Monday, April 7, 2014

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Selma Ruins Frozen

From the creators of "Tangled". You don't say.
A brief interlude in our series of Disney sequel reviews - a new Disney Princess movie is out in theaters, so of course I couldn't resist going to see how we've progressed from Tangled.

The answer is: We have not.

Yeah, the art design is basically identical. But that's actually not what I mean when I say Disney's storytelling hasn't progressed since Tangled. Unfortunately, I think we've taken a step backward.

Frozen and Tangled are infinitely comparable because not only do they have the same art design, but they also have the same tone. They have that same Dreamworks-esque arched eyebrow and witty banter. These aren't the earnest Cinderellas of old, or even the yearning Jasmines of the mid-90s. These are Disney movies that make fun of themselves and want to be the cool kid.

"Well, this is awkward. Not you-awkward, me-awkward.
Just we, us - this is awkward. You're gorgeous. Wait. What?"
Caution: Contains spoilers for both Tangled and Frozen.

In Tangled, a baby is stolen from her family and locked up in a tower so an evil-ish woman can use her for her flower power. Rapunzel wants to go out, but Mother Gothel won't let her leave for fear of losing that power. When thief Flynn Rider climbs her tower to hide from the authorities, Rapunzel strikes a deal with him: She'll let him keep his ill-gotten gains if he'll escort her to see the outside world. The authorities and Mother Gothel are hot on their heels, but they evade all the obstacles in their way until Mother Gothel rigs a staged betrayal. Rapunzel goes back home with her only to realize that she is her kingdom's missing princess. Flynn gets out of his trap and tries to rescue her, but is killed(ish) by Mother Gothel. As his last act, Flynn cuts her hair to free her of Mother Gothel's tyranny, and true love brings him back because of course it does.

In Frozen, Princess Anna and Elsa are best friends until they're playing a game and Anna accidentally gets struck by Elsa's magic (which is apparently a secret...?) so they all take her to some trolls who cure her and lay down some foreshadowing about ice in the heart. So then Elsa won't talk to Anna anymore even though she tries to sing at her and Anna grows up all alone and their parents die and the gates to the kingdom are closed but then three years later there's a ball for Elsa's coronation which is mandatory I guess. At the ball Anna meets Hans, her true love, and they ask Elsa's blessing to be engaged. Elsa says no and Anna gets ticked off and then Elsa gets ticked off and then Elsa makes with the magic and everyone's horrified so Elsa runs away and accidentally brings down an eternal winter on the kingdom. So Anna sets off to find her and then she meets this guy named Kristoff and his reindeer who he has an unnaturally close relationship with and they banter and meet an irritating snowman sidekick on the way to Elsa's new lair AND WE'RE NOT EVEN HALFWAY THROUGH YET. Are you beginning to see the problem here?

Frozen goes at absolutely breakneck pace with no breathing room. We get characterization, but not the extra time we really need to empathize and feel like they're three-dimensional (in spite of the fact that every movie is apparently made in Real 3D now, whatever that is). In Tangled we had scenes that had no dialogue at all, and small but extremely effective touches like the first time Rapunzel whacks Flynn in the back of the head, squeaks, and runs away from his prone figure. There's no silent moments in Frozen. Every single moment is packed with dialogue to ensure that you remember which traits belong to who.

I think that one of Frozen's biggest mistakes may be its large cast. When you only have 108 minutes to work with, two main characters makes for a much more cohesive story than four.

In spite of its less typical Disney princess feel, Brave feels more like Frozen than Tangled does, in that both movies suffer from having gone through a million rewrites. Frozen is unquestionably a better movie than Brave is, but that doesn't mean it's really good.

Much has been made over Frozen's head of animation saying: “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.”

While those aren't words any feminist will be pleased to hear, they are if nothing else an honest reflection of the way women are generally viewed in society. We're somehow a majority minority.

But in spite of the comments of its animator, the movie definitely gets a big ol' check in the feminism column. The story is resolved without the help of either of the leading men. Neither woman is saved by a man in any way.

In fact...

Why did we need the guys again?

No, seriously. In a movie full of structural defects, this is Frozen's biggest flaw. It's forgotten that the Disney prince/princess love story is there only to set in motion the wheels of a compelling tale, like in The Little Mermaid. But this story is already compelling. Anna and Elsa are sisters pulled apart by Elsa's issues. Anna desperately wants to help Elsa, but Elsa is too afraid of hurting Anna to let her in close. This is riveting stuff! Not only that, but the voice acting is top notch. I desperately wanted to see more of the relationship between the two sisters, but instead we kept getting yanked away to stare at the Inevitable Conclusion Romantic Arc some more.

I like Disney love stories, but Hans and Kristoff were entirely superfluous characters. They don't set the wheels of the story into motion (other than by way of Anna's engagement, but Elsa's break in control could have been caused by oh, I don't know, literally anything else). They don't teach Anna anything about herself. They don't save the day even a little.

A few people may feel the need to point out that the fairy tale Frozen was based on ("The Snow Queen", which I guess tested a little too girly for Dreamisney) was about a boy and a girl. Unto this I say shut up, Frozen has absolutely nothing to do with The Snow Queen other than "there's people and someone likes snow a lot".

Tangled isn't a perfect movie, but it's focused. It has time to show us that not only is Mother Gothel a baby-stealer, but she's also an emotionally abusive jerk ("You are not leaving this tower ever!!!!! ...Great, now I'm the bad guy"). It has time for quiet moments where Flynn and Rapunzel simply enjoy a festival together, so that we believe in their romance.

I wanted to like Frozen a lot more than I did, but I find myself feeling the way I did after seeing Brave - frustrated at watching so much unfulfilled potential, and irritated at being able to see all the cracks showing. This movie was rewritten too many times. After being shot in the heart with ice, Anna turns surly and snaps about never coming back to see her sister again... only to drop that development entirely and never return to it. And while the love interest was likable, he wasn't anything else.

If you want to make a movie about sisters, make a movie about sisters. Don't sacrifice half your running time to an uninspired, pointless love story that only distracts from the true heart of the movie.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Disney Sequelester - Mulan II

Well, this sure is a movie.
All the village girls are in love with Mulan because they want Mulan to teach them how to fight. I like this beginning. On the utterly crap side, Mulan immediately demurs that "but I'm still learning myself!" Mulan, you defeated the jaundiced Hun army single-handedly by blowing a firecracker up their leader's ass. I think you're experienced enough.

And then we have this incredibly bullshit song about how you have to be hard *and* soft, and it's okay to be afraid. Yeah, hear many Disney Princes singing about that, do you?

See that little girl to Mulan's left? That's the face of someone who knows
some bullshit when she sees it.
Then Shang shows up, Mulan fawns all over him shamelessly, and the girls cackle at his hilariously terrible attempts at proposing. He tries again, and Mulan has changed outfits because the animators are super lazy.

Mulan tells Mushu that he's her most trusted friend, and, um... why? He's awful. Canonically awful. He walks on people just because he can.

No, really.
Mushu will continue to be atrocious for the rest of the movie. Also, Sequel Mushu is not voiced by Eddie Murphy. He's voiced by a white guy pretending to be Eddie Murphy, which is probably the only thing worse than actual Eddie Murphy.

If Mulan and Shang are going to go on another pointless mission, they're gonna need they're team back. They're gonna need - OMG I MISSED YOU MATCHMAKER LADY!!!!!

Actual dialogue: "Come back to me when you get personalities!"
Watching the three bros get their asses handed to them for being annoying misogynists is extremely happy-making. Matchmaker Lady kicks them out and they fall right into Mulan's tender clutches.

Mulan and Shang talk to the Emperor, who has a plan to unite his kingdom with an ally through his daughters marriages.

The Emperor is doing might well to have daughters
those ages.
But it must happen in THREE DAYS ONLY THREE DAYS because plans and reasons and there's a map so it makes sense, okay?

Someone had to carve that goofy hair.
And then Mulan steps up all burdened and self-righteous with, "Your Highness, an arranged marriage?"

Hey Mulan, remember this?

"Ancestors, hear my plea
Help me not to make a fool of me
And to not uproot my family tree
Keep my father standing tall.
Scarier than the undertaker
We are meeting our matchmaker!"

Heh, yeah, oh right, you were not only willing but actively hoping to take part in an arranged marriage. It's almost like you're a hypocrite or something!

And see, this is where historical accuracy and pop culture princesshood collide in the worst of ways. Wouldn't it be so much more interesting and relevant to show arranged marriage in, if not a positive light, then at least an understanding one? That thing that 55% of the world's women participate in, according to UNICEF statistics?

Arranged marriage is not common among the ethnic groups that have populated America for the longest time (other than native populations possibly? IDK on that and it's not really relevant to this discussion anyway), and yes, Disney's content is targeted to satisfy the largest percentages possible. But America grows less homogenous by the day, and the world as a whole is shrinking as we come into contact with other cultures via plane, train, internet, and reality TV. Personally, I'm close to several people who either have had or will have arranged marriages. Do I agree with the practice personally? Well, does it matter? 

Arranged marriages happen among consenting adults. This is a thing. It would have been a much more interesting (not to mention more respectful and historically accurate) angle to address arranged marriage as a legitimate choice rather than just a vague bogeyman. We never even see the men that the princesses are supposed to be engaged to. The mere idea of an arranged marriage is meant to inspire horror in us.

This notion in turn causes a secondary problem; the Princess Problem, as I call it, where our culture is obsessed with the idea of being a princess but hates all of the actual things that princesses do.

See, if the girls don't follow through with these arranged marriages, this other king will declare war (for reasons, whatever). As princesses, their job is to do right by their kingdom in any way that they can. Which means that if these girls choose to marry random guys they've known for three days just because they feel like it, they're bad princesses. Maybe even bad people.

I will give the movie credit, at least they don't turn the Emperor into a huge douchecanoe. He just says that his daughters consider it an honor to serve their kingdom. So obviously they go outside and have a Cinderella moment and immediately fall in the love with the guards.

Pictured: Something that would be way less attractive with foot binding.
Mushu is the absolute worst, so he decides to break up Mulan and Shang in order to keep his job. Mushu is... challenged at plotting. He decides to mildly annoy Shang until he... something. Here is a list of Mushu's master plan, itemized.

1. Hook his fishing line in his shirt.

2. Undo his horse's girth.

3. Put worms down the back of his shirt.

4. Bees

5. Bear

6. Assorted leftover wildlife

And then the carriage falls off a cliff totally by accident, because 1 cliff per Disney movie is required by the cliff union.

Actual dialogue of the princess: "Keep paddling... look how good you're
doing. What a brave boy." I kind of love her.
Now everyone's all deep in love and the Princesses are unable to cope with their lot in life. And they sing about it, as ye do.

Let's have another analysis, shall we?

I wanna be like other girls 
Climb up a tree like other girls can (yes very accepted in ancient China)
Just to be free like other girls (hahahahahahhaha)
Get to be 

To slouch when i sit (and be judged by all the other noblewomen)
To eat a whole cake (if you were in the top 1% of the population)
Feel the sun on my feet (my feet that are in agony, oh God, oh God!)

Get dirty (in the fields planting rice all day)
Act silly (get locked away until the demons leave you)
Be anything i want to be (as long as you either want to be a mother or a mother)
To dance around
In my underwear (okay, or a whore)

To run really fast (a whopping 1/4 of a mile per hour top speed with bound feet)

Shang is very angry that everyone's in love and refusing to complete the mission, when CLIFF HAPPENS!!!! Mulan decides that Shang will not have died in vain, so she is going to marry all three of this dude's son's, I guess.

What is with dudes falling into rivers and getting sexually harassed
by their horses?
There is altogether too much horse love in this movie.
Hurray, the only Disney prince with nipples isn't dead! And he comes to rescue Mulan. Mushu gets the idea to do the exact same thing he did in the first movie, and pretends to be a big important dragon. Not As Cool Emperor whimpers and says it's fine if Mulan marries Shang instead... and the movie ends. Just like that. You greedy kids and your denouements.

The premise of Mulan II is flawed, simplistic, and kind of offensive. It lacks any sort of subtlety or depth. It's a paint-by-numbers plot that drives its points home like Wile E. Coyote.

But this is why execution is so, so important you guys, because I have to be honest, I don't hate this movie.

The characters do stupid things, but they do them in endearing ways. The new characters are engaging and, if not deeply complex, at least not hollow caricatures. The animation isn't half bad. More than a couple jokes are laugh out loud funny.

Shang: "Seems your family invited someone to help celebrate the
Mulan: "Really? Ugh. Who?"
Shang: "China."
On the other hand, it's based on preconceived notions that are inaccurate, poorly thought out, and objectionable. So yeah, you might actually enjoy this movie. But you'll feel a little dirty inside.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Disney Sequelester - The Lion King 1 1/2

Something that's never really come up thus far in our sequel adventures is the topic of the sidekicks. That's mostly because, well, the movies have bigger problems. I've touched a little on my dislike of the Genie, but that's about it, and that's because Robin William's voice is worth more shiny dollars than your soul and he's completely unavoidable in the Aladdin franchise.

Anyway, in spite of being a pretty die-hard Disney fan as these things go, I loathe the sidekicks. Yes, all of them (except Iago, who probably doesn't even count). Not only that, but I've actually always loathed the sidekicks. I know they put the Mushus and Terks and Flounders in to appease dumb little brats being babysat by Auntie TV, but even as a kid I hated them. I wanted drama, dammit, not Genie constantly barging in to break any interesting tension like the freaking Kool-Aid man.


Pictured: Something definitely
Oh Disney sequels, you're always finding new and special ways to torment me.

So at some point, someone up at Disney Co. patted the cryogenically frozen head of their fearless leader and said, "Walt, you know what the company needs? It needs to take one of our most epic and beloved movies and MST3K it from the point of view of the painfully annoying sidekicks."

Walt was silent, as most cryo-heads are, and the movie was made.

Let's get this straight: I love MST3K. I mean, c'mon, obviously, how am I even spending my life right now. My Dad introduced me to it when I was in middle school, I infected all my little buddies, and I've sort of lost track of where I was going with this, but the point is that if you think this sounds like an awesome idea, it's not.

Here's the problem - no, you know what, I'm not going to use my words on this one, because I'm pretty sure I can sum up the problem with this movie in one picture.

Yeah, I think that about does it.

Besides the fact that The Lion King 1 1/2 takes a truly excellent movie and dumps all over it, there's also the undeniable fact that this movie is about nothing. And I do mean nothing.

I hate prequels in general, particularly of the time-travel variety (looking at you, MIB3), which this movie essentially is. I dislike prequels because the whole concept of a prequel destroys tension from the onset. The audience knows what is going to happen, and that means that the journey better be a hell of a ride.

This movie is roughly split into three parts: Timon sucks at being a meerkat. Timon and Pumba on House Hunters: Savanna. Timon and Pumba follow the events of the movie, only with more dumb jokes instead of memorable songs and epic moments.

And that's it. That... is it. We watch The Lion King, Timon and Pumba make fart jokes and destroy the gravity of the original scenes, and we end up right where we came from, except with a new and heavy weight on our souls.

Timon daydreaming about the paradise he wants to live in.
Wow, it's almost like this scene is ENTIRELY POINTLESS
since we've already SEEN HIM THERE.
It's rare that this is the case, but The Lion King 1 1/2 is unique in that it not only doesn't work, it couldn't work. It's not just that the execution is poor, it's that the whole concept of the movie is fundamentally flawed.

MST3K-ing only works when there's something to comment on. Film is a visual medium, and if it shows you everything, it doesn't need to explain every last minute detail out loud. Not only that, but The Lion King is a technically excellent movie. I mean sure, you could MST3K Fight Club or The Godfather, but who would watch it? Who would want to? What would you gain from it, other than a deep and abiding headache?

We've seen this whole movie before, only with about a tenth of the fart jokes. And, y'know, better. This movie is such an utter waste of time that it's actually offensively pointless.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Those Seven Highly Effective People Probably Had More Time Than Me

Or was it people that just happened to have seven super special awesome chocolate-covered habits? Oh well.

You've probably noticed that the blog's slowed down a bit lately (sorry! Lion King 1/2 is coming in the next couple days, I swear!). That's because my life has been crazy, in the family and friends lovingly asking, "When are you going to relax because I am going to kill you and hide the body in the woods if you don't chill out," kind of way.

I have a book that I'm editing that should be coming out soon, and a book that I was supposed to be Nano-ing. So far I win the Least Successful Nano award, with a grand total of 0 words. See my might and tremble.

Part of the busy-ness is that I'm still working on Giraffe the Wonder Horse. He can now canter mostly without incident, and I can leave the stall door open while I go about my business and he knows that isn't an invitation to wander. He also enjoys crowding in on my selfies.

The other much bigger part is that B and I are buying a house. And goooooood lord people. I've worked for the Army and I'm in finance, so I'm no stranger to legalese and needlessly complicated paperwork. But seriously, this crap is so complicated and overwrought, how do most people ever manage to buy a house?!

House Hunters makes home buying look fun (and yes, I am addicted, I'm answering my millions of emails and voicemails with it permanently playing in the background). And while in my head I like to imagine myself as an intrepid adventurer, in reality I loathe change and uncertainty with the passion of a thousand dying suns.

But we found a condo that we really like, we've had an offer accepted, and now we're just waiting on everyone to get finished shopping around our loans and all those other lovely (imagine intense air quotes here) things. So fingers crossed that this all finishes soon so I can stop fussing with house nonsense and start being able to focus on other things... and also get to decorate my own place for Christmas. CHRISTMAAAAAAAASSSSS!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Want an army of ninjas? Train the girls yourself.

So let's say it's 1561 and you're in Japan. This is the Sengoku Period; also known as the "Warring States Period". It pretty much does what it says on the tin. Your husband gets murdered, so you're passed off into the custody of your brother-in-law (thanks early influence of Neo Confucianism). Do you:

A) Die of grief, because I guess that could happen to ladies, at least before 1800 or so
B) Get thee to a nunnery
C) Train a fleet of expert female ninjas (kunoichi) to do your deadly bidding

If you guessed C, then congratulations, you are Mochizuki Chiyome, widow of warlord Moritoki, ready to risk (other people's) life and limbs in support of the great Takeda daimyo.

Out of the goodness of her great humanitarian heart, Chiyome started a school in Nazu for penniless (mostly orphaned) girls. This wasn't unheard of; many widows liked to fill their time with good works, so orphans were a perfect place to start. Chiyome also liked orphans, but mostly because it was easier to brainwash them into believing that she was their lord and master.

Miko, aka female shrine attendants, were ubiquitous in Japan. They could go anywhere without suspicion. So who better to spread rumors and wreak havoc? Chiyome simultaneously trained her girls in solemn religious rituals, infiltration, and assassination.

Chiyome's school for the red arts was so successful that her web of kunoichi eventually covered two whole provinces. And she was smart enough to follow the One Rule of Crime: don't blab. Nobody found out about her exploits until after not only her death, but the death of her brother-in-law the general.

So just to remind you.

Not a ninja:

Not a ninja:

Not a ninja:

A ninja: