Category Archives: Top # Lists

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?

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CftC: My Top 10 Traumatizing Scenes from Kids Movies

Another year, another return to…

 

Instead of looking at one Halloween special at a time, I have chosen to do a Top 10 list for this first installment. Below, you will see the ten most memorable moments in kid and family movies that gave me endless nightmares as a youngster.

I tried to dive in as deeply as I could, talking about the scenes themselves but also about what makes them so scary. I find that the psychology driving effective horror scenarios can be pretty common for most people, and surprisingly basic and traceable. But that doesn’t make them shallow by any means. Some people say that the root of all good comedy is that someone has to be miserable. No matter how elaborate you make the joke, there always has to be a “butt” of it. The same can be true of horror, but there are more roots, or “butts,” to choose from.

 

10) The Donkey Scene (Pinocchio)

 

I’ve seen Pinocchio maybe 5 times in my life. It’s not a Disney movie I come back to often, and I have no idea how faithful it is to the source material, but when I watch it again, I’m always struck by how dark and mean-spirirted it is, even as fairytales go. It’s like if Don Bluth made films back in the 40’s.

This one scene is pretty screwed up. It’s basically body-horror for children, and while it might not be as grotesque as a David Cronenberg production, it’s almost as frightening.

What is body horror, you ask? In short, it’s the whole concept of unwanted, uncontrollable transformation, which stems from a fear of not being in control. The one physical thing that any human being can own completely is their own body, so the notion of it changing without your consent, and most likely in a very painful way, is terrifying. This fear is in a similar vein with that of petrification; both of which most people don’t think about or wouldn’t admit to being afraid of, but totally are.

What sells this particular scene are Lampwick’s panicked screams and thrashing, but the lighting and music are pretty intense as well. He’s a kid, albeit a smug little jerk, so there’s an element of protectiveness that can be involved. But more importantly, this perversion of nature is what will happen to Pinocchio, our main character, who is nearby watching but unable to help. It seems to be going slower – possibly because he’s not a real boy yet – but it’s assumed that it will happen like that.

 

It’s a scary moment on its own, but also for the danger it poses to the person we most care about in the movie.

 

9) The Hollow (Ichabod and Mr. Toad)



I might have mentioned this in my full review of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but this scene is hilarious and scary at the same time.

The build-up is great, when Ichabod is on edge and thinks he can hear the Headless Horseman coming after him. The scene is mostly quiet – silly of course, but tense nonetheless – and when you’re first watching, you never know when the ghost will actually show up. It could be during any one of the little scares Ichabod basically gives himself, as he inexplicably travels alone in the dead of night after a party, where he probably could have found several someones to walk most of the way home with him. Or he could have booked a room with the Van Tassels and called it a night.

 

Walking or generally being alone at night is a common fear, particularly for women, and it feels even worse when other people tease you for being paranoid. Katrina chuckles at Ichabod’s fear during the party, and the fact that the schoolmaster’s horse just moseys along, not paying attention or speeding up when Ichabod tells him to, would certainly add to my frustration, not knowing whether or not I’m going crazy or should seriously get the hell out of dodge.

Ichabod and his horse have a good laugh when he thinks his imagination got the better of him (after all, he thinks a frog’s croaking in the background sounds like “Headless Horseman”)…and then suddenly, a third voice joins in with a chillingly demonic cackle.

Then, we begin a scary…hilarious….scare-larious chase scene. Seriously, it’s morbidly delightful.

 

8) Donald’s Mental Breakdown (Fun and Fancy Free or Mickey and the Beanstalk)

Did you ever want to see one of your beloved childhood icons go kill crazy?…No? Well, here you go anyway!

 

I’m not sure how much more I can say about this one. It’s screwed up. Donald Duck gets crazy eyes and decides to kill his farm’s only cow, because he’s sitting there starving in his own home. I know the guy needs some anger management therapy, but damn!

On a side note, in a world of walking, talking, anthropomorphized animals, why does the cow not talk or wear clothes? Why can it be sold, but not Mickey, Donald, or Goofy? Is it that some characters can be captured and domesticated for slave labor, but these guys are somehow untouchable?

I have no idea how this world would work!

 

7) The Reveal (The Witches)

 

“Stranger danger” is practically beaten into every child’s brain, because they’re exceedingly naïve and their parents are terrified. The makers of this Roald Dahl movie adaptation probably made a bet with themselves to see if they could reverse that, because many adults happily rented it and their children were then soundly traumatized.

I saw this movie at a friend’s sleepover, and I could not sleep for the rest of the night. The Willy Wonka Tunnel of Hell may have the element of surprise on its side, but it has nothing on an entire movie full of disturbing concepts and imagery, all of them posing threats to innocent kids, simply because they are kids. Imagine if Willy Wonka was an army of hideous, vicious old women who had a more active loathing of children, beyond just the bratty ones, and decided to kill/eat them as a result.

The scene where a grown woman pulls a snake from her purse and attempts to coax the main character out of his tree house is nightmarish enough, but then you have the scene where the witches go to their witch conference or whatever. They remove their disguises in a hideous fashion, talk about their plans for child murder, and then turn the boy into a mouse after he is caught spying on them.

 

So we have “stranger danger”, yet more body-horror, and a race to foil the plans of a powerful, secret group that few other people realize is a threat, with only the boy’s grandmother to help the kid along. The one adult he can rely on is only so useful, and the other adults are either dangerous or ignorant. That’s encouraging to know, right?

 

6) The Cauldron Born (The Black Cauldron)

 

Some people consider this film a cult classic, while others demonstrate why it did so poorly at the box office. It’s a very flawed, mixed bag, but I would put myself in the former group. The villain has an intimidating, cool design; the art style is dark, but also fairly whimsical; and personally, I thought Elmer Bernstein’s music fit this movie better than it did Ghostbusters.

There’s nightmare fuel aplenty, too.

 

In one scene, the Horned King becomes a necromancer, resurrecting a bunch of dead warriors from various places and eras. An eerie green fog begins rolling out of the cauldron, becoming almost like a soup in places as it fills the room, and one of the king’s henchmen stupidly jabs it with his spear. Suddenly, skeletons erupt in a jump scare, descending on the man. We don’t see what happens to him, but we can assume he’s dead, as the scene cuts to the remaining humans looking away in horror. Then the Horned King sends his undead minions out to “destroy all in (their) path,” and I think about how they would go to the ends of the earth, murdering helpless, unsuspecting villagers like a plague.

 

The scares in this scene is pretty shallow for me. It’s mostly about the imagery and the music, but for what it is, it’s damn effective. The zombie sun-genre of horror isn’t really my forte, but these evil undeads unnerve me every time.

 

5) Charlie Goes to Hell (All Dogs Go to Heaven)

 

The concept of eternal punishment is scary enough by itself. Human beings don’t like pain, and the idea that we’d suddenly have no control, no way to stop the unpleasantness happening to us, and be stuck that way forever is a hard pill to swallow. Even worse, what if we don’t know what we did to deserve it, or the act/acts themselves were miniscule? Arbitrary? Does God even have an appeals court?

Hell is a fear that is instilled in Christians (and other religious folks with Hell-esque parallels) from an early age, and it’s hard to shake off the vague, but ultimately disturbing imagery that comes to mind when that word is uttered. It can be uniquely terrifying to each person, but the basic conceit is the same, and so the fear holds some universality as well.

In this movie, the main character, a German Shepherd named Charlie, stole a second chance at life while he was in Doggy Heaven. As punishment for this, he will go to Hell. Directly to Hell. He can’t pass Go, and he certainly can’t collect $200.

 

While he feigns indifference initially, we can see that Charlie is fearful of the consequences of his actions, and no scene shows this more clearly than the Dream Sequence. There’s fire, brimstone, demons, and most poignant of all, a crushing sense of being unable to escape or stop what is happening to him.

Don Bluth movies in general have this great way of capturing what it’s like to feel small, insignificant, and prey to the whims of the world around you…Probably because so many of the movies involve mice or other small creatures dealing with vicious predators, or the indifferent reactions of humans and nature. Bluth’s world either doesn’t care or is actively working against them, isolating and tormenting the characters but also providing great catharsis when they finally achieve their goals.

Charlie’s torment is necessary, showing his growth as a character and the loss of the innocence/ignorance that once shielded him from it, but that makes it no less terrifying.

 

4) The Bear (The Fox and the Hound)


Things that make this scene stick out:

  1. It’s jarring as all hell! It comes right out of nowhere; what you thought was going to be the climax of the story – Todd either escaping Copper and Amos or getting killed by them – is kicked out of this giant moving car to make room for a random bear attack.
  2. It looks like some weird, mutant cross between a Grizzly Bear and Black Bear. And what bear has freaky demon eyes like that?!
  3. Amos gets knocked down a hill, losing his gun in the process, and then he gets stuck in his own trap, which I’d imagine was pretty painful in and of itself. Despite how much I hate him during the rest of the movie, and despite knowing he provoked the attack by shooting the bear, I can believe his terror and helplessness. He’s old, and now suddenly rendered defenseless.
  4. Despite the lack of blood, the scene is full of violence. You can almost feel the impact of every bite and scratch, especially followed by all of those grunts and yelps. The Great Mouse Detective, which Disney put out a mere 5 years later, has a similar effect in its climactic showdown. Every blow and reaction shot seems heavily focused on.

 

As a kid, it was fairly easy for me to picture myself or someone I loved in place of whoever was being hurt or scared in any given movie. Animal attacks are particularly scary because you’re not facing something you can possibly persuade. All you have left is your speed (assuming you can move at all) and your wits (assuming you wouldn’t go stupid with panic and adrenaline).

 

KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!

 

3) A Wild Beast Appears! (Beauty and the Beast)

How many animal attacks make up this list now?

I’m not trying to go for a theme here. Honestly, there is just something viscerally upsetting about seeing terrified, defenseless people (particularly old folks, women, and children) being helpless in life-or-death situations.

 

In his first major appearance in the story, the Beast is a large, jagged black shape with white slits for eyes, towering over Maurice, who can only cower and beg for mercy. He stalks forward, enormous claws and fangs bared. He is unrelenting, unmerciful, and just plain scary-looking, all while the scary music swells and the audio engineers overlay his vocal track with loud, deep bestial snarls and roars. Every bit of him appears to be a monster; though unlike the monsters Maurice just escaped outside, this one could potentially be reasoned with. The Beast just refuses to hear him out.

 

Once again, the fear comes from imagining yourself or a loved one in place of Maurice. What would you do? Despite the Beast being a hand-drawn creation, you can watch him and feel the threat that he possesses. Everything about the scene screams “RUN AWAY NOW!” Lumiere and Cogsworth just cower and stand there, barely making an attempt to calm the Beast in his territorial fury. How comforting is that? One guy invited Maurice to come in and make himself at home, but then fails to defend him, and the other guy just constantly tries to cover his own ass at your expense.

Even later, when the Beast saves Belle from the wolves, he looks as monstrous and feral as the very things he’s fighting. This is another reason that I look down on the remake; their Beast is not even remotely scary or threatening, which removes his bite, so to speak. Nevermind that the CG effects are fake-looking as hell, which also distracts from the believability, but it then removes the sense of real change when the Beast finally starts coming around to Belle and acting more human. He wasn’t just a grump hermit in a fur suit; he was regressing in despair, to the point of mentally becoming an animal.

But I digress.

 

2) Any Hag Scene (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)

Particularly the one in which she is “born.”

Queen Grimhilde’s regular character design is unsettling, what with her frozen face yet sporadically widening eyes. But once she transforms into the Hag, using a potion literally made out of the stuff of nightmares, the woman becomes completely terrifying.

It is said that the actress removed her false teeth to achieve her older voice, and the Hag’s cottony cackles couple well with her poorly-aged, clearly-evil, “oh-my-God-only-an-idiot-wouldn’t-realize-this” disguise. She talks out loud to herself constantly, plotting needless cruel tortures for Snow White, and she often looks directly into the camera, as if she knows you’re there and will probably be coming after you next.

Aside from her physical repulsiveness, I think some of the fear also comes from the Queen essentially hating this little girl for an unbelievably petty reason, and being willing to kill her so sadistically. “Kill Snow and bring back her heart in a box.” “Have the dwarves bury her alive because they don’t know she’s just sleeping.” It’s all so simplistic, but brutal. Her insecurity and jealousy makes her into a complete monster, and had she survived, who knows what this depraved madwoman would have done next?

She also has a secret alchemy/black-magicky lab in the castle dungeons, which she can apparently slip in and out of unnoticed. There’s nothing like seeing a clearly dangerous person in power, roaming the streets and doing whatever she wants with no supervision or legal repercussions.

…Whatever happened to the Huntsman, anyway? Is his head on a pike, festively adorning the castle walls? Did he get away scott-free while Queenie was busy with premeditated princess murder? We’ll never know for sure, but she did say, “You know the penalty if you fail,” which I figure involves an execution of some sort…The less I think about this, the better.

 

1) Wolf Attack (Beauty and the Beast)

An old man gets lost in the woods, loses his horse, and then has to run from ravenous wolves.

 

Belle gets attacked by wolves as well, but that scene is actually very different. It comes hot off the heels of another major conflict, the music transitions fluidly, and the background and lighting are consistently…well, for lack of a better word, brighter all around.

 

Blue tends to be a more calming color. Plus, you can see every element clearly.

In Maurice’s scene, by contrast, the score starts out calm, but eerily discordant and all over the place. I couldn’t even find the track on the official soundtrack; it was released on a bonus CD sold separately, that’s how unnerving it is.

It also does what is called “Mickey Mousing”, a term that refers to how the music follows and embellishes the actions happening on screen, rather than just setting a general background tone. For example, at one point a shadowy wolf rushes by, and even if your eyes missed it, the music let you know that something bad had just happened.

 

Eyes and other animated facial features morph quickly from nervous to fearful (I have always found creepy or expressly afraid eyes chilling). Even Phillipe the horse knows that something bad is going to happen, and frustratingly, he realizes as quickly as the audience does. His rider, meanwhile, is stubborn and distracted, ignoring the obvious warning signs.

 

The lighting is predominantly composed of reds and yellows (colors that tend to excite and agitate, according to Psychology), and it’s limited because it comes from the inventor’s lantern. The light is soon put out, however, in an extremely quick and violent way, and then all is left in darkness as Maurice’s one immediate hope of escape, his horse, is driven away in terror.

Much like with The Fox and the Hound’s Bear, there is a lot of motion and violent energy in this scene. A chorus of wolf howls goes up, causing Phillipe to back his cart into a tree. A mass of angry black bats comes flocking out, scaring the horse into nearly running himself off of a cliff. Phillipe rears, knocking Maurice off and leaving him alone in the forest. Just as the old man picks himself up, he gets chased by a group of wolves and falls down a cliff. He then reaches a gate and manages to get inside, but a wolf bites his foot and almost drags his whole leg out into biting range. The pacing of it all rarely gives the audience a break, and depending on your imagination, it can be like experiencing the danger yourself, if secondhand.

 

Belle’s scene is still scary in its own way – it’s still a defenseless person possibly going to be mauled to death – but it’s not filmed the same way and it doesn’t really sneak up on first-time viewers. As soon as she starts riding into the woods, you already have an idea of what she’s going to face. The wolves themselves shown up more on screen, coming from predictable directions, and they are also a lot easier to see in their horrific entirety.

Maurice’s chase scene was shorter, but it was more uncertain and suspenseful.

 

What were your scariest movie moments from childhood? Please share in the comments below. If you’re wondering why something isn’t on this list, I most likely didn’t see it until I was older or it didn’t bother me all that much.

 

*None of the images, soundbites, or clips in this post belong to me.

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In Defense of Beauty and the Beast

This is my final rant on the matter. Cross my heart. After this, no matter how much the remake and its fans stalk me, I’ll just let it go. 

I just can’t stand being barraged with post after post about how much better Beauty and the Beast (2017) is compared to its predecessor, without offering at least some defense of the reverse.

And yes, I am definitely biased, but I wanted to like this new movie. You have no idea how hard I tried to give it a chance, only to be bored, irritated, and let down at almost every turn. It’s not the worst movie ever made, but it doesn’t deserve half of the critical praise it is receiving, or the credit for “fixing” the original film.

Doesn’t anyone else remember that Beauty and the Beast (1991) was the first animated feature film to be nominated for an Academy Award, because it was just that moving and beautiful and well-structured?
1) The Animation Supplements Where the Action Falls Short

Not enough lines of dialogue for you? Or maybe you’re just not crazy about their delivery? Just add animation!

Personally, I think most of the lines were decently acted, but the nice thing about having an animated story is that it can help carry a lot through fluid movement and even over-exaggeration of expressions.

Communication is about 95% non-vocal, and you would be surprised how much you can learn about a character by looking at things like posture, proximity, touch, and gesture, as well as facial expressions. While the remake adds a few good things such as Belle’s laundry innovation, which shows her as an inventor and innovator in her own right, Emma Watson’s flat delivery of lines and particularly her default to annoyance over fear in stressful, emotional situations makes her feel less human, whereas Paige O’Hara’s Belle and the other animated characters can be silly, but get across much more about who they are in simple gestures. The live-action cast (most of whom I have adored in other films) had a lot to convey, and probably not a lot of good direction, so when they fall flat, they really fall flat.

 

2) The Original Movie Featured Talented Singers

Emma Watson is not a singer, but that is fine if you can fake it or at least bring some character to the table. The filmmakers clearly had no confidence in her abilities, however, because they polished and autotuned all of the humanity out of her performance. She and the other actors constantly sound as though they are in a studio, not the world of the film itself, and that can be heard distinctly in the lack and diminishing of other sound effects going on in any given scene. They clearly wanted the main showcase to be the singers, so things you might hear like chickens, cart wheels creaking, and other normal town sounds are pushed to the very bottom of the master tracks, if they are even there at all.

Audra McDonald is an actual singer, and a very talented one at that, but she is relegated to “comical” narcolepsy half of the time, and her “song(s)” either get cut short or dial up the silliness that most modern listeners associate with traditional operatic singing.

While the animated singers are less polished to robotic perfection, their flaws provide character and relatability, and their voices are fitting and pleasant to listen to. Paige O’Hara is truly scandalized and outraged by Gaston’s marriage proposal at the start of her reprise, whereas Emma Watson sounds mildly frustrated, but also somewhat uncaring about the situation.

 

3) Subtlety and Symbolism (Yes, Believe it or Not, in a Cartoon)

Did you ever notice how Belle and the Beast are the only characters in the entire movie to wear the color blue? Particularly during the “Belle” musical number, when said protagonist walks through a town filled with reds and earthy hues? That was done on purpose to set the character apart visually from everyone else, which nicely compliments the song about how weird and different she is without being too overt. It also connects her to the Beast, a fellow outcast.

The new movie doesn’t seem to get that, because half of the townsfolk wear blue. It’s missing all of the nice, subtle little touches of symbolism like that, presumably because its creators either didn’t understand them themselves or assumed that the audience was too dumb to pick up on that.

Instead, it chooses to answer largely irrelevant questions, like how Belle got the Beast onto her horse after the wolf attack. Nevermind that in both versions, Beast probably should have broken Phillipe’s back.

Another example is the introduction of Gaston. He is shown killing a defenseless, harmless animal, for seemingly no reason other than that he could. Its body is then picked up by a slobbering lackey, and immediately after that, the scene cuts to Gaston standing confidently in the shadows, before he then swaggers out into the light. Film language is screaming at you that this guy is a jerk before you even hear him speak a full line of dialogue. He is subtle even in his utter lack of subtlety, and it foreshadows his latter cruelty.

Come to think of it…

 

4) The Old Movie was Dark and Scary

The Beast’s first speaking scene shows him as a towering, jagged, feral…well, beast. His early behavior and demeanor contrasts with who he becomes later on, as demonstrated when he starts walking upright, wearing nicer clothes, and attempting to eat in a polite, civilized way.

The other dark, scary visuals and tone convey a mean-spirited world that not only drives home the message and warnings to children, but also makes it more satisfying when the main characters emerge victorious and happy at the end. The bigger and more difficult a trial is, the better it feels when finally surmounted.

The new movie’s wolves are kind of scary….but that’s about it. The new Beast looks computer-generated, but not particularly intimidating. I almost don’t blame new Belle for not being even remotely afraid of him.

 

5) LeFou is Unambiguously a Bad Guy

So LeFou doesn’t live up to his name anymore…I’m not sure why we didn’t just rename him, that being the case.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: how is this new version considered a positive LGBT portrayal? LeFou clearly knows right from wrong here; he’s not as ignorant and stupid as his animated counterpart. And yet his unrequited crush on Gaston makes it okay when he looks the other way, actively choosing to leave an old man to be murdered by wolves in the woods? And then again later, when he has a chance to defy Gaston and stop Maurice from being falsely imprisoned in the explicitly (directly stated in the movie) terrible and corrupt mental institution?

Maurice being rescued in the former case and Belle arriving just in time to stop the latter doesn’t excuse LeFou for his cowardice. Sure, Gaston is clearly unstable, but there is no explicit threat against LeFou and no given reason why he can’t put a stop to the proceedings. He just doesn’t because he’s in love, and therefore that makes it okay.

Nevermind that he backs out of the castle assault at the absolute last minute and thus gets rewarded with arm candy in the end, as if he were one of the good guys all along.

 

6) The Pace Doesn’t Drag Like a Constipated Elephant

Boy howdy, does the new movie drag on at times! The original was much shorter, but still utilized effective build-up and foreshadowing.

In storytelling, particularly in film, there is a set-up and a payoff for just about every major element. The remake introduces a magical book, as yet another item that the ridiculously cruel Enchantress gave to the Beast, but it is brought up and used once, only to disappear when it could have been useful. Instead of riding off on Phillipe in her medieval prom dress, Belle could have used the book to get back to town instantaneously. She and the Beast don’t even use it to find “adventure in the great, wide somewhere,” so what was really the point of introducing it at all?

There are some decent payoff moments in the new film, don’t get me wrong, but they tried to add too much to make the story fit the longer running time, and it just makes it feel flabby. The added scenes go by too quickly, and the scenes reminiscent of the animated feature constantly remind me that I could be watching the other movie. You know, the one I already own? The one that was perfectly fine by itself, but which people were apparently complaining that it didn’t cater to modern sensibilities enough?

…Sorry. There probably wasn’t a serious demand for this, but Disney manufactured one in their attempt to restock bank accounts and (hopefully) fund more ambitious, creative projects from the studio.

 

 

7) Dehumanizing the Villagers Actually Had a Good Point

The animated Beauty and the Beast has a sad but wonderfully poignant message about the importance of love and understanding in a world so full of cruelty and superficiality. To paraphrase Lindsay Ellis (the former Nostalgia Chick of Channel Awesome), Beauty and the Beast can be read as a story of great thinkers and innovators being othered by society, which instead chooses to idolize bullies, braggarts, and looks above all else. Seems a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
It’s not just a tale about seeing the beauty within; it’s also about how we as a society ostracize those who are differen from us, all because of fear and groupthink tendencies. It’s the basic tribal inclinations of “us vs. them” that all humans are guilty of to a certain extent. 

Gaston is attractive, so his behavior is not only excusable, but glorified, whereas Belle is barely tolerated because she is pretty. Her father Maurice is held in complete contempt by pretty much everyone in town, and throughout the movie, he repeatedly gets the short end of the stick. Gaston treats him as an irritating but necessary tool.

The remake has one scene where it attempts this point, when a younger girl is curious about Belle’s donkey-laundry contraption and Belle tries teaching her how to read, only to be yelled at by the child’s father. But a major conceit of the original story is that Belle is the only person to offer the Beast a serious, genuine redemption, in a world that completely shuns and reviles him. The new film goes out of its way to humanize the villagers, including Gaston and LeFou.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad idea – I think that seeing a film where Gaston is actually the hero might be very interesting – but in the context of the original Disney story, it weakens the clear, unambiguous warning that bullies should be discouraged and intelligence and uniqueness should be accepted and celebrated. Because the curse is now specifically said to have caused people to forget the castle’s existence, the story hand waves away the villagers’ responsibility for their fear mongering and attempts to harm others, whereas in the original, they are driven away and never seen again.

It fixes one problem while creating and effectively ignoring another. I don’t think Belle was automatically dismissive of the villagers; no, clearly they dismissed and belittled her first, and she realized that she cannot change their attitudes. She can only persevere and be herself, and she wishes for a world where such a task is easier, but more exciting and challenging as well.

Who among us hasn’t felt misunderstood and left out at one point, left only with the option to try your best to blend in?

 

You see, when it comes right down to it, Beauty and the Beast (1991) is not without its flaws and problematic elements. But it was a quaint little story with well-paced and well-chosen scenes, which did exactly what was required of them and sometimes no more than that. Fairytales are meant to teach one or two basic lessons in creative settings and situations, but the animators and other filmmakers somehow managed to imbue their adaptation with so much more depth and meaning, far more than anyone would think possible.

The remake, meanwhile, is padded with logical indulgences, and “character development” that is brought up briefly and then never expanded upon, making it seem like superfluous details. The Beast’s tragic backstory and makings of his monstrous new attitude? Barely touched upon, and then forgotten. The significance of Belle’s mother? Not really relevant, and certainly not used to add some connection between her and the Beast, who also had a strained relationship with his parents.

When you watch a film enough times, you start to notice plotholes and logical issues that you once could have glanced over. A good movie is not one that has no issues at all, but simply one that can distract you from them effectively until a few more viewings. Was the original Beauty and the Beast really that distracting and terrible, or is it just that that we’ve all seen it so many times and done all of the jokes and criticism of it to death?

All of the questions that it tries to answer were being supplied by my imagination back in the day. Why was the castle staff cursed along with the Beast, when they technically didn’t do anything wrong? Probably because they kowtowed to his every whim and lead him to becoming extra spoiled and contemptuous of basic human worth when no title or status was attached to it. Why would the Enchantress curse a little boy for one mistake? Probably because people aged faster in the past and children were basically regarded as mini adults once they reached a certain age.

How did Belle get the Beast on her horse if he was unconscious? …Who cares. That’s not what the focus of the story is. It’s fun to crack jokes about, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s unimportant. What is important is that Belle saves Beast’s life, just as he saved hers, and they begin to act more conscious and considerate towards one another as a result. Belle is probably the one person in Beast’s life who has repeatedly said no to him and meant no, and he slowly grows to appreciate and respect that about her.

More than any of the previous remakes, Beauty and the Beast is trying to be the original film, when it clearly doesn’t understand half of what made it work. It’s also trying to update some elements, but not trying too hard, or else we might have had something different and new.

I have tolerated and even genuinely enjoyed some of the other live-action remakes thus far, but at the end of the day, this latest movie drives home what hollow cash-grabs they really are. In the case of the Disney Princess films in particular, they are just new vehicles for selling sparkly dresses and merchandise to little girls under the guise of strong, female empowerment.

Clearly nothing like their original iterations, right?

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.

My Top 5 Modern Adult TV Shows, Part 2

2) Breaking Bad

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Originally, this was a three-way time between Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Better Call Saul, but that would be a cop-out.  By all accounts, Saul is still in its infancy, and even though Game of Thrones seems like it was genetically bred for me, I have to give props to Breaking Bad for getting me into a genre I had virtually no interest in: Crime Drama.

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The conception of the show was this: “Turn a Mr. Chips type into Scarface.” Walter White is by no means a perfect peach before his descent to the dark side, but you follow his progression easily. He’s made choices that he’s happy with, but also many choices that left him feeling pathetic and emasculated, and his pride can only suffer so much. So when he finds out that he’s probably going to die from Lung Cancer, he accompanies his DEA brother-in-law on a casual meth lab bust to “covertly” scope out his next venture: becoming a New Mexico meth kingpin.

With the help of a former student, the street-smart but chemically illiterate drop out Jesse Pinkman, Walter begins his simultaneous rise to the top of the drug ladder and race to the bottom of human compassion and decency.

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Much like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad is brilliant, not only for its drama, flow, and intelligence, but for its compelling, yet morally grey characters. The show has inspired so many complex reactions from fans; I myself have gone from loving a character to hating them and back again, all within the scope of a season or so. I find this even more impressive because the show has no dragons, magic, or grand political conquests to fall back on, which are interesting but entirely too innate to my tastes. It takes place in relatively modern day America, and while some schemes can be too intricate and far-fetched to be believable, or just rely on insane luck, suspension of disbelief surprisingly doesn’t hinder the show much.

The greater significance of such a show is its willingness to delve into the “why,” if in more subtle ways than the “how.” Keeping with the theme of criminals being real people who act on life’s complexities, this show provides both a cautionary tale to the individual  (don’t commit crimes and act on fantasies of power and influence) and an encouragement for viewers to look at prevalent, problematic ideologies (for example, subtly-enforced, pervasive hypermasculinity that boys pick up on as they grow up) in society that may need tweaking.

 

Walter White is at fault for his actions, no questions there, but the need to feel “manly” by providing for his family and discouraging his wife from working, as well as profiting from a creation that is solely his baby, are things that regular Joe Schmoe’s might sympathize with, but can also be, for example, teaching them to crush their feelings down inside and be too proud to accept help from others, even when they might really need it.

Mentalities like that, while not necessarily causing or indicating issues like domestic violence, can certainly be contributing factors.

Breaking Bad is about many things, but I see it predominantly as a story about a man running from his weaknesses, rather than embracing them.

And, on that note…

 

1) BoJack Horseman

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Forgive me, South Park. You haven’t been replaced; this is just a whole different ballpark.

This show is amazing. It’s depressing as all hell, but it’s truly amazing, and if the viewer is open to it, BoJack Horseman may just change your outlook on life. I really don’t think I or anyone else just talking about it can ever do it the justice it deserves. It is just one of those things in life needs to be experienced to be fully understood and appreciated.

Back in the 90’s, BoJack was in a very famous T.V. show, Horsin’ Around (in a nutshell, Full House). 20 years later, he’s largely done nothing but sit around, do drugs, and re-watch episodes of his own show, longing for the glory days and yet running from them at the same time. Even though BoJack got the fame and fortune he was aiming for, BoJack Horseman (the show, not the character) goes out of its way to show you how hollow and meaningless that can really be.

Just look at the intro:

 

What is the impression you get from this? How does it make you feel?

BoJack is rich, self-centered, and constantly pushing people away when they try to get close. He’s dragged out of his shell somewhat by Diane Nguyen, the woman hired to ghostwrite his memoir, but she is also dealing with commitment and comfort issues with her own boyfriend, Mr. Peanutbutter, a rival actor who became successful by essentially ripping off Horsin’ Around. BoJack’s agent and former girlfriend, Princess Carolyn (voiced by Amy Sedaris, the sister of one of my favorite authors btw), is constantly trying to get him up off his ass while dealing with her own loneliness and stress. Todd, a dumb but well-meaning slacker (voiced by Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad), lives in BoJack’s house rent-free and tries to be his friend, even when BoJack frequently puts him down.

Ironically, though the cast is comprised of many anthropomorphic animals, it is a very human show. At its core, it’s about change and consequences, as well as the definition and permanence of “happiness.” In the words of the great Albus Dumbledore, “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”

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Despite being downright unlikeable at times, BoJack is a very compelling character. He was dealt a crappy hand with abusive, unloving parents, but that doesn’t excuse him hurting the people he cares about most. And what is very refreshing about the show is that, unlike with something like Family Guy or even The Simpsons, there is a “too far” BoJack can reach, and his friends will call him out and hold him to it, even if it’s heartbreaking for them.

All of the main characters have their redeemable and irredeemable moments, because the show wants to illustrate that people, the world, and in particular, Hollywood, can be very screwed up, especially if they stop growing and changing. BoJack Horseman explores their capability of making the right choices; their capacity to learn from past mistakes and change in the future.

Watching his exploits, even the more humorous ones, you realize things about yourself that you’ve been ignoring or hiding from. It can feel downright terrible, but you don’t want yourself to fail, and you find yourself not wanting BoJack to fail either. The “power of positive thinking” only applies so far, because change is difficult and comes one step at a time.

The show is also genuinely funny…No, really. I’m not kidding.

Like South Park, it’s satire is biting, but unlike it, BoJack Horseman has smaller adventures, tighter show continuity, and a more coherent narrative. That doesn’t make it shallower or any less important, mind you; it’s just a different, more focused approach. Storytelling put above jokes, as opposed to the reverse.

If you can make it past the easy first few episodes, you may be pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised by depth of wit and humanity here. I was, for sure. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I wouldn’t oust South Park or Game of Thrones from a top spot that easily.  XD

 

 

I hope you all enjoyed my list. If you’ve seen these shows, or check them out sometime soon, let me know what you think in the comments!

Top 10 Most Annoying and Hated Animated TV Characters

Now before I start this list off, here are a few ground rules:

I have to pick from shows that I actually watched more than two episodes of, but whether or not I like the overall show is irrelevant. Also, I have to pick from the cast of recurring characters, which means nobody who only appeared or starred in just one episode and then was never seen again.

I may cheat once or twice and list more than one character per slot, but that is my only safety net and only for a case when it’s more than two characters.

With that said, let’s get into it.

 

10) Bubbles, The Powerpuff Girls

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Love her color scheme, hate her voice.

I don’t really like infantile characters in general; I prefer the ones who act mature for their age. Preschool student or not, when Bubbles cries like a baby, it’s irritating. I’m fine with her being more timid or naïve than her sisters, but sometimes they act 10 years old and she acts 2, and thus she holds them up. If she’s going to cause a problem or make an existing one worse, it would be best if she weren’t as whiny as all hell. I’m honestly surprised that more boys watching the show didn’t find her obnoxious.

She does grow quite a bit in some episodes, though, so you’ll notice that she isn’t very far down the list.

I just have a cuteness threshold, unlike some people, and Bubbles crossed it way too frequently.

 

9) Blossom, The Powerpuff Girls

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My least favorite of the three main characters.

A lot of people consider Blossom a good role model for kids, and while I don’t disagree, I do think she gets more praise than she deserves. Being smart is a good thing, but no one likes a know-it-all who flaunts it like that makes them better than everyone else. That is how I always saw Blossom as a kid, and I also didn’t like when she was a tattletale. Regardless of age, tattletales are annoying, especially when they do it over something innocuous and petty.

Granted, Bubbles and Buttercup do that too and were particularly obnoxious in the ice breath episode, but I stand by my feelings. I’m tired of seeing arrogant leaders.

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Buttercup gets a pass because she was the least annoying and most badass. If I looked up to any of the Powerpuff Girls, it was probably her.

 

8) Angelica Pickles, Rugrats

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She’s a total brat who either messes with the other kids or gets them in trouble. Half of their stupid misconceptions about the adult world and world in general come from her, even though they know she’s a bully and her tone is always sly and disingenuous. Her well-to-do parents are a bit neglectful, preferring to just buy her whatever she wants and give into her demands unless she actually pisses them off enough for them to punish her.

Rich and bully do not a good character make.

 

7) Deirdra Hortense “Dodie” Bishop, As Told by Ginger

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She’s a social climber and gossiping chatterbox.

Despite Courtney, the rich popular girl on the show, being a bit stupid, vain, and vapid, she is much nicer to Ginger and a far better friend than Dodie. Dodie is willing to compromise her friendships and integrity to get her way, which is not a very good or attractive quality; she longs to be popular more than anything and completely fails to see and be thankful for what she has and the people who actually do care about her. Even if that is somewhat relatable, because we all want to feel accepted as children, it should not come at the price of making other people feel miserable and abandoned.

Also, and this is completely shallow, Dodie sounds and looks extremely punchable. As a kid, I lovingly dubbed her “Frog Mouth,” because even compared to the other character designs, she’s pretty weird looking.

 

6) Penny and her friends, The Proud Family

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The Proud Family was a rare show for me, because I found that every character – and I mean every character, including Penny’s infant twin siblings – did something totally obnoxious and loathsome. No matter how likeable they could be, I hated every character at one point or another, and sometimes my feelings toward them carried over to other episodes, whether or not that’s ultimately justified.

Penny usually meant well, but there were times when her spoiled, popularity-seeking attitude stopped being relatable. That said, she’s a damn saint next to her friends (yes, even Zoey, the nerd).

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LaCienega is the easiest punching bag, because she’s rich, spoiled, and an outright mean girl, even to her supposed friends, but at least she’s pretty honest about who she is. What you see is what you get. I still didn’t get why Penny stayed friends with her; she wasn’t exactly the least popular, most ostracized girl in school or anything.

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No, the one I hated most was Dijonay, or Dodie 2.0 as I called her. Her personality seemed to change on a dime, from supportive to outrageously selfish, and she was always so damn cheerful about it too. At one point, Penny tells her that though they will remain friends, she won’t trust Dijonay anymore, and that was such a bittersweet, what-the-hell moment. Why on earth would you stay good friends with someone like that, knowing that about them? It made absolutely no sense to me.

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Zoey could be relatable at times, but she is such a blind follower, even when she should know that what she’s doing isn’t right. Mousy and mean girl are bad on their own, but there is something so viscerally pathetic and despicable in their combination.

I reluctantly give everyone else in the show a pass. I still enjoyed watching it a lot, but the mean-spiritedness often felt like it came out of left field, and it always left a bad taste in my mouth. Especially when it happened to people who didn’t really deserve it, like when Penny makes a wish that her siblings are old enough that she doesn’t have to babysit them anymore, and literally everyone in the world, including her own parents, act like she doesn’t even exist.

The Proud Family really will push your buttons and make you want to hug them.

 

5) Sarah, Ed Edd n’ Eddy

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Sarah is Ed’s abusive baby sister. She is clearly spoiled by her parents, sleeping in a bedroom fit for a princess while Ed sleeps in the filthy basement (to be fair, he probably makes it worse than it is down there). Her voice is obnoxious and she is always yelling at Ed, making him do things for her, and threatening to tell their mother on him if he doesn’t comply.

What makes this somewhat heartbreaking is that Ed is perfectly pleasant to her. Yes, he is often afraid of getting in trouble with his parents, but he clearly means well and loves her despite the way she treats him. He also tries to defend her occasionally when Eddy fights or messes with her.

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This show was always colorful and fun, but I find it interesting that people are now theorizing that the Eds are all victims of familial abuse, which serves to keep them together while further ostracizing them from the other kids in the Cul-de-Sac. It’s entirely possible and kind of sad, really.

 

4) Patrick Star, Spongebob Squarepants

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A contemporary of delightfully stupid characters like Ed, Patrick had his bad moments in pre-movie Spongebob, but I never really hated him. He was mostly well-meaning, but that also made for some good, funny jokes.

No more, it seems.

Patrick is now basically a sociopath. His stupidity is no longer funny, and at times, even seems deliberately malicious. He does a lot of things for no reason whatsoever, and then acts confused as to why people are upset with him and around him. He’s just a walking (usually sleeping) tub of hedonistic, stupid selfishness.

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Also, I really hate his new, stupid, one-toothed smile. That really makes me think that the writers changed the show to appeal to toddlers, instead of kids and adults. It’s just so forcedly cutesy and stupid. Even if they are young and immature, are Spongebob and Patrick not home-owning adults? There is a difference between idiotic and infantile.

 

3) Jimmy, Ed Edd n’ Eddy

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You know what’s more despicable than an abuser? Someone who keeps them company, sees their behavior, and not only doesn’t stop it, but encourages it. Jimmy is Sarah’s playmate who hates Ed, Edd, and Eddy for seemingly no reason and frequently wants to see them hurt or fail.

I didn’t have a problem with him being effeminate so much as he was just weak and wishy-washy. There is an episode where his foot gets tapped by a clothespin, and he literally begins clutching it, shrieking, “My foot! It’s broken! Owie!” Unless his bones are made of sodden toothpicks, he’s just faking it and sucking up all of the attention around him like a sponge. He relishes being the pampered baby of the group, which is very annoying and, again, oh so punchable.

A lot of people hate him in the episode If It Smells Like An Ed, but I never had a problem with it. The other kids in the Cul-de-Sac are too quick to judge anyway, so it probably wouldn’t have taken much for them to turn on the Eds anyway.

 

2) Peggy Hill, King of the Hill

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I don’t really like this show at all, but I used to watch things on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim when I was bored or waiting for the anime to come on. It’s less funny and more obnoxious than even modern Family Guy, because it’s just boring, folksy rednecks doing nothing.

Pretty much all of my hatred for Peggy comes from an episode called Lupe’s Revenge. She is a substitute Spanish teacher with a less-than-poor mastery of the language, and even worse, she has a ridiculous ego. She goes with the students on a trip to Mexico and orders a Mexican child, Lupe, who tries to sell her gum, to get on the bus and go home with them. Because apparently roll calls and head counts aren’t a thing on school field trips anymore. And border patrols do not exist anymore either.

When she realizes her mistake – and I use “realizes” in the loosest sense of the word – Peggy accommodates Lupe by putting her in a closet for the night and then takes her back to Mexico the next day. Peggy then gets arrested for kidnapping, though initially she thinks that she’s being thanked because, again, she has an inflated ego and can barely speak the language. She refuses to admit that her Spanish is terrible, but inadvertently proves it to the judge, who lets her off the hook.

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So other than that brief scare, she gets no consequences and gets to feel secure in her job and Spanish skills.

Peggy seems like an annoying character regardless, but this is probably the best highlight of her obnoxiousness. She’s a good blueprint for the people I can’t stand in real life, but she still can’t beat…

 

1) Dora Winifred “DW” Read, Arthur

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Oh dear God, this character.

Talk about the most annoying little sister character ever. Beyond that, DW is the epitome of everything people hate about children. She’s spoiled, selfish, picky, gullible, she throws temper tantrums like a mini drama queen, and she sneaks into her brother’s room and unapologetically messes with his things. She’s obviously meant to be cute and precocious, but she looks more smug than anything and seems to enjoy getting Arthur into trouble whenever possible.

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Arthur’s Big Hit is her worst episode in my opinion, because she drives a normally calm kid like her big brother to punch her arm in frustration, and oddly enough, a lot of people empathize with him. He worked really hard and she was repeatedly invasive and disrespectful before breaking the very thing he’d been working on and complaining to him that she shouldn’t have been able to break it.

We never see her get punished or even scolded by her parents, and even when she does apologize, she ruins any meaning it could have had by complaining about the model airplane she broke. “I’m sorry I broke your plane, but what kind of a stupid plan doesn’t fly?”

Arthur gets repeatedly crapped on throughout the rest of the episode, and his parents don’t seem to care that he got punched at school at the end, all because of karma apparently. Yes, he did something wrong, but unlike DW, he learns from his mistake and genuinely says sorry.

I stopped watching Arthur in late elementary school and haven’t tuned in since, and yet all it took was looking at a picture of DW to get me to remember how much I hated her as a kid. That is why she is definitively the worst and most annoying animated tv character I’ve ever seen.

 

 

Marge’s Top Ten Zelda Boss Fights

At this, the tail-end of what the fans have begun to dub “Zelda Month”, I wanted to offer my own paltry praise and tribute to the massively-entertaining and immersive series of games known as The Legend of Zelda. 

I have been playing a little bit of Triforce Heroes with my friends, and I got to thinking: Zelda has some really fun and memorable bosses. Only in this most recent game have we been able to use other players to team up and defeat them, but the variety of settings, monsters, items, and, for lack of a better phrase, ways to expose and exploit weaknesses, have become pretty ingeniously inventive since the first game’s release in 1986. Add spectacular graphics and wide fields of movement to the mix, and you come away with much more challenging battles.

So today, I thought I’d give you my top ten favorite boss fights across the whole series.

I’m sorry to say, and don’t hate me for this, there will be no 2-D battles on this list. I haven’t played many of the earlier games, and most of the ones I have tried didn’t grab me the way 3-D Zelda games have. I think that is mostly due to how I was introduced to the series in the first place, with Ocarina of Time.

I love Oracle of Seasons and Ages, but those are the only ones I’ve beaten. And I digress. 

Here we go!

 

10) Majora 

At the very top of the list, we have the final boss battle in Majora’s Mask

If you’ve obtained the Fierce Deity Mask, the fight is insultingly easy, but it makes my number ten spot because it’s fun, fast-paced, and batshit insane. 

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Majora’s first form is the mask itself, hovering around the arena while shooting beams at you and bringing the mask-remains of the former bosses to life to distract you.

Once you’ve sufficiently slashed that, Majora grows limbs and a head with a single, large eye as its second form, and it darts around and dances wildly while a silly, distorted version of its theme plays in the background.

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The third and final form bulks Majora up like a body builder, and gives it shocking whips that grow from its hands.

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This is the hardest stage of the battle, but again, not that hard for boss standards and certainly not for those of final bosses. But because the rest of the game is fairly challenging, Majora’s Mask can be forgiven in this instance.

 

9) Ganon (TP)

Zelda games fall under two categories most of the time: those in which Ganon (Ganondorf) is the villain throughout, and those in which Ganon hijacks the plot away from another villain (usually by way of Villain B attempting to summon him). Twilight Princess is probably the most egregious example of the latter, and while the battle with Zant was epic and challenging and I feel bad for not putting him here, some room must be made on this list for the king villain of the entire series. 

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Of all of the Ganon/dorf fights, this game has my favorite. The first stage involves fighting a possessed Princess Zelda, doing the classic light attack volley. Then, a massive wild boar charging at you, and you have to alternate between your human and wolf forms to defeat him. The wolf form is one of my favorite mechanics introduced in any Zelda game, and pitting a beast against a much larger beast and still coming out on top is very satisfying.

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In the third stage, you are chasing Ganondorf on horseback across a wide stretch of Hyrule Field, with Zelda reprising her role from the final battle in Wind Waker by firing light arrows to slow him down. 

Being able to use your sword while riding is a great upgrade from the last game, and you can either beat a path to Ganondorf or lag behind, slashing at his virtually ineffectual minions. It’s really fun.

Just avoid energy beams, as they will sting.

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Lastly, you fight him mano-a-mano, applying the sword techniques you learned from the Hero’s Shade throughout your journey. The only one you really need is the finishing blow, which you will be made to learn anyway, but the introduction of specific sword and shield techniques to the gameplay adds thrills and even a bit of skill to your battles, especially this one. Ganondorf can move and block fairly well, so being able to roll behind him and slash at his unprotected back can really help you.

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Really, this game added a lot of good things. Some people say it’s just a rip off of Ocarina of Time with more story and better graphics, but I don’t think that’s fair. It’s not the most creative entry in the series, but it’s definitely not a straight-up rehash. A beefed-up, though still flawed, spiritual sequel is what I’d call it.

 

8) Volvagia

Ocarina of Time presents: Whack-A-Mole!:

 

7) Armogohma (TP)

I was tempted to put Gohma from Wind Waker here (Zelda has quite a few Gohma incarnations across the series, actually), but as fun as it is to hook on to a dragon’s tail with a grappling hook and swing over a giant beetle-centipede lava monster’s head, angering the dragon and unsettling the rocks on the ceiling and crushing said monster (yes, really), you know what’s more satisfying?

Squishing a spider!

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The Armagohma fight in this game is a nice and familiar retread of the Gohma fight in Ocarina of Time, but, as you might have guessed from the gushing in the Ganon section, incorporates new elements for a relatively challenging battle.

Armagohma is bigger and more spider-like than ever, but with the help of the Temple of Time’s item, the Dominion Rod, you can bring her down quickly. Literally. When she crawls up onto the ceiling, shoot her in the giant eye on her back with an arrow. When she falls to the ground, Link can use the Dominion Rod to take control of one of the nearby giant statues and crush her weak spot with its hammer. 

 

The only part I don’t like is when you finally break her hard exoskeleton, she turns into a bunch of gross mini-spiders, led by a main spider that apparently made up the eyeball on her back. This is gross and mildly annoying, but once you get here, you know you’re basically in the clear.

 

6) Hellmaroc King

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Spoilers: It’s a giant flying chicken. 

In Wind Waker, you take the most awesome hammer in the entire series and smash a giant monster chicken in the face! How cool is that?

This villain was a bit more personal for me than most others. It appears a few times before you fight it, once when kidnapping Link’s little sister and then again catching you just before you can rescue her, only to fling you out into the sea to drown. Sure, it’s technically a lackey, but the game got me to build up a vendetta against this stupid giant chicken and boy is the conclusion to that plot satisfying!

First, you goad the bird into trying to attack you, causing it to bury its beak in the ground and trap it momentarily.

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The hammer then chips away at its protective mask, until you can finally do more damage to the chicken itself. Meanwhile, dodge its gliding swipe attacks and gusts of wind, which will blow you into the painful spikes ringing the arena if you aren’t careful. 

It’s not the most fun battle in the whole series, but it’s definitely one of the most satisfying.

 

5) Blizzeta

In Twilight Princess, you come upon an old, dilapidated mansion in the mountains and meet two yeti, a husband and wife, who hold one of the pieces of a cursed mirror that you need.

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The yeti are nice and obliging, but the husband is preoccupied with making soup for his sick wife, and his wife can’t remember where she put the key to their bedroom, where the mirror shard lives, and you have to follow her baffled directions several times before you get it right. It’s a dungeon in practice, but not in name.

Eventually, Yeta the yeti will lead you to the bedroom and unlock it. In a case of complete tonal whiplash, the sweet yeti takes a look at the mirror and goes full-on Gollum over it.

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This boss battle involves using a spiked ball and chain to chip away at the moving ice chunks that encase Yeta. The boss will go up on the ceiling, so watch the reflection on the floor and dive out of the way as she attempts to crush you with each ice chunk. Once that is done, you have a brief moment to break the ice, and eventually, you will attack the center chunk and free Yeta.

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I love the music, the fight style, and the nice, helpful character who is corrupted and forced to battle you. It would be more emotional and dramatic in a movie, I think, but it works well in the game.

The moral of the story (and the theme of this list, so far): smashing things is fun.

 

4) Twinrova (OoT)

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I really like witches and natural element-based powers, so why not combine the two? Elemental witches!

In the last temple of the game, the Spirit Temple,  you fight Koume and Kotake, Ganondorf’s mothers(?), who can shoot beams of fire and ice respectively. When Koume fires you (pun intended), target Kotake and let the mirror shield do the rest. When Kotake gives you the cold shoulder, target Koume.

I just love turning the enemy’s powers against them; it’s a more epic version of “Stop Hitting Yourself.”

After about three or four successful deflections, the witches will combine into this delightful thing:

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She still has two staffs, one per element, and you just have to let her hit your shield three times with the same element, and it will create a blast strong enough to knock her to the ground…I guess because at least half of her is weak against either element? Then, hop over to the platform she’s on and smash! (your hammer does more damage, so I use that)

It’s relatively simple, but very fun, and combined with the cutscenes, it makes a nice conclusion to your journey through the Spirit Temple and your dungeon/temple run in general.

…But she is kind of creepy too.

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3) Koloktos

Speaking of using your enemy’s power against itself…

The whip seems a little lame compared to most dungeon items, and switching between it and the sword when you need to slash immediately afterwards can be a bit annoying, but it makes this fight a fan favorite, and one of the most memorable in all of Zelda, for one major reason: you rip off your enemy’s arms, steal its sword, and then beat it to death with it.

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Koloktos is a giant golden automaton reminiscent of an ancient Buddhist deity, bearing multiple arms and swords. It sits still at first, striking at you and then chucking blades at you when you get too far away. But once you do enough damage, it gets up on legs as well. It can also summon up zombie bokoblins to hurt you.

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The exterior of the boss is very hard, so once it puts a cage around its weak spot (can you guess where?), the only way you can get to it is by using something just as hard and massive. This is where the real fun comes in, but you have to be quick on your feet. Even if you manage to detach one or two arms, Koloktos has a wide range for its powerful swipes, and you have to balance staying in range so you can attack while also not getting completely clobbered.

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Hearts will burst from any pillars Koloktos destroys. These will be your friend.

Then, when at least one arm/sword combo hits the ground, pick up the blade and go to town. Bowl over bokoblins, or go straight for the boss. Whatever you do, it is absolutely essential that you cackle maniacally. 

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This fight is made all the more enjoyable by the vastly-improved motion controls (improved since Twilight Princess, which was not designed with them in mind to begin with). If only you could also hit something in real life, I think this fight would be damn near perfect. As it stands, it’s pretty satisfying.

 

I give this one major points for creativity, and for being the most fun sword fight of all of the games. This boss even gets a little bit creepy when you hear the girlish, childish giggle it lets out upon defeat (~4:40 of the video above).

 

2) Goht

Short, but sweet, and without a doubt my favorite boss fight in Majora’s Mask.

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He’s not the prettiest boss, but he packs a wallop.

Goht charges around the track/room as a giant mechanical bull, and you must don the Goron mask to roll out and give chase. Every time you slam into him, he will send chaotic bolts of lightning back at you, as well as place extra obstacles in your path, from falling stalactites to kicked up bombs.

The nice thing is that you don’t need to worry about running low on energy; the room is full of green energy pots, and all you have to do is roll into them and keep on going.

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I’ve heard some people call this fight difficult, and I guess that’s because it’s a rare instance of controlling a racing object, rather than moving more slowly with a sword in hand. But it’s not rocket science. Hugging the inside of the track will make you go faster, and dodging projectiles is fairly easy when you’re over or under a certain distance behind Goht.

It’s not nearly as difficult as the Goron race track.

I love the hell out of this fight. Majora’s Mask very kindly lets you go back and replay any boss fight that you want at any time, and more often than not, I find myself back in Snowhead Temple, ready for another run with Goht.

 

1) Stallord

After rocking your way through one of the best dungeons in the entire game (Twilight Princess’s Arbiter’s Grounds), and snagging one of the most fun and memorable additions to the LoZ arsenal, the Spinner, you reach my favorite boss of all time.

Stallord the Twilit Fossil comes alive as a towering skeleton creature, held up by several small vertebrae, emerging from a sea of quicksand. In addition to breathing fire and surrounding the outskirts of the sandpit with rotating circling blade traps, he summons up armored but otherwise harmless soldiers to surround and protect his spine, which serves as the weak point.

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To defeat Stallord, mount the spinner like a skateboard and latch yourself onto the circular edge that runs around the sandpit. When you see an opportunity, or have to avoid a blade trap or fire blast, detach from the edge and make a beeline for his spine.

You may pinball off of the soldiers, but each one you hit is one less that you will have to go through the next time through. Avoid losing momentum and getting stuck in the pit by hooking back onto the edge whenever possible.

After the traditional three to five good hits, this battle actually gets a part two.

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Stallord will fall to the ground, leaving only the head. It will come alive again, levitating, and shoot fire blasts at you some more. Hop back on the spinner and hook onto the ridge along the center pillar. The wall to your right will also have a track, and you must jump back and forth between the two surfaces to avoid being burned.

The blasts will cause Stallord to slow down slightly, so eventually, you’ll end up right next to his head. Jump into him, and then once he is lying helpless on the ground, strike the sword in the center of his forehead as many times as you can. When he gets up again, the blade traps will start to appear more frequently, making the next few hits a little bit harder to land.

 

Much like the Ghot fight, this boss battle involves staying in motion almost constantly. Riding around on the spinner is inexplicably, ridiculously fun, and it’s a shame that the item has virtually no use outside of its dungeon. Using it in battle is a test of your planning and reaction time more than anything else, but the crunch of breaking apart Stallord’s spine is just as satisfying as striking anything with a sword. 

I’m not usually a fan of boss battles that have multiple parts/forms/etc, but I’ll gladly make an exception for my favorite Zelda battle of all time. 

Who agrees? Who disagrees? Who’s feeling half and half? Let me know in the comments, and Happy December Holiday!

*The pictures and footage belong to Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto. I do not own nor claim right to any of it.