Tag Archives: Disney

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

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

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

But this…this movie gives me some serious reservations.

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

*cough cough*
*cough cough*

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Rogue One: Self-Contained, But Solid

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Plot Spoilers Below. You have been warned. 

So hey, did anyone watch Star Wars IV: A New Hope and wonder how the Rebellion got their hands of the Death Star schematics in the first place?…Yeah, me neither. And anyone who knows me even a little bit will know that is saying something.

That said, I found Rogue One to be a welcome semi-deviation from the main storyline. I think I liked it even more than The Force Awakens. 

Jyn Erso is the daughter of an Imperial scientist-turned-farmer Galen Erso, and she goes into hiding when the Empire finds and forcibly re-employs her father to work on their latest weapon, the Death Star. Thirteen years later, Jyn is picked up by members of the Rebellion, who enlist her to help negotiate with Galen’s old friend Saw Gerrera, who is holding an Imperial pilot defector with crucial information about the nearly completed battle station. From the pilot’s message, they learn that Jyn’s father quietly incorporated a fatal flaw into the design that can potentially completely destroy the Death Star.

From there, it’s some planet-hopping and a suicide mission to retrieve the plans and transmit them into the hands of Princess Leia, effectively preluding the fourth movie down to mere minutes.

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I like that this movie is not a rehash, which was one of the main criticisms of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. It definitely feels like its own story, but unlike many spinoffs across many different genres, it’s not a much smaller story with small to laughable dramatic stakes. Look at something like The Hobbit series in comparison; Peter Jackson chose to tie those events in with The Lord of the Rings as much as possible, trying to make the conflict seem more epic, grand, and world-changing. But because the original work was meant to be a children’s bedtime story, much sillier and effecting far fewer races in the established world, any attempts to add Lord of the Rings-level weight came across as hollow, clumsy, and shoehorned, and it clashed with the movies’ lighter, downright childish tones.

Rogue One is a lot more balanced. It knows what it’s about and who its main audience is, but it hands out a few jokes that other viewers can laugh at just as easily. It is self-contained, but its impact (rather than the characters) can be felt more strongly now in the movies that it bridges.

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The characters are all pretty likable, although, similarly to my issue with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I couldn’t remember almost half of the main group’s names and barely heard them when they were first introduced. In my mind, I dubbed them things like “Blind Kung-Fu Jedi” and “Machete in Space”, and because they are one-shot characters who die at the end and only really impact this story in any significant way, I didn’t feel as bad as I usually would.

My only real issue is that no one gets very well fleshed-out, character-wise. Jyn’s motivations are pretty clear for the most part, but even Cassian Andor, her new rebel friend, quips at one point that she basically went from not caring much about the Empire to “This isn’t right! We have to stop them!” pretty much at the drop of a hat. She does mention that her father’s message and the destruction of Jedha put her in shock, however, so she could have been shocked into caring more and I just didn’t think of that at the time.

Everyone else has their past or character lightly touched upon, but it’s all really shallow, and if you blink or run to the bathroom mid-movie, you might miss it. Unless it’s Chirrut Îmwe (Blind Kung-Fu Jedi)’s piety, because he has to mention his belief in the Force at least twice in any scene he’s in.

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But hey, it’s a mini-episode with only so much time to work with, so I’ll give it a pass there.

I like the exploration of moral grey-area in a series that has often viewed power and morality in “light or dark” terms. While the Star Wars main series does frequently acknowledge that one side cannot exist without the other, the Dark Side is portrayed, at best, as misguided, and at worst, as pretty much evil.

Andor, neither a Jedi nor a Sith, talks about doing many bad things in the name of a good cause, and that the Rebellion giving up now will mean that he did all of that for nothing. We also see him struggle with himself when he is ordered to kill Jyn’s father, who may have actually done the Rebellion a huge service. Both Gelan and Jyn rationalize why Gelan didn’t fight back and allow himself to be killed, rather than contribute to a weapon of such destructive potential.

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You could still argue with him, but he makes an interesting point that is definitely worth discussing. It reminds me a little of the dilemma when Alan Turing and his team have to keep their breakthrough with the Enigma a secret in The Imitation Game. Do you save the lives of those most immediately in danger (in Rogue One‘s case by refusing to work and risking someone else being just as capable in your place), or do you allow for strategic sacrifices that could win you the war?

The effects in the movie are very good, particularly the digital face-superimposing on Ingvild Delia (Leia stand-in) and Guy Henry (Tarkin stand-in).

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The latter does an excellent job of imitating Peter Cushing’s original character (in all but facial expressions), while the former’s job is basically to stand still and then turn around, while an archived audio clip of Carrie Fisher plays one line synced to digitized lips. I feel a bit bad for Ms. Delia as an actress, but she and the production crew served this movie well, and the effect was unexpected, but pleasantly surprising.

Yeah, sorry guys, but we still have yet to master time travel. Maybe some day…

One a side note, when I saw Vader’s Fortress of Evil150px-u2122-svg, my first thought was, “Is that Mustafar?” Personally, I wouldn’t set up shop in a place with such traumatic memories attached to it.  My second thought, which I leaned over and whispered to my boyfriend in the theatre, was, “Meanwhile, back in Space Mordor…”

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Speaking of which, Vader is just kind of there occasionally. He gets a cool scene where he force-chokes the Death Star’s chief architect, and another where he disarms and slaughters a bunch of rebels, but while his presence isn’t distracting per say, it definitely feels like a fan-service first, plot service second type deal.

It’s nowhere near as useless and insulting something like this is:

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Wow. I keep bringing up Peter Jackson in this Star Wars review…but then again, he followed in the footsteps of George Lucas, whose best-known, best-loved property seems to be getting better without his grimy mitts on the reins. It’s funny in a bizarre sort of way.

The score is decent, although some chords are so similar to themes in past movies in the series that I found myself slightly distracted at times, hearing the notes that should have followed in my head. The ending is a bummer, but as I have said, the characters aren’t exceptionally deep, and the film does have a note of optimism amidst all of the death and explosions. I would have liked to have seen this before the original trilogy to feel its full suspense and drama, but that would be impossible unless I was born just recently…and didn’t have parents who might insist on watching the first-released installments first.

Even knowing what comes next, it still feels like Rogue One earned its right to exist. For any fan of Star Wars, casual or rabid, I would definitely recommend it. Some notable easter eggs are catalogued here.

 

7/10

*None of the images used in this article belong to me. They mostly belong to Disney and Lucasfilm. 

Moana: How Far You Should Go to See It

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

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

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

Boom!
Boom!

 

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

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

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

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

As usual, spoilers below. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

8.5/10

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

Zootopia: Great Promise, Lacking Execution

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Be warned: some spoilers below.

Zootopia is the story of a small-town bunny named Judy Hopps, who always dreamt of becoming a police officer. Like many animals, she idolized what the city of Zootopia stands for (inclusion and equality), but comes to find that even there, she is still underestimated for her species, size, and lack of ferocity.  Judy gets her chance at a missing animal case and teams up with a well-meaning but jaded fox named Nick Wilde, learning more about the Zootopian underground and uncovering a strange phenomenon of predator animals inexplicably reverting to a savage state.

I went into this movie knowing absolutely nothing about the plot (other than a few trailer snippets early on in advertising), and I can certainly see why so many are praising it. Judy and Nick are both well-acted, compelling characters, and while a lot of the plot can be obvious at times, the mystery is perpetuated in a way that is both engaging and natural.

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The animation is gorgeous and full of color; the scene where Judy rides into Zootopia on a train, taking in several of the diverse ecological districts, was pure magic. Apparently, the last time Disney intricately animated fur was Bolt, back in 2008, and this is their second time making major use of the Hyperion renderer. The look and movement of the fur when compared to reality was pretty seamless, in my opinion; not that I was focusing too much on that specifically. What I care most about, as always, is a good story, and it is in fact pretty good here.

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The music works well, although I did find the use of Shakira to be a bit of a head scratcher. On the one hand, her voice and style go well with the animal settings (see Waka Waka, aka This Time for Africa for reference), but on the other hand, she is not super relevant in main stream culture right now. Every time she made an onscreen appearance, in person or otherwise, I found myself getting distracted by trying to figure out who her character Gazelle’s human equivalent would be.

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She’s a generic pop star, but at the same time, she’s not timeless.

The message is pretty good too, not only discussing race and prejudice in a way that would make sense to children, but also illustrating that at some point, the tables can turn just as easily. When news gets out about the predators going savage, we get a montage of terrified and protesting prey animals. While chaos tears the city apart, the villain and the visuals make it plain that the prey, who are more numerous (presumably because predators are no long weeding down their populations) could rise up and become the most powerful group, perhaps eventually doing to predators what predators had previously done to them. And, as we all know, two wrongs do not make a right.

Three rights do make a left, however.

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Judy is a good character. While she is a frequent victim of stereotyping, she has her own biases, which she usually keeps under control (by thinking before she speaks/acts). She had a fox bully growing up, and Nick the fox (not her bully), who came from a poor family, was bullied out of his Boy Scouts equivalent and treated like a criminal by animals ever since. I do find it a little odd that foxes in particular are signaled out for hatred by most of the animal community though. If predator and prey came together to form an alliance at some point, was there a fox prejudice already existing on the predator side that just carried over in the transition?

But of course, no metaphor is perfect, and I’m probably thinking about it too hard. The point is that we all face unrealistic or skewed expectations at some point, and if we have nothing else in common to unite us, it should be that. We should stand up for the people…animals, whatever, who have things the worst and be compassionate for one another.

I really like Nick too. It’s probably no coincidence that the animators made him look like Robin Hood.

I do have a question about something potentially more problematic: the sloth scene at the DMV. What does it do to serve the story and the message?

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I know why the scene is there; I saw the trailers. It’s supposed to be a funny, clever commentary, although I think that is somewhat off because DMV workers are stereotyped as unpleasant people as well, not just slow. At least, as far as I know.

But let me point out a few things. First of all, a good rule of comedy is that you should never annoy your audience as much as you do your characters. By the end of that scene, which I’m pretty sure clocks out at 5-7 minutes of screen time, worst case scenario: you are more annoyed than Judy is.

Second, the DMV scene pretty much obliterates any built-up tension that the film had going for it, all for a joke that goes on way too long. And does it pay off in any way, other than a throw-away joke to close out the movie? No. Other than Judy and Nick getting what they need and reestablishing the fact that he’s screwing with her for fun, no. The scene would have been funnier a) if they didn’t put it in every trailer playing at every commercial break on every channel, and b) if it was shorter.

Third of all, and probably the most important from a parent’s perspective, if the message of the movie is that racism is bad and it can work both ways and we all have to make a conscious effort to fight it, isn’t it detrimental to have so much stereotype-based humor throughout the movie?

I mean, I guess most characters that we are supposed to laugh at get a scene of reprieve at some point (Mr. Big being a small animal, Flash speeding through traffic, etc etc), but personally, I think that muddies a perfectly good message more than a little bit. I laughed at the wolves howling scene, but Nick points that out as a stereotype that he doesn’t understand beforehand, and then it’s never debunked or even brought up again. Apparently once one wolf starts, others can’t help but join in.

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What does that teach kids? “Stereotyping is wrong and hurts people, but it sure is funny, right?” I guess it’s okay if you just never mention it to the wolf but continue to hold that belief and laugh at it behind his back. And what does that mean for Judy’s ill-thought-out “it’s in predators’ genes” explanation? If that’s somewhat true, is it just dismissed because it’s not considered politically correct anymore?

Kids might not pay that close attention, but for a good period of time in mental development, they have a black-and-white mentality (pardon the pun). It’s hard to teach them about shades of grey because those don’t come out in concise, bumper sticker slogans. You can, for example, tell them that killing someone is wrong, but you probably can’t explain to them that “oh, but it’s somewhat okay, say, if someone broke into your home and threatened you and/or your family and there was no other way to disarm them and the police weren’t there,” or more simply, “kill only if you feel your own life is threatened.” They just won’t comprehend certain intricacies and distinctions like that.

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So yeah, those jokes in particular weren’t very good. Really, the humor overall seemed to be out-of-place. It was fairly obvious like aspects of the plot itself, but hey, it was definitely more aimed at kids themselves than their families. The jokes that were meant for adults would have been funny if they didn’t, again, go on for too long or were “bash-you-over-the-head” obvious. The line-for-line Godfather reference was painful, and I’ve never even seen that movie.

I did chuckle at the chemist rams being named Walt and Jessie, but wow, tone whiplash with that one. Disney, why do you want me thinking about Breaking Bad during this movie?

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You might argue that there are plenty of dark moments – the Godfather scene included – in Zootopia, but nothing quite as dark as a montage of prisoners getting shanked and gruesomely murdered. I’m not sure even your Hunchback of Notre Dame movie got anywhere close to that dark, and you know what? I think I’m good with that.

Zootopia doesn’t quite hit the eye-rolling level that most kid films do, where there is so much modern-day technology and pop-culture pandering, but it certainly edges the mark a couple of times.

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Overall, I like the movie, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I think kids would have liked it without any jokes, and the story would have been that much stronger for it. I have to say that a lot of good potential is wasted by skewing the intended audience so young, and my theatre buddy even said that the story could have been even stronger and more relevant set in present day, with real people.

But you get what you get, and what I got was decent.

 

6.5/10

*All pictures and gifs, excluding one, belong to Disney.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland: Madly Overrated

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“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1865

 

Adaptation is always a tricky business. In theory, a good adaptation captures the spirit and intent of the original source material, but a good adaptation and a good story are not one and the same. It is possible that one person may expand on another’s idea and come up with something better, but fundamentally different, and it’s easy for someone like me to pick and choose which “unfaithful adaptations” to get self-righteously angry at and which ones to let slide.

I admit that. What I don’t like admitting is that sometimes, it really just comes down to “I didn’t like it.” I like to give a better rationale when possible, but sometimes that’s all you’ve got.

But thankfully, I’m not asking you to agree with me. I’d like to think I have a point here or there, but these are just my frustrations and my conclusions.

I am a pretty firm believer that, generally speaking, consequences are more important than intent. A man might walk an old lady across the street out of the goodness of his heart, but if she gets hit by a car or has an accident in the process, what happened (say, he tried to push her out of harm’s way and cracked her head on the pavement instead) will matter more in court than how it happened. The near same can be said for artists and creators; their intent definitely matters, but if the entire world draws a different message from their work than they intended, that is going to be the more long-lasting influence. It’s even more muddled when no one can agree on the author’s original intent; many creators like to make things interpretable and thought-provoking, at the risk of being labeled “too high brow.”

As a creator and media appreciator myself, I accept that what is given isn’t always what’s received or appreciated, but I do find it more than a little frustrating and disheartening at times.

The 1951 adaptation Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite Disney movies; top 5 easily. It is by no means a point-for point retelling, but it meanders episodically, keeps things zany and interesting, introduces memorable characters, and adds a bit more development to Alice herself, who doesn’t realize she is dreaming in the movie.

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Though she doesn’t have a lot of personality (unlike in parts of the book), Kathryn Beaumont’s Alice makes an excellent straight-man reacting to the other characters, and her worries and frustrations that she might never get home are very relatable; literally and metaphorically being stuck in a world that makes no sense, where you have no control over anything. And, as Doug Walker pointed out in his Disneycemeber series, the characters of Wonderland are fun, but you’re never quite sure how dangerous they really are, which really adds to the atmosphere.

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From what I’ve learned, it’s not such as shame that this movie became perhaps the most iconic adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the public consciousness. The Cheshire Cat, voiced by Sterling Holloway, is one of my favorite Disney characters of all time, despite the fact that he is a certifiable dick who nearly gets a little girl murdered. I also like the minimalist approach to the backgrounds at times; instead of overcrowding the frame with giant mushrooms and a sugar-high’s worth of psychedelic colors, there is a lot of black and simplicity, which makes the encounters with each character more memorable.

That said, and again, in theory, an adaptation succeeds when it captures the original’s heart. If I may add to that sentiment, it should also inspire the audience to check out the source material, and not just to catalogue all of the stuff that the adaptor got wrong.

Well, folks, for every person who gets a headache fussing over the changes made in the 1951 film, Tim Burton’s adaptation will give them a splitting migraine.

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I went to the theatres to see it when it came out in 2010. I am a casual Burton fan, and I was eager to see a fresh interpretation of a classic story, but even if it’s technically “fresh” by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’s standards, it relies too heavily on Burton’s overused style and formula.

Eccentric outfits? Check, although you might argue that is less of a stretch in Wonderland. I would argue back that the animals all wore things like waistcoats and the wildest thing about them was the color scheme, but whatever.

Johnny Depp and/or Helena Bonham Carter? Check.

Hot Topic fodder? Check-a-roo.

More focus on the cinematography and costumes than on actual character or story?

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Oh hell check.

But even if I could roll with all of this, Burton chose a by-the-books prophecy plot that would make even Harry Potter roll his eyes, and he tried to make this a good vs evil war movie.

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…I’m sorry. Aren’t you guys all mad here? Why in the name of Tulgey Wood would you give a crap about who rules Wonderland? There shouldn’t be a group massing behind a common cause unless it’s running for a caucus race! The only “rule” in the first book is to obey the queen, because divine right or whatever…

Instead, Tim Burton wrote “Joan of Arc meets AiW”, which doesn’t make any sense, and I shouldn’t even be complaining that things make no sense in Wonderland!

Alice herself is a boring cardboard standee with a portable carrying handle that wished upon a star to become a real boy. So okay, she’s a self-insert fantasy for the audience. Fine.

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Her “backstory” and “character development” are uninteresting, unfunny, cliché, and rushed; literally, it’s so quick and glanced over that it’s laughable. The movie is so anxious to get to Wonderland, does nothing really with it, and then rushes her “empowerment” in the real world at the end.

She’s apparently not dreaming either. Wonderland isn’t even called Wonderland, it’s called Underland, and she’s not even going there for the first time, which might be interesting if she was an interesting character. But she’s not.

The scenery would be more creative if it didn’t look so obviously fake. I repeat, Movie Producers: CG SHOULD ACCOMPANY ACTUAL PRACTICAL EFFECTS! IF IT DOESN’T, YOU MIGHT AS WELL JUST HAND-DRAW THE DAMN THINGS FOR ALL THE BELIEVABLE “REALNESS” WE SEE!

"We threw up these backgrounds in photoshop and DAMN IT WE ARE GOING TO USE THEM!
“We threw up these backgrounds in photoshop and DAMN IT WE ARE GOING TO USE THEM!

 

And again, my biggest problem is that everyone should be mad but they aren’t. The best I could call them is “quirky”, and even then, it’s in heavy quotations because it’s trademarked “Burton quirkiness”.

Listen, Burton, as much as I appreciate you trying to celebrate weirdness and “going against the grain”, all you’re doing at this point is changing the direction. Especially by making everyone the same brand and only distinguishing them at all through character design; you might as well just have a bunch of Johnny Depp Mad Hatters wandering around.

But yeah; if everyone is quirky, and moreover, the exact same degree and type of quirkiness, then they aren’t quirky anymore. They’re all normal.

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Any real-world person would start to find the denizens of Underland (words cannot describe how much I hate that name) annoying or at the very least frustrating after a while, but not Vacant-Stare, Whiter-than-the-Brady-Bunch Alice. The film tries to pass her off like she’s progressive, quirky, and interesting, but it tells instead of shows, and I just don’t buy it. She barely fills a basic storytelling slot and offers nothing else to the film.

Even the fight with the Jabberwocky is boring. Come on, Burton, you got Christopher Lee in one of your films yet again, and again, you give him nothing to do! He’s just a voice to be intimidating on a creature who, while admittedly well-designed, gets literally 5 minutes of screen time!

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Instead, we get Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter being themselves. In goofy make-up and CGI enlargements…Yipee skipee. I’ve never seen that before.

It’s not like they’re even that good or interesting. Depp can’t even pick a consistent accent, and Carter is just a fetishized Verna Felton, who should be choking on all that lead in her face powder by now.

Overall, it’s a typical gritty Hollywood remake; a style-over-substance “reimaging” more than a legit adaptation. But give it some credit; at least it’s called Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland; it didn’t have the gall that Illumination Entertainment did when it titled its movie Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, despite cramming the plot of the book into roughly 5 minutes before padding out the rest of it with preachy hypocrisy and self-insert characters for the pointless celebrity voice actors.

But I digress…and now I still have to distinguish between Disney’s movie and Disney’s…other movie.

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It’s still stale, despite its popularity and success at the box office. I’m convinced that the only reason it is so popular is that it panders to every misunderstood “weird” kid out there. It doesn’t really challenge anyone, which if you really wanted to celebrate “free thinking” and the breaking from tradition, Burton, you would have done. You’re not creating a safe-space for weirdos to feel good about themselves. You’re coddling them and telling them, “Don’t think about it too hard.”

I like Burton best when he’s doing his own thing. I particularly love Corpse Bride; it’s one of my favorite movies to break out every Halloween. But practically every time he adapts someone else’s work, he either comes close to hitting the mark or so far surpasses it in the name of stamping his signature fixations all over it. The closest-to-good adaptation of his, in my opinion, was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but even then, what the heck was up with the father subplot and Depp acting like Michael Jackson?!

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Where is the real effort? The real imagination? Where did it go, Burton? What did you think was the point of the original book you named your movie after? I’d really like to know.

Burton’s Alice in Wonderland  tries to cram rules and formula into a world that flourishes without them, and guess what? The more you try to make something logical (in this case, trying to establish why a bunch of loonies care about who sits on a throne, eats tarts, and occasionally sentences people to murder), the more people will call you out for lack of sense.

The motivations of the characters are very inconsistent, and not in an “I’m mad” sort of way; there is a fine line between mad and stupid. Although, Burton certainly captured the murderous asshole tendencies of the Queen from the 1951 cartoon pretty well.

"I stole a circus clown's dirty laundry and shredded it before putting it on inside out and backwards. That gives me personality, right?"
“I stole a circus clown’s dirty laundry and shredded it before putting it on inside out and backwards. That gives me personality, right?”

 

A sequel is coming to theatres later this month, and it bears the name of the second book while presumably having nothing to do with the plot of said book. I’m willing to bet there will be more crazy outfits, painful CG-eyesore backgrounds, character designs that would make anime characters point and laugh, and, of course, more waxing poetic about being yourself even at the cost of being ostracized. Or, you know, thrown in an asylum.

I predict that Alice will again learn virtually nothing except that she should either move to Underland permanently or ease up on the Vicodin.

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If you have a Burton fix that needs addressing, I recommend Big Eyes. It’s not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but hey, it’s interesting and somewhat biographical (because all such movies embellish a bit). An artistic character with an established personality overcomes a very real adversity and is justly rewarded for her efforts in the end. See? Already, that’s a much better story.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is an affront to all things creative, as well as its namesake. It’s not just bad, it’s unsatisfying, which is far worse than being the former. If it makes someone out there happy, then yay; it’s not a complete waste of space at least.

But of all the live-action Disney remakes foolishly hoping to cash in and maybe overshadow the animated classics, this is by far the most shallow and loathsome. It is neither a good substitution nor a good adaptation; it just piggybacks off of Lewis Carol’s concept art for a quick and easy buck. Not even his story; his concept art.

 

2/10

*Please support the original books or the 1951 film. Or any other Alice film for that matter. None of the pictures or gifs belong to me.

Marge’s Outstanding Disney Achievement Awards

 

So, what’s the best and worst of Disney, you ask?

…You didn’t? Oh…

…Well, here you go anyway!

 

Overall Film Quality:

 

Worst of the Worst Award – Chicken Little

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Disney’s first solo venture into the world of CG is, shockingly, their worst. Only Home on the Range comes close to the sheer miasma of badness that this stinker emits.

The plot is confused (do we focus on the aliens or the baseball?), the characters are one-note and/or unlikable (I would happily fry Buck Cluck up, KFC style); and the animation is somewhere between “meh” and hideous.

Take my advice. Just don’t. Also, put this down for Worst Humor Award and Worst Father Award too.

 

Most Artful AwardFantasia

 

It’s like going to an orchestra concert and letting your mind wander and create stories to the music that you hear. It is a series of stories and scenes illustrated creatively, accompanying famous classical pieces. I’d give it praise for introducing kids to this kind of music by itself, but it also went and gave us the predecessor to surround sound.

Case closed.

 

Most Beautiful Award (2-D)The Little Mermaid

This movie started the Disney Renaissance; it reminded everyone of the artistic potential of 2-D animation. It looks absolutely amazing.

 

Most Beautiful Award (3-D) Frozen

No contest.

 

Best Story AwardBeauty and the Beast

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

Not only did Disney successfully adapt this fairytale, they improved it.

A better reason for the Beast to get pissy with Belle’s father (the catalyst to the plot), a better reason for the Beast to be protective of his rose(s) (his last hope for humanity that is wilting more everyday), better stakes (loss of humanity, loss of life at least three times), a damn good villain (who probably gave Hans from Frozen some pointers), and it took some time (which the clever writers never specify) for an actual romance/friendship to develop.

 

Best Humor AwardPeter Pan

Say what you want about the Genie or Kronk or anyone else. Complain about the racist indians. Okay. Are we good now?

Because this movie has the BEST slapstick ever. Any scene with Hook, Smee, and/or the crocodile kills me every time. Peter’s not that bad either; we get some funny fight scenes out of him.

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Worst Music Award  – Home on the Range

 

I hate this movie. Also…Alan Menken…why?

 

Best Musicals AwardThe Little Mermaid

This was another tough one, but I think that this film has the (consistently) best songs in any Disney movie. They are all solid, memorable hits, except for maybe the “Daughters of Triton” song from the beginning.

Plus, “Part of Your World” was the “Let It Go” of the 90’s.

 

Best Score Award – The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Here is just a sample:

 

It is epic, awesome, and fitting (latin choruses in a movie starring a gorgeous Catholic church).

 

Best Straightforward Adaptation AwardSnow White and the Seven Dwarves

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Probably the most faithful. Fitting, as it was Disney’s first venture into feature-length films.

 

Most “Child-Friendly” Elements Award Pinocchio

For those who think Hunchback of Notre Dame is Disney’s darkest film…

I have seen this movie maybe 3 times in my life…That’s more than enough for me. It’s actually really unpleasant.

First, consider this:

 

Second, these:

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Stromboli

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Enjoy seeing these in your nightmares, kiddies!

 

Most Creative Animation Award – Alice in Wonderland

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In contrast to the vastly inferior live-action version, animated Alice’s world is very dark and minimalist at times. It feels as though anything could appear out of the shadows next, and over the course of the story, anything does. It’s a clever choice, and boy does it bring out the colors of everyone and everything else.

Take a note, overstuffed CGI fail-fest: less is more.

 

Character-Based:

 

Worst Villain Award – Edgar, The Artistocats

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Least competent, least noteworthy, and least entertaining to watch. He has his moments, but for the most part, I just don’t care. The only thing more idiotic than him attempting to kill some cats because they are inheriting a fortune is that the lady is willing the fortune to her cats in the first place. Also, why would Edgar think he was going to get that money in the first place, and why would the lady even consider him? Does she not have any family? Friends? Charitable organizations that she supports?

 

Most Awesome Villain Award – Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty

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Kick-ass voice actress, amazing design, elegance, class, insanity, intimidation, power. And need we forget, self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil”?

As far as the “I do it because I’m evil” villains go, she is the boss.

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Worst Villain Song Award – “Mother Knows Best”, Tangled

 

Except for the sinister “don’t ever ask to go outside again” line, this song is all goof and no bite. Lady Tremaine was a better controlling mother, and she didn’t even get a song.

 

Best Villain Song Award – “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, The Little Mermaid

A crazy faustian waltz filled with lies and seduction, and it ends on one hell of an awesome crescendo. It has all of “Gaston”‘s sentiment (“I’m totally not a villain. I actually a really awesome person”), mixed with undertones of “Hellfire”‘s creepy sexual overtones.

It’s only real issue is probably the lengthy dialogue throughout, but even then, it’s a great, sinister listen.

 

Best Villain Motivation Award – Judge Claude Frollo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

God told him to do it. No, really.

Frollo is scary because there are people out there like him. He’s greedy, but repressed. When he has power, he abuses it for his own ends, but claims that it’s all for the greater good. How can that not be awesome?

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Two more unrelated things of note: “Hellfire,” and Tony Jay. That is all.

 

Scariest Villain Award – The Queen, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

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Look at it. LOOK AT IT.

Every time this woman stares into the camera, I dare you not to shiver. It’s like she knows you’re there, and once she’s offed Snow White, she’s coming for you.

Also, the “Thirsty?” scene is f%#*ed up.

The Queen pre-hagdom is pretty creepy too; her virtually frozen face, the way her eyes randomly widen and narrow while she speaks, her voice (Lucille La Verne took out her false teeth to do the Hag voice), her magic mirror slave. She’s one of the weaker villains character and motivation-wise, but her fear factor is not to be denied.

As she prepares her disguise potion, the hag’s cackle and scream of fright are particularly chilling.

 

As an honorable mention though, I’d like to point out that this guy exists:

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Disney: The most wholesome factory of night terrors since 1923. Probably fitting, since it was also founded in October.

 

Most Entertaining Villain – Rattigan, The Great Mouse Detective

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He’s voiced by Vincent Price; it’s a match made in Hell.

So what if you can tell he’s the villain from 3 miles off? He’s so gleefully evil. He prances, for Hell’s sake.

Just watch him and try not to get into his performance.

Also, watch the climax to see him become truly terrifying.

 

Best Villain Laugh Award – The Headless Horseman, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

This one was a three-way tie between Maleficent, Ursula, and good ole’ headless, but we’re not going for most iconic laugh here. As awesome as the first two are, they can’t match the simultaneous levels of crap-your-pants fright, maniacal glee, and even hilarity that comes from this guy.

 

Best Villain Lair – Bald Mountain, Fantasia

Hmmm, what’s an awesome lair for a villain? Inside a dead elephant, or sea monster? A fortress on top of a mountain?

How about the mountain itself, where Hell’s minions come out and party with you?

 

Hell yes.

 

Best Villain Sidekick – Kronk, The Emperor’s New Groove

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I love LeFou, don’t get me wrong, but Kronk is funnier and plays off his villain, Yzma, much more comedically. That is what elevates him from potentially annoying to lovable and hilarious; he’s coupled with a jaded, smart sourpuss.

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Haha. Puns.

 

Scariest Non-Villain Award – The Beast, Beauty and the Beast

 

Finally A Non-Evil Queen Award – Elsa, Frozen

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Because responsibility is not your enemy, little girls. You can rock a gorgeous dress AND rule a kingdom, without having to marry and let your man do it for you.

 

Worst Princess Award – Snow White, from where do you think?

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Snow White ties with Aurora and Pocahontas for “Least Personality,” but Aurora isn’t ear-bleedingly obnoxious to listen to, and Pocahontas does more stuff plot-wise and is outdoorsy. This chick looks like she belongs on “Toddlers and Tiaras;” she wears way too much makeup and makes weird faces half of the time, but she acts like she’s five years old. I think she was coasting off of the popularity of Betty Boop.

It’s frustrating how much nothing she does, how stupidly naive she is.

 

Best Princess Award – Elsa, Frozen

Yes, her again. It counts because she was a princess til about the 1/4th point of the movie.

Don’t get me wrong. Belle will always have a special place in my heart, as will Mulan and Merida. Anna is pretty cool too (see what I did there?). But here’s the thing: Elsa has powers. Not just queen powers, but legit ICE MAGIC powers.

 

Worst Leading Man Award – Hercules, from guess where?

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I’ve got nothing really against the guy. He’s nice enough, but he’s kind of boring. Also, his motivations are kind of selfish.

 

If you’re wondering why Philip or the two other “Prince Charmings” didn’t end up here, it’s because there was nothing to work off of there. They do nothing (aside from Philip, who is awesome despite his blandness), and have no character traits to speak of.

 

Best Leading Man Award – Kristoff, Frozen

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Frozen has a bit of an unfair advantage; it’s the most recent animated film, and probably the most conscious of previous Disney “flaws”. But still, it must be counted.

Kristen may not have an epic fight with a dragon or a giant octopus-woman under his belt, but he’s got a lot of personality. Probably the most of all the Disney guys, aside from the Beast. He’s the closest to a guy you might actually know, but he’s never boring or standard. He’s Kristoff, the pungent reindeer king!

 

Worst Good Guy Sidekick Award – Buck, Home on the Range

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He’s obnoxious, plain and simple. He kung-fu kicks everywhere and thinks he’s too cool for school. He is a waste of thought and screen time.

 

Best Good Guy Sidekick Award – Olaf, Frozen

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I’m sorry to keep doing this to you.

Olaf could have been horribly annoying as far as sidekicks go, but he’s actually really cute and likable. Because he was a product of Anna and Elsa’s early (happy) childhood, it makes sense for him to be silly, upbeat, and naive. He also gets some really genuinely funny lines.

 

Jerk Protagonist Award – Mr. Toad, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

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I was tempted to go with Aladdin because he’s a compulsive liar and essentially a con man. But hey, it’s for love, so at least it’s a…good cause?

I also thought about Ichabod from the same above-mentioned movie, because he wants to marry Katrina to get her family farm and money, and he actually FANTASIZES ABOUT HER FATHER DYING. But again, the other two main characters, Brom Bones and Katrina, are just as jerky as he is, so it’s a more level playing field.

So how about a guy who destroys public property without thought, who is extremely prone to bad habits and fads?

Mr. Toad even goes to jail at one point, albeit for a crime he didn’t commit. At one point, he considers turning his life around and taking his friends more seriously (and less for granted). Does he?

Nope-timon

 

No lessons learned. No growth or change. What an asshole.

 

Sympathetic Villain Award – Elsa, Frozen

This one is cheating just a bit, but she’s mistaken for the villain by most of the rest of the cast and does inadvertently cause the dangerous predicament that the kingdom falls into.

Elsa is sort of like Frollo (repressed), but a nice person. She means well and doesn’t want to hurt anyone. She gets an awesome moment of freedom and happiness, only to realize that she still has responsibilities, and must fix the hurt that she’s caused, even though she has no idea how.

 

Backhanded Best Mother Award – “the queen”, Sleeping Beauty

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Do you know what is worse than offing mothers? Not even giving them f&#%ing names.

And really, there is no excuse for this. You named the father Stephan; why wouldn’t you toss out anything for the queen? She actually gave birth to Aurora! Doesn’t that count for anything?

Yes, in Disney Princess Enchanted Tales, they name her Leah. That doesn’t count. None of the direct-to-video stuff counts in the grand scheme of things.

 

Best Father Award – Maurice, Beauty and the Beast

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He’s quirky, supportive, and adorably bumbling. Plus, he deserves an award for all of the crap he endures throughout the course of the movie.

Also, just because you needed to see this:

 

Best Castle Award – Sleeping Beauty

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I just love the look and feel of it. So much detail, like a tapestry…

 

Marge’s Favorite Character Award – Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland

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I love his voice actor (Sterling Holloway, who also did Winnie the Pooh btw), his madness, his design, his color scheme. What is not to like about a cat with seemingly god-like powers who may or may not be out to get you?

That’s the awesome punch of Alice in Wonderland‘s characters: you never know if they’re going to snap on you at some point. Are they harmless, or…?

The intrigue there is part of his appeal.

 

And I think that is quite enough for today. Needless to say, Disney has done some good work. Let’s hope we and our families get more quality entertainment in the future.

 

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to Disney. None of the images or sounds belong to me.

 

 

 

 

 

“The Parent Trap” is Really Messed Up When You Think About It

Lots of people love to throw animated Disney under the bus for questionable moral implications, gender stereotyping, gruesome deaths, and references that, let’s be fair, usually end up sailing right over kids’ heads.

Never mind that the live action films can be just as questionable. The most recent example, Maleficent, a film I’ve previously reviewed, is essentially a family friendly, symbolic rape/revenge story.

Personally, I’m tired of everyone taking potshots at Disney. Yes, they’re an easy target, but it’s overdone; no one has anything fresh or interesting to say anymore. And most of the people I see doing it are those eager to jump on the hardcore social justice bandwagon, because that’s not just acceptable, but lauded. These same people, so eager to find the daily cause of “all the evil in the world” (which is, in some cases, why they themselves are so unhappy), forget to acknowledge little things like, say, Disney’s growth over the years. Or, more importantly, the time periods in which certain films came out.

A character from the 50's isn't the most feminist or progressive, you say? LIES! LIES AND SLANDER!
A character from the 50’s isn’t the most feminist or progressive, you say? LIES! LIES AND SLANDER!

Criticize where the franchise is going, not where it came from, is all I’m saying. Because the former has been done to death.

But I do understand where it’s coming from. Really, I do, and I can agree on many levels. Sometimes, you only really understand how horrifying something is, or was, by looking back at it, and as far as family movies go, this one gets pretty uncomfortable:

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I love this movie. I used to watch Lindsay Lohan in everything, and The Parent Trap in particular has pretty good effects, passable acting (most of the time), nice music, and an upbeat plot that barely slows down, filled with some good (occasionally shoehorned) comedic moments. Very formulaic and by-the-numbers, but enjoyable. It’s goofy and nostalgic enough to make me smile.

 

So we agree. Fairly harmless, right?

Wrong!

It’s basically a story of two desperate, repressed girls trying to forcefully reunite two awful people to bring their family together.

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…Maybe so, but think about it.

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The focus on the parents in the movie is very limited, especially when it comes to their separation. We only learn that they decided, for whatever reason, that they couldn’t stand to be married or even living on the same continent as one another. And their best solution was to separate the twins and take one each with them, then never tell that child about their other parent and twin.

Not, “Let’s schedule weekly/monthly/yearly get-togethers for our kids’ sakes.” Because then they would actually have to interact with each other! Oh, the horror!

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It’s not as though they have a pleasant dinner and numerous conversations together halfway through the movie, and are perfectly civil and even vaguely flirtatious with one another.

And not, “I’ll keep them for a week/month/year, and you keep them for a week/month/year, with some visits,” as Elizabeth, the mom, suggests later in the film (of course only after the girls have met and will now insist on seeing each other and both of their parents again at some point). Because home school is completely out of the question, I guess…despite the fact that both parents are well-off enough to afford large homes and hired help.

Not even, “Well, since I’m uber career-driven, why don’t you take custody and I’ll just pop by when I have time.” They picked their jobs over each other, but not over the girls. No, they’ll find out how to balance those, I guess.

No! It’d just be best to separate them and pretend the other twin doesn’t exist!

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To be fair, I’ve never been (and hope never to be) divorced. And my parents are still happily married. I’m sure it’s very difficult and awkward, before, during, and after the process, with a wide range of circumstances. Add kids to the mix, and things get murkier. Emotions and drama run high.

Also, this is a film, not real life, so it doesn’t need to be completely bound by the constraints of real life.

True, but even in movie world, things seem amiss. When the parents in this movie discover that- surprise! – they’ve actually taken the other twin home with them and not the one they intended to, they sweetly tell the girl they ignored for 11 years that they’ve loved and missed and thought about her ever since the split, and it’s a tearful, happy reunion.

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Here is the problem with that: because no screen time is spent showing either Elizabeth or Nick thinking of or missing their lost daughters, it makes what could have been a deeply touching reunion look lazy, cheap, and cowardly on their parts. Did they ever care? Who knows? Some parents will say anything to shut up kids’ awkward questions.

It’s like they couldn’t be assed to put forth an effort for both of their girls, even in the slightest. For all we the audience are aware, Elizabeth and Nick tossed a coin to pick one and then merrily skipped town, with nary a backward glance.

In their own words after they meet up again, the parents say that they can’t even remember why they came up with this “arrangement” in the first place. Not why they fought, not why Elizabeth threw a hair dryer and hit Nick in the head, not even why they never spoke again afterwards, either via phone or snail mail. What we are left with are that they were young and had “tempers,” and apparently decided to split forever because of that vaguery…Not exactly the same as telling your child that their dog went to “the farm” to spare them the pain of acknowledging death perhaps a little too soon, is it?

Hell, at least on The Simpsons, Herbert Powell, Homer’s half brother (who appears in the episode “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”), was born out of wedlock and put up for adoption by his mother. It made some sense why Grandpa put off telling Homer about it until he was older.

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The “girls” (Lohan) are cute and funny, if a bit creepy and disconcertingly manipulative at points. I get the sense that that was intentional on the part of the writers, though. Harmless enough, I guess, but their desperate desire to incorporate a total stranger into their lives is kind of sad. Does the movie mean to imply that single-parent households will raise children that are not whole and happy emotionally?

The girls then torment a mean potential stepmother (oh Disney) who deserves it, and drive her off.

By the way, what did you mean when you said, “They’re half yours,” Elizabeth? Even the daughter that is in your custody will partially belong to evil, gold-digging stepmother?

…How exactly did your prenup or whatever work? You split up and took a girl each, remember? How does your custody even work?

But back to the adults, compare the parents here to those in the 1961 adaptation.

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Maggie and Mitch frequently argued on screen, and it was more believable why the two could barely stay in a room together, much less married. Despite any chemistry, there was sufficient tension to create drama.

Elizabeth and Nick bicker some, but most of it comes across as playful snark, not real arguments or conflict. In fact, their lack of effort towards a better compromise for the girls makes them seem kind of worse than Maggie and Mitch, who may have seriously thought that a split-up home was better than one where they constantly fought with one another. Fighting and yelling can be upsetting, especially for young children.

Elizabeth and Nick separate, in the third act, mostly because the plot demands it. And as is standard for romcoms, Nick realizes that it is his job to fix things (in this case, reunite the family). He and Hallie follow Elizabeth and Annie back to London. They then remarry in the closing credits, to everyone’s delight.

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Nick is, presumably, perfectly happy to give up his beloved, spacious vineyard in California and go move to a new country, all to accommodate Elizabeth. Maybe he can sell it and pay for family counseling? I get the feeling they would need it, were this “based on a true story.”

The writers try to make the parents flawed, but nice people; relatable, quirky, and bursting with chemistry. But trying to do that might have been a bit beyond them. Inadvertently, Nick and Elizabeth are kind of despicable; either selfish and thoughtless, just plain stupid, or some unholy combination of the two. And they have to be, in order to make this premise even work.

It’s a catch 22.

Despite the liberties and changes, many of the problems with the remake leak back into the original movie and book as well. A cute or whacky premise has to, at the very least, not stretch the suspension of disbelief to breaking point. Along those lines, look at your characters and think through the implications of making their choices, or at least portraying those choices, simplistically. Love and life are complex, but if that’s what you’re trying to get at, don’t dumb them down or skimp on the crucial details to save time.

I tend to cut fairy tale adaptations more slack on potential implications because they are simplistic by nature; they are meant to convey one lesson or warning in particular, in a simplistic but imaginative way.

The Parent Trap might well be a fairy tale in its own right; most movies are. But the closer you get to a real-life, real-world, modern scenario, I think you’ll find that people internalize those stories more. Even believe in them.

Because the similarities are just too striking to ignore.

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*No images belong to me. All to their respective owners; more than most to Disney.