Princess Mononoke: The Best of Studio Ghibli and Maybe Even the World

Princess Mononoke is one of the best movies ever made, bar none. It’s easily in my top 3, and I’m not just talking about animated movies here. I do not say these things lightly.

 

I don’t care if you think “cartoons” is for kids. I don’t even care if East Asian culture seems confusing and impenetrable to you. If you have any respect or love for movies, artistry, or storytelling in general, you should see Princess Mononoke at some point. You can even say you didn’t like it. I won’t be mad.

Hell, go see it right now, if you never have before. Don’t even read this review of it, because there are some spoilers and it’s more organic to come across them on your own.

  

 

In a time where we only seemed to get preachy environmental films and shows about evil man ruining the innocent planet with his mere existence (and I time when my younger self was personally growing tired of Disney-esque black-and-white world views), there was one little-known film from Japan that actually took a balanced look at the issues. Here, nature is a mighty force to reckoned with, and humans can be ambitious while still being caring and sympathetic. Everyone is struggling and clawing to survive, and they will do so by any means necessary.

Though it may seem mystical and fantastic, there are numerous shades of reality to be found there too.

Prince Ashitaka lives in a quiet, hidden village in the far east, the last of the native Emishi people. One day, a giant boar god-turned-demon attacks his home, and while he manages to protect everyone else from its rage and destruction, Ashitaka is cursed when the beast touches his right arm. He is told that it will fester inside of him, cause him great pain, and then kill him, but it also occasionally has a will of its own, and even grants him some of the boar god’s considerable strength.

 

Then, leaving his people forever, Ashitaka journeys west to discover what cursed the boar god and if his own curse can be cured. What he finds is the small but prominent human settlement of Iron Town battling the remaining gods for control of their land, and a plot to kill the heart of the forest itself.

 

The leader of the humans is Eboshi, an ambitious, intelligent, highly-respected, and capable woman. She bought the contracts of numerous brothel girls and gave them a better life working the bellows in Iron Town, and she also took in lepers, who in turn help her by building new guns and weapons. Despite her plans, she is not completely irredeemable. Eboshi is an equal opposing force to the forest gods, who are trying to survive and thrive and protect their own kind just as she does. Other humans desire the rich land that she has painstakingly fought for, and so she faces attacks on both sides, from her own kind and the animals.

 

On the side of the forest is San, the eponymous Princess Mononoke. As a child, she was abandoned by her human parents and adopted by the wolf god Moro. Eboshi believes that San’s soul was stolen by the wolves and is thus no longer human, and once the gods are killed off, she will become one once more. The head of the great forest spirit is also rumored to cure any ailment, so she seeks to claim it to cure the lepers under her care. Meanwhile, San sees Eboshi as greedy and evil, with no love or reverence for the forest and its powers, and seeks to kill her to stop the other humans from destroying more land and the noble gods protecting it. Without the forest spirit, it is also said that the animal gods will become “dumb beasts once more,” leaving humans everywhere with little opposition.

In addition to all of that, the Emperor of Japan believes that the head of the forest spirit will grant him immortality, and promises great wealth to the one who can bring it to him. This draws even more people to the stage, like the amiable but calculating monk Jigo (Jiko-bo).

 

Ashitaka, in his own quest to save himself, also tries to save these two groups from each other. He sees history repeating itself, so he becomes a bridge; not entirely different from San, but more neutral, fighting for both sides to live in peace and compromise.

What I like about this, in addition to the culture and mythology, is how fair and balanced this seems. Nature has divine elements to it, and the movie clearly shows why it is important to revere it. But it is not some innocent thing simply being trampled by man, and unlike in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, it does not really care that there are some nice “men” trying to protect it. It is a force, plain and simple, and like a caged wild animal, it will fight to survive however it can.

 

Everyone in this movie is fighting to survive. Ashitaka is the last prince of his people, and for their sake as much as his own, he does not want to die. The forest gods are the last of their kind, and the forest is their home and a source of strength and vitality. Eboshi’s people were all scorned by society; she creates Iron Town as a safe space for them, and they thankfully, loyally help her achieve her own goals. I can understand and sympathize with them without always necessarily condoning their actions.

Let me put it to you this way: in The Lorax (the 1972 television adaptation), the Onceler asks several very important questions. “What do you want? I should shut down my factory? Fire a hundred thousand workers? Is that good economics? Is that sound for the country?” To which the Lorax replies, “I see your point, but I wouldn’t know the answer.” That is the only other environmental “movie” that seems to realize that there are two sides to every debate, and Princess Mononoke takes it even further by actual making the human “villain” a fully fleshed-out and sympathetic character.

A human being, so to speak.

 

The animation is gorgeous, as the rare bits of computer animation perfectly compliment the cel-shaded, traditionally hand-drawn and painted style. The amount of detail is astounding, especially in the background and scenery; every rock and blade of grass looks different from every other. The action scenes are fluid, making up for the fact that Ashitaka is a calm, relatively reserved character only occasionally prone to real anger.

 

The English voice cast is very well-chosen, and the English script, brought to us by Neil Gaiman, relays the story well without incorporating a lot of local references that would confuse an American audience. Sub enthusiasts might fight me on that point, but some changes have to be made when translating this to a different audience, and if you don’t like it, the original Japanese version is right there for your viewing pleasure.

The Japanese cast is stellar, of course, but I have to appreciate the effort it took to bring this movie stateside. However you feel about English dubbed anime and movies, you can’t deny that it serves as a fitting introduction to the genre for newcomers.

The music…what can I even say about it? It’s Joe Hisaishi. He scores most of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, and they always seem to fit perfectly.

The plot is not eye-rollingly preachy and pretentious. It’s subtler than its friends and neighbors, especially those of the late 90’s; it doesn’t talk down to you or wag its finger disapprovingly, as it ironically kills God knows how many trees just to bring its message to life. It doesn’t give us a villain who is completely greedy and evil, sometimes just for the joy of being evil.

Jigo probably comes the closest to being a “typical” bad guy, but even then, he’s so likable. He is basically the Onceler if he had been a side character, rather than the main antagonist.

San is not the strongest or most commanding person, but she is young and trying to find her way in the world. Both she and Eboshi are fascinating, whether as female characters or characters in general, and they fight tooth and nail for what they believe in. Miyazaki sure came a long way as a feminist since Nausicaawho I would argue is more of an idealized Mary Sue and sacrificial lamb, rather than an actual character.

 

San and Eboshi are flawed, but extremely compelling and admirable.

This movie is just amazing to me, and it makes me sad that it is less known and less appreciated than something like Spirited Away. Granted, that is a great movie and definitely more family-oriented (Princess Mononoke, by contrast, features several men getting their heads shot clean off with arrows, and one unfortunate gentleman who loses both of his arms that way), but it’s not nearly as profound and compelling. It’s a pretty safe, tried-and-true story format with enough “weirdness” sprinkled over it to make it interesting.

Princess Mononoke‘s basic plot isn’t unknown to us either (man tries to save the forest…as well as the people trying to tear it down?), but it isn’t exactly here to make you feel comfortable. It doesn’t point fingers at you in the same way something like James Cameron’s Avatar or Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves would, but neither does it try to placate you and dumb down its message like the 2012 Illumination Entertainment abomination The Lorax. It simply presents an epic, interesting story with two equal and opposing sides, and more readily allows you to take away what you will from it. The conflict is on a smaller scale than some environmental stories, but it feels no less important to the greater world because of its potential consequences.

Nature should be preserved and tended, and not just because we benefit from its existence. Man should not be blind to the world around him. Hatred, rage, and arrogance don’t tend to solve all of your problems. Sometimes it is the simplest messages that need the most repetition, but they can be conveyed in ways that aren’t stale, boring, and completely predictable.

This movie is damn brilliant and beautiful and deep. To steal a quote from Pulp Fiction, “What happened here was a miracle, and I want you to f#$%ing acknowledge it!”

 

*9/10

Note: The images used in this article do not belong to me. Most belong to Disney and Studio Ghibli. Jeff Goldblum, uh, belongs to Jeff, uh, Goldblum. 

 

 

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Shrek is a Big Fiery Ball of Rage and Hatred

 

Oh come on, guys! Don’t look at me that way! I’m sorry!

 

Damn it, Puss! You’re going to make me cry! This isn’t even your movie!

Don’t get me wrong; I still really enjoy this movie. It’s just not a particularly timeless parody, due in large part to the pure, vitriolic hatred of one jilted former Disney employee: one of Dreamworks SKG’s three founders, Jeffery Katzenberg.

Examples of this are rife from the very beginning; in the opening scene, Shrek reads from a children’s storybook, a clear reference to how Disney opened many of its early fairytale adaptations, only to then tear out a page and implicitly use it to wipe his ass.  Cue the Smash Mouth song (not particularly timeless either, and not even embracing the new decade), and  Shrek kicks open the door of the outhouse, looking very pleased with himself before the montage of grossness and credits.  Right away, you know the tone of the film: irreverent and mocking.

It’s funny in a shocking way, like a child-friendly proto-Borat, and you have to admit that Shrek makes a few good points. Disney is a company, after all, and one that is driven just as much by profit and marketability as it is by its “artistic” creations.

 

Hell, people have been pointing out issues with Disney’s format and branding strategy for years! How it doesn’t particularly challenge girls to make something of themselves, and how it paints pretty, young people as good but older and uglier people as evil, just to name a few.

So yes, Disney is by no means a perfect company beyond all reproach or criticism, but look at something like Frozen. While it was made by Disney, the characters frequently poke fun at old tropes from past movies while not heavily distracting the viewer. Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff keep their ribbing gentle and vague, not calling out any previous movie in particular, but it still works well, makes good points, and the jokes don’t take you out of the story and its own unique world. Believe it or not, that is pretty hard to do well.

 

Enchanted is similar to Frozen in some aspects, but it’s more flawed because, as you might expect of an earlier attempt at a loving parody, it goes out of its way to reference specific movies and characters. It’s too pointed; Giselle is not really her own person, but rather a mush of several different Disney Princess characters, most notably Snow White. She exists basically as a version of one of the older, more naive princesses, who will have her childish innocence taken away from her so she can then go live in the “real world,” which is harder but more rewarding.

So not only can it not really stand on its own, Enchanted is kind of confused in the message it wants to offer to its viewers. You can’t really be your own whimsical fairytale if you are constantly telling people they should grow up and live in the real world. Frozen stands on its own and is still a good fairytale story in its own right, and that is how you typically do a good, decently timeless parody: there has to be some love involved.

Shrek has passion, I’ll give it that, but it’s a passion devoted to tearing down Disney and taking a dump all over it. And while I sympathize with Mr. Katzenberg and think he was treated very poorly, after spending a while trying to copy and race the very studio that he left

 

he then decided to go the extra mile and give them a more definitive middle-finger in movie-form.

 

Take that, Disney! Here’s what Jeff thinks of you!

And like I said, it’s still funny…in the same way listening to little kids throwing insults at each other is funny. The insults are silly but hit a mark of some kind. The overall effort is misguided, but it seems cute and harmless enough. Plus, it’s got Eddie Murphy wanting to make waffles when he has no hands!

Shrek has a good message at the end about being yourself and loving it no matter what, but Shrek 2 is better in my personal opinion because it spent less time flipping off Disney and more time developing its own world and characters. It’s still not particularly timeless, but I think it’s funnier and the references are a bit less intrusive. It also further develops Shrek and Fiona’s chemistry as a married couple, beyond happily ever after, something that Disney usually doesn’t do (unless it’s a cheap direct-to-video sequel).

That, in and of itself, is a better overall critique of Disney than its predecessor was.

 

*5.5/10

Note: The images used in this post belong to Disney and Dreamworks. I own nothing.

Sunk Costs and Chuck McGill

Note: This post contains minimal spoilers for Better Call Saul season 3, episode 3: “Sunk Costs.” Go watch it if you haven’t already.

 

Just when you think you couldn’t hate Chuck any more than you already did…

Last night’s episode “Sunk Costs” picks up right where we left off last time, for both the main plot and sub plot. Jimmy waits patiently for the police to arrive after his bull-headed breaking and entering. Mike finally encounters Gustavo Fring, who informs him (in his patented “Gus” way) that while he is free to screw with Hector Salamanca’s business to his heart’s content, the man’s life is not an option. Yet.

As usual, we have another stellar episode from the writers, cast, and crew of Better Call Saul. I particularly like the cinematography; how the camera always shows you something seemingly innocuous, or focuses on what appears to be the least important thing in the shot, but not only does this get elaborated further into the episode, it also gives you subtle, even symbolic hints about the characters present. Even the short title sequences at the start of every episode do this to a certain extent; not with characters, but with the tone. Pretty much every one tells me that the traditional “American” ideal of justice will be ignored or bastardized in some way, and good old fashioned vigilante justice will prevail, even in the darkest shadows.

Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, I would just like to elaborate what I said at the start, as well as in my character study: Chuck continues to reach new lows as a character. It astounds me that someone who seems like an unambiguous “good guy” can become not just unlikable, but downright loathsome. Especially in comparison to a glorified con artist.

His frustrating, pretentious assertions of moral superiority and perhaps somewhat unconscious decision to do everything that he can to punish and hinder Jimmy is exacerbated by the fact that he maintains a façade of innocence and concern for everyone else around them, and he uses that to his advantage. In the last season, Chuck even used it against Jimmy himself, causing his younger brother to worry enough for his sanity that he blurted out a confession to a felony in order to reassure him. A confession which Chuck was counting on, and thus secretly taped.

 

I’m not condoning or forgiving Jimmy’s actions; in fact, during last week’s episode, I was shaking my head at the T.V., beginning him not to do yet another stupid thing (in this case, playing right into Chuck’s hands). But Jimmy’s fall is inevitable; we already know the end result, so all we can do now is look at what precisely pushes him over the edge.

While personal choice should not be ignored or downplayed, Chuck is helping to create the ideal environment, and the irritating thing is that he acts like he’s so much better than Jimmy, when really, they are two sides of the same coin. Flashbacks have shown us pretty clearly that Chuck is jealousy and resentful of Jimmy, and his insistence that Jimmy should do everything his way now seems less about “doing the right thing” and more about the fact that Chuck believes he deserves success and security more than his younger brother. For all of his posturing, the older McGill brother is, at the end of the day, a proud man, and while he is no Walter White, that quality of Chuck’s certainly makes him arrogant and entitled, feeding his insecurities rather than putting them to rest.

 

In “Sunk Costs”, I see even more of Chuck’s insidious, calculating side being revealed, and it’s the subtlety of it that makes it even worse. He is doing whatever he can to isolate Jimmy and take his desires away from him, all under the guise of wisdom and help. Any genuine care he had for Jimmy’s “best interests”  is long dead; it’s about revenge, plain and simple, and though Jimmy is upset, he’s not oversimplifying anymore. He knows exactly what he’s looking at, and his response is the epitome of, “You’re dead to me.”

Granted, Jimmy should be punished for his illegal actions, but he wasn’t doing them just to be petty or superior, and to be so thoroughly used, betrayed, and antagonized by his own brother, his only remaining family – whom he has taken great pains to care for in Chuck’s time of need, I might add – is too harsh. It’s unjust, and I can pretty much guarantee that Chuck is going to be the main reason Jimmy officially breaks bad. Kim may have something to do with it, but if so, I have a feeling she will just be the final nail in the coffin. Officially sealing the deal, but not the killing blow or funeral prep by any means.

But we’ll just have to wait and see.

Breath of the Wild: The Balance of Gameplay and Storytelling

Also known as “A Few Post-Game Thoughts.” As such…

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Breath of the Wild.

 

After finishing the main quests, does anyone else feel like starting a new file and playing through all of this again?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is truly a unique experience in the series. I’d hesitate to call it my favorite entry, if only because I enjoy each of the 3D titles for various reasons, but it is certainly memorable, compelling, and most importantly, tons of fun.

A bridge between 2D and 3D Zelda is long overdue, and while the story suffers a little bit in conjunction with the open world exploration, realistically, it was to be expected, and it is not nearly as noticeable as I feared. While I, as a writer and consumer, am personally very story-driven, I understand when the plot must take a back seat in favor of engaging, immersive gameplay, and Breath of the Wild delivers on that front in all but a few of the puzzles utilizing motion control. And even then, the developers were smart enough to often allow for multiple avenues to complete said puzzles.

 

For example, in the Myahm Agana Shrine, the following puzzle shown above can be solved fairly easily by simply flipping the area upside-down and then catapulting the ball across with an even flick of the wrist.

 

This is easier said than done, however, and I will grant you that the motion controls can be downright infuriating at times. That said, I would argue that it is very difficult to create a challenge that does not have the capacity to become frustrating at some point. In my case, most of the time, I felt so satisfied when I finally completed the tricky shrines, and even more so if I managed to succeed in my first few attempts.

But back to the story. In this game, we have sacrificed any character Ganon (or in this case, Calamity Ganon) could have potentially had. Unlike in Wind Waker where, despite his crazed demeanor, Ganondorf did express concern for his people (as well as contempt and jealousy for the easy life that Hylians lived, thanks to the Goddesses), in Breath of the Wild, he has (off-screen) supposedly renounced his rebirths in insurmountable rage and hatred, in order to take revenge and destroy the land of Hyrule completely. This is still interesting, but a lot less personal, and it also demonstrates that this game would not be a good entry into the Zelda series for newcomers.

It’s simpler, in essence, but at the same time still quite nuanced and well woven.

Over the millennia, the various Link and Zelda’s deeds have become great legends, but to ensure that Ganon will always be defeated, the ancient Sheikah tribe built great technology – the shrines, towers, Gaurdians, and Divine Beasts, most prominently – to protect the land and stand against him, supporting the chosen heroes. In the last 10,000 years, Calamity Ganon was once again defeated, but the technology was left to break down or be buried, as the people grew more confident in their prosperity.

Much later, but 100 years prior to the start of the game, Princess Zelda threw herself into researching and recovering all of these technologies. She depended on them far more than any incarnation before her, because she greatly doubted her powers and her inner strength, considering herself a failure when she could not instantly understand and utilize them, as her mother and grandmother before her.

 

While Tetra will always be the “best” Zelda in my opinion, Breath of the Wild makes up for this version’s occasional lack of  “personality” (flat English dialogue delivery and reserved expressions) with much more dialogue, screen time, and backstory, developing her much closer to a fully-realized character. She grows on you after a while, assuming that you do go after Link’s lost memories.

If I had one genuine complaint about Zelda in this game, it would have been nice if she was a competent swordswoman, as was implied in Twilight Princess. I know that Link is ultimately the hero, but to see her stubbornly go off on her own and then fail to put up any kind of a fight when she is attacked is somewhat understandable, but still irritating.

 

At least try to defend yourself, woman! Don’t just pull a Frodo Baggins and fall to the ground like a helpless waif!

But it’s okay. She redeems herself in my book when she tries to force you to eat a frog on the spot, just to see what would happen. I’m not joking either. Look at this!

 

“Here, Link! Eat this frog I found! Be my test subject right here and now, because I’m a nerdy mad scientist with no understanding of what’s wrong with this scenario at all! Tee hee!”

I mean it. Zelda really grows on you after a while. She’s downright adorable, even when I (or Link, for that matter) should probably be mad at her.

Link is implied to have character…through journal entries. Also, I suppose, because why would any of the characters carry on talking to themselves so much if Link never responded at all outside of nods and head shakes? He’s apparently just solemn and soft-spoken, focused on becoming a knight like his father before him, and so Zelda constantly compares the two of them throughout the flashbacks, noting how Link never seems to question his destiny or waver in the face of very real danger.

It’s almost funny how Nintendo has lampshaded Link’s muteness without really affecting the seriousness of any given situation.

 

Calamity Ganon returns just as Zelda’s feelings of guilt and self-loathing peak to typical teenage levels, and only once half the kingdom has been murdered and Link is about to face a similar end does she find the strength to summon her powers.

…I’m not sure if this game is aware of all of the implications of Zelda’s angst and dependency on Sheikah technology for victory, but it’s certainly an interesting angle to take. It doesn’t paint her in the best light, but it’s interesting.

Incidentally, at one point, Zelda’s father mentions that there are gossip mongers who are putting her and the royal family down, saying she is “heir to a throne of nothing. Nothing but failure.” But what I don’t understand is this: with the amount of time spent reminding us (and Zelda herself) that she is a reincarnation of a very powerful goddess,  you would think people would think it unwise to mock her so openly.

…Who knows? Maybe, as with the ancient technology, most of them have forgotten that little fact, even if the royal family hasn’t.

 

I’m loving her new dress, though.

Despite the princess’s efforts, Link is mortally wounded and must be laid to rest in the Shrine of Resurrection until he has recovered enough to fight another day, and Zelda, with fresh confidence and newfound power, returns to Hyrule Castle and actively fighting Calamity Ganon for the next 100 years…huh. So maybe Nintendo was paying attention after all. Nice, because this helps us to keep sympathizing while still giving her a punishment of sorts for her arrogance, as well as the contempt borne of her frustrations with not being unable to unlock her power sooner.

Remember, kids: don’t mess with the plans of the Gods. It doesn’t bode well for you.

The champions of each of Hyrule’s respective races also have memories that you can find in the course of your journey. My biggest issue is with Mipha, the Zora champion, because in addition to her robotic voice acting, her backstory with Link and subsequently developed affections for him are hilariously rushed and unconvincing. I had an easier time believing it when Ruto grew feelings for Link back in Ocarina of Time. The player took an active part in her rescue, however begrudgingly, and despite herself, she appreciated that effort and commitment.

 

Yes, she’s a textbook Tsundere. Say what you want about her; Ruto had the most defined personality of any of the female characters in that entire game. That’s probably why so many people dislike her, because she dared to be more than just a blankly smiling pretty face for dudes to interact with and save.

But I digress. Again.

As I said in the beginning, the story is still fairly compelling, despite not being the major “drive” of the game. It’s rare for the 3D Zelda games, but no so much for their 2D counterparts, which had minimal story but tons of exploration. It’s a blend of the two approaches, so it obviously won’t be completely without its hiccups, but for a first conscious effort, I think Nintendo mostly succeeded.

I’m still enjoying the game a lot, and the main story has officially run its course. Now, my sole purpose in life is Korok seeds, taking obnoxious amounts of screenshots, and watching Link cook various, bouncy food.

 

Best time sink ever.

8.5/10

*The images used in this post are all owned by Nintendo. 

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?

Top 20 Favorite Legend of Zelda Themes of All Time

 

The Legend of Zelda is, without a doubt, my favorite gaming franchise ever. There are probably plenty of other titles that are smarter, deeper, or just as fun and engaging, but Zelda will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first serious introduction to video games.

So today, with yet another list singing its praises, I’m offering my top 20 favorite songs that ever came out of the series.

Note: Please forgive me if some of the audio clips are shoddy. Uploading to YouTube drastically reduces the quality.

 

20) “Guardians Awaken”, Skyward Sword

 

This track is great because it does exactly what it’s meant to, and it’s damn effective at it. “Guardians Awaken” juxtaposes with the more tranquil, almost soothing Silent Realm themes; adding to the suspense and anxiety as you race to gather all of the Sacred Tears before the Guardians awaken. When they do -especially if it was triggered by accidentally stepping in Waking Water or being spotted by a Watcher – a single strike from their swords is enough to send you all the way back to the beginning of the trial, no matter how close you may be to the end.

 

 

“Silent Realm Guardians” is loud, clashing, and metallic, banging in your ears and spurring you into panic, as you are hunted down by silent, unforgiving giants. Once you’ve heard this track, you don’t ever forget it, and once each Silent Realm trial is completed, you feel all the more accomplished for having successfully staved it off.

 

19) “Hyrule Field”, Ocarina of Time

 

Who doesn’t love this theme? It’s just so iconic!

I also love the (for the time) fairly subtle shift from major to minor when you are confronted by an enemy.

 

18) “Hytopia”, Triforce Heroes

 

The music of Triforce Heroes generally has a certain…je ne sais quoi about it. I particularly like the accordion parts in this theme for the main hub area. It’s classy, but fun at the same time.

 

17) “Tarm Ruins”, Oracle of Seasons

 

This track hasn’t aged the best, I must admit, but I still enjoy it. Especially in various remixed forms.

If I close my eyes (and hear past the chiptune element of it), it feels like I’m exploring an ancient forest, littered with walls, archways, and crumbling buildings from some lost civilization. That’s pretty much exactly what you are doing in-game anyway, so it fits. There’s really not much more I can say about it than that.

 

16) “Skyloft”, Skyward Sword

 

Hajime Wakai has written some truly breathtaking music for Skyward Sword, and it is further accentuated by the choice to use an actual orchestra in composing the game’s soundtrack.

The theme for the floating city of Skyloft is, as you might expect, light and airy. To me, it represents the peaceful, joyful existence of living in a sort of ivory tower; almost a Garden of Eden, of sorts, where people and animals work together in harmony. The world on the ground far below is not even a distant memory anymore, and only a few people in Skyloft still wonder about it in any way.

 

You hear the song throughout the game, but it also comprises a fair amount of your introduction to the world. Possible symbolism aside, it’s just very nice to listen to, and much like the “Hyrule Field” theme from Ocarina, it draws you in and provides an upbeat start to your adventure.

 

15) “Bazaar” and its variations, Skyward Sword

 

Same game, different tune.

The Skyloft bazaar is where you shop for weapons, supplies, and potions before heading down to Hyrule proper. It contains about 5 vendors (if you count the potion shop wife and husband as 1), and each has a unique variation of the bazaar theme that begins to play when you approach his or her area. I recommend listening to all of the shop tracks, even if you can’t play the actual game for whatever reason. Each iteration uses different instruments and sets itself to a different pace, conveying both the general bustle of the marketplace and the energy/personality of the vendor.

 

14) Original “Fire Temple” Theme, Ocarina of Time

 

I realize that this version was replaced due to its insensitive use of a core Muslim prayer, and I don’t mean to support appropriation or exploitation. However, I don’t believe that it was meant to be malicious or purposely disrespectful, and before people jump to condemn someone for ignorance, I think that the original intent of the action should count for something.

That said, I don’t know what Koji Kondo was actually trying to do at the time. Personally, as a kid, I thought that the original track was cool and interesting. Of all of the temples in Ocarina, the Fire Temple felt the most like somewhere people might actually go to offer prayers to the gods, and the theme was a major part of that interpretation. A sudden echoing, rhythmic chanting fades in and out throughout the track, making it seem like an ancient, spiritual place; one which has now been corrupted slightly by Ganondorf’s evil influence.

 

If this genuinely offended people, then I am glad that it was cut. Everyone deserves to enjoy this game without feeling like it’s insulting their religion. This was just my 2 cents, as a once ignorant white kid who later went on to love studying world religions in college. It confused me when I picked up a more recent copy of the game several years ago and the chanting was just gone, with no real explanation.

 

13) “Fire Sanctuary”, Skyward Sword

 

Here is a cool fire theme that is pretty cool and doesn’t offend anyone, as far as I know. The “Earth Temple” theme is decent too, but it didn’t get stuck in my ears like this one did.

 

12) “Inside the Great Deku Tree”, Ocarina of Time

 

The “Forest Temple” theme is probably better. It’s definitely creepier, to say the least, but “Inside the Great Deku Tree” is soothing and spacey. It really does feel like being inside something truly empty and gigantic, and I love using this as writing music when I’m trying to clear my mind and focus on something new.

 

 

11) “Stone Tower Temple”, Majora’s Mask

 

Foreboding, but not as in-your-face unsettling as the “Ikana Canyon” and “Ikana Graveyard” themes. To me, it feels like a hopeless, endless climb upward, and that’s not too far from my actual feelings whenever I try to make it up to the Stone Tower Temple. You just keep messing with switches and playing that godforsaken “Elegy of Emptiness” song, over and over and over…

 

It’s a fairly fitting prelude to a fantastically challenging Zelda dungeon, though. I used to try to play the base tune on my elementary school recorder.

 

10) “Farore’s Silent Realm”, Skyward Sword

 

I can’t remember what the exact instrument is during this track, but the closest I can describe is “if a tinkle and a clang had a baby, this is what it would sound like.” A glass cowbell, maybe? What kind of bells would forest spirits use, anyway?

I can already picture my audio engineer/high school band boyfriend ashamedly shaking his head at me for that one…

 

But this is my favorite of all of the Silent Realm songs. It is a simplistic, staccato rendition of the “Faron Woods” heme; calming, but also distinctly lonely and otherwordly. I like it a lot.

And, by instinctual association, its accompanying Silent Realm is the easiest and least stressful of all of the trials.

 

9) “The Great Sea”, Wind Waker

 

ADVENTURES ON THE HIGH SEAS! WOO-HOO!

 

Need I say more?

 

8) “Deku Palace”, Majora’s Mask

 

This theme feels like it’d be fun to dance to, and lucky for Link, his Deku form has a spin attack that is adorably twirly.

 

7) “Fi’s Theme”, Skyward Sword

 

Skyward Sword seems like it’s taking up most of the list, doesn’t it?

 

Fi is easily the most annoying companion character in the 3-D games, possibly even the entire series. She is essentially a robot who states the painfully obvious, telling you that you’re low on hearts or the likelihood of a bokoblin shocking you with an electric cattle prod right as he is swinging it at your face.

That said, her theme music is beautiful. I cried at the end of the story, which I won’t go into for the sake of spoilers. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who often has trouble completing games in a year (sometimes a few) or less.

 

Suffice it to say, “God damn it, but Fi made me feel!”

 

6) “Hyrule Castle”, Breath of the Wild

 

Here’s a new one.

Outside of the iconic Zelda retreads, the music in Breath of the Wild is nice if basic and repetitive at times. But this version of the conquered Hyrule Castle theme is a nice compromise of old and new, managing to be feel hopeless as well as looming and sinister.  It even harkens back to Ganondorf’s organ-playing as you ascend the castle steps in Ocarina, but it doesn’t get louder as you approach the sanctum.

 

5) “Lake Hylia”, Twilight Princess

 

Such a beautiful instrumental. Lake Hylia is a big open space where you could just imagine sitting down and watching the clouds and the tide go by.

Incidentally, proportionally-speaking, Lake Hylia in Ocarina of Time should be a similar massive size as it is in Twilight Princess. Even though it looks much smaller (and is, compared to that later game), it does takes Link a while to swim across it; the rising and setting of the sun is what offers the illusion of largeness.

 

…Sorry. That’s just an annoying nitpick I hear from some fans. Either a day in Hyrule goes by really quickly, or the game makers did what they could with size and system limitations of the time, folks. The Nintendo 64 was still damn impressive.

 

4) “Kakariko Village”, Twilight Princess

 

This version of Kakariko’s theme has more character than it did in Ocarina of Time, and that is due to the addition of what I assume is an eagle-bone flute. Or something in that family, at least.

 

 

Renado, the village leader, and his daughter Luda have a distinctly Native American character design, and Kakariko resembles a town in the old west, complete with sparse vegetation and a faded earthy color scheme. The theme ties it all together, keeping a few recognizable chords intact but changing enough to fit the new set up. It’s very pretty, and definitely worthy of being one of my favorite songs in the series.

 

3) “Gerudo Valley”. Ocarina of Time

 

Did anyone else go out and learn about Mariachi music entirely because of this one song?

 

2) “Dragon Roost Island”, Wind Waker

 

What’s not to love about this one? It’s practically bursting with energy and fun!

The “Dragon Roost Island” theme is definitely a spiritual sibling of the “Gerudo Valley” theme. It is probably the closest another Zelda track has come to it, and I would even go so far as to argue that it surpasses “Gerudo Valley,” if only in sheer awesomeness.

I apologize if that was sacrilegious.

If Mexican music being applied to desert amazon women didn’t quite fit perfectly for you, this theme seems completely appropriate for the Rito, a seaside race of bird people who worship a giant dragon that sits atop their mountain. I’m not sure I can explain exactly why, but it just works.

 

Don’t ask me why they all wear powdered wigs, though. I have no idea.

 

1) “Zora’s Domain” and ” The Serenade of Water”, every incarnation

 

 

Sorry to mush together two songs for the top spot, but they are both gorgeous, and they essentially go hand in hand, as common themes for the aquatic Zora people. If you don’t know what they are, how did you even get here? imagine a  reversed-mermaid.

Or don’t, and just look below.

 

In the case of the latter song, I particularly love “Queen Rutela’s Theme” from Twilight Princess. It’s hauntingly beautiful, yet oddly comforting, much like the ghost herself.

 

The general “Zora’s Domain” song is what I most want to hear when I’m baking, writing, lounging, or swimming, for some reason. It just makes me happy to listen to it, and it definitely makes me think of water. It may not be as epic as something like “Dragon Roost” or “Gerudo Valley,” but it doesn’t have to be. It soothes the soul and cheers the heart.

 

*The images and sound clips used in this post do not belong to me. Please let me know if you notice any of the audio being missing or not working properly, and I’ll find another link.

What are your favorite Legend of Zelda tracks? And why?

 

A Few Thoughts on Fans and Fandoms

It’s a damn shame and a sad fact of life: sometimes a fandom is enough to ruin your enjoyment of the thing itself.

You would think that meeting fellow fans of something is a great way to make friends with like-minded people, but just as often, if not more so, it just angers or disheartens you. It’s not just about alternate interpretations and theories; with a series like Steven Universe, for example, it’s the idea that people would take a show with a message of love, kindness, and acceptance and use it as a justification to bully someone that they don’t agree with. However wrong you think that person might be, it does not excuse you and your despicable actions.

 

 

Another issue, though generally less reprehensible, is when you feel that avowing your fan identity lumps you in with the less savory parts of the community. For example, while there are many “bronies” who are reasonable, well-adjusted grown men or women who just happen to genuinely, un-ironically like a cartoon made for children, the world at large will always focus on the numerous fans who post creepy fetish stories and pictures for My Little Pony. The fans who, while maybe not actual pedophiles, still clutter up yours and your children’s Google searches with unwanted content that can’t be unseen, if you ever accidentally left the NSFW filters off.

 

The less you have to see those sides of the fan community, the better.

Or how about the jerks who suddenly swarm out of the woodwork to complain every time a character doesn’t fit with their worldview?

 

 

Personally, I also dislike people who insist that what they love is perfect, because in my opinion, a true fan of something can enjoy it without blindly worshiping the ground upon which it and its creators tread. I love The Lord of the Rings (both the book and movie iterations), but I’m not afraid to look at them critically and admit where aspects could be improved. I’m definitely not afraid to criticize Peter Jackson for his choices in making The Hobbit movies, even though they are parts of an established world and mythos that I love.

I realize this argument smacks of No True Scotsman, but that is just how I look at things. As always, you are welcome to disagree with me, but have you ever heard the phrase “media digestion”? To me, there are those who wolf down food and those who actually eat it. It’s the difference between gorging on autopilot, caring more about the good taste than if it might be bad for you, and taking the time to chew, swallow, and actually enjoy the food, and maybe making a few notes to better the recipes for the next time around.

My personal fan pet peeves are weeaboos, a.k.a. hard core anime fans who behave like cutesy cartoon characters come to life, and who usually assert that they “speak Japanese” when they only know 5 words tops (and all of which they learned from watching T.V.). But they are by no means the worst kind of fans ever. They tend to be bullied more than they bully others, at least.

 

But generally speaking, it’s irritating that the ‘extreme examples” of anything (fans, politicians, etc.) become the immediate, quintessential image of that entire group in the public consciousness.

 

I’ve said before that some escapism can and should be mindless, and sometimes all it needs to do is make you feel a cathartic emotion. Movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, or video games like Mario Kart and Mario Party, don’t have a lot of application outside of their original, intended purposes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have value. But I also believe that skepticism and criticism are important to have, whether you are a kid, an adult, or somewhere in between, and sometimes the flaws of something can just make you love it all the more. Just look at cult classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show; it makes no sense and amounts to basically nothing by the end, but its unorthodox storytelling and utter shamelessness, among other things, making it an enjoyable watch, especially at special group showings.

In a similar vein, I get tired of being told that I expect too much out of my media diet. That may be true from time to time, but what is so wrong with asking for better quality stuff? I’m not just bickering for the sake of being contrary.

It seems to be coming from the same people who always argue that kids are stupid, and therefore it’s okay when the things we make for them are stupid too. Or those who complain when a movie or T.V. show is too “high brow” or “artsy” to be good .Most of these folks clearly mean well, but the bones of that message seem awfully familiar somehow…

 

Hmmm…I’ll figure it out one of these days…

Anyway, when fans and content makers can embrace the flaws of their favorite works and take them in stride, and argue their points respectfully with other people in the community, that makes a fandom great. More importantly, it doesn’t drive new and casual fans away by getting all up in their face right off the bat, then refusing to leave them alone. Sometimes, that actually just inspires an equal and opposite reaction.

Why does it seem like moderation is the key to everything?

If you do have a serious axe to grind, however, try not to be a belligerent ass about it, and always make sure you sincerely follow this advice. I try to.

 

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

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Movies, media, and what make them MASSIVE.