Mother’s Day Special: Coraline

Happy Mother’s Day 2014, everyone!

Being a parent has got to be one of the most thankless jobs out there. For mothers especially. They carry a whole new life inside of them, bring it into the world through no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears, then set about preparing that child for the life ahead of them.

They don’t get paid in money. They get paid in tantrums, dirty diapers, teenage rebellion, and, later, abandonment.

Well, okay…not abandonment. Every kid has to leave at some point. If your kid is living in your basement at forty, it may be time to talk out some new arrangement.

But even after all the insanity mothers go through, they get a wonderful, yet bittersweet gift: the sight of a job well done (hopefully), and the realization that everything has changed. Their babies aren’t their babies anymore. They won’t need them like they used to.

Oh well. Kids are gone! Cruise time, baby! ūüôā

That isn’t to say that being a mother was all pain, but it’s no cakewalk, and we kids can be pretty forgetful sometimes. Not ungrateful, but spoiled. We see a very limited, one-sided view of things for a while. We butt heads; moms vs.¬†daughters, sons vs.¬†fathers. Switch it up from time to time, and there you go. That’s a family.

So for today, I’d like to talk about another movie I love. A movie for kids, with a kid protagonist, who learns to appreciate everything, and everyone, that she has. Especially her mother.

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*Note: No, I haven’t read the book yet, so this isn’t a comparison. Maybe someday.

The titular character, Coraline, is a kid from Michigan, whose parents, Charlie and Mel Jones, “write about plants, and (they) hate dirt.” Often busy with their deadlines, they¬†don’t have a lot of time for her, especially as they deal with moving into an old apartment building in Oregon. There’s a lot to get done, and only so much time to do it.

Unimpressed with the rundown apartment and the eccentric neighbors, Coraline grumbles to her parents repeatedly, who, in turn, tell her to go play elsewhere. A bit neglectful, maybe, but they’re doing the best that they can. Kids watching the film will probably miss that, at first, just like Coraline does.

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Mel is the sterner of the two, a woman with a very dry sense of humor, who¬†keeps the family on track with what needs to be done. Charlie is the goofy, inept, but lovable dad, when his face isn’t glued to the computer screen. For the minute or so of screen time that these two get per scene, they offset one another’s personalities very well.

But Mel is clearly the one playing the disciplinarian most often, as we see particularly in one early scene, where Coraline goes behind her back to try and get permission from Charlie so she can garden in the rain and mud.

“What’d the boss say?”

“DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, CORALINE JONES!”

“Well then, you won’t need the tools.”

Kids these days, am I right?

Coraline is given a strange doll that bears her likeness, then discovers a small, locked door against the wall of the room.

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Coraline movie image

What looks to be a passage between the houses,¬†sealed up with bricks by day, is actually a doorway to a parallel world. A place where everything is more fantastical, colorful, and fun, with everything centered on keeping Coraline happy. She meets her “other” parents and neighbors, all with buttons for eyes, and despite being initially uneasy in their presence, thinking she’s in a dream, Coraline warms up to them quickly and realizes that the place is real. As she starts to seek the world out herself, rather than just be summoned to it, she complains more and more that this “other” life is better than her real one.

“But it’s all a trap.”

The world was constructed by a being known as the beldam, or the “other mother,” a witch with the power to transform herself and her world as she likes, ensnaring children so that she can feed and steal their souls. This she does by sewing buttons into the children’s eyes.

Are you having fun yet, kids?
Are you having fun yet, kids?

She’s kind and accommodating at first, telling Coraline that she could stay in this world forever, but only if she accepts the buttons. Coraline denies this and manages to escape, with the help of the spirits of previous trapped children,

More delightful nightmare fuel!
More delightful nightmare fuel!

but discovers that her real parents are gone, stolen away by the other mother. To save them, she returns to the world and challenges the other mother to a game that will save everyone. The ghost children, Mel and Charlie, and Coraline herself.

It’s a kids’ film, so I’m sure you can guess that it ends well, but it’s a very chilling tale nonetheless. I could do a whole other review of it when Halloween rolls around. It’s one of my personal favorites ever. ¬†ūüôā

But back to mothers.

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Coraline is repeatedly frustrated with her real mother, who in turn feels frustrated with her. Neither person is perfectly happy, and the other is barely helping them with that.

The other person, that is. Not the other mother.

The other mother uses the situation to her advantage, spying through doll eyes to find out what Coraline dislikes and what she can do to improve it. She gets Coraline to forget what she has, and in the end, Coraline realizes how lucky she is to just be alive and safe with her family.

Anything taken for granted will make you regretful¬†when it’s gone.

Coraline is unhappy, viewing¬†everything selfishly like the kid that she is. She’s forced to move away from friends, to a whole new place where everything is broken down and weird, and her parents are snappish and ignorant of her. She doesn’t see that things will get better, that she will adjust to new friends, a new school, and a new life.

At one point, she wants her real mother to buy her a pair of gloves that she takes a liking to, but¬†her mother says no. Coraline was thinking that the gloves would help her stand out in an otherwise boring school uniform, showing off just a little bit of her personality. She wants the gloves, thinking they’ll help ease her transition into a new school, and was¬†sure her mother would buy them for her. It’s gloves after all, not video games or a flat screen t.v.

Now, Mel probably decided to stick to her guns when Coraline was rude and didn’t take no for an answer, but we kids have all had those moments. You know, where parents say no for what seems like no real reason at all. It makes no sense and is so frustrating!

This doesn’t make her a bad person, just shortsighted and young. She doesn’t know all the things that her parents are going through, nor is much of it shown to us, the audience; all of the stress they’re facing, and how much harder she makes things by not cooperating. It doesn’t help that the other mother is spoiling her so she can eventually eat Coraline’s eye-soul.

One of the hardest lessons for a parent to learn is that sometimes, disciplining your children is more important than making them happy. Even if you love them and want to be their friend, you’re a parent first and foremost.

But none of the real members of the Jones family¬†are completely at fault. They’re just victims of the circumstances.

Among the other things that I love about this movie, I love the real feeling of the relationships, the initial (kind of) tragedy of Coraline’s one-sided point of view, and the growth of Coraline as a character, as she rises to the seemingly impossible challenges before her.

Coping with her loss, before she realizes where her parents are.
Coraline coping with her loss, before she finds out where her parents are.

She realizes why she loves and needs her parents (by facing a short time when they aren’t neglectful, but completely gone), feels genuine regret that she wanted to abandon them for a superficial unreality, and even ventures back into her nightmares in order to save them.

And in the end, her efforts are rewarded, but unacknowledged. Her parents don’t remember anything.

*cough cough* Spoliers….not really *cough cough*

Coraline is an inventive, stop-motion puppet horror flick, a cautionary modern fairytale that doubles as a great coming of age adventure. Even if some¬†kids watching the movie don’t see the real-life parallels with their parents, I certainly did. Maybe they are just to busy peeing their pants.

*Note, again: If you are a parent reading this and are trying to decide whether or not to let¬†your kids watch this movie, make sure they are mature enough to handle it. Not old enough, because age can very depending on the kid, but definitely mature enough. It can be plenty nightmarish for crybabies, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t ever be viewed.

If, somehow, I had traipsed off to some fantasy world where everything was sunshine, rainbows, and…buttons, I wouldn’t have grown up at all. And, you know, died.

Kids and adults alike can enjoy this movie, and take away their own unique messages if they pay close attention.¬†There’s a very real danger in shutting yourself out of the real world, staying a child inside for the rest of your life. Fantasies are fine, but not when they rule you.

As a wise wizard from another magical movie once said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

So, yeah. Life isn’t always great, and situations aren’t always ideal. People you love will sometimes let you down. We’re all human beings; making mistakes is what we do. I’ll probably make a million with my kids one day.

But Coraline reminded me that bad times don’t last forever, that it’s good to be skeptical (“if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”), and that a life of balance is a happy, healthy one. Be a kid when you’re a kid, and an adult in the proper time.

And maaaaaaaybe my mom may have helped me see¬†that a little bit, too. Maybe even that goofy dad of mine. ūüôā Who knows?

All pictures come from the movie, which is owned by Laika, Pandemonium, and distributed by Focus Features and Universal Pictures.

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Summer Wars Review

This time, let’s take a break from rants and trashing stuff.

This, in my opinion, isn’t a good movie. It’s a great one.

Don’t click away just yet! I know what you’re probably thinking, but stay! Prove me wrong and show me your attention span isn’t that tiny!

Oh, look! A butterfly!

No two Japanese anime shows or movies are alike, but a lot of them have similar elements. Most of them take place in Japan or mystical worlds based on Japan. They have a lot of cultural references and humor, the latter mostly composed of homonyms, puns, pain, and humiliation. They tend to focus on character growth and relationships (not always romantic), and often teach those characters, and by extension the audience, the importance of nature and humanity.

A lot of Americans in particular write Japanese animation off for being childish, perverted, silly, or just too foreign. Which is a shame.

That’s why you were going to leave this page, wasn’t it? Be honest.

Kevin Butler sees all, knows all....
Kevin Butler sees all, knows all….

Some anime are shallow or lack substance, certainly, but it’s hardly a genre-wide problem. As with other genres and styles, it’s all about knowing what you like, knowing where to look for it, and trying new things from time to time.

And if reading subtitles and listening to Japanese isn’t your thing, search or wait for the English language version, or dub. They’re out there, and thanks to anime’s ever-growing popularity outside of Japan, many are of as good, if not better, quality than the Japanese dubs.

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*sighs* I’d better turn in my geek card. I’m pretty sure I just committed heresy.

Anyways, Summer Wars takes place in Japan, but a good portion of the movie takes place on the world-wide web, and has stakes that are important to the rest of the world. The jokes are mostly based on the context of the situation, rather than obscure (to Americans) Japanese history and culture. The film has elements of culture that are not terribly distracting or confusing, give the movie a distinct flavor, and may in fact get a few more uninitiated viewers to do a little research post viewing.

As for the story itself, without giving out too many spoilers, think the family from¬†My Big Fat Greek Wedding¬†in Japan, discovering and fighting off a HAL-esque computer virus. A big family slice-of-life mixed in with a cautionary tale about heavy reliance on machines and automation. And it’s one of those rare instances where the film doesn’t push the opposite extreme as the solution.

The Characters:

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Our main character is Kenji Koiso, a quiet, nerdy almost-mathlete who works as a moderator on OZ, a virtual reality/social networking/gaming site where anything and everything that you want to do is possible. People have accounts that are in charge of everything, from controlling water pipes and traffic lights to allowing people to play games and do their shopping.

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He gets roped in to a scheme by Natsuki Shinohara, the most popular girl in school, to come home with her and be her pretend boyfriend (for pay), so that she can assure her sick, aging great-grandmother that she’s fine, happy, and taking care of herself and her future. You know, in case the old lady, now pushing 90, passes away.

Then Kenji meets Natsuki’s family, all gathering in preparation of the great-grandmother’s birthday.

As you might imagine, hijinks ensue.

Kenji is, as I’ve mentioned, nerdy, shy, and well-meaning. He’s a great contrast to Natsuki, who is really upbeat and not afraid to come out and say what she wants. The two are charming and engaging enough, skirting the lines of their stereotypes a bit without coming across as boring and one-note. They are fine protagonists (although I wish Natsuki got a little more screen time, talking about what she’s going through. We do get thoughtful glances though).

The family really makes this movie for me.

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Similar to The Hobbit films with their dwarves, or, as previously mentioned, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the Jinnouchi (Natsuki’s) family has a lot of characters and only so much time spent getting to know them. But the difference (from Hobbit¬†specifically)¬†is that their actions, however few and simplistic, let you know who these people are immediately.

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Mansuke¬†is a hardy, stubborn, nostalgic fisherman who is really passionate about his job and doesn’t take nonsense.

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Kazuma is the bullied kid who shuts himself out of the real world and lives almost entirely through his computer, training in martial arts to deal with his anger and bully problems.

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The great-grandmother, ¬†Sakae, values family and communion more than anything, and she’s not afraid to fight (sometimes literally) for what is right and what needs to be done.

There are many others, like the aunts, daughters, and wives, who are all “take-charge” women.

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Watching this family eat dinner, you will easily be reminded of people in your own family. The ones who butt into your business, for your sake or theirs, and gossip or try to “help” you; the crazy, bratty kids and cousins; the problem children, or black sheep; the apple of the family’s eye; etc. There’s something to like about everyone, even when they make mistakes.

The story is great as it is, but I would have enjoyed a movie just about these people, interacting and going about life. They are that compelling.

*Fun fact: the Jinnouchi family is based on a real family from Ueda, where most of the movie takes place.

Some of them might be stereotypes, but that’s not done for the sake of mean-spirited humor. It shows that the family is large and full of different people, but they are all willing to come together when any one member is threatened.

And, in its optimistic altruism, the film portrays the entire world this way.

The Animation:

This film came from well-known animation studio Madhouse, which gave the anime community such gems as Trigun and Death Note, and director Mamoru Hasoda (formerly with Madhouse, but who left two years after this film came out to found his own studio, Chizu), who gave said community The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children. 

For people who grew out of anime, but watched the stuff as a kid, you may also recognize Hasoda from parts of Digimon: The Movie, as cobbled together by Fox Kids.

The movie is a blend of traditional and 3D CGI animation, with the latter looking like a pretty decent video game. Which it’s meant to, by the way; Hasoda said he based it off of Nintendo games, and the world of OZ itself has numerous virtual gaming areas. It’s bright and colorful, and the shapes and designs are nicely varied. Kenji’s avatar in OZ looks vastly different from that of his friend, which looks like a 2D, pixel sprite face.

The scenes out-of-OZ are gorgeously drawn, with softer colors and more visible, defining lines. The best way I can describe it is inviting. The movements of characters are, surprisingly at times, hyperbolic and goofy, but in a charming, engaging sort of way.

The two styles blend relatively well, with the popping CG and the more understated hand-drawn animation each showcasing action, drama, and suspense in their own ways. It’s quite a feast for the eyes.

The Music:

Not much to say here, other than it just fits.

Some songs are more memorable than others, such as the music in the opening when Kenji is meeting the family members step by step, and the ending theme, which is relaxed, happy, and very minimalist in terms of instrumentals. The rest is fitting, but blends together at times and is, at least to my mind, just okay. It works for what it is, but I wouldn’t necessarily buy the soundtrack.

The Acting:

Or, in this case, the voice acting!

I haven’t seen the Japanese version yet-

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*sighs*

I haven’t seen the Japanese language version, but I plan to soon. If you want the film in its “purest” form, with nothing altered or dumbed down at all, see the Japanese version. I’m sure the seiyu (Japanese voice actors) do a wonderful job; I haven’t heard otherwise, by myself or from others, yet.

The English dub was handled by Funimation, which has a veritable phonebook of great English voice talent. I won’t bother listing them all here, even the most notable of actors (because those of you who know, know, and those who don’t probably won’t care), but I will¬†say that they do a wonderful job creating “characters” for their characters and deserve a listen too. Or a watch, I suppose. ūüôā

Dubs vs. Subs (subtitled in English, but voiced in the original language) is a debate for another day. Lay off me, fanboys and girls!

What else is there to say, without spoiling the thing? It’s a good movie that is totally worth your time. Even if you don’t think so, it is. Sit through thirty minutes at least, then come back and comment to me if you aren’t even remotely interested. There might be something wrong with you, and I can surely help you contact someone to get it checked out right away.

Still…

No video or pictures belong to, or were made, by me. As usual. Support the official release of¬†Summer Wars¬†and at least¬†give anime a try once. You might decide you like it ūüôā

 

 

 

 

Katy Perry’s “Birthday”

I finally got around to doing a song review! Is it my birthday already?

I’d say it’s time to party, but Katy Perry has officially ruined parties from here on out.

That’s not to say it’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard…But it’s pretty bad. The way I see it, people are either thinking it’s so bad, it’s good; so bad, it’s horrible; or just feeling kind of indifferent to it.

For reference, this is the song and its accompanying “music video,” if you can even call it that. Given her usual level of silly, semi-sincere tastelessness, I was pretty underwhelmed by the visuals (I was expecting more of a ¬†“Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)¬†kind of skit), and her stand up routine at the beginning was downright painful.

To quote How I Met Your Mother, “Oh, honey…”

For those who have never heard of Katy Perry…well, you probably shouldn’t be reading this. But here are some things to know:

1. Her real name is Katheryn Hudson.

2. She used to sing for the Lord and her pastor parents before strapping whip cream cannons to her bra and dressing like a C+ Lady Gaga.

I can only assume her new status in pop music is constantly giving her family the finger unless they’re reeeeaaaallly relaxed.

3. She’s a pop diva with almost no identity.

Who but Perry can pull off a wild party machine of debauchery, then become the helpless break-up victim who “was so totally committed and faithful to you before you broke her heart, you evil villain!”, all with such detachment and spunk?

4. She’s all about the image, not the music.

I say¬†this¬†because Perry seems like she’s trying to be sexy and “out there;” has tons of writers that “cowrite” her songs with her; and she has an extraordinary, dedicated production team, that can autotune even her (at times) strangled cat voice into something pleasing to the ear.

A lot of fans will argue that last one, but if you’ve ever seen (or rather, heard) her live, you know what I mean. “Nerves and onstage performing and blah blah blah.” She can sing in the sense that she opens her mouth and makes sound come out. That doesn’t mean she’s great at it, or was trained. Her breathing is frequently off.

She is a studio gem that they continue to polish with every new song.¬†People love to praise her, but refuse to give the audio guys their due because they don’t know how concerts or audio in general work. Besides autotune, look up “pitch-shifting” and “compression.” Those tend to be used a bit.

Sorry. Just a little tangent there.

Now, I do enjoy some of her songs. There are a few guilty pleasures, even a couple I could say were actually “good.” Look at “Firework” and¬†“The One That Got Away”¬†(go acoustic for this one because it actually sounds sad and sincere) and you definitely see some potential there. And many¬†of her other songs are just fun when you switch your brain off (which is necessary for some of us).

But that said, I don’t think¬†she has much integrity as an artist. And if you too draw that conclusion here or at any point in the future, shhhhhhh! Be careful who you say that to!

Some of her fans make¬†it to be their mission to defend her to the death, even if you’re trying to honestly discuss her. Perry is a big girl, guys, I think she can handle a little criticism. Or if she can’t, she might want to consider a career change.

But on to “Birthday”!

Whether or not you choose to subject yourself to the video or pull this up on iTunes, here are the lyrics:

“I heard you’re feeling nothing’s going right
Why don’t you let me stop by?
The clock is ticking, running out of time
So we should party all night

So cover your eyes,
I have a surprise
I hope you got a healthy appetite
If you wanna dance,
If you want it all
You know that I’m the girl that you should call

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

So make a wish
I’ll make it like your birthday everyday
I’ll be your gift
Give you something good to celebrate

Pop your confetti
Pop your Pérignon
So hot and heavy
‘Til dawn
I got you spinning
Like a disco ball
All night they’re playing
Your song

We’re living the life
We’re doing it right
You’re never gonna be unsatisfied
If you wanna dance
If you want it all
You know that I’m the girl that you should call

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

So make a wish
I’ll make it like your birthday everyday
I’ll be your gift
Give you something good to celebrate

Happy birthday

So let me get you in your birthday suit
It’s time to bring out the big balloons
So let me get you in your birthday suit
It’s time to bring out the big, big, big, big, big, big balloons

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

So make a wish
I’ll make it like your birthday everyday
I’ll be your gift
Give you something good to celebrate

Happy birthday”

That speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Musically, this song sounds like the not-so-loved-child of “California Girls” and “The One That Got Away.” This is confusing right off the bat because, despite the fact that both those songs have upbeat instrumentals, the former song is egotism personified while the latter is about regrets and love lost.

We’re off to a great start!

If there is one thing Perry and her handlers are fond of, it’s playing things up and making them stupid. Aggressively, knowingly, sometimes laughably stupid. This song is strung together with lame innuendos¬†and goofy little throw away lines.¬†I’m pretty sure no one except our grandparents has used the term¬†“birthday suit” in the last 30 years at least.

That’s the mark of bad writing right there: using things that no one says in real life, usually when the writer can’t think of a good rhyme. In this case, they used the term because: Birthdays! Get it?!

I love me some bad puns, but ugh! Even I have a limit!

How many people honestly proposition people with birthday innuendos? Who would say any of this stuff, even in jest? I can’t see it working.

…..

You know what? Never mind. I don’t want to know.

In the video, Perry is appearing at multiple birthday parties to varying people, but parts of the video and the tone of the song by itself feel very much like she’s singing to a little boy. And that disturbs me. A lot.

Maybe they intended it to be creepy. Congratulations! You’ve succeeded, team o’ Perry!

Sometimes, pop music makes me feel like I literally need a shower. This made me feel gross, but in a different way than usual…Yay?

It doesn’t help that the music and lyrics are so bouncy and juvenile. It¬†sounds like someone accidentally (or intentionally) hired a stripper for a kid’s birthday party.

Or that nurse from¬†Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

This song made me laugh at first. Now it makes me cringe. It’s obviously trying to be funny, in that “beat you over¬†the head with the obvious” sort of way, while somehow trying¬†to maintain a bit¬†of playful coyness. But “Birthday” also wants to be a decent party song at the same time. I do not think it accomplishes either.

At least “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” had a killer sax bridge.

It’s only funny because of how painfully unfunny and bad it is. Even as a joke song, it ranges from “meh” to pretty awful.¬†Most¬†people who have ridden in the car with me when this song came on looked aghast, thoroughly tormented by the time it ended, and those who laughed after one playing were irked by it the second time.

Also, it’s creepy.

Katy Perry is whatever and whoever she needs to be to get out her records. She might as well be a cardboard standee with a voice box attached to the back for all the intelligence, personality, wit, and actual musical talent she brings to the table. Ironically, she’d be perfect¬†to hire to entertain kids with her bright shiny colors and upbeat nonsense.

“Dark Horse” was a far better song, even if it sounded like “E.T.” and proved that Perry has no concept of metaphors.

Pop music seems very much like one big wish-fulfillment fantasy. The people listening aren’t partying as much as the singers, but they like to pretend they do. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, unless maybe it’s the only thing you listen to.

What kind of fantasy does this particular song sell? It’s not a personal song on Perry’s part, so it must be trying to sell…something…

I started this review thinking I had something to really say about this song. Sadly, by the end, I find nothing. Nothing really fun, meaningful, or different. Just another picture of the assembly-line, mass-produced, sugar high pulp that is unfortunately all too common in pop music. The least it could do is be fun or funnier.

Thankfully, “Birthday” is not an ear worm.

As usual, lyrics and other media present in this blog are not owned by me. 

P.S. If you like pop and are looking for someone who seems “genuine,” is fun to listen to, and can actually sing, check this chick out! She’s my favorite on the radio, just by sheer personality.¬†

Hobbit-Sized Films, Dragon-Sized Problems

“I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.”

~Tolkien

In 2001, I discovered Lord of the Rings for the very first time.

I was ten years old. I had never even heard of the books before, but my dad offered to take me to see some new movie called The Fellowship of the Ring, and, always on board for fantasy, I took him up on the offer.

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I was blown away.

The story was gripping, the characters engaging, and the effects were, and still are, outstanding.¬†Just seconds after the credits began playing, I was gushing about the movie to my dad. My young mind was exploding. This was, to quote some internet commenters, “teh best movie evar! OMG!”

I could do a whole separate review on those movies, comparing them to the books or even that other LOTR movie most people probably don’t remember, but that may come at another time.

But after my dad brought me home, excited and already impatient for the next installment, the conversation with my folks went something like this:

Parents: You liked that movie?

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Parents: Good. Want to see The Two Towers next?

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Parents: Well then, you’d better start¬†reading. You can’t watch the movies until you’ve finished the books. ALL of the books.

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Parents: Don’t worry. The second movie won’t be out until next year.

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But you know what? I read those books and they were great.

Sure, some parts were tedious (I distinctly remember a description of a hill in the Shire that went on for too long), but¬†I’m glad I went through them. Now I can compare scenes/conflicts/characters from the books to the movies and see the different choices made in different media by different “authors,” although, having read LOTR so long ago, my memory is plenty foggy these days. I’m still the trivia person my folks, friends, and other family members go to when they have questions from the movies. ūüôā

Anyway, I read the Lord of the Rings first, then, after a bit, The Hobbit, out of curiosity. Finally, a few years later, The Silmarillion. 

Yeah, well…shut up!

But yes. I read the books backwards, not counting the first three.

So given my history with the Lord of the Rings¬†series, I went into the Hobbit movies with great anticipation and optimism. Why wouldn’t I? It was the same director who made the adaptations 10 years prior, Peter Jackson; ¬†a few beloved cast members (some who were not in the book…) were returning to the screen; and Howard Shore was back, working the film scores. I was thoroughly psyched.

Once or twice, I did entertain the notion of Peter Jackson “George-Lucasing,” which, for the unenthused, is when a director: hypes or bloats things to a ridiculous agree, milks his or her initial works (any connections in the new films to said works), badly directs the actors (or picks ones who can’t act in the first place), and dumbs things down. As an added bonus, the director will throw in really cheap, base comedy or comic relief.

ahem
ahem

To break that further down, “George-Lucasing” is a director trying to make his or her new creations¬†as popular and great as the old ones without any of the same substance and quality.¬†It’s one big facade, whether the director lost his or her touch or is just lazy or, worse, has become detached from reality.

I shrugged it off at first, my faith completely with Mr. Jackson to give The Hobbit dignity and respect while making it his own. He did it once, after all.

For the two films presently available, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug,¬†I went to see them at the midnight showings. If you’re a hardcore fan or a fan of spectacle, I recommend it for the next film; some people will show up in costume.

Some better quality costumes than you usually see.
Some better quality costumes than you usually see.

I liked the first film for a while, and even tried to defend it. “Come on, people!” I said. “It’s not LOTR!” I said. I thought people were too blinded by their love of the original movies to recognize this new one as its own thing, a separate story with separate characters and a separate tone.

Needless to say, I quickly saw the error of my ways.

So, we come to it at last. What’s wrong with the Hobbit trilogy? What can we say about it before it’s even been completed?

A lot.

Here are my biggest beefs with these bulging, big-screen baddies (note: not in any ranking order):

1. Probably the least of the films’ problems: Why do these films even have to be a trilogy? It’s a children’s book, not even 400 pages.

Seriously. I learned that it was going to be a trilogy right after seeing the first movie and thought, “Really?” I could maybe understand two movies, but¬†three?

Apparently, all major films must be 3 hours long these days. And any good saga or film series must split the last book (or in this case, one book) into multiple, bloated parts.

"It's like printing money!"
“It’s like printing money!”

LOTR is probably¬†to blame for the former issue, but it’s Harry Potter’s fault for beginning the trend of¬†the latter. Even if they had a good excuse, the makers of the HP films split the last book into two movies. Now, for better or worse, everyone is doing it.

2. There are way too many scenes referencing the first trilogy (which is supposed to take place YEARS IN THE FUTURE).

And when I say years in the future, I mean it. Bilbo was around fifty when he went on his there and back again journey. In LOTR, he’s 111.

I didn’t think Jackson could be more gratuitous than Lucas, but I was wrong here. Yes, I said it. Jackson did something way worse than Lucas.

Many of the scenes not in the book (which I can and often have forgiven), but they’re also overblown and hyped up way too much. Any scene that features the Ring, Sting (Bilbo’s sword, which gets passed on to Frodo, the main character, in the next series), or Gollum (the creepy, bug-eyed, CGI Dissociative Identity Disorder sufferer) in particular.

Oh, and I love Galadriel’s little twirl when Gandalf comes to see her in Rivendell. As the action happens and the music swells a bit, it shouts to the audience, “REMEMBER THIS CHARACTER? THIS IS TOTALLY LOTR, YOU GUYS! SHE’S BACK AND REALLY IMPORTANT HERE!”

The scene probably looks especially stupid to those who haven’t seen the first LOTR…if those people even exist.

We get it, Jackson. LOTR happened. This is connected to it. Make these movies strong enough to stand on their own and be their own things.

Again, printing-money

 

And how are Gandalf and the others going to conveniently forget or ignore Sauron for 50 freaking years while he builds up his stronghold and army?

3. The Pacing & Other Unnecessary Changes Made from the Book.

In the book, the dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf just kind of go on a road trip. They come across interesting things, have encounters, and move on. It’s a simple but fun adventure with decent¬†pacing. You know, as just 300-ish pages. Not so much in these movies.

The pacing is so slow, bogged down with snippets of appendices and things from both LOTR and¬†The Silmarillion,¬†which just ends up¬†making the movies feel bloated and pointless for significant portions of them. This is in line with problem 2 above, as the filler and random factoids and mythos feels like it was put in to convince you it’s LOTR again, “JUST LIKE BEFORE OMG YOU GUYS!”

As much as I love my extended editions of LOTR, I understand that the extra stuff can be boring to general audiences. I was even bored by some of the pointless things thrown in. And I love Tolkien!

But Jackson stuffs a bunch of things in because he needs to meet the run time, and more importantly, remind you of his earlier films. It needs to look like LOTR (with the Elves and Men and all manner of evil minions interacting with the Dwarves on their journey). Jackson even goes so far as to shove Sauron fully into this story, trying to tie the trilogies together. Between the dark lord and the dragon, both are pretty big threats that should be dealt with immediately.

If you’re curious about all the little changes made between the book and the films, check this out!

The tone whiplash varies both during and across the movies, too.¬†An Unexpected Journey¬†feels very upbeat, goofy, and (for lack of a better word) cartoony, whereas in¬†Desolation of Smaug,¬†everything is very grim and dark. And that’s before they get anywhere near the mountain.

4. The Humor.

I know it’s based on a children’s book, but dear lord, Jackson, pick a tone and stick to it!

I don’t think he can decide whether he wants the movies to be all dark and full of drama, or goofy and juvenile, or a light-hearted adventure story. It’s trying to be everything in one big, nostalgic, money-printing romp. A lot of the humor looks like something you’d see in The Smurfs¬†movie abominations, with barely a scrap of dignity saved by the ye old speak.¬†But not even that can work miracles; dwarves burp and fart and pop out of toilets in these stories!

aaaaarrrgh-why-just-why-

I wouldn’t mind so much (or maybe I would. The jokes are terrible enough) if the movies would stop trying to be what they aren’t. Or would at least, you know, commit to trying.

5. The Eagles.

"Fear not! My shamefully obvious CG shall carry you to safety!"
“Fear not! My shamefully obvious CG shall carry you to safety!”

You can’t go into a Hobbit or LOTR forum anywhere and not see this little gem pop up. Which irritates me, because there is¬†a huge freaking ghost army just sitting in a mountain until Aragorn gets up off his royal @$$.

“Why don’t the eagles just take them all the way to the Lonely Mountain?” “Wouldn’t that make the journey quicker and less perilous?”

Yes, yes it would.

Us nerds will argue this all day long, quoting the book as if it translates perfectly into the movies and therefore justifies or doesn’t justify how Jackson handled it.

Some say, “Well, if the eagles did that, then we wouldn’t have movies.”

Correction: We’d have shorter movies.

I agree that it is a distracting plot hole and could be easily solved by a throw-away line somewhere between movie 1 and 2, if Jackson wasn’t comfortable changing the story that way.

“Why can’t the eagles take us right there?” says Dwarf #5. “Because (insert magic forcefield or¬†them being scared of dragons reason here),” Gandalf replies. “Oh. Okay then.” There. PROBLEM SOLVED. GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME.

6. The Dragon.

la_ca_1217_the_hobbit

Really? The whole story is about them going to slay this thing and winning back their mountainful of treasure, and we only get to see Smaug for the last 1/6th of the second movie?

I feel so cheated!

They were building up this guy from movie 1! Sure, his design and voice were cool, but because of the wonky pacing and “totally necessary” insertion of extra-racist Legolas and his written-for-these-movies, equally necessary and controversial love interest, among other things, Smaug practically got pushed to the wayside and his desolation will have to wait until the next movie! What the what?!

And speaking of the love interest…

7. Tauriel.

Name: Token Chick Catchphrase: I'm just happy to be here!
Name: Token Chick
Catchphrase: I’m just happy to be here!

I’m not quite sure how to feel about her.

On the one hand, “Yay, butt-kicking female!” On the other, “Yay, another clich√© love triangle!” This movie not only fails the Bechdel Test, it doesn’t even come close, considering there aren’t many other main females to be found, butt-kicking or otherwise. And Tauriel mostly talks with the elf dudes. About dude things.

Seriously, though. Brief rant here. LOTR had some cool, distinguishable chicks among its plethora of dudes. No problem there. This movie has one major girl, and of course she’s focused on all the men in her life. And is promptly made into a love triangle. giphy

“But she and one of the few cute dwarves are bridging the gap between their races!”

The prejudice is still there in LOTR, so I doubt it will do much for Dwarf-Elf relations. Inter-racial marriages will still be frowned upon, definitely. And then there’s the very real possibility that Tauriel and/or Kili will¬†die…

I’m sorry. It does kind of bother me.

8. The Dwarves.

Labeled for your convenience
Labeled for your convenience

We’ve got Thorin, Gloin, Dorin, Balin, Fili, Kili….uh…Dopey, Sneezy, Doc…Grumpy.

At least those last few dwarves we could recognize by their names matching one defining character trait.

Of all the races in these films, Dwarves get the most crap. They are the buttmonkeys of Middle Earth, if you will.

It was there in LOTR too. What was Gimli but an awesome, butt-kicking wood stump chock-full of comic relief?

640px-Gimli_-_drunk

He had almost all of Legolas’s lack of personality, but was short, kind of fat, and hairy. Comedy gold!

The new dwarves…really, Jackson? Once again, pick a tone and stick with it, please!

Why do half of them look like short near-humans and the other half look like they should be washing up to go eat with Snow White?¬†At least Gimli didn’t have a long beard necklace braid thing. Or a dorky deer-stalker cap. Nor did he style his hair like a star. Or look like this guy:

Ori

 

LOTR was not perfect (the book or the movies), and neither are these (book or movies). But the LOTR movies were trying, and it changed the movie industry in so many ways, awing audiences with its sheer scale and effort. And the book, to quote the Nostalgia Critic, became “the holy Bible of geekdom.”

Enough said.

The Hobbit¬†movies, by contrast, feel small despite their attempts at grandeur and are pretty underwhelming when you get right down to it. And that’s not just because they stand in LOTR’s shadow, although from the beginning they were piggybacking off LOTR’s hype and credibility. And that is personally my biggest issue with them.

They are underwhelming (dare I say it, even bad) because Peter Jackson is nostalgic and greedy, so much so that he doesn’t want to end his legacy with just the first trilogy. He clearly wants to make a splash with these movies and have them be just like the good old days, but with new content and a fresh story. Not a bad goal, but the delivery was pretty botched.

The effects feel like old hat these days because every movie has them, and they don’t always look that great anyway. The characters aren’t fleshed out enough and often blur in with the¬†background (which was a problem in the book as well); with LOTR characters making cameos and glorified easter eggs that barely added to the greater story. Like the skin changer in movie two, Beorn. Yeah, it’s cool that he can¬†become a bear and hearing more of his ¬†and his people’s story might have been interesting, but his abilities were kind of pointless in the grand scheme of things. He was in the movie for five minutes, then poof! Gone.

Any normal person could have helped the dwarves in his place, and to the general audience, nothing of substance would have been lost. As a fan, I thought it was cool but could have been easily relegated to the extended cut. They cut all the significance from the book out and made it seem like an arbitrary footnote anyway.

Adapting any media to other media is a difficult process. I can understand that, and appreciate the hard work that goes into it. But as much as I wanted to like these movies and give them a chance, a part of me can’t help but wish he’d left well enough alone.

I’ll go see movie 3 when it’s out, but unless it really wows me and makes this whole trilogy worth it, I’ll be forced to conclude these particular adaptations did not need to happen. Fans and general audiences will probably still enjoy it. I¬†just have to turn my brain off a bit…or go watch the films I liked off the bat.

Thanks for reading. None of the pictures belong to me, but to Disney, Valve, Peter Jackson, etc.

Can Frozen Be Stopped?

Whelp, it’s practically the merry, merry month of May 2014, and Frozen is still going strong. t_FrozenStill

People are still seeing the movie in theaters, going to sing-alongs (for maybe one song in the whole movie) in said theaters, downloading and purchasing the soundtrack, and, most egregious of all, clogging up the Internet with cover after cover after cover of “Let It Go.”

While I personally am sick of the last item above, I am not yet sick of “Let It Go” itself. Probably because I haven’t been hyper focusing on it or playing it into the ground. I do listen from time to time; it is a catchy, upbeat song (this is my current favorite version, if you’re curious) In my defense, it’s well put together by the Disney folks themselves, and it’s not a cover. Not technically ūüôā

But I feel for the haters, dislikers, and even the (once) indifferent civilians who have had enough.

make-it-stop-o

How can you tell them to shut up and move on?¬†When you hate something, it tends to follow you everywhere. It doesn’t seem possible, but the monstrosity finds a way. That’s how I felt about Katy Perry’s “Roar,” which is a very mediocre piece of dreck in my opinion. Initially I was just underwhelmed and bored with the song, but then I couldn’t stop my over-exposure rage towards it because it. Wouldn’t. Leave. Me. Alone. Not in workout classes or morning talk shows; not with friends and coworkers blasting it, and the local radio stations playing it about twice every hour.

tumblr_inline_n03brbHXPD1r9490o

I can say all day that the song is bad, lame, clich√©, and not inspirational to anyone with a working brainstem (yes, people, these songs mesh so well for a reason because it’s the same damn song), music is very subjective. It comes down to taste and experiences, and despite my whining, it’s not bad that people find positive value in “Roar.” Inversely, it’s not bad that people think “Let It Go” is an overrated, overplayed, YOLO-glorifying p.o.s.¬†So I get why people are sick of “Let It Go,” even if I’m not. And I get why people rage against the over-exposure of¬†it, despite the fact that I don’t.

The movie and song are still riding high after a triumphant sweep of the animated Oscars arena, and of course Disney marketing agents intend to milk this surprisingly successful little cash cow until it’s as a dry as Arendelle is cold. ¬†Err…was cold. Add in the extra ingredients: an especially cold, meme-worthy winter BdKVyOYCcAAV9R5

;¬†a controversy that, quite frankly, makes both sides of the argument look like idiots who don’t know what research is; Disney running out of merch for Christmas and Easter sales; etc. It didn’t hurt that one of Broadway’s most beloved stars, the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem, was a prominent character with a catchy song.

It all makes sense now...
It all makes sense now…

Frozen is not just a movie. It’s a phenomenon.

Even the haters can’t deny it. What they can deny is that the movie is good, worthy of praise, or does anything different. How much of the movie itself, or even the big hit musical number, is good on its own merits, and how much of it comes from outside factors like timing, marketing, etc? CAN ITS EVIL POWERS BE STOPPED?

Did you get the reference in the last sentence?!!!!!!!!!

th

As long as people can defend what they’re arguing, I don’t have a beef with their opinion (unless they suck at arguing or, again, can’t do research). As long as you can give some weight to your words besides just “I liked it” or “I hated it,” that’s cool with me. And while some people call bs, I don’t take¬†issue with over-exposure backlash as much. Sometimes it’s blind hate from inarticulate people, and other times, as I said, it’s from a trend stalking you.

And as we’ve seen from sites like Facebook and Twitter, absolutely¬†no one likes stalking.

People have very good reasons to dislike the whole Frozen¬†thing, but¬†I would argue that both the movie and the entire soundtrack, not just “Let It Go,” are good. More than good, really; they’re great. And I say this as someone who saw Frozen 7 times in theaters (in my defense, each time I was with new people who hadn’t seen it), and 3 times outside of theaters (still showing it to new people, but I was really tired of watching it by now). The last movies I saw at least 5 times in theaters were the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

I saw An Unexpected Journey twice and The Desolation of Smaug only once in theaters, for the record.

But yeah. Embarrassing as it is to say, I’ve seen this movie enough to break it down ¬†different ways. There are a lot of ways to view this film, and most are valid or at least harmless.¬†It has¬†two likable, fairly strong female leads that actually do things for themselves, an adorkable male lead and his dog-reindeer hybrid, and a snowman that, honestly, just going from the trailers alone, I went into the movie ready to hate. And Olaf wasn’t just not bad; he was hilarious.

Seriously! Watch this and honestly tell me you never once cracked a smile:

Unlike some other movies I could mention, the sidekicks (Sven the Reindeer & Olaf) were funny but not distracting or hijacking the movie. Olaf only hijacked one song, and it was funny enough to get a pass from me.

This movie showed a different kind of love than just romantic, and told kids it was just as powerful. ¬†It playfully mocked its heritage, but didn’t go overboard like I felt¬†Enchanted sometimes did. Yeah, some moments were over-the-top or not as well explained, like Han’s seemingly Face-Heel Turn from nice guy to complete sociopath (though the hints are totally there if you can catch them. By the second viewing, I caught them). But nothing is perfect.

There have been people overpraising the film too, and while I think some traditional elements have been mixed up a bit, the movie isn’t terribly original.

My point is that, whether you like it or you hate it, Frozen was clearly trying. It hid its story well, through some clever and risky marketing, and genuinely pleasantly surprised a lot of people. I mean, Tangled was pretty decent, but was anyone really expecting this?

Unknown

This wowed people.

Watching this movie for the first time in theaters, especially the “Let It Go” sequence, genuinely felt like seeing a Renaissance Disney movie in theaters again. I wouldn’t say it’s totally on the level of Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Lion King,¬†or¬†Aladdin,¬†but it was the closest I’d felt in years. Even closer than for Tangled¬†or¬†Princess and the Frog¬†(I really don’t get why the latter did so poorly).

Even seeing this movie so much didn’t make me hate it. It did make me well-content not to watch it til next Christmas though. ūüėĄ

The ride was really fun and, what I think was most important, the music was really good (more broadway than pop at times, but meshing with a few other styles), and the characters were relatable. They spoke to a lot of people, particularly Elsa. Then a bunch of pop culture factors blew it up to even bigger proportions.

And maybe some people, like me, were worried that Disney was on the decline, especially after pretty much closing up their 2D animation studio.

For what it is, I think it’s good. Great even. For what people want to make of it, or what they wanted it to be? I can’t say.

But¬†yeah,¬†Frozen¬†can be stopped. The folks who made it worked hard and are coasting now, so if you hate it, you’ll probably have to wait a little while. It’s okay though; I know you guys can do it. ūüôā

Oh, and one more meme, because this one had me dying:

disney-princess

None of the pictures are owned or made by me. As usual. Check out more images, songs, and the actual film from Disney.

 

Beauty and the Beast: A Rant About That Whole Stockholm Thing

Oh boy, here we go...
Oh boy, here we go…

Before I get into the thick of things, a little setup:

I was watching a theory video the other day about a video game character that gets kidnapped a lot (here’s a hint: she’s from Mario).  MatPat, from the hit video series Game Theory asserts that, because this character makes no attempt to get away, and doesn’t seem particularly bothered by said repeated kidnappings, she may in fact be a victim of a little something called Stockholm Syndrome.

Stockholm Syndrome, for all two people who’ve never heard of it, is defined as,  “an emotional bonding a victim forms with his or her victimizer, often leading to feelings of sympathy and even appreciation for that person.” The syndrome was coined after an incident in Stockhom, Sweden, “when, following the end of a bank robbery, the hostages identified with and supported their captor” (see source here).

While MatPat was trying to point out that this was in no way a new occurrence in modern storytelling, particularly for the kiddies, he singled out Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as a prime example.

Shut their eyes, Ma! This is serz biznezz!
Shut their eyes, Ma! This is serz biznezz!

I have heard this argument so often from the anti-Disney and social justice crowds, and it’s really starting to irritate me. It’s a fairytale, people! Why does the Internet fixate on this (highly contested) real-world psychological condition?

It’s a good movie with…a unique set of circumstances I’ll admit, but I would hardly say that it seriously advocates for that kind of relationship.

To some extent, I get where people are coming from. I personally never wanted a relationship like Belle and Beast’s as a kid, and the movie didn’t push any noticeable messages on me that the loud, violent, abrasive Beast is what I should aim for in a man. I suppose some kids could look at it that way, but who knows? Lots of girls out there seem to love a project, and boy howdy, did Beast need a fixing!

If anyone did think that was what Disney was trying to say, I suggest finding some therapy and deeply exploring the parental neglect they have clearly suffered.

Most people I’ve talked or noticed to who had a crush on Beast saw him as a fantasy (yes, they do exist), the whole “bad boy that can be fixed by the right girl” kind of fantasy. Unrealistic, perhaps a bit strange, but still, clearly just a fantasy. I’d be more concerned by those who idolize Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, because that’s a live-action movie that appears to follow our basic reality.

I’m kind of of the mind that cartoons are not, or at least should not, be considered role models. They cannot be held accountable for their actions (even if their creators can), and they are not real people with entirely realistic goals/dreams/aspirations/what-have-you.  They are who they are for the brief period that they inhabit our screens, and then that’s it.

Because of how these characters and this movie could possibly affect expectations of reality, people argue that this great and admittedly dark film is bad for kids, and that Belle isn’t the awesome, smart, cool, independent Disney Princess we all thought she was.

Belle is not impressed.)
Belle is not impressed.)

I do not agree, but I decided that rather than indignantly whining about how it is “soo not stockholm syndrome OMG shut up (insert illiterate troll lingo here),” I would try my hand at an actual argument that this is not the case. If this debate has to happen, as if Belle and the Beast are some celebrity couple selling Chris Brown-Rihanna-esque beatings to kids as “twue wuv”, let me roll up my sleeves and hack into it.

So many people believe the other argument, and no one I have come across online or in person has adequately defended the movie. Can I prove it isn’t so to you fine readers? But even more important still: can I prove it to myself? Is it just my ego, defending a movie I’ve loved and hailed as a masterpiece for all these years?

Yes, it is a masterpiece still, and no, I am in no way impartial. This movie was my first movie ever, and some part of me will always be protective of it. But I like to think that I can step back and be objective when I need to be.

(Little aside here: I’m not counting any shorts or midquels based around this movie. Those are just fancy fanfictions with a budget that add nothing to the original story besides messing it up) (if your criticisms stem from those, I totally understand. They are awful, and Stockholm Syndrome is completely on the table there).

The story is a tale as old as time. Well, sort of.

Belle lives in a quiet little town where no one appreciates her for her brains and individuality, while Beast is raised as a human prince in a life of opulence and royalty. He’s not the biggest scumbag on the planet (this we see hints of in the opening and learn to be true later in the film), but he’s “spoiled, selfish, and unkind.” He’s been surrounded by yes men and servants his whole life, waited on hand and foot, which has made him arrogant and insensitive to the needs of others.

The plot happens. Belle’s bumbling father gets lost (also chased by scary wolves) and stumbles into Beast’s castle and gets himself locked in the dungeon, as you do. Belle comes to get him, and ends up switching places so that he can go back to the village, but she must promise remain in the castle forever.

Can you feel the love tonight!
Can you feel the love tonight!

I have used rainn.org, or the “Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network,” to define Stockholm Syndrome above. To ensure accuracy, I have included another site. Hubpages states that

“(Stockholm Syndrome) occurs in hostage situations, in other words, when people are placed in a situation over which they have no control, and are forced to depend on their captors. It is a psychological phenomenon in which the hostages actually develop positive feelings (most often empathy) towards their captors and sympathy for their problems. They ignore the fact that the hostage takers put their victims at great risk, and focus instead on their failing to abuse them. This is often mistaken for an act of kindness and compassion.”

So two sites that say basically the  same thing about it. And I think we can agree that Stockholm is not a good thing.

Rainn.org further explains the components, stages, and general mentality of the syndrome beyond that basic explanation. According to this site,

“Dr. Joseph Carver, a clinical psychologist, describes emotionally bonding with an abuser as a survival strategy for victims of abuse and intimidation…It is important to remember that Stockholm Syndrome develops subconsciously and on an involuntary basis. The strategy is a survival instinct that develops as an attempt to survive in a threatening and controlling environment.”

This seems about right. After all, whether she likes it or not, Belle became “part of his world.

picard-facepalm

Yes, I know. Bad puns.

She was forced into this situation, giving up her freedom and her family to keep Beast company forever.

objection

She wasn’t forced to make a choice; she came up with the arrangement on her own, and then she and the Beast established the terms. Oh course a Disney heroine is not going to let Maurice, her father and an innocent man, rot in the dungeon. 

But the Beast did not suggest that option to her; she actually came up with it on the spot, on her own. And sure, she thought it up in a fit of desperation, but it was a choice she consciously made, and she wasn’t threatened into accepting it. She didn’t even back down after seeing her jailor’s ugly mug in the light.

Beast may have insisted she keep up her end of the bargain, but it was a promise (which, by the way, she breaks not long after, and she respects virtually none of the rules that the Beast sets before her. “Don’t day without me,” “Don’t go in the West Wing,” yadda yadda yadda). Note also that the Beast makes no threats of consequences if she leaves; he puts no locks or chains on the doors (not even in his personal areas of the castle).

In the original story, Belle’s father would have been facing a literal death threat, whereas here, it’s subtlely implied, if it’s even there at all. The Beast clearly wasn’t very attentive, but why wouldn’t he just go ahead and kill Maurice if he was just planning to do that soon anyway? He specifically says, “He’s my prisoner.”

“But wait!” Some of you still say. “She still had no choice in the matter. It was her father’s life, after all. What was she going to do, leave him there and go home?”

please sir

Like I said, of course Belle was never going to do that, but at least in theory, she could have said, “Sucks for you, Dad. Whelp, that’s all the time I have! Bye!” That would have been incredibly heartless and callous, but it’s still a viable option, and one that was, for better or worse, not taken. You have to take the emotions out of it a little bit and look at her choices logically.

The Beast didn’t coerce her into being his prisoner; she volunteered the alternative of her own volition, and they both agreed.

So then the Beast sent crazy old Maurice away without letting him and his daughter to say a real goodbye to one another. Belle pointed out what a jerk move that was, and Beast looked genuinely remorseful for a moment. As if he realized just then that, yeah, maybe he shouldn’t have done that. Without dialogue, strictly by animation, the filmmakers showed us a moment of remorse that we can obviously recognize as such. A lot of character comes through in those little ways.

Beast quickly recovered though (by which I mean he went back into closed-off-jerk-mode), and led her to her room, all the while making awkward small talk and trying to figure out how to woo her. Kinda. Sorta.

He was “nice” enough to offer her better accommodations than the dungeon. He was clearly still being a spoiled, childish dick, though we never really learn what Beast would have done if he’d noticed Maurice dying in the dungeon at some point. Are boobs really the only thing that could sway him back to something resembling humanity?

These things we may never know.  

Make no mistake: Belle lived in an expansive prison, but a prison nonetheless. But while she was fearful of the Beast during the first half of the movie, she did put her foot down quite a bit, which is unusual for what we picture of a cowed victim. She wasn’t completely helpless, nor did she act like it.  Belle did not open the door to Beast, even when he pounded on it and threatened to break it down. She refused to join him for dinner, even when ordered to. She outright defied him with the other servants by eating dinner after he made the whole “if she doesn’t eat with me, then she doesn’t eat at all” ultimatum.

Still…there could be emotional abuse still happening. 

Rainn.org lists the common components of Stockholm Syndrome as: 

      1. Victim having positive feelings toward the abuser
      2. Victim having negative feelings toward family, friends, or authorities
      3. Abuser having positive feelings toward the victim
      4. Victim supporting or helping the abuser

I’m going to try to tackle these in order, but some apply differently over the course of the story.

Let us consider Belle’s eventual feelings of love toward the Beast and her sense of belonging in the castle and with the servants. Belle had no positive feelings for the Beast in the beginning, seeing him as a monstrous creature with a temper to match. She wanted nothing to do with him at all, and defied his wishes (possibly as little acts of defiance to feel like she had some control over her situation). We have established that, while she is clearly not in complete control, she is not totally weak or helpless either; she didn’t take his temper tantrums passively or, worse yet, blame herself and try to appease him.

She was allowed to explore the castle, but walked willfully into the West Wing, an area that was explicitly forbidden to her by Beast. She came across the enchanted rose and was then promptly chased off by Beast, who was in a fit of rage.

Abuse! Plain and simple abuse! Your argument is invalid, Marge!

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But no. I maintain that he wasn’t trying to hurt her or scare her, but he was angry and fearful that she could have damaged the rose and somehow affected the curse. It’s basically his fate manifested in this world, so he has a reason to be very protective of it.

Also, he was established as immature and not very self-aware. How many times do average people get mad and fly off the handle at their friends and loved ones? Saying or doing things they didn’t mean in order to cause pain?

And yes, I know Beast and Belle were not even close to friends in this instance.

That doest excuse his actions. He did break things and yell at her, and as she left we saw his face morph from huffing frustration to a sort of “oh God, what have I done?,” before what the kids these days call “face-palming.”

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Abusers can be regretful in real life, or be deceptive and manipulative because of it. So there you go. Perhaps a point goes to you, guys on Team Stockholm. Who knows if Beast was being genuine here?  I think he was, judging once again by the animation, but what do I know?

But Belle grabbed her horse and left. She said to the servants, “Promise or no promise, I can’t stay here another minute.” Despite giving her word, she left at the (arguable) first sign of potential violence towards her. She felt obligated to stay until she realized how frighteningly unstable the Beast was, and that she couldn’t avoid him forever. Belle did a dumb (or possibly rebellious thing), but she doesn’t stick around to try and fix things with the temper-tantrum throwing buffalo man. She GTFO, intent on going home and never coming back again. 

During her escape, Belle encountered wolves, presumably the same ones that tried to ambush her father. Just when hope seemed lost, Beast rushed in to save her, presumably (again, this word) because he felt guilty and wanted to make sure she didn’t get killed (either by wolves or the blizzard).

Some might argue that Beast only followed her to force her back to the castle, but the evidence is inconclusive. And we saw him show clear regret in the previous scene. 

Anyway, Beast fought off the wolves, but was wounded. Belle almost left, seeing an opportunity to escape him forever, but because he risked his life to save hers and got hurt for it, and might, you know, die of frostbite or blood loss, she decided to go back to the castle, carrying him in tow. So in turn, she saved his life right back. 

 

This area might blur for both sides of the argument. I say she helped him out of the kindness of her heart and a feeling of debt. A life for a life, because she’s clearly compassionate like that. I can’t say for sure, but she looked fully intent to leave him there. At least for a minute.

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Meanwhile, back at the castle, she treated his wounds, weathered his whining and howling like the spoiled child he was, and even dressed him down a bit. Belle is no pushover, and by this point, she still hasn’t really come around to Beast. 

She did admit some fault as well (a little bit), but she clearly won the argument there.

The two then reconciled, and Beast started being nicer to Belle. Probably for the first time in his life, someone stood up to him and didn’t give him exactly what he wanted. Remember, he’s a royal. It’s also heavily implied, if not outright stated in “Be Our Guest,” that he was a boy (about 11) when he was cursed (which I think is much more unfair and screwed up, but that’s another rant for another day).

Belle developed positive feelings toward him over believable things, such as him saving her life (the first act) and then later giving her a library, a gift based on her interests.

This may seem like a shallow “sorry I was mad, babe. Here’s a present. We cool now, right?” kind of gift to some people, but really think about it: Back in Belle’s village, no one but her father really cared about her personality or interests. Everyone saw her as a strange but beautiful girl, who should have been swooning over Gaston like the rest of her breasted ilk. Beast was the first person to actually try to get to know her, and the first to offer her a gift, a truly genuine and touching gesture. He gave her something suited to her interests; something she would appreciate and enjoy, as opposed to Gaston, who wanted her to tag along so he could show her his trophies and brag about himself.

How many girls genuinely enjoy that?

This is really the first instance in the entire movie of someone actually getting to know her. Other characters tell her what she wants or should want, or assume things, but he asks. My point is that Beast didn’t treat Belle like a housewife or just some trophy girl who should be hanging off his arm. True, she started out as a goal for Beast – someone to break the curse on him – but he figured out, slowly but surely, that approach was going nowhere fast. Selfishly hoarding and using people wasn’t doing any good. Through his interactions with her, seeing her kind nature and independent spirit, Beast realized what a jerk and an animal he was becoming (which may also be a result of the curse and his repeated despair; see the Broadway musical for more clues on that one), and started working his way towards redeeming his character. Maybe for her sake, his own, or both. It’s ambiguous enough to be interpreted those ways.

And Belle realized that, while he was capable of great anger and darkness, he is capable of kindness, and caring for others as well. He just hadn’t had much experience before, when he was being served, or when he was a despairing beast, slowly being worn away. We saw, as the movie progressed, that Beast began to walk and talk more like a man, dressing in clothes and engaging in civil behaviors, encouraged all the more by Belle and his servants.

Speaking of the servants, as I’ve mentioned before, they could be seen as just as guilty as Beast. They are invested in breaking of the curse as well. They want to be human again, but they couldn’t force Belle to love Beast, and they couldn’t prevent Beast from being a jerk.

But Belle gave them hope, much like the Beast, with her very presence, and while they could have been selfish and manipulative, they tried to make her feel welcome, even when Beast himself didn’t.

She truly was welcome, too; a welcome change in their lives. They had someone to entertain and serve again (“Be Our Guest”), and to everyone except maybe Cogsworth, she was a pleasure to serve. She was kind and, despite her initial fear, full of wonder.

My final word on the servants is: they weren’t always a party to Beast’s attempts, and even undermined his orders at times. They also did not prevent Belle from leaving (the first or second time), and were implied to be innocent people who were affected by Beast’s curse.

But back to the main argument…

Conditions 1, 3, and 4 mentioned way above fit together and are decently rebutted, and condition 2 doesn’t even really apply here. The only friend/family member Belle had outside of the castle is Maurice (excluding the horse), and even when he still thought the Beast is a monster, Belle didn’t harbor any anger or negativity towards her father for his differing opinion of things. She did clearly say he didn’t understand, though, to Maurice and later the townsfolk, but to be fair, none of the latter were her friends. Quite the opposite, actually.  

And Belle only think she knows more than Maurice because she has spent more time with Beast, and gotten to see a side of him that her father pretty definitively never did. It wasn’t as though Beast was all nice in the beginning, and then slowly started hitting or gaslighting her, and she’s the only one who refuses to see the truth. 

But what about more concrete stages of Stockholm Syndrome? Surely there’s more room in this story for abusive not-love?

Rainn.org lists the stages of Stockholm in this order:

      • The victim dissociates from his or her pain, helplessness or terror by subconsciously beginning to see the situation / world from the abuser‚Äôs perspective. The victim begins to agree with the abuser and certain aspects of his or her own personality, opinions, and views will fade into the background.
      • By doing this, the victim begins to learn how to appease and please the abuser, which may keep him or her from being hurt or worse. Similarly this tactic can be used to manipulate the abuser into being less dangerous, at least for a little while.
      • After a while the victim begins to realize that his or her abuser portrays the same human characteristics as anyone else. At this point he or she will begin to see the abuser as less of a threat. Some abusers may even share personal information in an effort to bond with the victim and to promote pity rather than anger.
      • This bonding, in turn, leads to conflicting feelings (e.g., rage and pity) and illogical concern for the abuser. The victim may even ignore his or her own needs.
      • Once the traumatic event has ended, however, the victim must again learn not to dissociate from his or her emotions and not focus on the abuser. This can be a very difficult transition.

As established, Belle only came around to the Beast when he saved her life, admitted to being an insensitive, violent jerk; and even started behaving more like a person than an animal. She was still wary of him while the change was occurring (hesitantly agreeing to follow him when he was going to surprise her with a library), but she did not agree with him or comply with him just to save her own skin. She repeatedly refused doing things she didn’t want to do (from Gaston and the townsfolk as well, I might add).

The third stage is a possibility, as Belle began to see Beast as less and less of a threat, but other than telling her he had forgotten how to read (an embarrassing fact that they then proceed to bond over in “Human Again”), he doesn’t share personal information with her onscreen. Not about the curse or life before the curse, at least. They mostly bond over mutually pleasurable activities; Beast distracting Belle from her feelings of loneliness and Belle distracting the Beast from focusing solely on breaking the curse. There was no evidence of any one character’s needs being compromised over the others. They only time spent getting to know one another. 

In another little aside, Belle professed a desire for adventure from the very beginning of the movie, seeking something beyond herself. In a way, that was exactly what she received, albeit not in the way she expected. 

I mentioned before that the curse had been somewhat forgotten in Beast’s mind. I think that it was still there, as a nagging reminder at the back of his mind, but at the same time, he started to genuinely care for Belle as a friend, making his desire for love more genuine and, by extension, less selfish. 

But here’s some more conditions relating to Stockholm Syndrome, as provided again by Rainn.org. 

There is often:

      1. Perceived or real threat to one’s physical or psychological survival and belief that the abuser will carry out the threat. The abuser may:
        • Assure the victim that only cooperation keeps loved ones safe.
        • Offer subtle threats or stories of revenge to remind the victim that revenge is possible if they leave.
        • Have a history of violence leading the victim to believe they could be a target.
      2. Presence of a small kindness from the abuser to the victim
        • In some cases, small gestures such as allowing a bathroom visit or providing food/water are enough to alter the victim‚Äôs perception of the abuser.
        • Other times, a birthday card, a gift (usually provided after a period of abuse), or a special treat can be seen as proof that the abuser is not ‚Äúall bad.‚ÄĚ
      3. Victim’s isolation from other perspectives
        • Victims have the sense they are always being watched. For their survival they begin to take on the abuser‚Äôs perspective. This survival technique can become so intense that the victim develops anger toward those trying to help.
        • In severe cases of Stockholm Syndrome the victim may feel the abusive situation is their fault.
      4. Perceived or real inability to escape from the situation
      • The victim may have financial obligations, debt, or instability to the point that they cannot survive on their own.
      • The abuser may use threats including taking the children, public exposure, suicide, or a life of harassment for the victim.

Applying to Number 1, Beast does promise Maurice’s safety and freedom in exchange for Belle’s freedom, but he doesn’t threaten to seek Maurice out and harm him after the deal is made, nor does he threaten to hurt Belle or hurt her father if she were to break their agreement. In fact, Beast seems to forget about Maurice altogether. Belle might worry that if she leaves, Beast will come after her or her father, but she doesn’t make that fear explicit, if it even exists at all. It’s never presented to us.

Beast may vaguely know where she lives though, because his creepy spider carriage knew exactly where to take Maurice when he was ejected from the castle. Hmm…

For Number 2, Beast does give Belle a library after a big fight they had, but to be fair, it is the last fight we see them having in the entire movie. And I don’t think that is because Belle is cowed or too grateful to stand up to him. That’s pretty clearly never been the case before, so why should it be now?

Besides, he remarks to the servants that he wanted to do something nice for her, because he’s “never felt this way about anyone.” I doubt he gives the servants gifts of any kind after he’s yelled at them. And no way is he shelling out for a library or a fancy Baroque piece for Cogsworth. 

Number 3 doesn’t really apply, and for Number 4, Belle is pretty quick to leave for someone with so much stake in the situation. Granted, it was panic-driven and spur-of-the-moment, but she did leave. Also, later the Beast lets her go, knowing full well that the curse will never be broken, so that she can help her father. And again, she leaves. She doesn’t really seem to give it a second thought, other than to be slightly unnerved by Beast’s roar of sadness as she’s departing. 

Maybe she would never have come back if it hadn’t been for Gaston riling up the mob (In this case, maybe she felt responsible or maybe she was worried for Beast and the servants’ sakes, but it’s, again, up to interpretation. No surprise here, but I pick the latter).

Belle sees contrast between the Beast and Gaston; the former being monstrous in shape but kind-hearted, and the latter being handsome but a truly selfish, hideous person on the inside. She races back to the castle with her father. I guess Maurice was okay with it after all, after that one talk while he was probably sick and delusional anyway?

Idk.

Beast had lost the will to live when she left, because he loved her and he knew that he would spend the rest of his days as a monster without her, so he was content to let himself be killed by Gaston. He gains the will to fight back with Belle’s arrival on the scene, and even shows mercy (unlike Gaston) because of his remembered human emotions and kindness. 

But Gaston manages to fatally wound him before dying himself, leaving Beast to die beside the woman he has grown to love. And as she finally realizes the love she felt for him – it really does seem like she didn’t recognize any real feelings until she actually thought about it right then – the curse is broken. Beast is revived and human again, and everyone lives happily ever after.

I don’t want to spit on real cases of Stockholm Syndrome or those of domestic abuse sufferers. I chose that word and not “victims” or “survivors” because both have problematic associations of perceived “strength” or “weakness” that are usually insensitive at best and unfair and disparaging at worst. Every situation is different, and people should be treated like people.

Also, while I have been trying to argue against it, I can see why people argue that this romance may in fact be just a case of Stockholm Syndrome, much as I disagree. Some warning signs are there, certainly, so if that’s your interpretation of the film, I can’t really stop you from going forward with that. 

It’s a fairytale, which aren’t known for being the most progressive of stories. They’re meant to teach a few lessons and encourage good behaviors and characters; in this case, being kind, compassionate, and looking past appearances to see the truth inside. They’re meant to scare kids a little too, warning them about consequences of misbehaving or straying from a moral path. Things change over time, and what used to work doesn’t always when modern audiences are concerned. I acknowledge that.

But anyone over a certain age can see that it’s a fantasy; escapism. By definition, not reality. Kids who don’t understand that should be engaged by their parents to talk about it, which requires some energy and supervision, but can certainly be done. 

Can Beast be classified as an abuser? Yep. While he is a product of the time and his royal pampering, he stands above others and orders them around, bellowing at them, smashing things, and threatening to break down doors. But he’s a prince, so it makes sense (I’m explaining, not excusing here). Before Belle came along, his servants were probably either neglected or beleaguered by him.  

Also keep in mind that he’s also growing up throughout this whole curse. If the rose blooms until he’s 21 years old, and it’s been “10 years (they’ve) been rusting,” he was just a kid. Possibly one who made a few stupid mistakes with little to no parental supervision.

(Team Stockholm says, “That’s right, kids! Stay with your abuser and change them, for your benefit and theirs! It’ll all work out!”)

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So, is Belle and Beast’s relationship a class A case of Stockholm Syndrome?  

I still say no.

Call me stubborn, but I honestly think love blossomed between the two without necessarily having to be coerced or guilted. Belle didn’t pity Beast or wait on him, and she didn’t go out of her way to please him so he wouldn’t hurt her. If anything, he went out of his way to please her because he discovered the joy of pleasing someone else. And, when he had nothing to gain and everything to lose, he let her go, concealing his anguish until she left so that she would not feel compelled to stay with him out of pity.

Another thing I’m sick to death of hearing is the whole “it’s a kids’ movie/show/product, so it’s okay if it’s crappy” argument. Why do I get so worked up about it? Because the stuff I grew up with was mostly good and challenging and engaging, with some crap mixed in. I don’t believe media makers get a free pass to make crap just because kids are their target audience, and it pisses me off even more when they are successful and make loads of money off it.

I believe Disney has exceeded this standard time and time again.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a great kids movie. Not just good, but great. It has flaws just like everything made by human hands must, but it had stunning animation, unique characters, and a dark and engaging story with good pacing. We don’t know how long Belle and Beast spent together, so it could’ve been three days-ish, a la Ariel & Eric or Aladdin & Jasmine, or it could’ve been weeks or months.

There is so much to love and respect about this film, and it pisses me off when, particularly feminists, harsh on Disney relentlessly without acknowledging things like time periods in which movies came out, and also how far Disney has come as a company and a content creator.

Criticism needs context, and an acknowledgement of the good and bad, to be whole and rounded. Kids’ movies can sometimes paint the world in black and white, but nothing is just black and white. Not even opinions, really. Just hating or loving something blindly and ignoring the contrasting side of the argument makes otherwise sound, interesting ideas stupid and irritating. You know, unless they’re really funny.

There are people out there that will find reasons to hate something, anything, about anything. If you must, make sure you can back yourself up first.

And don’t even get me started on the whole bestiality thingy.

Beauty and the Beast and any images of it are owned by the Disney Corporation. It is not in any way mine. In fact, none of the pictures here are mine. In any way. At all. 

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