Saturday, August 31, 2013

Disney Sequelester - The Lion King II: Simba's Pride

Guys, I think I'm getting spoiled.

Let's not even play. The Lion King II: Simba's Pride is a good movie. Hell, even Roger Ebert liked it! So hardline criticism is a little ridiculous.

The thing about Simba's Pride is that it actually feels like a sequel, in a way that none of the other "sequels" do. While Pocahontas II and Aladdin III aren't bad movies, they don't feel like true sequels. Their tone and content is such a departure from the source material that they seem to be completely separate entities.

Simba's Pride is an honest-to-God sequel, to the point that it mirrors the original movie almost scene-for-scene. We have the same opening with the song that starts quietly and ends on this triumphant, bombastic finish with the cub being held up by Rafiki and adored by all the animals that it will one day eat.

It's very nice of them to trek all this way to see their
most feared predator!
We have the same shift to childhood that starts with the kid wanting to wake up and play. We have the same "kid does dangerous thing because they want an adventure", and the same lecture from the parental figure. We have the same shift to adulthood, and love interest from the past coming back into the main character's life. Etc. Even the songs all have mirrors, except for "One of Us", the song that accompanies Kovu's banishment, which is kind of unintentionally hilarious.

At times the extreme homages get a little "been there, done that", but on the other hand, it's pretty satisfying to actually get to see Simba all grown up. In movies like The Return of Jafar and The Little Mermaid II, the characters seem to have undergone some extreme personality transplant, in part because of poor writing and in part because the plot demands it.

"We have to keep Melody away from the water!"
Because this parenting method worked so well on you, Ariel. Good plan.
The Simba of this movie has grown and changed, but is still recognizable. He's a mix of himself and his father, in a believable way. He's overprotective of his daughter Kiara, but in a way that makes sense. And there's still flashes of the lovable, mischievous cub we saw in the first movie.

Part of the reason Simba's Pride is so good may be that it was the earliest movie to have a sequel considered for it: they were actually planning for this sequel before the movie even came out. Obviously it got put off, but you can tell that love and thought went into the making of this movie (if not so much money - there's definitely places where you can see the corners that got cut.) The music isn't at all bad - in particular, Kiara's theme is very memorable. Even the singing isn't bad! Also, Joss Whedon worked on it. For whatever that's worth.

The new characters are almost all engaging and interesting. Simba's daughter Kiara is so likable that the switch in main character is no loss at all. Kovu, her love interest, is basically the Jordan Catalano of lions.

Rafiki is a little less omniscient and a little more "yell at the wind that is Mufasa" in this one, but it's not distractingly bad. The new villain, Zira, is actually much more menacing than Scar, who was definitely on the "fabulous" end of the gene pool. Zira freaks me out.

She's Kovu's mother and the dictator of all the lions that have been banished from the Pride Lands to... a termite mound. What? IDK. Anyway they're really bitter about it, and want VENGEANCE for Scar's death. But Zira wasn't his mate, because the movie expressly tells us that Kovu wasn't Scar's son. Soooo... whose son is he, then? NEVER EXPLAINED! But Zira has plans for Kovu. Scary plans. Her big villain song is about... well, let me just quote an excerpt for you.
The sound of Simba's dying gasp
His daughter squealing in my grasp
His lionesses' mournful cry
That's my lullaby

This movie isn't truly on par with Disney's canon. The animation isn't fantastic, the movie jumps around a lot (partially in order to keep it in line with the first movie, and partially due to lesser screenwriting), and it just generally isn't as polished. But if you don't mind your movies a little rough around the edges, you'll probably enjoy Simba's Pride. I did. In spite of the blatant title pun. And in spite of the fact that "fanfiction" kept popping up after the title as a suggested Google search term, which freaks me out. I don't think the world needs lion fanfiction.

Wow, that's two decent movies in a row. I'm getting spoiled! I wonder if the next one...

Never mind.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Interview with Clovia Shaw, Author of Nogitsune!

Today, my lovelies, I have a VERY SPECIAL TREAT for you! Clovia Shaw, author of Nogitsune, agreed to answer my wonky questions for the blog! Nogitsune is one of the books I've enjoyed the most this year. It's an urban fantasy steeped in Japanese mythology instead of the usual fairies and vampires. It's clever and engaging and a ton of fun. Also it has a super cool cover, which is highly significant if you're shallow like me.

The Interview!

S: So first off, I loved the focus on Japanese mythology. They have such rich and varied lore... and also umbrella monsters. What made you pick Japanese mythology over any other?

C: Inspiration comes from so many different places during the day—a tree that seems to wave at you every time you go by, a bug that doesn’t look real, falling down a hole on the internet following links. I can’t remember why I was researching kitsune to begin with this time, but growing up nerd (as I did), East Asian art and themes were a strong thread through much of my entertainment, so it wasn’t the first time I’d looked into the lore behind the Japanese fox. This time, though, I found a caption or just a couple of lines about a practice I hadn’t heard about before, and it stuck in my head for a couple of years.

If I was going to write a story about the descendants of Japanese nature spirits, then the character had to be Asian American, which meant a foundation of Japanese folklore and legend for his UF subculture to grow out of. Because of the history I created, there’s some Chinese fox spirit imagery, too, but mostly Japanese.

S: What's your writing process like? Are you an "x number of words per day, come rain or sleet or kaiju", or do you write the entire thing in one night? (Or something in between.)

C: You’d think a kaiju day would make for a lot of words. Once the running and screaming stopped.

I’ve never been able to write on the same project every day, day in and day out. I write in spurts, with the greatest part of a novel taking me a couple or three months, usually, and then the next eighteen or so filled with paralyzing self-doubt and half-hearted jabs at editing the gelatinous monster I’ve created.

S: Okay, I read your about me, and it says, "A big fan of Kissing Books in which things blow up, Clovia lives in Annapolis, with her very patient husband and the ghost of a very good dog." I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE GHOST DOG. Does it look like Zero? Because I think it should look like Zero.

C: Hee. My dear, handsome doggy, a rescue we had for fourteen years, passed away last September. Sometimes when I’m asleep, the water heater will drip or the floor shifts, and it sounds like toenails tapping on the laminate, or I see that stout little shape out the corner of my eye, only to realize it’s a hoodie on the floor. When my husband cuts one on the couch, he still occasionally blames it on the dog. I let him.

S: What's your favorite book? Or at least give me a top 3.

C: Um. Do comic books count? Because right now I can’t stop shoving CHEW, by Layman and Guillory, in people’s faces. Top three, top three.

Lemme get back to you...never. On that.


S: Lastly but most importantly, what are you working on now? Is Nogitsune going to be part of a series?

C: I have plans to do at least two more. The next one, we find out more about Delia and where she came from. Then I think the three people who’ve read it will string me up by my toes if I don’t deal with what happens after The Kiss. So, yeah, haha. Probably three. I could write stories out of that world for years, but if there’s no audience for it, then it’s time to move on to another.

Currently I’m working on a portal fantasy very loosely inspired by a Danish folk creature called a valravn. Then there are the raccoons. All of these are supposed to be romances, but I’ve been trying to write a Romance for years, and it always turns into something else. I AM DETERMINED.

Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Selma!

Clovia has a website and also a Twitter where she occasionally chats with me about making robots out of vacuum cleaners.


Lincoln Black is nogitsune--a “field fox” cast aside by his family, an outsider among the hidden community of American kitsune descended from the shapeshifting fox-wives of Japanese folklore. When a curse pushes his harmless taste for his lovers' vital energy toward monstrous, uncontrollable hunger, Linc is forced back to the one place he’d—almost—rather die than go for help: home. 

The first night back in town, a cousin he doesn't know defies clan politics to enter his dreams. Wouldn't you know, he wants to strike a bargain: Find a stolen piece of a stranger’s soul, and he’ll help Linc break the curse. 

That help comes in the form of Delia, a geomancer who knows every inch of the city, and whose energy Linc finds dangerously tempting. It would be too easy to lose his head, and drain her life away with no more than a kiss. Armed with a key to the magical pathways hidden behind the mundane world, Linc's own sly magic, and a will o' wisp with an attitude problem, they search for the broken piece of soul.

Too bad they're not the only ones looking for it.

With his self-control slipping, Linc finds himself indebted to a cousin he can't trust, running afoul of more than one god, and putting Delia in danger just by wanting her. He's looking at a jacked-up choice: Die to keep the only person who cares for him safe, or risk becoming a monster straight out of Japanese fairytales.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Selma Ruins Cruel Intentions

During the 90s we had this thing about remaking classic literature into mostly-crappy-but-mostly-amusing teen flicks with Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox 20 on the soundtracks. The best remembered of these are probably 10 Things I Hate About You, Romeo & Juliet, Clueless and also Clueless.

"I would like to say this. Tardiness is not something you
can do on your own. Many, many people contributed to
 my tardiness. I would like to thank my parents for never
giving me a ride to school, the LA city bus driver who
took a chance on an unknown kid and last but not least,
 the wonderful crew from McDonalds who spend hours
making those egg McMuffins, without which I might
never be tardy."
Some of these adaptations worked better than others. Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You (reworkings of Emma and The Taming of the Shrew, respectively) were both about pretty universal concepts (stop meddling; stop being such a bitch to everyone), so they translated well.

Others are more questionable. "O" is an Othello retelling that centers around basketball, because... black people do basketball, I guess. This is obviously a dicey topic, as race always is, and as a white person I'm not really qualified to talk about it (let me know if you have any good links, by the way, so I can signal boost).

But I will say this: the original Othello was a cautionary tale about marrying below your station. Desdemona and Othello are doomed, not because they don't love each other or because they aren't good people, but because Othello is forced by the nature of the marriage to be continually looking for approval from those above him. Race does play into it, in the sense that people back then were gross and every time Othello did something good they were like "wow you're so much better than your skin how great", but it's not the main focus. Having Othello be a different race was the easiest way to distinguish him as being irrevocably beneath Desdemona's station, so Shakespeare went with that.

The movie "O", however, takes place now and focuses on the revenge aspect of the plot. This means that instead of Othello being driven mad by his unattainable desire for approval, Othello (Odin) is just... a good basketball player. At a disadvantage in society yes, but he's not driven mad by Iago (Hugo) in this version: from the very first time he doubts Desi (hey Julia Stiles, were you in all of these movies?), he gets aggressive. It's jealousy alone (mostly brought on by his own mind) that drives him to get violent with Desi multiple times.

In a society where young black men are often stereotyped as mindlessly violent, I can't be comfortable with this interpretation. The movie wants us to believe both that Odin is a good person and that his behavior escalates to domestic violence with barely any provocation. Nope nope nope nope nope.

But I think the very least appropriate for a teen remake was Dangerous Liaisons, a French book/play/movie about bored aristocrats.

In its original form, it was an epistolary novel that explored the dark side of the human spirit through the lens of petty malice. Vicomte de Valmont and Marquise de Merteiul are 40-somethings with nothing better to do than scheme to wreck the people around them - and each other. I think its best interpretation was probably the 1989 film starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich.

Its worst interpretation was the 1999 teen remake Cruel Intentions, about rich high schoolers living on New York's Upper Fashionable Side.

Well this looks like a masterpiece of subtlety.
The plot is relatively close to the source material: Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar in the worst casting decision of her life) is a rich girl who wants revenge on some random high schooler who dumped her. Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) is her step-brother, and his goal is to sleep with a "paradigm of chastity and virtue" named Annette (Reese Witherspoon, pre-Legally Blonde and also talent). They make a wager that Sebastian can't seduce Annette and... um, I'll let Wikipedia take this one away.

Thanks for that clarification.
Essentially what happens is that through a lot of convoluted plot twists and turns (ALL OF THE SPOILERS AHEAD AND I DO MEAN ALL OF THEM), Sebastian agrees to do Kathryn's dirty work on her ex, Kathryn aids and abets Sebastian, Sebastian seduces Annette, Annette gives in, Sebastian decides he really does love her, Kathryn threatens to ruin Annette's reputation if Sebastian doesn't break up with Annette, Sebastian breaks up with Annette, Kathryn tells people that Sebastian hit her, there's a fight, Sebastian gets hit by the slowest cab in New York, Kathryn gets slut-shamed at his funeral, the end.

And this is what's wrong with this adaptation: you cannot imbue the actions of modern-day teenagers with the same weight and significance as those of 40-something pre-French Revolution aristocrats. You just can't. None of this means anything, because Sebastian doesn't have a lifetime of debauchery behind him, and Kathryn doesn't have the shackles of a woman's role in the late 1700s.

In Cruel Intentions, Kathryn does mean things because EVIL. In the source material, it's implied that Kathryn's vindictive nature is the result of a lifetime of confinement, and the only way her intellect and desire for power can be satisfied is by manipulating the lives of those around her.

In Cruel Intentions, Sebastian is a sensitive soul with a journal and acquisitive nature. In the source material, Valmont is a bored womanizer dulled to excitement by a lifetime of debauchery - it's significant that there, his downfall comes from his own vanity rather than concern for Annette, which he's made himself all but incapable of.

Dangerous Liaisons is about two similar minds driving themselves and each other to an inevitable destruction, spreading wreckage everywhere they pass. Cruel Intentions kind of isn't - it really wants us to feel for poor woobie Sebastian, which of course negates the entire point of the story. If Kathryn is the sole player pulling the strings, then it's just a story about an unfortunate guy getting drawn into the snare of an evil slore.

Because reasons.
This might be more interesting if Kathryn had any nuance or personality beyond EVIL EVIL EVIL, but despite the best efforts of the "I'm the Marcia Brady of the Upper East Side and sometimes I want to kill myself" speech, it all falls flat. She has no motivation beyond KILL BURN KILL BURN FIRE PRETTY.

The irritating thing is, this movie didn't have to be bad. While you couldn't do an exact remake into teenagerland, it would have been so very easy to make a movie about two young rich people who want opposite things (say, they both want the same girl/boy), and how after a lifetime of "yes" they can't comprehend the word "no", and the horrific lengths they go to in order to maintain the status quo of getting anything they want.

Aside from the plot stuff, on a mechanics level this movie is just not very good. I think the people making it did put in some effort, but the buck must have stopped at the casting director, because wow do these performances fall flat. Evil has never looked good on Sarah Michelle Gellar (love her, but she has all the range of a toddler on a kazoo), Ryan Phillippe seems to think that cutting. off. every. word. like. this. is. acting, and Reese Witherspoon barely even bothered to show up. Witherspoon in particular is so mind-numbingly personality-void that I... zzz... sorry, slipped into that dang coma again.

Also, in the original, the people around Valmont and Merteiul suffer for V&M's sins. In this, pretty much everything is happy ever after except for the original two. Reese even drives off in Sebastian's car all hair-blowing-free-in-the-wind. So I guess the moral is that seducing doomed rich jerks = free car.

Wait... when the hell did you get that?! What, did he write
his will on the ER intake form?
Cruel Intentions isn't a good movie, but at least it fails in interesting ways, which is more than I can say for a lot of other movies. And if you're into convoluted wealthy teen drama, it could be a good popcorn watch. For my money, I'll go with Get Over It.

Because unlike the rest of you
plebes, I have TASTE.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Names Are the Worst

Know what sucks? Coming up with names for your characters.

I usually start writing without being absolutely sure of all of the names (particularly those of the main characters) and do a few rounds of find/replace before the end. I'm doing it right now. In honor of all the baby name websites I've been on lately (hi NSA, that's so sweet, but no need to send congratulatory flowers), I thought I'd say how I came up with the names of the characters in Protect Me.

Hope: From the beginning I knew that this name needed to be unambiguously feminine to avoid confusion - nothing wrong with m/m, but I really didn't want to have confused readers being like, "Waaaaaaait a second why are there boobs here." And for some reason every person I asked suggested an androgynous name. Perhaps because of her profession...? I don't know, but it was interesting. Anyway, I liked the idea of giving this hardboiled, stoic character a floofy, cheery name, and having her shrug and own it the way she does everything else.

Rick: This was actually the name of a (much older) coworker from a while back. It's a less commonly heard diminutive of Richard, and when I first met him I was like, "Damn that's dignified! I need to save that for a story!" It felt like a very old-money, good breeding sort of name with a bit of edge, and that's exactly what Rick is.

Javier: I wanted to call this character Carlos, but I have a good friend named Carlos, and there's nothing more awkward than naming a character after a friend. Instead, one night I asked Carlos to give me a random name, and here we are. (I'm not terrifically fond of this name, to be honest, but ah well.)

Trinity: Personally I don't have any black friends named Trinity, but I have three or four friends-of-friends named Trinity. Obviously names are open-access and there are plenty of black women named Jennifer and Britney, but I wanted to go for something with at least a bit of identity.

Boran: My friend spent a summer in Turkey, so I asked him for a Turkish name. I looked this one up and it meant "violent storm", so, sold.

Steve Winters: I'm not entirely sure where his last name came from, but Steve has always felt like a very solid, reliable name to me, so it felt fitting for a guy that Hope would trust.

Iseul: This one I did the cheap and easy way - I just looked up a list of the most popular Korean girl names from roughly around the time that Iseul was born, and picked one that didn't have the same first letter as any of the other names.

Willem Gouws: Because I'd done a fair bit of research on South Africa, I had a good idea of common Afrikaner names. Too good an idea, actually. The first three or four names I picked were all the names of elected officials in South Africa, which I definitely wanted to avoid. I messed around a bit until I found something that didn't immediately pull up a famous person on the first page of Google.

Kgosi Thabo: When I was reading news on a South African site, I saw the name Thabo pop up a fair bit, and eventually went with that.

Phew, that was kind of mentally taxing! How do you guys come up with the names in your novels? Or if you're a reader, what names do you especially like or dislike (or just see used a lot)?

Sometimes the Tiger Rides You

Horseback riding is one of those things that forces life lessons on you even when you don't want them. It's like philosophy punching you down the throat. Via a half-ton animal.

I went out to the stables last night hoping for an easy ride. I've been a little worked up and tense about things in my day to day life: book release, wedding stuff, work stuff. The temperature was perfect and it was a glorious blue-sky day, so I figured I'd pull out Giraffe and do some fun, easy fieldwork.

Well, I did fieldwork, but it was neither easy nor fun.

Writing's like that too sometimes. Even when you come up with a stellar idea, you have days (or weeks) where you sit down in front of a blank page and just stare at it. Like all creative ventures, it's not enough to have all the right parts of the equation. Idea + Motivation + Skill = Good Book in theory, but in practice, there's another variable in there. You need that extra something; spark or inspiration or what have you.

It's more like this: Idea + Motivation + Skill + X = Good Book. And you spend all your time solving for X.

Last night I went out on horseback hoping for a fun ride, and instead the horse freaked out at everything. We did a bucking/rearing tour of, let's see... a tractor (MONSTER), a creek (WATER MONSTER), a bush (ALSO MONSTER), and as far as I could tell, empty air (MONSTER MONSTER MONSTER).

I've been riding for a long time, and my specialty is problem horses, so I never actually came off in the field - it happens to me, of course, just not very often. But when I dismounted and went to run up the stirrups before heading in, the horse swung his head around to nuzzle me and jammed the bone of his nose into my finger.

To clarify, the last time a horse full-on clocked me with its nose, it broke my nose.

Talk about adding insult to injury. I came out of a fairly harrowing hour of riding completely unscathed, only to have the horse mess me up by accident on the ground.

Like with writing, there is no getting around it: occasionally the things you love just aren't any fun. Occasionally all your efforts just blow up in your face. Sometimes you ride the tiger; sometimes the tiger rides you.

How well you can roll with the punches is what makes or breaks you, I guess. Nobody really wants to spend an evening debating whether or not their finger is broken, but it is what it is. You either suck it up, let it go, and move on, or you don't come back.

I keep coming back, broken bones and all.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Research Smut

What, you don't love research as much as I do? And here I thought this would be the most exciting post of the week.

Because Protect Me is about a female bodyguard, I had to do a lot of data gathering. I knew a small amount about personal security because of my dad, whose life has been a lot more exciting than mine. But executive protection (aka bodyguard-ing) and dealing with the threat of violence every day was by no means my area of expertise, so...

You may notice that three of these are by Rory Miller. Look, he writes good stuff! I'm not a fangirl or anything...

Aha. Ahahahaha... Okay shut up.

But seriously, Rory Miller is that rare person with both experience and enough writing talent to convey the things he's learned effectively. If you're at all interested in personal security, violence theory, or the practicalities of dealing with violence, I can't recommend Meditations on Violence highly enough. I've fobbed it off on all my family and friends, if that tells you anything. He has a blog (here's an entry on martial arts/violence misinformation) that's on the flow-of-consciousness side, but in his case, that's still worth reading. I'd just read one of his books first so you have a framework for it.

A fantastic online resource I found was the blog Zen Traveler, about a guy who's both a bodyguard and a Buddhist. Unfortunately the site is closed - I actually emailed to thank him for the info on the site and he graciously replied telling me that he'd moved on from the blog, but would be happy to answer any questions - but the info is no less worth reading now than it was a year ago.

Another day, another novel... This might give you a clue about the book I'm working on now.

So, anybody out there got any good research stories for me? Are you researching anything interesting? Hit me! It's not like my nonfiction list is full to bursting already...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Beauty and the Beast, Harry Potter, and Jane Eyre All Ended Up In Here

Today, I have a super special awesome chocolate-covered extra-long snip of Protect Me for you!


"And here..." Rick took hold of both handles of the double doors, and threw them open with admirable dramatic flair, "is the library!"

Hope stared into a huge, airy room with a floor-to-ceiling windows and bookcases that stretched up to cover every wall entirely. They were crammed with everything from obvious textbooks to what looked like the Harry Potter novels. A tasteful arrangement of sofas and chairs decorated the middle of the room. It looked at once pristine and well-loved; the long white sofas appeared to be new, but the brown leather chairs looked like they were often used. There was a spiral sprawl of books on the coffee table in the middle that somehow managed to look like it was actually in use rather than a feature in a magazine.

“Um. Wow. It's... lovely,” she said, feeling Rick's eyes on her.

The nice thing about Rick was that you didn't have to worry about figuring out what he thought. He had no problems letting you know.

Rick frowned and stared at her quizzically. "I was going for a Beauty and the Beast moment here," he said, which meant nothing to her. "I thought you'd be a little more excited."

She stepped inside the room, because Rick seemed to want her to, and gazed around at the shelves stacked with books.

"I'm not really a big reader," she said, hating the hesitation in her voice. "I wasn't very good at school, and now I'm busy." She'd had more important things to worry about at fourteen than homework. And her mother certainly hadn't cared. Hope reminded herself of those things, but it felt hollow. She stared helplessly at the thousands upon thousands of books filled with wisdom and enjoyment that she couldn't understand.

"That right?" Hope glanced back at Rick; he was watching her with a soft look in his eyes. "That's a shame. You're too smart not to read."

Hope blinked. Smart? That phrase didn't sound familiar to her ears. Strong, yes. Capable, absolutely. But she couldn’t remember a time anyone had described her as intelligent before. Not ever.

Pride bit her tongue and held her back from saying so. She stared at the calm confidence on Rick's handsome face. Something in his expression gave her courage.

"So… what do you recommend?" she asked quietly.

Rick's eyes lit up and he darted forward into the room. He went to one bookshelf first and then hesitated, moved over to another. He poked around in the shelves in the familiar way of a frequent visitor.

"Here." He pulled an old, worn hardback off the shelf and handed it to her.

Hope took it gently. She stared at it for a second and burst out laughing. Even she recognized this one.

"Jane Eyre? Really”

Rick cocked an eyebrow at her. "Yes?”

"Isn't that a romance?" Hope wasn't sure if she was protesting him giving a romance to her, or him knowing a romance well enough to recommend it. But it was easier to make a case for the latter. "You like romance novels?"

Rick didn't look put off in the least. He just grinned a little, his eyes catching the sparkle of the afternoon sun filtering in through the huge windows.

"I like good books. And Jane Eyre is a damn good book." His grin widened. "Besides, it seemed appropriate. An over-large mansion, a bright young woman, a dashing, handsome, charming, clever..."

"Alright!" Hope actually laughed a little and Rick joined in, the rich sound of his deep, rolling laugh filling up the room that had seemed intimidatingly large a moment ago.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Disney Sequelester - Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World

Is this... is this what joy feels like?
Please fasten all your seatbelts and keep your limbs inside the vehicles. THIS MOVIE IS ACTUALLY PRETTY GOOD.

I know! I know!!!! Pocahontas is one of the most widely criticized Disney movies, hell, maybe THE most widely criticized Disney movie. And I think that Pocahontas is one of the least liked Disney princesses - half the time she doesn't even make it into pictures of the main cast.

"Sorry bitch, this tea party's full!"
That being said, I've explained at length why I think Pocahontas gets a bad rap. To summarize: Hollywood History is never accurate, and Pocahontas isn't boring, plus she's one of the few Disney princesses to have any power of her own (Mulan and Jasmine being the other two). Her story is the only kingship story of any Disney movie.

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World is interesting because I think Disney might have made it solely to try to silence their critics. If that was the case, it didn't work: all Disney sequels have ever done is make the company look bad. But that might be undeserved in this one instance. This is a solid movie with good writing and construction. Its only downside is some not-so-stellar animation, but there's nothing the makers of this movie could do about that.

Much like its predecessor, there's a few interesting tidbits surrounding the making of Pocahontas II. While Mel Gibson didn't reprise his goal as John Smith's voice, his younger brother Donal Gibson did. Mmkay? Then there's the historical stuff. In the movie, Ratcliffe is restored to his former glory upon to return to England, and convinces the King that there is really for sure this time gold in America. He kills John Smith, and the Queen forces her husband to send an envoy to America. John Rolfe shows up and takes Pocahontas back with him because someone Pocahontas will be able to prove whether or not there's gold in her country.

In real life, Pocahontas did travel to England in that year, but she was called Rebecca by then: she'd been baptized a Christian, married John Rolfe, and had a son with him. It's pretty evident from letters that John Rolfe was in love with Pocahontas, but there's no telling whether or not Pocahontas herself saw it as a political alliance. By the time Pocahontas reached England Ratcliffe had been dead for three years. She did see John Smith while she was there, but it wasn't a happy reunion; Pocahontas felt betrayed by Smith because he wouldn't let her call him father... I don't know guys, history is weird.

On to the movie!

Two seconds in and you can tell this is not the John Smith of the first movie. The old John Smith… well, I guess he had a sense of humor? He laughed at things occasionally? This one punts goons off balconies and says things like, "Thanks for dropping by!" He's kind of annoying, which is probably intentional. Anyway, Ratcliffe shows up on the roof with him after the fight (on the roof... do you remember what this guy looks like? How did he get up there?) and oh no John Smith is clearly dead forever.

Back in Cannibal City, Amurrica, a ship is arriving.

Good thing she always happens to be standing there
when ships come in, right?
The villagers and Indians are sort of getting along, which leads to some weird anachronisms.

But some of the villagers have a Karate-Kid-Villain-style hatred for Indians, which causes them to attack Pocahontas even though they're like a zillion years old and probably suffering from syphilis and gout, and she does swan dives off cliffs and can kick their butts.

Why do you look scared?
Enter John Rolfe, who says the word "honor" more times than Edward Cullen and always has a hat for the occasion (what occasion? ANY occasion).

Yes good plan RIDE your horse off the ship.
The drums of waaaaaaaaaaar break out basically instantly, and John Rolfe rushes up to help Pocahontas. This is their first exchange:

Rolfe: I was trying to help!
Pocahontas: I didn't ask for your help!
Rolfe: You didn't say thank you either. Whatever happened to manners and etiquette?
Pocahontas: Well, since you are new here, I don't expect you to have them yet.

Yessssss I love it (although I'm amused that his initial reaction isn't OMG YOU ARE BROWN). Anyway, the relationship between John Rolfe and Pocahontas is really what's so fantastic about this movie, for two reasons:
A) John Rolfe is the first and really only atypical hero that comes as a matched set with a Disney princess. He's a stylish courtier concerned with manners and etiquette, not a warrior.

Look at that adorable pout.
B) He treats Pocahontas like a person. Once she earns his respect (by being mannerly - she thanks him on the boat - do you love it or do you love it), he treats her as an equal, and the screenwriting in this is actually good enough that you can see his feelings grow deeper over the course of the movie.

One of the Indians protests any involvement with the white man: "They only want our land! They mean to destroy us!" Since this is 100% true, I'm deeply amused at how Pocahontas is treated like a hero by the movie for chastising him.

Pocahontas decides to go to England after consulting her freaky tree demon that really does not fit with the tone of this movie. The tree says, "I told you to listen with your heart. Now it is time to listen to your heart," aka "Remember Ariel? TIME TO GET A MAN."

Another note: I really like that this movie continues her friendship from the first movie. Solid female friendships in kid's movies are vanishingly rare.

Emotion! Ladies allowed to display emotion for each other!
Her father sends Uttamatomakkin (hereby known as Utta) to accompany Pocahontas. I freaking love this character, but also, this was a real person who really did go with Pocahontas on her ill-fated voyage to England. The real Utta was a Powhatan shaman who, upon attempts to convert him to Christianity, said that he was too old to learn new ways. LOL. And after he met the King of England, he said this to John Smith: "You gave Powhatan a white dog, which Powhatan fed as himself, but your King gave me nothing, and I am better than your white dog." ILU UTTA

This guy is my everything-spiration.
In spite of my annoyance with token moohahaha villains picking fights with Pocahontas for no reason, her transition to friendship with John Rolfe on the boat works really well. When he fends off her attackers, Pocahontas realizes that he's a decent person, and when Pocahontas thanks him, John Rolfe's requirement for proper etiquette is observed. Fabulous.

Now that is a man that doesn't even need the garters he so
stylishly wears, am I right my friends?
They get to England and there's a semi-okay song about life in London. The best part by far is when Pocahontas climbs a tree to see better and John Rolfe frantically calls after her: "Pocahontas, would you like to join me? On the ground? This instant?"

My but you're looking neat and clean, London.
It's only when they're in London that Ratcliffe enacts his most nefarious scheme of all: A BALL.

Dun dun DUN.
The King tells John Rolfe, "Prove to me at the Hunt Ball that she is as civilized as you say and I shall stop my armada." Well shit, a whole lot of wars could've been avoided if we'd just thrown more balls, huh? What the hell is this arms budget you're bringing me? INVEST IT ALL IN PARTY CITY.

What does this call for? A MAKEOVER MONTAGE. But the fun part of this one is that the hero gets to take part, because what are his skills? Etiquette! In all honesty this is a pretty brilliant use of this trope.

Pocahontas do not assault his eyes with your underthings
They get to the ball and it's jacket required.

This movie really does have funny moments.
The ball goes well until Ratcliffe sets up a bear-baiting station. John Rolfe begs them to stop, because Pocahontas doesn't understand, but the king says, "Nonsense, everyone loves a good bear-baiting!"

So true.
Of course Pocahontas wigs out and gets thrown in jail. It's up to John Rolfe to save her!

0 points for efficiency, but as ever, full marks for style.
Thankfully, John Smith is around to help.

This is Utta's face when they show up at the prison.
Just so you know.
"All this time you were alive... Why didn't you write to me?"
Uhh, because you can't read English?
The movie makes a fantastic use of its ten-or-so minutes before they have to resolve the plot to really establish the differences between the two leading men.

And then there's Utta.

Also Utta can run over exploding bridges because Utta is the man.

In a love triangle between John Smith and John Rolfe, I
pick Utta.
As soon as they're free, the men start to argue about what Pocahontas should do, and it makes it absolutely clear why John Rolfe is the best ever without villainizing John Smith.

Smith: "If she goes back there, they'll hang her!"
Rolfe: "Are you suggesting she turn her back on them?"
Smith: "Are you suggesting she die for them?"
Rolfe: "Well, she can't just sit and watch."
Smith: "She has no choice!"
Rolfe: "Of course she has a choice!"

And then of course Pocahontas goes running off. John Smith goes running after her, but...

Rolfe: "Let her go."
Smith: "You may not care about her safety..."
Rolfe: "Don't you DARE tell me I don't care about her!"

Which is exactly the point, of course. Rolfe cares about Pocahontas enough to respect her as a person. If she was a man, everyone would expect Pocahontas to be willing to die for her people. Why should he expect anything less of her?

Utta can run with a dog on his head.
Pocahontas does some soul-searching with the colors of the wind and decides, of course, to try again to appeal to the King and save her people. John Smith tells her she's crazy. John Rolfe smiles, brings out her mother's necklace, and says, "I thought you might need whatever power this holds for you." He doesn't understand it, but he doesn't need to understand it if it's important to Pocahontas UGH JOHN ROLFE IN THIS MOMENT YOU ARE MANNERLY AND PERFECT.

So yeah, they fight Ratcliffe on a boat in the rain (of course it's raining). John Rolfe saves Pocahontas while yelling for her to help him with something, because the screenwriters really wanted me to love them.

And then it's off to happily ever after in Cannibal City. John Smith gets a ship and assumes that Pocahontas will go with him... she does not. He wishes her happiness and literally backs off the screen, which is unintentionally hilarious.

"I'll just... be going."
John Rolfe goes with Pocahontas, and Utta stays with John Rolfe's absent-minded housekeeper. Because the moral of this review is that Utta is perfect.