deems remarkable.

Elsa building a frown ice palace from scratch, even when Sora basically just saw Larxene do the same thing?  

A boy with a talking duck and dog man, who can all wield magic?

 

No siree. Not remarkable in the slightest.

Larxene’s act should have been more impressive to everyone involved. Sora wouldn’t remember this, but her thing is lightning. Maybe she inherited Xaldin’s wind powers after his Somebody was reborn?

As a side note, Olaf can melt for all I care. Thank you, Disney, for taking a character who was just barely annoying and proving that you can turn him up to 11.

Right now, I’m in The Caribbean. Did anyone even like this level back in Kingdom Hearts 2? Sora makes a comment to the effect of, “Who could ever dislike this world?” Me. I could.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a decent enough, goofy, swash-buckling time-waster. Its sequels were pointlessly over-padded garbage, whose sole redeeming asset turned out to be a horrible human being. While the world looks and feels more impressive than before, I came here for the cartoon worlds! I certainly didn’t come to this game for a tedious scavenger hunt for 300 crabs to inexplicably repair a ship!

Sorry, Sora. It’s true.

I’m enjoying many aspects of the game, to be sure. I love being able to run up walls. I love the Ratatouille-themed mini games. The worlds all feel way bigger and less empty, with NPCs all around that say at least one line in passing. The over-world is more engaging than ever before, and the length and difficulty you experience navigating it doesn’t feel slapped on, as in the previous games. I say this as someone who has always hated the gummi ships.

I’m also dying to know how the overarching story ends, despite the fact that no one ever really dies and every question about the plot can basically be answered by, “Nomura wills it.” But overall, Kingdom Hearts 3 feels weirdly short and sparse where it counts, and its worlds seem to have been put in for popularity, rather than their staying power. It feels “trendy,” like giving Sora an iPhone, but not necessarily thoughtful or impactful.

I can’t rate the game yet, but if you were to twist my arm, I’d give it solid 6/10. Pretty good, but after waiting this many years? I think that’s what did Square Enix in.

What’s Wrong with Modern Horror?

I’ll probably go into this in more detail sometime soon, but for now, I have written you lovely folks a song. Please feel free to join in, to the tune of “My Favorite Things.”

Bad or bland heroes, please die in a fire

Blonde drop-dead hotties in flimsy attire

Cliches repeating to make a quick buck

This is why modern horror movies suck!

Partiers off to secluded locations

Drinking and sex leads to plot revelations

Police don’t get called or they just don’t believe

These are the tropes that make me want to heave!

Young child actors that come off robotic

Needless exposure to make things erotic

Monsters whose horror is only skin deep

These only show the director’s a creep!

Cars breaking down with no good explanation

Jumpscares composed of CG animation

Orchestra stings that can deafen your ears

These are not real things that anyone fears!

Not understanding the plot’s implications

Bad one-note villains with weird machinations

Writers don’t research or think through their words

These things will piss off horror movie nerds!

Human stories

Not too gory

Brand new plots and spooks

Find out what I’m scared of and give it a twist

And then I will take a look!

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

I like J.K. Rowling. I like her books. They are very engaging and easy to read. The movies that came from her books have fallen in my favor as I have grown up, if only because I have finally noticed their bare-bones (see what I did there?) approach to adaptation. But that wasn’t really her fault.

All that said, I think she has many flaws. One in particular being that she is not a good script writer.

Much like the first movie, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a jumble of two or three movies that are connected very loosely, in this case by Grindelwald himself. If he weren’t there, you might not think they had anything to do with one another. Important plot points, particularly some that contradict the ending of the last movie, are exposited to us after the fact rather than shown to us, which is more interesting and effective in a visual medium. We get so little time with various characters that it is hard to be fully invested or get inside their heads, so when things happen to them, it’s not nearly as powerful and meaningful as it could be.

Credence Barebone, the dorky emo bowl cut from the first movie, is still alive, and he somehow made it to France in a desperate search for his family’s identity. He finds work at a magical Parisian circus, where he soon teams up with Nagini, a girl suffering from a curse that transforms her into a snake every night, and will eventually make her unable to change back. They escape together and continue to search for Credence’s mother, and presumably a cure to their curses, all while trying to avoid the various aurors that have been sent to kill him.

Why are the Ministries of Magic (America doesn’t have ministries, Rowling. We have departments) trying to kill him? Well, aside from the damage he caused in the first movie, there are rumors that he may be the last male descendant of a pureblood wizard family, and Grindelwald is rumored to want to use him as a political tool to rally the other snooty purebloods to their side. Pureblood families have a lot of power and wealth in the wizarding community, and if you don’t remember that, well, you just wait until Malfoy’s father hears about this!

Meanwhile, Newt is newting it up in Great Britain with his menagerie of magical creatures and half-heartedly trying to refute the claim that he is Dumbledore’s errand boy. Apparently his trip to retrieve the Thunderbird from traffickers in the last movie was set in motion by Dumbledore, here played by Jude Law, and the timing of his arrival in New York just when Grindelwald began making a move was too coincidental for comfort in the eyes of the British Ministry.

Despite Newt having a travel ban placed on him, Dumbledore petitions Newt to sneak off to Paris to try and protect Credence. Newt is eventually convinced when he finds out that Tina, his crush from the first movie, is there as well, also trying to track down Credence. Also there’s some drama happening with Queenie and Jacob that brings them both to Paris, and some tension between Newt, his Ministry-employed brother, and Leta Lestrange, who is Newt’s childhood friend/crush and his brother’s fiancée. She got brought up in the last movie, but they never really went into what happened with Newt and her.

It would take too long to explain, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Once again, this movie is full of callbacks to the earlier Harry Potter movies, with the biggest one this time around being Hogwarts itself. That was nice to see again. There is some stuff in the movie that will please Potterheads and theorists, and some stuff that will make you scratch your head and strain your brain trying to remember continuity. For example, if Leta is the last of her family line, where did Bellatrix’s husband come from half a century later?

The performances are all fine. I don’t know why Johnny Depp needed to be here, but he was good enough for the kind of character he was trying to portray. Everyone else was good to serviceable. Many people complained before the move came out that Nagini was being turned from a snake into a submissive Asian woman stereotype, and how racist that was. I can certainly see where they are coming from, but I was mostly concerned with an unnecessary retcon bringing her into the story for no reason, and it seems that my prediction was true. She has no reason to be in the movie; she contributes nothing to the story or to the characters, and outside of her being pretty and “a freak like him,” I don’t know what Credence gets out of their relationship. He abandons her pretty quickly too, so she can’t have ever meant that much to him.

“Hey look everybody! She was Voldemort’s pet snake, remember?”

…Yeah, and? What was her narrative purpose for being here? And being a lady?

But what did I like about this movie? I’ve always liked Newt Scamander, but damn, he has really grown on me as a character. As I said before, he displays an almost childlike meekness when dealing with other human beings, but his compassion for his creatures is sweet and funny, and he does generally try to do the right thing, even for other people. He makes an interesting counterpoint to your typically Hollywood macho male hero. I also love Jacob as the somewhat straight man/comedic muggle sidekick (no, I will not call him a no-Maj. In a world of silly sounding words, names, and phrases, that one still manages to sound stupid). How he mostly “retained,” not regained his memories from the last movie was a blatant, lazy hand-wave, but I’m willing to ignore it if it means he’s back in the story.

I like how the movie is showing Grindelwald’s rise to power, and what draws people to his brand of leadership. Unlike Voldemort, who was a dramatic, brutish totalitarian followed entirely by assholes and cowards, Grindelwald uses manipulative rhetoric and spins his enemies’ actions to his advantage. He convinces otherwise well-meaning people to come to his side, only using fear as a garnish.

I like young Dumbledore. I’d have liked to have seen more of him and known more about his motives, but I’m used to him being mysterious, keeping everything close to the vest. He looks like a cool teacher for sure, but wasn’t he supposed to be teaching Transfiguration, not Defense Against the Dark Arts? Is that supposed to be a quiet little nod to Dumbledore’s Army?

The music is good again. It didn’t particularly stand out like the last film’s music did, but things are more dramatic and dark now, so I get why that scrubs away the personality of the 1920’s a little bit. The cinematography is great for the most part, barring that occasionally indiscernible opening fight scene during the thunderstorm. And I do wish movies would stop doing fast tracking shots over CGI backgrounds; I’ve seen these in both this film and Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and if this becomes a persistent trend, I think I might throw up in earnest one of these days.

Overall, it’s a very mixed bag. I still found most of it pretty enjoyable, but the storytelling was messy and amateurish, and it hinders what could otherwise be a great film series by splitting the focus and screen time too many ways. Few characters get enough time to shine. It was a bit disappointing from an author who has captured the hearts and imagination of millions.

*5.5/10

Bolt: The Under-Performing Dog

 

Bolt is a very interesting movie.

I saw it for the first time ever this week, and when it was over, what struck me the most abruptly was how un-Disney-like it felt. The story, the animation, the music choices; almost everything about it smacked of a whole different studio. Not a particularly bad or cheap studio production by any means; it just felt very off brand, at least compared to mainstream, theatrical Disney.

The 2000’s was not a good time for animation overall, whether it be in movies or television, and these were certainly the years that Disney floundered a little bit trying to find a new angle.

The story is a weird mix of The Truman Show and Home Alone, spiced sparingly with a bit of Spy Kids. The main character is a dog named Bolt. An entire television studio, in addition to the dog’s owner, have convinced Bolt that he has been genetically altered, and that he is basically a super dog with the sole purpose of protecting his owner, Penny, from sinister forces. Think Inspector Gadget’s niece, because she has the same first name and basically serves that role, except she’s the daughter of a brilliant scientist who has been captured and refuses to help the bad guys for anything short of saving her life.

The tv studio does this because if Bolt believes with all of his heart that this is true, his “acting” will be powerful, sincere, and believable. But one day, in an attempt to try something new, Penny is “captured” in a cliffhanger ending, and after the set is closed and everyone leaves, Bolt escapes, desperate to save Penny from danger. He ends up being knocked out and accidentally shipped across the country, where he slowly discovers who he really is and what it means to be a real dog. Then, he must find his way home, assisted by a delusional hamster, a cynical cat, and occasionally some New York and California pigeons.

 

It’s a very odd story; not the kind of thing Disney usually does, and definitely not an area in which they shine. In that regard, its closest companion might be The Emperor’s New Groove, but even The Emperor’s New Groove feels like the Disney-fying of a non-Disney concept, and a good, successful one at that. While I liked a lot about it, Bolt, as a finished product, feels at best like as a Disney Channel original movie. Good, but not a classic I will return to many more times. Definitely leagues above Home on the Range and Chicken Little, though that’s not saying much.

Why is that exactly? Well, for one thing, the story is ridiculously hard to believe right off the bat. The world within the film doesn’t lend itself to suspension of disbelief, because it’s supposed to be our modern day, but it’s stacked so precariously and fragilely that you’re surprised it hasn’t come crashing down already. Everything revolves around this one dog…why is that again? I know this is a movie for kids, but how much of this should I take seriously and how much of this is supposed to be satire of some kind? It’s not focused and it’s not glued together very well.

Another thing is that I didn’t really relate to any of the characters. They were…nice, and I liked them okay, but it was a very shallow sort of feeling. I wasn’t invested outside of my general sympathy for a cute animal getting lost and a fellow pet parent being worried. I liked Mittens the cat best of all because she acts as the beleaguered straight man who has to put up with delusional, possibly crazy people, but that also made me dislike Bolt more, as he dangled her over a busy highway and nearly got them both killed trying to jump onto a fast moving train.

I can’t ever remember the Hamster’s name (p.s. It was Rhino), but he was the most annoying character, and his design gave me unpleasant flashbacks to Norm of the North.

 

The music isn’t bad, but it’s also not particularly memorable. The celebrity voices are only slightly distracting, mostly because John Travolta’s adult voice doesn’t really fit his cute character design, but that’s not a new in the world of animation, and if you’re a kid, you probably wouldn’t notice anyway. The animation is decent, though it doesn’t have Disney or Pixar’s traditional charm.

What more can I say about Bolt? It’s just a perfectly average movie, fine to watch and fine to show your kids.

Still, of all of the things that bizarre, bumbling 2000’s era of Disney produced, I’d sooner recommend Meet the Robinsons. That was the best and most meaningful film that happened during the Eisner shift.

 

Final Score: 5.5/10

Top 5 Disney “Princesses”

I love Disney. Can you tell?

Despite its flaws as a company and an artistic entity, Disney has just enough redeeming qualities to keep us coming back. It has pioneered animation ever since its inception, creating beautiful, moving stories based on fairytales, folk stories, and literature, and it has also utilized and inspired new technology, such as fantasound in the 1940’s.

Walt Disney has built an empire out of his versions of stories and characters, whether you love them, hate them, or love to hate them, and it’s impossible to deny the influence his creations have had on many of our childhoods. Men have the overall advantage in society, to put it mildly, and so many prominent female figures in the media become role models to the growing women of the future, for better or worse. As I’ve said in the past, many people like to focus on the negative impact of Disney’s views and portrayals of women, but by now, you know me. With some exceptions, I like to be a bit more fair-minded, and observe how far the company has come in its near-decade of existence.

As a once-girl-now-woman, I’d like to share with you my top 5 favorite female Disney characters. They can be characters that I have liked the most or ones that have influenced me and my worldview in these 20 or so short years of life, but one thing is for sure: they are all awesome women in my mind. They practically need no introduction.

 

5. Merida

 

While she still gets the honor of breaking into my top 5, Merida ranks the lowest for me because of her youthful obnoxiousness. She has many admirable traits, one of which is wanting to go against the prim-and-proper future that her mother has planned out for her, but she’s somewhere between Ariel and Aurora when it comes to emotional and mental maturity. She wants what she wants and is willing to do stupid things to get it, barely questioning her motivations or the people offering her easy solutions at all.

I’m not saying she’s not relatable, because she definitely is. She wouldn’t be on this list if I didn’t seriously relate to her. It’s just that some of her antics are like watching a kid throw a tantrum. They might have a good reason for being upset, but it can still be an annoying way to try and resolve the problem.

 

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because I felt the need to grow up more quickly than the kids around me. Immature characters need something more for me to really, deeply admire them, and while Merida is good, she’s not the best I’ve seen. Her movie was also a lot smaller scale than what many people were expecting from the trailers, so while it’s not a bad coming-of-age, mother-and-daughter-understanding narrative, it’s also not as epic and engaging as most Disney and Pixar fare.

But regardless, Merida is rebellious and wild, much like her stunning CG hair. I love her design, and as someone with Scottish heritage, it’s nice to see and hear some Scottish influence gracing the mainstream silver screen. Merida also likes what one might traditionally described as “boy things,” and is very proficient as a rider and an archer. It’s refreshing to see that, by the end of her movie, she doesn’t have to compromise her hobbies or her tomboy-ish nature as part of the growing-up process. She teaches her strict mother a lesson while learning an important one of her own: communication and understanding are what grow relationships, not trying to force one another to change.

Merida is clearly a “girl” more than she is a “woman,” and that’s okay. It works for her story and character arc, and at the end of the day, that’s all I really ask. I just like to see some more growth into womanhood, and what that means.

 

4. Belle

 

Belle is kick-ass, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. She stands up to a beast twice her size and doesn’t take any of his childish nonsense. She’s beautiful, but she is neither shy nor jerky about it. She reads in a time when women aren’t expected to, and does so openly and without apology. She sees Gaston’s rapey swagger and raises him a one-way, face-first trip to the mud.

Is Belle a bit too perfect? It’s certainly possible, but she’s also the kind of person many of us wish we could be, without appearing too preachy as a role model (see Cinderella). She’s selfless, gorgeous, quirky, brave, snarky, and pretty confident in her own skin. She loves her family and would do anything for them, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness. She also seeks adventure and excitement in a life of perceived drudgery and stigmatization. So while she may be a bit too reasonable and too self-actualized from the beginning of the story, she is still very relatable and likeable.

As mentioned before, I also love her voice acting and reflexive expressions. She shows a lot of her character through those attributes alone.

 

Beauty and the Beast is less of a story about Belle’s growth and more about the growth of the Beast, through her eyes. Yes, she learns to love someone she once feared and despised, but she ultimately teaches her prince more than he taught her. You could argue that she is feminist improvement of Cinderella, the woobie who exists to laud the values of Christian martyrdom and patience, by being smarter, more outspoken, and more assertive about her boundaries. And while I do think that Cinderella gets more criticism than she deserves, when looking at the intent of Mr. Disney, I wouldn’t entirely disagree with this idea. My reading of that story is a more modern take, and I admit that.

But I digress.

On a more self-serving note, Belle is also the first brunet princess. Represent, brown-haired ladies!

 

3. Moana

 

Moana is a small-island girl who longs for adventure on the high seas. As someone who has always loved the ocean, I found a kindred spirit in her right away.

Moana is young and uncertain, but reasonably so, given her upbringing. She has a good sense of duty and family, and though her passion is not encouraged by her parents (out of fear for her safety), she bonds with her grandmother over their mutual fascination with the sea, which kind of bridges the two worlds she inhabits. She struggles with her desire to sail and her desire to lead her people, as she sees the two options as mutually exclusive. A good chief must think of her people and do all that she can to help them, and while her parents have taught her the traditional way to be a chief, and have made good points about the dangers of the ocean, her destiny is to go there, and the fact that they have shielded her from the outside world has not adequately prepared her for what she must do.

This story may resonate particularly well with Millennials, many of whom feel that they were not properly prepared for the demands and stresses of the “adult world.”

 

Moana finds an unlikely teacher in Maui, the cocky but secretly scarred demi-god who is responsible for the problems that threaten to engulf her island. She learns a great deal from him while also teaching him what it truly means to be a hero of man…and woman. Moana is a force of unyielding love and forgiveness, even in the face of her own self-doubt; she shows Maui and even Te Ka that they don’t have to be defined by their past and the people who have hurt them. She also finds joy and even strength in the discovery and embracing of her heritage, especially at the start of the film.

She’s just a good, good character. I’m not sure what more I can say about her that isn’t just dancing around that main point.

 

2. Mulan

 

Disney’s first fighting princess, and to quote Lindsay Ellis, “the only princess with a body count.”

But seriously, Mulan is awesome. Her movie, while simplifying a lot about Chinese culture, is very feminist and even queer. Mulan disguises herself as a man in order to join the Chinese army in place of her ailing father, and while she initially struggles to adapt, she finds more freedom and satisfaction than she ever had in the restrictive roles of “woman” and “daughter.” Mulan finds strengths that she never knew she had and as a result, she saves her country almost single-handedly. It is so satisfying to see her rewarded, and to see the people who initially dismissed her enlightened or receiving comeuppance for their stubborn clinging to the past.

Her movie is by no means perfect or free of problematic elements, much like many Disney movies. As I said, Mickey Mouse-ifying Chinese culture or just using it as an exotic backdrop is definitely patronizing and annoying. But at the same time, you might call it a crucial step in Disney’s learning process, which has resulted in more culturally-respectful movies like Moana. And however meager it may seem, it does count as Chinese representation in a mainstream, well-liked medium, which I think makes it overall a positive step forward despite its flaws.

Mulan shares many of the traits of women on this list. She loves her family, but goes against them to follow what she knows is right. She is smart when her confidence is bolstered, and she finds unconventional solutions to problems, like defeating the entire Hun army with a well-timed avalanche. Mulan finds herself by going against the grain and doing what was previously considered “man’s work,” but unlike Merida, she finds more of a balance between the feminine and masculine aspects of her life. While we don’t get too deep into her life prior to becoming a soldier, we can assume that she liked certain aspects of womanhood. Just not the whole “get auctioned off to the highest bidder and be his submissive bride and breedmule for life” thing. She clearly isn’t wild about that, on top of not being very good at it.

 

Mulan doesn’t fit into either the male or female world perfectly, either by Western or Eastern standards. She excels in the in-between, and that is what people like about her.

The only really disappointing thing she does is turn down a position on the Emperor’s council, but it might be somewhat unfair to expect her to be completely selfless and keep pushing the boundaries for Chinese women everywhere. She is only one person, after all, and the entire impetus of her story is the desire to keep her family together. It makes sense that she would want to appreciate the fruits of her labor in person.

Mulan is a “girl power” character, but her praise is by no means cheap or unearned. Sometimes that phrase is used as a derogative, accompanied by an eye roll or a sneer, but those people – let’s face it, many of them are men – are usually less concerned about balanced female representation than they are threatened by any kind of social politics “invading their movies.” They seemingly ignore how many movies that they love have explicit or implicit political themes, and simply bash on increased diversity as being only “for diversity’s sake.” See the new Star Wars trilogy as an example of this.

 

At times Mulan can come across as a bit bland, but her movie is fun and funny and full of likeable characters, which makes up for that in my humble opinion. While it’s not my favorite, I come back to Mulan probably more than any other Disney movie. It brings me joy, and a large part of that is due to Mulan herself. She’s a quiet badass, changing the world one slaughtered army at a time.

 

  1. Esmeralda

 

 

She may not be an official Disney Princess, but I’m counting her, goddamn it!

Esmeralda is my favorite female Disney character, and I find her movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, to be criminally underrated. While it deviates heavily from the book and has some cringe-worthy “comedic” bits, it also contains adult themes that Disney has never tackled before, or ones that were only lightly touched-upon in the past. Lust, religion, xenophobia, genocide, parental abuse; these and many more appear very blatantly in Hunchback, making it a very dark and powerful story about human nature. The score and the art design are also very striking, making the story all the more memorable in Disney’s arguably homogenous lineup.

The movie has some unfortunate depictions of the gypsies as thieves and murders, but some of it could be accepted as them needing to protect themselves and their people from Frollo’s spies. Many people also complain that Esmeralda is overly-sexualized and how this is a harmful stereotype for many female minorities, but again, problematic elements do not necessarily cancel out good characters. Esmeralda is sexualized in part because Frollo objectifies her, and while he never learns to see her as a person, Quasimodo does.

 

As a person, Esmeralda is funny as hell, particularly in her fight with Phoebus and the latter half of the Festival of Fools. She’s witty and snarky when the moment calls for it, but she’s also proactive as a heroine; she is fiercely defensive of her people, demanding without apology that they be treated just like everyone else. While she does gasp at Quasimodo at first, she is quick to befriend him, showing that her convictions are strong and she is truly a kind, understanding person. She really does believe in freedom and equality for all people, and she can and will fight for it.

 

Esmeralda, much like Belle, is a self-actualized character from the get-go; she knows who she is and what she’s about without needing to learn or grow very much. What makes her compelling, however, is her bravery in facing the challenges of her people and of the time. She fights back against soldiers who try to steal her hard-earned money. She stops Quasimodo’s humiliation at the festival and stands up to Frollo, not knowing the depth of Frollo’s madness and his growing lust for her. Esmeralda risks her own safety for what is right, despite her fear, and though she lives in such a cruel world, she is still kind and forgiving to those who prove that they deserve it. Adversity sucks, but seeing such a good character arise in those circumstances is all the more admirable.

And while she does need to be rescued, Esmeralda is not a traditional helpless damsel. Her plight makes sense and she resists as much as she is able.

 

Not to play into her criticism, but Esmeralda is also gorgeous. I’d be lying if I said she didn’t make me question a few things as a child. One physical thing of note is her piercing green eyes. In the past, green eyes were thought to be a sign of evil, and many of Disney’s early villains do possess that feature. It just goes to subvert what Frollo and society say about Esmeralda, namely that she is wicked and deceitful. She is exactly who she presents herself to be, unlike Frollo, who hides his sinister desires and motives behind the mantle of God and His will.

 

So that is my list. Do you agree? Disagree? Who are your favorite Disney women?

Movies, media, and what makes them MASSIVE.