Category Archives: Marge’s Favorites

Character Studies: Sherlock vs. Sherlock

So, Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downy Jr. Which of the two is the better Sherlock Holmes?

 

Like many such questions, the answer need only boil down to individual taste. Both actors play the same fictional character in a similar way; sometimes quirky, sometimes downright eccentric, but always with a killer wit and a British accent. Both Holmes’ portrayals also have a playful, on-again-off-again relationship with his sidekick, Dr. Watson, and while both have their share of very thinly-veiled homoeroticism (one version is a bit more obvious about it than the other), Sherlock Holmes and his partner in crime-solving are always congruent with mainstream, unread ideas about the character.

What do I mean by that, you ask? Well, what does the average person who has never read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle know about Sherlock Holmes?

…If you answered something along the lines of, “he’s weird, but very smart,” that is probably correct. As long as a portrayal sticks to that basic description and comes across as fairly likeable, the average movie-goer is satisfied.

Let’s look at some of the basics of each role:

Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a bit more suave than his scruffy Downey counterpart, and while he too has many funny lines (usually revolving around his misunderstandings about social norms), his writers explicitly label him as a high-functioning sociopath. Because of the TV show format (every episode of the show is as long as a full-feature movie), we are allowed to see his flaws more highlighted and expanded upon, as he struggles to relate and care about others beyond the potential of challenges and amusement. The movie, on the other hand, mostly uses Sherlock’s faux pas strictly for humor, and virtually nothing he does has lasting consequences on the relationships in his life.

 

In both versions, Holmes is also heavily compared to Professor Moriarty, a criminal mastermind whose intellect is frequently described as being on par with that of Holmes himself. He was less prominent in the original book series, but has since become a major enemy and foil to Sherlock, contrasting what little humanity he can sometimes feel with wanton cruelty and depravity, emotionalism that is expressed and directed in socially-unacceptable ways.

It is heavily implied that, had these men chosen a different path in life, they could very well have switched places.

Interestingly enough, Movie Moriarty contrasts with Downey’s character by literally being everything that Downey isn’t; suave, debonair, perfectly blending in with the world around him. This man contributes to society by teaching and donating, rather than assisting the police force and insulting them the entire time.

TV Show Moriarty, on the other hand, is fairly underwhelming at first glance. He blends in too much until his villain persona is revealed, and that appears to be very immature and almost child-like, as he giggles, wastes time, and occasionally has to stop himself from full-on, screaming rage.

 

TV Show Moriarty was built up and kept a secret more effectively  than Movie Moriarty, whose voice gives off enough presence by itself. Listening to him speak to Irene at any given time, you know pretty much everything you need to know about him on an almost instinctual level, before his face and machinations are truly revealed.

TV Show Moriarty had a bit more ease with which to hide, as the show is set in modern day and deals with themes like abundant, fully-integrated technology. He almost seems to revel in his anonymity, and the ease with which he can disappear, spy on, and command other people, whereas the movie’s character sits calmly and quietly, pretty much right up until the very end, like he is playing a difficult but engaging game of chess.

 

Smooth, maybe, but a little too traditional.

This gent is more of a typical mustache-twirler villain – an upper class Snidely Whiplash, if you will – while his TV show counterpart is less polished, but new and interesting. And how he relates to Sherlock is a bit more compelling than just “we’re not so different, you and I.”

A point goes to the TV show!

 

Sorry, boys.

But hey, that’s a nice segue! Let’s now consider the Dr. John Watsons.

Depending on whom you are, you might get a kick out of the fact that Bilbo and Smaug are now awkwardly flirting and solving crimes together. They have good friend chemistry, as Watson seems to have his own Diet-Sherlock tendencies (like being bored with the peaceful, post-military life and longing to go back to the excitement and bloodshed). He’s interesting and compelling, definitely, but personally, I’m just not sure he can beat Movie Watson, who tends to be a little less lost and befuddled and more drily witty and irritable. His bickering with Downey, as well as the fact that his partner keeps dragging him back into crazy Sherlock world no matter how much he tells himself he wants to escape, is adorable and hilarious.

Here, at last, I award a point to the movie. Props to you, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

 

But what about the brother character? Another figure who is close to Holmes, bringing out his complex personality through their interactions with one another?

 

Mycroft Holmes is also similar to Sherlock in many ways, but in the movie he seems to have a good relationship with Sherlock, while in the TV show it is clearly strained, perpetuated more by a grudging need for favors than genuine care and respect. Here, we can definitively say that the brother serves a very real and defined purpose in one version while being mostly superfluous in the other.

Movie Mycroft doesn’t challenge or change “Sherly” in any meaningful way; he’s just there for the sake of the plot, the humor, and the very necessary scene where he talks to Watson’s new wife, unashamedly naked.

 

Ugh…the point goes to the TV show, once again.

Finally, I address Sherlock Holmes himself. While Downey’s character is amusing and does more than enough to fluidly carry the rough-and-tumble films to their full 130-ish minutes, Cumberbatch is better at delivering dialogue and coming across as more socially stunted than just a generally eccentric weirdo. His movements still have tons of energy, and his face reflects the same speed and excitement of his thoughts as well, but it never really comes across as too hammy or played-up for the camera. It seems more natural and plausible, which helps to ground the story when it goes off into downright otherworldly sinister schemes and towering crime organizations.

Also, Sherlock uses certain book plots as a basis and changes them up a bit, which, while not the most faithful way to adapt a story, may intrigue book lovers enough to draw them into the show.

 

Some episodes drag a little, though, so you win some and you lose some.

I’ll happily go see a new movie if one comes out, but face it: Downey’s version is almost as cartoonish as Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective.

If only they’d had Vincent Price…

 

*None of the images in this post belong to me. Thank you for reading.

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First Impressions of the Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild

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The initial release weekend has come and gone. Finally, am I right? How long has Nintendo been hyping this game in particular?

I will preface this by saying that I spent the weekend constantly trading off my playtime with my boyfriend, who works significantly different hours than I do, but we both can safely agree that we love this new system.

The portability is amazing, and any graphical quality reduction that might occur when moving from a TV screen to the Nintendo Switch’s screen is more than forgivable, assuming I even noticed it in the first place (which I haven’t). No longer are you tied to Wii U’s exact location, unable to take the controller more than 10 feet away  before it starts fussing. Now, you could take The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on a several-hour car trip, provided that it is properly charged on the docking station beforehand.

I’m saying all of this because I started playing the Switch almost completely blind. Unlike my boyfriend, who has been watching updates on the system and the game for months, I ignored all news, obsessing over other things in my hope to make the time go by faster.

It worked, by the way. I was excited, but not agonizingly so, like someone I know…

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The switch controls were a bit confusing and awkward at first, but you can arrange and rearrange them at your leisure. The system comes with a classic-style controller, into which the joy-con controllers can be snuggly inserted. Otherwise, you can strap them to your wrist, much like the original Wii’s controllers. The flexibility is a welcome change, and while I was dubious at first, I’ve come around to it very quickly. Overall, the Nintendo Switch feels like a fully realized-realized innovation over their original Wii system, whereas the Wii U was, as I’m sure many will agree, a floundering, confused half-step in the right direction.

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As for Breath of the Wild (hereby referred to as BotW) itself….my God.

The comparisons to The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim are apt, but at the same time incomplete. Both games have impressively large overworld maps to explore, numerous side quests to choose from, vast amounts food to prepare, and various different weapons to pick up along the course of your adventure, but Skyrim allows for a complex job system with its enhance-able skill trees. For example, a person could, in theory, choose to improve their magic spell-casting and nothing else, and spend the game as a mage. In BotW, you have that one “job” you always have in The Legend of Zelda series: Swordsman Hero of the Land. Sure, you might employ a bow, hookshot, bombs, etc., but at the end of the day, you’re going to use the Master Sword to defeat Ganon.

I don’t even need to finish playing this game to tell you that.

The towns are fewer than in Skyrim, due to much of the population being scattered one hundred years prior to the time of the game. They are also very Japanese. It’s almost like being back in something like Okami, but with less Ukiyo-e.

Or like stepping into a scene out of Princess Mononoke.

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The roads between locations are more visibly populated with enemies as well; the encounters tend to be less random at every time but night, when skeletal monsters can pop out of the ground, but even then, the location still feel like they have been pre-ordained by the programmers. The only enemies that seem to truly appear out of thin air at any given time are the Guardians, the ancient, large, autonomous, mechanical beings that move quickly and shoot death beams at you. But I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on game design. I just tried returning to a location where a Guardian was meandering around before, and it wasn’t there anymore.

I won’t go into any spoilers here, but BotW is very addicting and fun. Exploring the land feels organic and engaging, and once you get the Paraglider, there is no limit to where you can go. You can go straight to Hyrule Castle at that point, not that it’s advisable.

My favorite things, as with Skyrim, are hunting enemies and animals out in the wild. You use the parts and meat collected from your kills to make different food and elixirs, which grant health and status effects depending on the combination. Link’s cooking and eating animations are adorable and hilarious as well, and I personally feel that they help to break up the monotony of long cooking sessions.

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I also like finding wild horses. I’m a bit confused by the ones that appear to be blue and pink, but otherwise, the experience of catching and taming them is not too terribly removed from actual riding and training (keeping in mind that this is a video game). Each horse almost has a mind of his or her own, and he or she may try to fight your control occasionally, especially if you have a heavy hand with the reins and don’t soothe your mount at all. It’s not as difficult as riding Agro in Shadow of the Colossus, but it’s not as easy as riding Epona in earlier games like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess.

The camera system also feels much less out-of-place than it did in The Wind Waker (regular and HD).

BotW feels new and different, but recognizable enough as a Zelda game. It is just as ambitious as it looks in the previews, but by no means feels like it’s taking on too much. At least, not in the beginning.

We’ll have to see as the story progresses.

But I think that long-time fans of the series will adore it, provided they can comfortably adapt to the less linear, more open-world elements. Those who prefer the 2-D games may find themselves presently surprised, as this might just be the 3-d iteration they’ve been waiting for. It seems to be marrying story and exploration very well, but keep in mind, I haven’t even reached the first dungeon yet. My boyfriend has, however, and he definitely agrees with me in this aspect as well.

 

So far, 9/10

*The images in this post do not belong to me. They belong to Nintendo.

Diary of the Casually Linear: Skyrim

DCL…It’s like DLC, but scrambled!

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For reference, this is my first not strictly-linear video game. What can I say? I’m a moron who likes following the plot and knowing where to go next. This is why I tend to watch more movies.

But my boyfriend is getting The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as soon as he can, and he said this game would be a good way to prepare for its epicness, so there’s that too.

And yes, I know mods for this game exist, but why would I start on those? I’m going to have enough chaos as it is!

 

Day One

I booted up the game, only to be told I was arrested for crossing a border. The gentleman planning to execute me seemed unsure of who I was, and very nicely allowed me to spend half an hour meticulously designing my character.

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She’s a Wood Elf.  🙂

Then, in a suspiciously timely fashion, a dragon attacked the prison. My boyfriend started trying to direct me, telling me to follow the arrow, but I’m still adjusting to the controls, graphics, and general confusion as the dragon barbecues everything within a mile radius of my character. Frantically scrambling to get out of range, I ended up going with the Imperial Soldiers who just tried to cut my head off, and after my boyfriend was done laughing at me, he insisted that I follow through with that storyline, as he’d already chosen to follow the Stormcloak rebels in his file. He seemed intrigued by the dialogue as we meandered around Riverwood, but having the world opened up to me right from the get-go, I just founded myself dazed and hopelessly lost.

Is the land called Skyrim or Tamriel? Is there a difference between the two?

On the way there from the prison, my boyfriend told me that it was up to me whether or not I kept a weapon out at all times. It seemed to slow me down a little bit, but I decided it was worth it for now once a small pack of wolves tried to chew my face off. Also, I know now to not pick up things like buckets and tankards. They don’t sell for much gold and they just take up space and weight you could be using for other things.

Time to figure out how smithing works now…

 

Day Two

I helped a guy named Sven convince his crush that another guy she liked wrote her a mean letter, but then got Sven killed while trying to retrieve some claw artifact stolen by bandits from the Riverwood Trader guy. He randomly said he’d accompany me, so I let him. And now the other guy is pissy with me. Whoops.

He’s still offering to teach me archery for a price though, so he can’t be that mad, I guess.

I also got this Dragonstone tablet thingy. My boyfriend tells me that will be important later. I wish he would have told me not to take Sven along on my first real quest earlier, because he told me after the fact that the guy is a weakling, but whatever. Now I have the keys to his house and I spend time using his cooking pot and bothering his mother. There goes my plan of trying to be an upstanding citizen.

 

Day Three

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I made it to Whiterun, and it seems like a nice place. I got my hands on a bow and took an extra long time getting here because I got distracted by trying to shoot deer, foxes, and rabbits on the way over. I think I want to improve my archery, but first I have to process how the skill progression works.

People keep approaching me with minor quests, but no one seems to be in that big of a hurry, so I figure I’ll do them whenever I feel like it. For now, I’m trying to follow the main story. Probably out of sheer habit.

I found a little girl who wants to be adopted, but I have no house to put her in. 😦

I’m a thane now, which I assume is like a Lord or Lady. All I had to do was give the Jarl some news and kill a dragon squatting at a nearby watchtower. I have a housecarl named Lydia who offered to follow me, and I’m told she’s good. She can double the amount of items you can carry by trading with her, which especially helps for things like dragon bones and scales. I’m surprised I don’t have to pay her a cent for risking her life and purposefully weighing her down. 😄

Speaking of Dragons, I now have a destiny to fulfill, so I’m going to see these old mountain hermit guys.

 

Day Six

I am a Dragonborn(e?), and I can shout at people using the dragons’ own language, which does things. Cool. So far, I can knock people over or jump 20 feet in whatever direction I’m facing.

There has been yet more running around in the wild and shooting things. On the way, Lydia and I also ended up at a place called Hillgrund’s Tomb, and helped a man kill a necromancer who was messing around inside. He has a lot of scary family members, although that might just be because they’ve been there so long that they’re skeletons now. What’s a draugr?

After much trial and error (and a lot of deaths. I handed my boyfriend the controller at one point so that he could give it a few tries, but he hadn’t come across this quest yet and only did slightly better), I managed to keep both Lydia and the guy alive. I’m happy I did something my boyfriend couldn’t manage to do. 🙂

I read online that this guy can’t reward you if he dies…which makes a lot of sense, actually. How could anyone willingly reward you if they’re dead? 😄 But even if you could just take the reward off his corpse, the quest won’t be considered successful. Maybe not even complete.

Anyway, I got gold and raided the enemy corpses for goodies. Huzzah!

I discovered that I really like lockpicking, so that’s another skill to work on. I like searching around rooms for things you can pick up and sell. Or eat. You’d be surprised where you can find fresh food in this game. 😄

I don’t read most of the books I pick up because our TV is tiny. Well, tiny isn’t the right word, but it’s far enough away from the couch that it makes serious reading a struggle. I can barely see the dialogue options half the time unless I’m sitting on the floor, and that starts to get uncomfortable before too long.

 

Day Nine

So much map space, so little time.

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I finally bought a house in Whiterun and filled it up. I adopted Lucia, the girl I met a few days ago, and Sophie, a girl who was selling flowers in Winterhold. I found her sleeping outside in an alley one night and adopted her on the spot, despite the fact that she and Lucia seem to have the same voice actress. I get so confused when either one of them calls out to me. It’s very disorienting.

I stopped doing so many main story quests after a while and just started exploring, or doing minor quests that popped up. Riften seems like fun, although any ideas that I had about playing an even remotely moral character got thrown out the window once I got there. I somehow ended up joining the Thieves’ Guild while searching for this one peasant’s missing bow-heirloom, so now I’m just rolling with it.

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It took me an embarrassingly long time to get how skill progression works too. So whenever you level up, you get 1 point you can apply towards any skill you want, provides that skill has enough of its own levels internally. If that makes as little sense to you as it did to me (my excuse is that I’m a better hands-on learner when it comes to stuff like this), it’s like this: your character can be level 15 as a whole (which can determine what you fight in certain dungeons/areas), but your archery skill can be level 30, or as I like to think of it, you have 30 archery “points”. There are special abilities within the skills that you can unlock, but you can develop any skill you want right off the bat and improve it anytime you want.

To unlock the zoom/slow-down archery ability, I might need to have at least 30 archery points. If I don’t have those the next time my character levels up as a whole (level 16), I have to pick something else and just keep training in the meantime (using my bow out in the world or paying a trainer to give me a point automatically). It’s funny to me that if you’re impatient and have the coin for it, you can just pay someone to essentially use your skill for you until it goes up a point. I wish I could pay someone who would make me instantly better at soccer or volleyball in the real world.

Here’s a visualization, but with the Conjuration skill tree:

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By the way, sooo glad I spent all that time sculpting my character’s appearance. I pretty much never see her face because she’s always wearing helmets! 😄

 

Day Thirteen

So I found this guy who asked me to befriend a dog that he’d seen on the road outside of town, and somehow that dog speaks my language in a bizarrely out-of-place accent. My first thought was that I drank some potion with wonky side effects or something.

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He told me to help him patch his relationship with this guy, who is some kind of statue-god-thing as far as I can gather (a daedric prince?), and that led me to a cave full of vampires. Now I’m one because I guess I got bitten at some point, so after that quest seemed to have finished up, and realizing that the sun was starting to hurt me, I went to Morthal to see a man about a cure.  I could never quite figure out how to lure and feed on victims as a walking abomination, but talking to Falion eventually led to much fun discovering how to buy and use the spell Soul Trap (you need it to fill up a black soul gem, and it has to be a human you use it on), as well as me learning how to raise zombies.

I went back to the prison where the game started, only to find it crawling with bandits, so I didn’t feel too bad about imprisoning one’s soul in jewelry so that I can get rid of this pesky undead thing. Nifty.

In other news, I bought a horse….well, technically two by this point. These things are suicide-ily loyal, because as long as you’re not on them, they will attempt to curbstomp every enemy that comes near you. I lost my first horse that way; I didn’t even want it to go fight a bear. It just did it.

R.I.P. Stupid, Loyal Horse #1

The second one I got was from a stable outside another town (Solitude, I think. Whichever one has palominos). I wanted a different color, and this one thankfully has lasted so far. It seems kind of pointless to own it for riding because it doesn’t go that much faster than you can, running on foot. But I’m an Equestrian at heart and it is amusing to see it go kamikaze itself at wolves and the like.

I only wish I could actually name it. Right now, it seems to go by “Freya’s Horse,” which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

 

Day Seventeen

Lydia doesn’t annoy me as much as she seems to annoy my boyfriend. According to him, as a male character, she only says, “I am sworn to carry your burdens,” in this tired, sarcastic tone of voice. She mixes that one up with, “I am at your command,” for me, and I think at least one other thing, so it doesn’t bother me. It makes me laugh, actually.

I’ve grown so attached to her (and terrified of having her die or simply get permanently lost on quests with me) that I just went ahead and married her in the Temple of Mara in Riften. She lives in my house anyway, and now she can help watch and nurture my NPC children for me.

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Otherwise, I keep killing dragons and bears. Once I was even ambushed by a bear during a random dragon encounter, and that was fun. Another time, I got attacked by a Frost Dragon in a town. I guess that starts to happen more often, as you fast-travel at higher levels. I’m not as annoyed by that as I am by cultist and other NPC group attacks somehow. Either way, it’s funny to watch townspeople run around screaming in panic, and then two seconds later, they’re back to normal conversations. They completely ignore corpses and bones in the street, even if I steal the clothes and it’s just a naked assassin lying there.

I wonder if that’s Skyrim’s equivalent of a snow day. Maybe in the south, people freak out at one dead body in the road, but in the north, they just shrug and don’t cancel schools or anything.  “In my day, we had 10 ft’s worth of dead bodies in the roads, and no one got out of school!” 😄

So far, I am loving this game. It allows for so much freedom, letting you set your own pace and do basically whatever you want first. I’ve never had that kind of experience with a game before, but The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim also draws me in with mythology and fantasy. I need to pay more attention to the conflicts and lore, but then again, it’s taken me forever to figure out the basics of gameplay. 😄

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My favorite moment (a.k.a. glitch) so far was when I was climbing a mountain to fight a dragon marked on my map. It was proving very difficult until the bugger knocked me off the cliff, sending me a good ways down to the ground. I survived, and found it sitting up on the ledge, looking down at me in its usual menacing fashion.

So I pulled out my bow and started shooting at it. Usually, after so many hits on the ground, a dragon will take off into the air again and circle around you for a bit, breathing fire or ice or whatever, but this guy just sat there, not moving at all, letting me take as many shots as Jenassa and I felt like. Eventually, we killed it, and it rolled down the side of the mountain just like I had, before crashing at my feet and beginning to decay/surrender its soul/etc. My boyfriend and I laughed, and he said that was the easiest dragon fight he’d ever seen.

Granted, he’s only been playing for a year (and not even much during that year), but still. 😄

 

…To be continued? Let me know if you’d like to hear more, and definitely feel free to share your own stories in the comments.

*Also, I took one or two of the pictures myself, but the rest came from the Internet. The Skyrim screenshots belong to Bethesda, and the original meme that was Skyrim-ified is courtesy of the blog Hyperbole and A Half.

 

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Dreadfully Delightful

Be warned: These spoilers will wreck your evening, your home life, and your day. Every single spoiler is nothing but dismay, so look away!

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After my pre-show thoughts post, I spent the better part of my weekend binging this show, thinking about it, and enjoying the hell out of it. My favorite episode, by far, is The Reptile Room parts one and two, as they have hands-down the most likable guardian, the most joy that the Baudelaires experience so far, and the most clever and amusing hijinks and sleuthing of all of Season One.

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I was surprised by how much Count Olaf’s henchmen add to every scene. It is funny how stupid and incompetent they are while still managing to avoid police custody, and their genuine awe and frank admiration when the children (or anyone else) outsmart them is charming. Neil Patrick Harris’s Olaf has grown on me immensely; while I still don’t find him the most intimidating, I have come to find him extremely charismatic. He has become likable and unlikable at the same time.

That is quite an accomplishment. I still believe that Jim Carrey brought a much more genuinely sinister presence to the role, but Harris does very well, and tends to be a bit more balanced. It’s very funny when he frequently forgets his own ruses, barely recovering before any nearby adults grow wise to his schemes.

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On a side note, something about Stephano reminds me of Dana Carvey’s turtle guy. Olaf is perhaps the best worst actor out there.

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As for the other actors, new Violet reminded me a lot of movie Violet, except for her accent and Hot Topic fashion sense. She also seems a bit smarter than movie Violet, because she has a few lines where she tries to lie or otherwise disguise her true feelings, and she does so pretty well. There is still plenty of “let’s tell the villain exactly what we plan to do to stop him” moments going on, but I get the sense that carries over from the book. It’s less obnoxious in the tv show, so I appreciate that.

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I think I like movie Klaus better than new Klaus, if only because Liam Aiken reminds me more of a real boy at Klaus’s age, regardless of voracious reading habits, but new Klaus is perfectly fine. New Sunny and movie Sunny both have as much personality as a baby with subtitles can, and I like both very much. I like to imagine Tara Strong coming into the studio just to record a few odd gurgles and coos for new Sunny and that makes me chuckle. I wonder how well she gets paid for that.

I’m not crazy about the obviously fake effects, but I admit that they lend to the overall tone of the series quite well. They are forced, much like some of the indifference, stupidity, and unwitting cruelty of many of the adult characters. It contains some realism, but is biased and over embellished, much like a child’s world view. Violet’s inventions, as well as the other effects that stand out like sore thumbs, show how the Baudelaires rise up and face their challenges, putting themselves on as equal footing as possible with the walking-caricature adults who try to determine their fate without them. It’s interesting, to say the least, so I can only complain so much.

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One thing that I can complain about, based on what little I know of the books, is the decision to include Jacquelyn, Mr. Poe’s secretary and recurring Volunteer Fire Department member. While I like her a lot, I think she detracts from both the tone of the series and the children’s accomplishments by her mere existence. The characters from the 2004 movie had no such possible bail-out (and apparently neither did the book Baudelaires), and even though she appeared more sparingly towards the end of Season One, Jacquelyn takes away from some of the tension.

The reveal of “the parents” not being the Baudelaire children’s parents was a nice touch, if a little extra cruel. For a non-book reader, it was not altogether unexpected, but still something of a kick in the guts moment. They have been mostly on their own up until now, and you know now that they definitely still are, if not more so, no matter how many shadowy V.F.D. people claim to be looking after them. It helps to counteract what Jacquelyn unwittingly takes away.

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Also, hi Robin Scherbatsky! If you don’t want me to see Barney Stinson playing Count Olaf, maybe don’t bring in buddies from How I Met Your Mother, huh, Neil?

The music is great. It’s manic and energetic, but also off-putting and depressing at times. Sometimes, it delves into both areas at once.

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Patrick Warburton has grown on me quite a bit, much like Harris, although I still can’t fully un-hear Kronk or Joe from Family Guy. The sets are nice and somewhat reminiscent of the movie, which is a plus for me.

There is more time for jokes and dialogue, but every once in a while, this can make a scene go on a little too long. For example, watch the scene where Klaus figures out Olaf’s plan involving The Marvelous Marriage. 

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Book fans will definitely find more loyalty here than they did with the 2004 film, but as usual with adaptation, there are still many liberties as well. Hopefully, the new elements will keep it from being stale or too predictable for them. For the rest of us, the show tells us to expect to be made miserable, and then proceeds to raise and lower our hopes on and off again throughout eight episodes. It’s very much like a rollercoaster, but despite the grim topics and disturbing bits here and there, it’s a family friendly romp that anyone can enjoy.

I’m definitely excited for a second season. I’ve enjoyed it a lot so far, and I’d like to see where this goes from here.

In the meantime, I suppose I should start reading the books. 🙂

 

*None of the images used in this post belong to me. 

 

My Top 10 Favorite Generation 7 Pokemon

Happy 100th post!

Before the release of Pokemon X and Y, I was all but begging Nintendo to pull the plug. Many of the new designs were eyes slapped onto random objects and scribbles, and Ash, who should be pushing thirty years old by now, was still ten, but somehow has seen enough lady friends come and go to start up his own maid cafe. I officially quit playing the games after Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, consoling myself that maybe this was just that whole “growing up” thing I kept hearing about.

Whether it was my individual tastes or not, it just felt very tired, as though the franchise was running on nothing but steam anymore. Obligation and sheer momentum would keep it chugging forward, but it wouldn’t ever seriously capture my attention or child-like wonder again. It was too busy trying to keep up with the trends of its intended demographic, which tend to age as quickly as they do. That’s why Ash never ages, after all; no ten-year old could possibly relate to a kid who is even slightly older than them. 

Side Gripe: Nintendo, can we talk? If you can’t get a trainer’s license until age ten, then what’s the deal with these little snot-noses?

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Thankfully, the two newest installments (and YSun and Moon) resuscitated Pokemon right before my eyes, showing me that it could still be creative, interesting, and at least slightly more innovative, in addition to upgrading the graphics. Then Pokemon Go came in for the kill, buttering me up with nostalgic indulgence and some costly, sweaty wish-fulfillment.

And, in the spirit of fairness, let me share with you some Pokemon that I’ve actually genuinely liked since the resurgence. After all, I was never a Generation I and done kind of girl; I liked plenty of Pokemon from the other generations just fine. Five just rubbed me the wrong way, for whatever reason.

10) Rowlet

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This little guy is adorable, and pretty great to start Sun or Moon out with too. The first trial has Normal-type Pokemon, but the two following it include Fighting and Water-types respectively.

Disregarding what he evolves into it, Rowlet just makes me want to hug him. And kudos, Nintendo, for finally making me like the Grass-type more than my other starter choices.

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Meh. It’s cute.

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OH HOLY GOD, WHAT IS THIS MONSTROSITY?! I’D SAY KILL IT WITH FIRE, BUT THAT WON’T WORK! KILL THIS SUCKER WITH LIGHTNING!

 

9) Mudsdale

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Oh, cool! More equine-based Pokemon!

I wasn’t crazy about Mudbray’s design (Side Gripe: I don’t know why it looks stupider than Mudsdale because mules and donkeys tend to be a lot smarter), but I can definitely get behind this majestic evolution, even if it is based in mud. Its speed stat is the lowest, which seems ironic, but it’s only really weak to three other types and its Ground-type moves get much better with leveling. Mudsdale looks like a “salt of the earth” kind of guy, pun intended; the design is a  nice contrast to Ponyta and Rapidash’s distinctly mystical, feminine look.

 

8) Lurantis

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It’s a humanoid mantis with cute striped hakama. A great balance struck between cool and pretty without being too cutesy. According to its Pokedex entry, “It requires a lot of effort to maintain Lurantis’s vivid coloring, but some collectors enjoy this work and treat it as their hobby. It fires beams from its sickle-shaped petals. These beams are powerful enough to cleave through thick metal plates.”

 

7) Cosmog (a.k.a. Nebby)

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I’m awarding this one mostly because for once, a Pokemon game got me actually kind of invested in my mute avatar and her friends. Well played.

Actually, while we’re on the subject…

 

6) Solgaleo & Lunala

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NANTS INGONYAMA BAGITHI BABA!

 

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Both of these legendaries are surprisingly cool and elegant. I love that the creators tried to keep them in form with the actual sun and moon; they aren’t just the same color of the game title, for once. Solgaleo probably would have topped this one out of sheer awesomeness if I’d been playing Pokemon Sun, but I just like Lunala too much. Halvsies it is!

 

5) Tapu Fini

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The Guardian Pokemon are interesting in general, but excluding my brief story arc with Tapu Koko, Tapu Fini is probably my favorite of them. I love her color scheme and Water/Fairy-type combo, and the swordfish-like shield she pops out of reminds me of Aphrodite’s clamshell. Supposedly she is based on sirens, mermaids, and the Hawaiian god of the ocean, Kanaloa.

She is one of the most obnoxious Pokemon to catch, however, considering that she can heal herself with every turn and her catch rate-of-success is among the lowest of the low.

 

4) Type: Null

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At first, I thought, “This is a Pokemon? At best, it reminds me of a jagged armored Mewtwo that needs to be put out of its misery.”

It does use the heavy mask on its face to keep its power in check, according to the Pokedex entry,  and the fact that it was a failed experiment by the Aether Foundation that Gladion freed in the hopes of helping it…awwwwwwwwww!

It’s weird-looking, but it just needs a little love. Literally, to evolve it, you have to max out its friendship, and its evolution, Silvally, is much happier and more in-control, thanks to you. Isn’t that sweet?

 

3)  Palossand

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At first, I scoffed at this one. A ghost sandcastleReally, guys? The very idea of a Ghost/Ground-type combo sounds contradictory by itself!

But, kind of like with Sylveon, with time and exposure, I warmed up to the idea. This time, I was helped along by its disturbing Pokedex entry: “Possessed people controlled by this Pokémon transformed its sand mound into a castle. As it evolved, its power to curse grew ever stronger. Buried beneath the castle are masses of dried-up bones from those whose vitality it has drained.”

What a unique ghost story! The souls of its drained become balls of hatred that form more Sandygast, its pre-evolution, and children are drawn to its whimsical shape and meet their doom by reaching for the shovel on top.

…Who comes up with this stuff? Do you need any therapy?

 

2) Mimikyu

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The ghost that wants to be loved so badly, but one glance under its sheet will drive any human or Pokemon insane. It wears a uber-cheap Pikachu cosplay, but looks like a poor imitation of Pokemon’s beloved icon. Is it trying too hard, or not hard enough?

Whatever it is, Mimikyu is tragic, pathetic, and adorable. Maybe it can be the underground mascot for awkward, lonely otakus everywhere.

 

1) Oricorio

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Oricorio is my favorite Gen 7 Pokemon, and probably my favorite of all bird-based Pokemon. It can take on four distinct, colorful forms, resembling a cheerleader, Hula dancer, Flamenco dancer, and Japanese fan dancer. These “styles” are based on the island meadow it inhabits or the kind of nectar you feed it, and much like the Fairy-type combo Guardian Pokemon, Oricorio pairs each with its own unique Flying-type combo.

The Pa’u (pink) Oricorio looks the most suited to Alola, but the creative team must have decided that wasn’t enough. My personal favorite forms are the Sensu (purple) and Baile (red) because they look so beautiful, elegant, and downright classy, but I was excited to see all of these birds and their dances for the first time. You can bet I was running around with my Rotomdex camera, trying to capture the best possible shot of them in the wild.

It still astounds me how much culture could be crammed into one game. Even better, it feels totally natural, inclusive, and fun. Pokemon could still stand to see more innovative gameplay, especially in its main series, but I’m much more optimistic now, thanks to Sun and Moon in particular. It’s not some monstrous, shambling zombie that obstinately refuses to die.

 

*None of the pictures in this post are owned by me.

Beauty and the Beast (2017): Pre-Movie Thoughts

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Oh don’t start with me, Total Film! “Darker, smarter,” and more relevant than the original? We’ll see!

But in all seriousness, I’m in a very awkward position here. While I like the original Disney’s Cinderella and genuinely believe that it gets more flack than it really deserves, I was very open to the 2015 live-action retelling. It plays with some elements of the original, fixing things here and setting them back over there, but it keeps with the spirit of the original animated features. We still probably didn’t need it, per say, but I’m perfectly happy with its existence, especially if I can mostly ignore Disney’s hardcore feminist detractors.

But this…this movie gives me some serious reservations.

On the one hand, you have Emma Watson, an awesome actress and all-around person. The film will also have Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson, who I tend to like, regardless of the overall quality of the films they appear in.

*cough cough*
*cough cough*

On the other hand, it’s a remake of one of my favorite Disney movies of all time, and one that made serious bank during the Disney Renaissance of the late 80’s and early 90’s. The story has its flaws, but some of that can be blamed on its roots as an old-school fairytale. It’s still gorgeously animated and well-paced, driven forward by surprisingly simple, but good characters and a writing team that knew just what to cut and cut from the source material to make it more dark and dramatic.

Does it need a remake? I think we can all let out a resounding “NO” to that one. But we’re getting one anyway, and it’s coming from a company that has a pretty high standard of quality, even in its worst flops…except Home on the Range, of course.

So will this new movie be good? Will it have anything to offer that its predecessor didn’t? I am cautiously optimistic, but here are my worries so far, aside from the obvious:

As usual, I have tried my best to ignore the trailers, even though I already know the basic story here. I’m sure the music will be similar, if not identical in most areas, and that’s alright. It is kind of lazy, hollow, and distinctly cash-grabby if you, like me, believe that the movie should be able to stand apart from the original, but whatever. I can look past that choice.

 

Unfortunately, I did catch at least one full trailer (the one featured above) while waiting to see Moana, and unless it was missing some serious context from the movie itself, some interesting, and potentially worrying choices have been made.

For example, it looks as though it is the Beast’s idea to have Belle take her father’s place.

…Why is this a potential problem? Well, think about it. Belle was motivated by desperation, sure, but the choice to have her suggest the trade-off is actually a really good, subtle character moment. It shows the lengths she is willing to go to save someone she cares about, and the fact that she holds to it, even after glimpsing the monstrous Beast in the light, shows real strength, love, and even agency on her part. She finds a way to take as much control of the situation as she can, even in a moment of such crushing defeat, which is yet another reason why I can’t stand the Stockholm Syndrome argument being regularly applied to her.

 

By making this development the Beast’s idea instead, as the new movie appears to, Belle becomes much more passive in that moment, and a very compelling part of her character is lost.

A friend of mine, who was in the theatre with me at the time I saw this trailer, drew my attention to something else. The way that Watson askes the Beast to come into the light is very different from O’Hara’s; the former sounds a lot more defiant and demanding, while the latter is more nervous and curious. It’s as if O’Hara’s Belle noticed something slightly off about this stranger through the darkness, or simply because he was deliberately only moving in the shadows.

Meanwhile, new Belle isn’t intimidated by this guy. She just wants to know who is talking to her.

At first glance, this might seem like it elevates Belle’s character back up, and perhaps it will. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with saying the same line differently. But now, think about the Beast. Even if you weren’t petrified of him, as I frequently was as a child, what is he supposed to be? What makes his change later in the story so compelling?

Could it be the fact that he’s…well, beastly?

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Think back to the scene in the original movie now. Or better yet, watch the clip I included above. Belle finds her father in a dungeon, only to be confronted by a booming voice from the shadows. Robbie Benson’s voice is mixed with that of growling, snarling animals in order to lend him some extra power and inhumanity, so even before Belle sees him, she trembles and stutters at the mere sound of the Beast.

It helps even more if he terrifies the audience as well, and that’s a lot easier to do with pencil and paper than it is with makeup and special effects. The licensed Disney stage musical has a bit of this problem as well, choosing to focus on the Beast’s more petulant side rather than his fear factor.

The only thing terrifying about this guy is his mediocre CG.
The only thing terrifying about this guy is his mediocre CG.

The Beast in the new movie sounds fairly human to me, and without seeing any of the rest of the scene where he and Belle meet in the dungeon, I already feel like his terrifying presence is diminished somewhat by this fragmented exchange. If he can’t successfully scare Belle or us, then in the back of our minds, he’s already not that bad.

Now, the Beast could still be every bit as huge and violent as he was in the original film, but a) that’s a major complaint from the politically-inclined anyway, so they should still complain about it in this film made in modern day, and b) it just won’t have the same weight, even if the actors seeing the Beast do their damndest to look afraid of him.

It also doesn’t help that Belle apparently finds the castle during the day, which tends to be far less dramatic than nighttime, even if the room itself casts shadows everywhere.

The point I am trying to make is this: little choices can make a big difference. However you feel about the healthiness of Belle and Beast’s relationship in the animated film, you must at least agree that the moments defining and developing their relationship are well-paced and well-chosen, even down to the tiniest, nearly subconscious details. That is what makes the original so wonderful…well, at least one of the things. It opened the Academy Awards up to the idea that an animated movie (a musical, at that) could be artistic and moving enough to stand beside its live-action cousins. After a long stretch or relegating animated fare to the “it’s just for kids” bin, Beauty and the Beast (1991) reminded us of its great potential.

The choices made by the new movie may ultimately work on their own, but as I said above, the very fact that the film makers are just porting the soundtrack over from the animated movie begs you to compare the two. At least the new Cinderella only briefly sang “Sing Sweet Nightingale” to herself while she was doing chores in a short scene. That was a cute little winky moment to the audience for anyone who liked the original and might be paying attention, and I appreciate that. It didn’t distract me from the movie I was watching and trying to get invested in.

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I really do hope that this new adaptation will be good, and not just a waste of time that uses strict branding to squeeze more money out of Disney’s vast fanbase. Emma Watson is a smart, beautiful woman, but at the end of the day, a job is a job and actors don’t get a lot of say in directorial choices, let alone the direction they themselves are given. I also really don’t want to see some half-assed retooling to please the social justice warriors. Some of Cinderella (2015) was like that, and I much prefer that if you’re going to change things like that, you should go big or go home (see Ever After: A Cinderella Story). Sure, it might be more abrasive to some people, but at least you’re obviously trying to make the story new, fresh, and most importantly, your own. I can respect the effort and commitment, if nothing else.

I’m starting to lean towards pessimism, but ultimately, time will tell. We’ll see the movie when it comes out, and then we’ll know for sure…

 

Update (3/21/17): Winner winner, chicken dinner. See my new review for more details, but yes…this was a bad one.

*None of the pictures in this post are owned by me.

Moana: How Far You Should Go to See It

I went into this movie knowing pretty much nothing about it. I purposefully ignored the commercials, even not so subtly shutting my ears and eyes when an ad for it played before another movie I went to go see, Kubo and the Two Strings.  Shocking though it may be, some of us like not having the best jokes of the movie beaten into the ground before it even opens in theaters. Some of us – little kids included – will go simply because Disney made it, and we naturally expect their movies to be well-animated, fun, and high quality. No spoiler-y advertisement needed.

I will also admit to you that I went in with cautious, but hopeful optimism, much like I am approaching the live action Beauty and the Beast remake set to open in March. It’s not that I expected or wished for poor quality; rather the opposite, in fact. But Disney is a business, and thus doesn’t always make the most sound decisions for their artistic persona. Sometimes, they obviously look at what is the most marketable.

“Hey,” they might say, “this old movie of ours did really well, so let’s copy-paste it to a slightly new format, tweak a few things, and basically let it sell itself!”

Boom!
Boom!

 

And hey, a lot of people are clamoring for more diverse Disney characters. Which is great when Disney actually puts in the time and proper investment to make a good story with good characters, but in the past has led to some awkwardness with misguided steps like Pocahontas and even Mulan to some extent. There, they take aspects of a culture that Westerners have are somewhat familiar with,  and give you weird, inaccurate diet versions of real-world history and culture, which yes, come across as arrogant at best and downright mocking at worst.

And I say that as someone who genuinely loves Mulan. Who gets annoyed when people write her off, along with every other princess in the lineup before Tiana. Every Disney Princess has something good you can say about her, even if, on the surface, the only distinguishing factors appear to be hair and eye color.

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What I’m trying to say is this: I want a good story and good characters first. As long as you do thatby all means; take it anywhere in the world. Show me something I haven’t seen before.

Thankfully, Moana lived up to its hype and doesn’t feel like cheap appeasement in any way. It handled another culture very respectfully, while still being fun and silly and gorgeous. I’m not sure the film surpasses Frozen, given its memorable innovations and twists, but it’s definitely up there on its level, and definitely expanding on a few ideas from its predecessor. It is always nice to see Disney’s work flourish after a particularly big hit, rather than proving it to be a fluke.

As usual, spoilers below. 

I, like many people, am happy that Moana doesn’t get a romantic subplot. It is very refreshing for a Disney princess, though admittedly, that doesn’t tend to bother me unless the courting and/or characters are annoying or handled really poorly. I’m waiting to see how many people will speculate that she’s a lesbian, because of course Merida just had to be one if she wasn’t interested in dating and marriage by age 16. 

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I like that, for once in recent memory, a movie about tradition doesn’t paint it as the “enemy.” It almost looks that way in the beginning, what with Moana’s family and village encouraging her not to leave her island’s reef, but we soon discover that, further back than most people can remember, her ancestors were wayfinders who traveled the seas in search of new islands. This actually parallels some recent Polynesian history, believe it or not, and in the end, after being trained by a demigod and making the seas a safer place for humans, Moana re-teaches her people a useful, wonderful tradition that they had long-thought lost to them forever.

I like that Lin-Manuel Miranda, the lyrical genius behind the Broadway smash Hamilton, lends his talents to the soundtrack, even providing us with a few vocals himself. He has a very good sense of rhythm and flow, and together with Mark Mancina (who worked on the arrangements with Hans Zimmer  for Disney’s The Lion King and Phil Collins for Disney’s Tarzan) and Opetaia Foa’i (a South Pacific Fusion group originally formed in New Zealand), he offers us something unique, catchy, and new altogether. I doubt “How Far I’ll Go” will be quite as explosive as “Let It Go,” but as Soprano who has attempted both songs, I have to say that the former is far more comfortable while still being compelling, beautiful, and triumphant.

It is kind of funny, though, that right after that moment in the movie, Moana kind of gets her ass handed to her. It was almost comical; like an estranged sister to those old Lilo and Stitch commercials from back in the day.

Speaking  of Lilo and Stitch, Nani and Lilo will always be my first Polynesian Disney Princesses. I don’t care what anyone says; Lilo was one of the most realistic kids I’ve ever seen (not overly-annoying, but not romanticized and ridiculously smart or well-behaved), and her older sister did everything she could to love and provide for her, even though she was put in a really crummy position and didn’t have anyone to blame for it. Stitch wasn’t pretty or nice when they first got him, but Lilo loved him from the start and wanted to give him a chance to be part of their family.

They both deserve to be in the official lineup, sparkly dress or no sparkly dress.

Also, neither of these girls has the standard petite, “cinch-waisted” features that you hear so many complain about in other Disney movies.

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Moana herself is cool. I like how she isn’t resistant to the path set before her; it’s more that she wants to have her cake and eat it too. She wants to be responsible and live up to her people’s expectations, but she also longs to explore the ocean and see more of the world than just her small island. As is typical for Disney movies, the songs and visual symbolism set that up very clearly.

I’m reminded very much of Mulan’s dilemma, but Moana isn’t nearly as physically clumsy, and she actually embraces her role (though admittedly it’s a lot less sexist and uncomfortable than Mulan’s).

This image released by Disney shows Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson in a scene from the animated film, "Moana." (Disney via AP)

I like Maui, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s demigod character, although he can get just the slightest bit cringe-worthy at some points. Admittedly, I’m not fond of “too cool for school” characters, especially when it’s obviously a pose and they’re trying so hard that they take a sharp turn back into lame territory, but the eventual reveal of his backstory, as well as some genuinely charismatic moments before that, make it fairly easy to forgive that. I like when movies show that kind of behavior as a pose or the result of some insecurity, rather than playing into it and glorifying it. And I like how during Maui’s song, Moana kind of falls for it a bit because Maui is so likable, yet obviously selfish and egotistical.

I like how everything ties together in some way or another. Moana’s father’s portion of the “Where We Are” song hints at his own past mistakes as well as his current concerns and fears (or just how they’ve naturally developed overtime). Te Fiti, the creation goddess, because a monster born of rage and vengeance  but still very much tied to the earth (Te Ka is lava, and lava and water make new islands, similar to how Te Fiti would make them with her lush greens). There is a greater theme about identity, much like Frozen, where what the world calls you should not be what defines you. Your actions and choices are what define you, and in the end, Moana uses this new knowledge and the knowledge of who she is to save Te Fiti from what she has been doing since the loss of her heart.

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There is very little to dislike about this movie, and most of it is just a matter of preference; nothing reprehensible or ill-intentioned. Maui’s origin story seems to have been where Disney took the most creative liberties culturally, but again, compared to past mistakes, that’s pretty commendable. That’s just kind of what Disney does with fairytales and legends (although we tend to look the other way with those based in European folklore), and if it inspires audiences to look into the culture and history out of curiosity, I can’t really call it that bad. It’s just the evolution of story-telling as it changes hands.

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Moana looks and sounds amazing, and it brings us what feels like a coming-of-age Odyssey, with monsters and other strange encounters along the way. It’s a great  mix of the familiar and the new, and, most importantly, it’s engaging all the way through. I like that Moana’s loving parents don’t die (which is one of my bigger personal Disney gripes), and her village-crazy-lady Grandmother Tala is adorable and utterly delightful.

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The film is just so sweet and touching and heart-felt, and it doesn’t feel forced at all. Some of the humor borders on millennial-isms, but it’s still such that it can seem mostly  situational, and thereby “timeless”.

The weakest song in the whole thing is probably “Shiny,” but it’s still pretty catch and fun to watch…Oh, and the fact that Moana puts her hair in a bun when bad stuff is about to go down makes me so happy. People in movies don’t seem to have their hair get in the way of things, but it really does. Mine is curly, frizzy, and on the long side, so you bet I put it up when I’m working.

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I also love that her hair actually does slap her in the face a few times. For once, I will say, “Take that, Disney Princess of the Past! This is what we plebeian, real-worlders have to deal with!”

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I can’t think of anything else to say. Just go see it. It’s great. Your kids will love it, if for no other reason than Moana’s adorably stupid rooster sidekick Heihei.

 

8.5/10

*None of the pictures or clips in this blog belong to me. Most belong to Disney.