A Coco Complaint

I FINALLY went to see Coco and I have one extremely important complaint:

WHY ARE THERE NO FULL-LENGTH SONGS SUNG BY ANTHONY GONZALEZ ON THE SOUNDTRACK????????????????????

Ahem.

I suppose, technically, both “Proud Corazón” and “Poco Loco” are full-length songs, but “Proud Corazón” is only two minutes and “Poco Loco” is LESS than two minutes and in the movie that performance 100% gets interrupted. And “The World es Mi Famiglia” is less than ONE MINUTE long! What is this nonsense?

Pixar basically made a musical without making a musical, and the short bursts of song throughout the movie definitely work for the pacing BUT I WANT FULL-LENGTH AND MAYBE EVEN LIKE 20-MINUTE VERSIONS OF THESE SONGS ON THE SOUNDTRACK AT LEAST, COME ON!

Pixar what are you doing to me.

This is not OK.

I am not OK.

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Superheroes, Lately

Let’s talk about three superhero movies that came out this year and the important things they did that superhero movies haven’t previously done in my opinion which is a good opinion and is a very informed opinion as always. (Hint – no, it’s not the latter and probably not the former either. But I think I’m on to a couple of things, at least.)

I’d watch Wonder WomanGuardians of the Galaxy 2, and Lego Batman before reading. Also I’d just watch all of those movies in general. So.

In brief:

Wonder Woman

Well, it’s about a female superhero. That alone isn’t new, but it’s also actually critically and financially successful, which is new for a woman-led superhero movie. It gives the love interest really important things to do, which makes it unique among the superhero movies I’ve seen. It’s also clearly actually about something, morality-wise. I’d argue that most of them aren’t, apart from maybe the responsibilities of power – and only if it’s one of the good Spider-Man movies. Most of them present some sort of simplistic good vs evil conflict that we’re supposed to just take at face value, because if we start questioning it it all starts to fall apart (why is Bruce Wayne so rich and can he please just stop, for example). They’re also more interested in being character-driven and all about the spectacle, which would be more than fine usually (superheroes are supposed to be fun, otherwise what’s the point). But with Marvel producing a billion a minute and with DC producing a bunch that are pretty impressively not entertaining or fun in the slightest, it’s getting super boring up in here without even basic introspection or bigger attempts to shake things up. But yeah, this one is about stuff. Pretty basic stuff but stuff nonetheless, and I’m interested to see if future Wonder Woman movies are also actually about stuff in more ways than this first one is.

Guardians of the Galaxy

This one paired up all of the characters (except Groot) and they all discussed their flaws and past mistakes and vulnerability with each other, to varying degrees. For me, the most intriguing pairs were Gamora/Nebula and Rocket/Yondu. Quill/Dickface was more important to the plot than it was important for character development (if I’m remembering correctly) and Drax/Mantis was comic-reliefy. But either way, I found it really engaging, and it meant that I liked this one waaaaay better than the first one, which I think is a minority opinion but I’m thrilled to have it even if I have to be alone.

Lego Batman

Finally, Batman is deservedly, deservedlydeservedly being mocked. Catharsis, at long last.

Also Voldemort was in it a lot. I told everyone who asked me how it was after I saw it that he was prominently featured and the reaction to that was, universally, “… what?”

Now, in length:

Superheroes are weird, and also Pixar movies make me feel all sorts of things

“Superhero movies aren’t about anything,” I just said, cruelly. I do understand why it has to be that way. There are lots of reasons but I think the main and obvious and boring one is that if you make a story be entirely about morality, it’s not going to be a good story. It doesn’t need to be said because it is pretty obvious, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway: you need to strike a balance. Characters and the small, specific plot that they have to work their way through need to be at the forefront – but some sort of morality should be behind it and will be there whether you try to put it there or not – especially if it’s a story about powerful people trying to protect vulnerable people from other powerful people, which is supposedly what all superhero stories are.

My problem then is not that there isn’t morality in these movies, it’s more that I think these movies specifically would lend themselves to important morality discussions, but they tend to waste that opportunity. So now let’s talk about Pixar movies for a while.

I have what I suspect are silly problems with Wall-E that resemble my probably silly problems with superhero movies in general. But at the risk of sounding like a humorless moralist, I’ll go into it anyway. I think Wall-E has a moral that doesn’t go along with its plot. The moral is that you shouldn’t just do boring, repetitive things or you’ll miss out on life. And that’s fine, but there’s also the pesky thing where they have a plant, which, as far as anyone knows throughout the entire movie, is the only plant on earth. But the plant is treated as incidental. It’s why Eve shows up on earth and it’s what the captain, who is the best character, is invested in, but is otherwise unimportant. Wall-E and Eve’s love story is what’s centered, and the return to earth is just the subplot, as it should be. But the moment that Auto crushes Wall-E is the moment the moral plot gets swallowed by the love story, because now they aren’t going home to start taking responsibility for destroying it, but rather because the stupid robot needs to be repaired. Because the plant has previously been Eve’s sole directive but now Wall-E is and blaaaaaaah I don’t care, I’m too worried about the plant starting to wilt to care about the robot.

At this point I become a reluctant viewer. Because the entire moral of Wall-E is to forget about your job. Just, toss it aside in complete abandon so that you can do what’s important to you personally instead. For Mo, it’s cleaning Wall-E. For all of the broken robots, it’s being completely useless and somewhat dangerous, let’s be real. For Wall-E and Eve it’s holding hands.

BUT OMG EVE THE PLANT!!!!! THE WHOLE WORLD IS DEAD AND NOW YOU ALL HAVE A CHANCE TO CLEAN IT UP I DON’T CARE THAT YOU WANT TO HOLD HANDS YOU’RE JUST ROBOTS AND SOMETIMES YOUR JOBS ARE ACTUALLY VITAL AND YOU NEED TO DO THEM PROPERLY I MEAN GET THAT MASSAGE THERAPY ROBOT REPAIRED BEFORE THEY KILL SOMEBODY WHY DO I HAVE TO EXPLAIN THIS

Maybe I have a heart of stone but Wall-E could have actually died and I wouldn’t have cared at all. I was way more invested in the return to earth for sake of, just, earth. That’s probably because seeing endless piles of garbage everywhere made me actually upset and I stopped being a passive audience-member and started being an environmentalist. But the sort of sentimentality they were going for with Wall-E and Eve works like a charm on me if the story meshes character and moral flawlessly, which Pixar does with Inside Out. The moral is that sadness is a good thing and that being relentlessly happy in every context can be thoroughly damaging, which is pretty revolutionary. I think Bing Bong’s death is… let’s just say it’s sad. Very sad. I care about that one. And that’s coming from me, the person who thought, as soon as Bing Bong showed up on screen, “OMG that character has to die before the end or this movie will have no integrity.” And I stand by that opinion.

Sorry. As well as being more likely to get attached to a plant in a shoe than a personified romance robot, I have a major problem with Pixar relentlessly valuing the infantilizing of female characters. I hate – HATE – the Jessie/Emily scene in TS2. I hate it so much. I shouldn’t hate it as much as I do but by golly I hate that scene. To be fair, they do this with male characters too and I hate it then also, but I find it particularly insidious when it’s girls. I liked my childhood; I look back on it fondly. But I’m also super glad that I got to grow up and I get really mad when people treat me like a child despite the fact that I achieved adulthood and it’s a thing that happens to women all the time. So Pixar needs to stop. And they did when Bing Bong died and Riley gets to experience new, complicated, reaching-age-of-maturity emotions without clinging to things that were only relevant to her as a toddler, and it’s amazing that he recognizes this and that he can still be helpful to her by sacrificing himself to get Joy back to where she belongs, but his death is still really, really sad.

To summarize: meshing character/plot/morality is crucial and easy to get wrong and it’s going to make different people respond differently to different movies because your mileage may vary, of course. But I think that this sort of thing should, in theory, be easy in superhero stories, maybe even easier in superhero movies than Pixar films. Superheroes are effortlessly cool, and they also kind of have to be about the good/evil binary, so, really they should just write themselves.

And yet, it doesn’t seem to work out that way. I’m only going by recent movies, though. I’m sure the old Superman movies did a reasonably good job with this. I’ve heard of the one that tries to take on the nuke issue and does a kind of naive job of it, but at least, as far as I’m concerned, it took on that issue. Because lately I haven’t seen actual morality discussed in superhero movies and I think they could use those discussions. And what I mean by that starts at Superhero Ethics 101: Should You Even Be Doing This At All I Mean Really You Can So Easily Kill So Many People Just By Doing This Stuff Please Think About it Carefully at Least Once in the Run Time. And then there’s Superhero Ethics 102: What to do When “Some Lunatic Comes Along with a Sadistic Choice.” We’ll get to that one in a minute.

Uncle Ben’s “With great power comes great responsibility,” is the closest thing recent superhero movies come to examining what responsibilities superheroes have. Peter learns the lesson on a very personal level, since his spite is indirectly responsible for Uncle Ben’s death, and then I guess he vows to fight crime, because he can, being a wall-climber. I’d like to see a little more focus on the commitment to do-goodery. It’s often taken as a given, and goes unquestioned. It stops at that one quote. “With great power comes great responsibility.” But I have no idea what that means to any of these dudes personally, beyond, “Let’s fight petty crime in this city and wait around for a supervillain to show up and then fight that guy too.” What are their values, these superdudes? Why petty crime, specifically? And why is it so passive, the hanging out fighting petty crime until some other costumed dude shows up? Why are superheroes not more proactive about any of this stuff? How exactly are they committed to making the world a better place, other than stopping crimes that are conveniently in progress right when they show up?

Focusing on Spider-Man, I could ask: are spider powers really the best way to protect New Yorkers from crime? I get that spider powers are the coolest visual way to fight crime in New York, but is it really just car chases and muggings and bank robberies and fires and back alley rapists that Peter should be focusing on, to live up to Uncle Ben’s expectations about taking responsibility? There’s other stuff going on, too, like police brutality. Or homelessness. Has – has a superhero ever done something for a homeless person, in a movie? Maybe some self-reflection would be nice, occasionally. Part of the reason that doesn’t happen is the supervillains, who apart from being super villainous, are also super convenient. The heroes are just out and about, doing small-time hero work, stopping cliché crime people, and I assume they go home and contemplate their strategies and maybe look into ways to get rid of the causes of petty crime rather than just whipping around putting bank robbers in huge spiderwebs, because Peter needs to pay the rent and also eventually he’s going to get older and he won’t be able to do this anymore so maybe trying to make the crime rate go down in ways that don’t require his physical presence and prowess would be prudent, and then maybe poverty-stricken Peter Parker starts thinking about different ways he could try to use his powers to shelter homeless people or to combat crimes that don’t generally get treated like crimes because society is annoying – like what are the superhero ethics of going against the police to stop them hurting people they’re arresting, whether they’re arresting them rightly or wrongly, and not just going against the police because it looks cool (TBF it probably shouldn’t be a white character who does that but Miles Morales – I’m just saying)? I really want to see all of that stuff explored, but inevitably right at that point in all of these movies is when the supervillain shows up and all of the interesting stuff that could have happened just doesn’t happen.

Also I know Watchmen exists but it doesn’t count. It’s too cynical to be included in this discussion. I strongly believe that superhero stories don’t have to be cynical in order to take on interesting, thought-provoking, real-world relevant morality issues. Not to disparage Watchmen because it is very good, but it isn’t useful here.

Speaking of cynicism, the first Guardians movie briefly does a thing in which the characters debate whether they should risk their lives to literally save the galaxy – the big scene about this is probably the best scene in there. This happens on and off throughout the movie but when it comes right down to it, they barely even contemplate the possibility of trying to run, because despite how cynical most of them are, they believe in friendship and stuff – shockingly, it has to be said. And it is the power of friendship that both saves their lives, and then the galaxy, in the span of maybe five or ten minutes.

But there isn’t really any commentary there about making a tough choice because it’s the right one. There probably shouldn’t be, because the movie is supposed to be mostly comedic but then sincere at the end, so it has to remain comedic enough throughout to allow for the sincerity of the climax to actually work without coming across as being as stupid and insincere as everything else these characters do. But that still means they aren’t really saying much about this stuff.

wonder woman

Wonder Woman doesn’t say all of the sophisticated and complex things it could have said about WWI or war in general. When Steve says, “I’m one of the good guys… those are the bad guys,” he’s not wrong, because those guys are specifically trying to return stolen plans for a devastating gas attack, an attack that would kill people on both sides, but the futility of the Allies/Central Powers conflict, and how a lot of posturing and egomania led to millions of deaths and plenty of devastation (not to mention that twenty years later an even worse one broke out that was directly a consequence of how badly the first one’s end was managed) is one heck of a discussion that could have happened and does not happen. It’s hard to have that discussion and still root for… anyone, to be fair. But because Wonder Woman does a broader thing at the end where she declares that she’s going to try, and keep trying, whether humanity deserves her labour or not, it still is sort of making a point about war. Despite how banal and commonplace and empowered real evil is during wars and leading up to them, she’s committed to trying to influence the world towards eventual peace. That makes her one of a kind, recently, and previously I do suspect it’s only Superman and the Naive Cold War Stuff that has tried to take on a cause worthy of a freaking superhero. I mean really.

Importantly – I don’t want to see superheroes taking on the Holocaust, or anything like that, because that would be in pretty bad taste and would be way more naive than Superman vs the Nukes. I just think that the movies set in modern times could stand to say something bold and useful about what people in various places of privilege should maybe sort of try to do with their privilege, since we have it.

But. Diana is proactive. She believes, fiercely, in her responsibility to the entire freaking world. She believes in protecting mankind even though she isn’t one of them. And the final decision she makes is to continue to pursue her goal of peace for everyone despite the fact that people are flawed. Her determination and belief are presented as naive and occasionally reckless, but ultimately she succeeds. Because, sure, Ares wasn’t disguised as that German guy, but he does exist and he does show up and she does have to kill him. And then there’s that no-man’s land scene where her idealism turns out to be perfectly fine, because she can back it up with superpowers. I’ve also seen a bit of griping about how Diana is constantly set up to learn things from Steve, but I actually think that they learn from each other fairly evenly. Sure, her boldness messes things up a couple of times, but he follows her into situations he declares are too risky like a billion times (OK fine, it’s maybe once or twice, but shut up) and it turns out to be fine, and she was right after all. Also this has nothing to do with superhero ethics but early on there’s this perfect moment where he tries to set himself up as a potential educator for her, since she’s a woman from an island filled only with women, and therefore obviously she wouldn’t know anything about this, on the subject of sexual pleasure. I think that’s what he’s trying to do, anyway. He says he’s virile because he’s a spy (lol?). And she’s like, “Dude, please.”

Later when they do have sex, it’s preceded by her explicitly asking him to tell her what typical long-term committed heteronormative romantic relationships are like and he says he has no idea, which I think is a good summary of who’s teaching who what. They’re both in extraordinary circumstances and are constantly having their ideas about what they and the people around them should or shouldn’t or can or can’t do challenged which is EXACTLY what superhero movies need more of. I think the reason this movie seems to achieve this so effortlessly is that it necessarily has to confront gender roles throughout the run time, so all of the not-specifically-gender-role-related things just naturally get the same treatment because they’re already conscious of and trying to challenge norms.

At the end as Diana battles her supervillain, the literal god of war, it’s not really him that’s the danger to her, or, crucially, to the people around her who she is supposed to be protecting, and influencing. She’s just battling herself. She has believed for most of the movie that guiding humanity toward peace is her job, so now that she has discovered that it’s going to be a lot harder for her to accomplish than she thought, and it might be impossible, does she want to do difficult work for people who may not be inherently good without an external evil influence after all? And then she decides that, yes, she does, and then that’s that.

She’s not only committed to physically ending war but to being an influential figure for the good, always. The influential figure part of her identity is also an aspect of superheroes that doesn’t get highlighted enough. There are some kids in Raimi’s Spider-Man movies and those parts are always really good, and I know Gotham-Joffrey is in Batman Begins and wannabe-Batmans are in The Dark Knight and there are orphans (or at least, a discussion about orphans) in The Dark Knight Rises, so it does happen, but it’s a thing that should happen more. Superheroes should more often actually reflect on the fact that their actions will inspire lots of people. If they make a mistake, they may unintentionally endorse a lot of terrible stuff and that’s a story line I already know I’d like better than “oh no Doc Oc has robot arms and stuff.” It’s also much, much better than another type of story that tends to emerge: “oh no, all of the ordinary people hate and fear these massively overpowered metahumans among them and they’re trying to stop them waaaah.” Sometimes that can be OK, like in any given X-men story, but personally I don’t think “superpowers as stand-ins for marginalization” works very well for good discussions about what marginalization is and how it works and why it needs to stop. It’s better for making marginalized people feel empowered, which is no small thing. But if your identity is marginalized because you can move all the metal around you at will, well, maybe you’re actually the privileged one, now. And they attempt to explore that with Magneto but it’s never a clear exploration of these ideas because they never fully own that the X-men literally are extremely dangerous to everyone else, if they choose to be, and that even the hatemongering rises out of an actually legitimate concern. They can’t. It would ruin the whole thing. So.

Also sometimes it isn’t OK. That part of the story in The Incredibles is important for setting up the plot and raising the stakes, but it’s also kind of uncomfortable, if you think about it long enough. And everyone who ever expressed a concern over Batman’s vigilantism was right and I hope they’re eventually vindicated. What Bruce needs is a good therapist.

I haven’t seen the most recent Captain America movie but I heard that it was about Iron Man deciding that maybe the Avengers need to be more careful about the things they do and the unintentional damage they cause, but the movie seems to think that’s silly and takes Cap’s side, which is, weirdly, “Nah.” So if I’d watched it I could go into more detail but that seems like it’s close to what I’m looking for – introspection-wise, at least. But it also sounds like it’s a clear rejection of the premise that maybe superheroes need to take several steps back in every situation, because they are way too powerful for comfort.

Someone on twitter talked briefly about how weird it is that superheroes are actually pretty fascist, if you think about it, and that no one talks about this. Well, hey, I think the movies themselves should talk about it. I think that might make an interesting superhero movie. Take just one conflict that often arises in these movies: the, “oh no, the supervillain is going to make the hero choose between x and the screaming female love interest because he can only save one in time!” And the hero always is actually able to save both. Here’s a thought: have the hero choose the love interest. Have the hero really own that selfish choice, and have to live with how they made a selfish choice that benefits only them and the person they love at the expense of others and they made the choice because they can. And if the hero chooses whatever x is? Well that isn’t much better. Why did the hero knowingly place a vulnerable person in a dangerous situation? Why didn’t they just make like Don Quixote and choose “to love, pure and chaste, from afar?” (I know that isn’t fair for Peter in the first movie because MJ being in danger is all Harry’s fault but still, even having lived through this experience, in the later movies he decides that it’s worth the risk to be with her, so…) Why do these movies always make it really easy on these characters – why do they get to have it both ways? Why are they never responsible for the actual damage they cause? Why are they not responsible for the conflicts they choose not to try to get involved with?

Beeeeecause superhero movies are, to a one, uniformly morally dull. It’s enough to make a marxist critic out of me, honestly. Why are we celebrating all of these silly-costumed ubermensches anyway, if they can’t even be bothered to do something about homelessness?

The stuff in Wonder Woman is definitely not as complex as I would have liked – and it doesn’t address the fascism thing, I mean, she’s literally a god – but I did write this paragraph once when I was talking about how Starkid keeps scooping mainstream popular culture:

My thing is a Harley Quinn movie where she dumps the Joker for good and that’s all. Throw some Batman cameos in there, maybe have Poison Ivy be the love interest, Catwoman cameos too because Catwoman is my queen. My thing is live-action Kim PossibleTeen Titans and literally no one is white. Superheroes fight grassroots battles too, like Beast Boy fights against the meat industry or Cyborg joins BLM. Superheroes literally stop wars. Those are the things I want.”

It seems to me that Wonder Woman is the closest thing to that last thing that I’ll be getting. And right now, I’m OK with that. It ever-so-slightly began a conversation about superhero responsibility and it took on a real, actual, gigantic issue that isn’t the stupid Joker again. And while sure, there’s never a discussion about “Hey Diana, use your powers judiciously maybe, people are delicate,” the entire final conflict is her clearly stating her intention to fight for people rather than ignore them because they aren’t perfect. I think this clear statement is kinder than the sorts of things that happen in movies like The Incredibles or The Dark Knight or whatever went on in Batman V Superman. It does highlight Diana’s decision to not drop a tank on Dr. Poison, even though she is awful. That’s promising, as far as I’m concerned.

And of course it centers a woman doing superhero things, and just like when I saw The Force Awakens, I hadn’t realized until I actually saw it happening how big of a deal it is, letting female characters be centered in the sorts of stories where previously only male characters have been centered.

So also, we need to start doing that with people of colour. It’s happening a little bit, but it needs to happen more. Stat. In Wonder Woman there are black Amazons which is great, but unfortunately because there’s only so much time we can spend on Amazon island it’s only Diana’s mother and aunt who get to say and do plot and thematically important things, and that’s too bad. Sameer is also a bit of a stereotype, which seems extremely unnecessary. This movie could have done a better job with this stuff, too, but what’s really important is those movies that will center superheroes who are POC. Black Panther looks good, eh? But that doesn’t excuse Marvel for not just having Miles Morales be their Spider-Man because we have enough Peter Parker movies, and some of them are really good. Come on.

One little side note before I move on: Big Hero 6 and Megamind both have better, more clearly stated, and more thematically relevant examinations of what it means to be a superhero and the responsibilities inherent in it than most (… all?) live action superhero movies do (I hesitate to say that maybe Wonder Woman does this pretty flawlessly too, because I think it does, but I’ve only seen it once and it’s still too fresh). And sure, a lot of that is that the better family films always more clearly state their moral while still embedding it nicely in the surrounding plot, and the morals are usually a lot simpler, but still.

Lego Zatana, is what I’m thinking. I don’t know much about Zatana but I’m willing to learn, people who make the Lego movies. And Disney animated women of colour Marvel superheroines that I don’t know the names of because I’m unfamiliar with comics generally and we don’t have any of those in the movie Marvelverse despite having an Ant Man, a Doctor Strange, and three Thor movies. I’m not nearly the first to point that out and yet it’s still 100% true.

One other little side note: a story where an ubermensch uses their mystical, magical powers ALWAYS with the greater good and responsibilities of power in mind and front and center is Avatar, both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Which is part of why this blog is going to be clogged with posts about it for most of the summer. But yeah, Avatars are the true heroes that Gotham needs, and deserves. To be perfectly honest I have no fucking clue what that “hero that Gotham needs right now vs hero that Gotham deserves” thing even means, and I don’t even know how the sentence actually goes, and I don’t think I ever will.

All right I won’t write as much about Guardians 2

When I saw the first Guardians movie I was really annoyed about how it used Nebula. I thought she had an interesting backstory because it was exactly the same as Gamora’s, except with a bit of an inferiority complex thrown in, and I wanted to see some sympathy thrown her way but she just propped up the boring villain, got shot at by Drax, and then she took off. So then I saw the second Guardians movie.

Boy howdy.

I don’t even think that the Nebula/Gamora thing was that prominent, but it was actually satisfyingly addressed. I honestly didn’t think it would be until it actually started happening, but it was! Look at me, getting what I want out of a Marvel movie for once.

What the Gamora/Nebula pairing up also accomplishes is that it takes Gamora away from Quill for a bit. Their relationship is all right, but it’s also kind of really not. She’s humorless, he’s not, she doesn’t dance, he does, but also she’s much more of an idealist than he is, or at least, it seems that way because of his performative carefree carelessness, whoo, haven’t seen that one before. She’s both a melting ice queen and the inspiration he needs to give a damn. It’s fine, it’s just also really predictable and hard to care about. Gamora in the first movie does interact with the other Guardians besides Quill, but not in any meaningful way. Her character development happens solely around him, whereas he gets to have deeper discussions with Yondu and he’s the one who sees Rocket’s back all mutilated and nonverbally reacts with at least some sympathy. Not to mention his whole backstory with his mom, which we see happen onscreen at the beginning of the movie, whereas Gamora’s childhood/adolescence is just stated in a heated conversation. Rocket and Drax also don’t have their backstories depicted onscreen, but they do get into a huge, violent fight about it and later sort of make up. Gamora is just there, supposedly feeling a lot of things but not sharing them with anyone, except, reluctantly, with Quill sometimes.

But now that her sister shows up, Gamora has someone else to open up to and feel sympathy for. They provide each other with the opportunity for character development that isn’t tied up in a heteronormative romance subplot. Bechdel for the win, guys.

Can we have superhero movies about a team-up of sisters? Or mother-daughter team-ups? Or girlfriends, or girl friend-friends?

Then there’s the Yondu and Rocket pairing. Both of these dudes are in some serious pain in this movie. Rocket cries again. It’s important to me that Rocket cries in both movies. Yondu actually says things that are supposed to be supportive to Quill. I might argue that Yondu and Rocket are the most hypermasculine characters here (let’s set Drax aside, he’s just here for the ride in this movie). Yondu gets all stoicly quiet-defeated-sad (… I would too, what happens to him is pretty horrific), and Rocket just relentlessly lashes out at everyone around him, but then they help each other deal and then they express their feelings in ways that are still a little muted, but at least they’re expressing their feelings.

Yeah I liked this movie.

And finally, making fun of Batman because he is the worst

I think Batman is officially the world’s most popular superhero. I get it. He used to be my favourite, too. Mostly that was because he was closely associated with Catwoman but I did like him on his own as well.

My love for Batman started to ebb away because I thought the politics of The Dark Knight Rises were stupid, and not even the magnificent fact that Catwoman appears in that movie could fix that. There are also a lot of internet personalities who I followed who were beginning to lament how cold and macho and unfun Batman had become in the Nolan movies, and I sort of agreed.

Then Holy Musical B@man! happened. Here are some lyrics:

I was seeing a girl for a while.
A couple days, anyway, and I told her I loved her.
She said, “You’re such a good friend, that rash is bad.
You should probably go see a doctor.”

Then she just disappeared, sent me some text
About bad timing and my love being selfish. [Pout]
Then my doctor called up, and the blood came back,
and as it turned out, I’m allergic to peanuts and shellfish.
(I loved peanuts and shellfish, once.)

I’m falling apart, I’m lacking punch.
I can barely eat. This morning I BARELY TOUCHED MY BRUNCH.
Two spoons of oatmeal, a couple of nuts, and half a banana.
And like my soul, the banana was bruised and black.

Those are from a song where Batman is talking about how he wants a friend, for a lot of reasons but chief among them is that he needs a co-captain for the Friendship Ship (or maybe just the Friend Ship). Later Robin shows up. Honestly, this story is almost exactly like Lego Batman in everything including random, not-officially Batman-related characters showing up.

I can’t exactly remember but I think Lego Batman makes at least sort of a point about Batman’s violence being a little over the top and in need of some introspection. I do know that the musical does this explicitly. There’s a cutesy song about Batman and Robin’s budding friendship that keeps taking pauses so that they can scream a lot and beat criminals into submission. So.

But where Lego Batman goes beyond even Holy Musical B@man! is that part near the beginning where Barbara Gordon declares that they should try a new approach to dealing with crime, because the typical “let Batman handle it by beating people up” approach has become kind of unnecessary. That is so cool. I’m pretty sure that even the comics haven’t done a “what would happen if Bruce just tried *not* doing it the ultraviolence-in-the-backalleys-of-Gotham way” story, and I’m pretty sure the comics have done a lot of different, incredibly wacky things, to the point where maybe they’ve exhausted all of the wacky premises for Batman stories and maybe they should try to re-imagine how a superhero story might work and be revolutionary, for a change.

I don’t know how to conclude so here are some pictures of Nigel dressed as Wonder Woman

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The only push back I got on that was, “But does he like wearing any clothes?” Which is fair enough. He doesn’t. But he likes to go outside and clothes mean he gets to go outside so he’s fine.

Animated Moments that Broke My Cold Dead Heart

three copyI, three, am what Myers-Briggs define as an INTJ – if you aren’t obsessed with personality quizzes, that means I’m utterly out of touch with my emotions. Things that aren’t logical make me uncomfortable. And in my life I’ve only cried over one book – Anne of Green Gables, upon reread.

But we all know that animated TV and movies have a special way of invading your heart and breaking it from the inside out because animators are evil. So here are some of the moments that never fail to completely obliterate me.

Continue reading “Animated Moments that Broke My Cold Dead Heart”

Brave

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Last week, we talked about masculinity in Brother Bear, and how the movie manages to have a sincere discussion about masculinity without making a joke out of the whole thing.

This week, in honour of Mother’s Day, we’re going to talk about Brave – which is just as much about womanhood as Brother Bear is about manhood, and, inexplicably, also just as much about bears.

Brave is generally considered to be a Pixar dud, which we think is unfair for our own specific reasons, as well as our more general bias about Pixar films. We like them, don’t get us wrong (excepting the Cars franchise), but while Brave may not have the cleanest plot like some others we could mention, its underlying themes work for us way more than those of some of Pixar’s biggest hits. Mother-daughter relationships, a coming-of-age story that’s realistically about coming-of-age, and the underlying importance of family do it for us. Toys in existential crises about children growing up… don’t.

But we can’t argue that the film doesn’t suffer from story problems. It’s pretty obvious. It had trouble while it was in development with it’s director and writer, Brenda Chapman, fired in the middle of production for creative differences. Erm, who is a sucker for behind-the-scenes stuff, watched everything she could find on the making of this movie and came away still none the wiser about what specifically went wrong, but that’s OK. We’d rather engage with the movie as it is than try to critique the movie it might have been. Let’s start by defending it against some of the more dubious complaints we’ve heard.

Number One: Merida shouldn’t complain/make selfish and irresponsible decisions. Her complaining about being forced into marriage and wanting her freedom is invalid because every once in a while she doesn’t have to be a princess, and also she’s privileged.

Being forced to get married is a good enough reason to do something rash, when you’ve tried arguing and you’re not being listened to. And this is true no matter how privileged you are or how often you get days off.

Number Two: Bears.

Yes.

Number Three: The male characters are exclusively used for comic relief.

… so?

Female characters are typically used only for certain things, like love interests, prizes, goals, villains, temptresses, or simply as naked, dying, or dead bodies. Forgive us if we’re not concerned that the men in this movie are not as integral to the story as Merida and Elinor are – because that’s all that’s happening. The male characters are important, if mostly good for a giggle, and there’s genuine warmth to Fergus at least.

Number Four: Exploitative of Scottish people.

We don’t want to be insensitive because there are certainly some stereotypes here and some jokes that didn’t need to be included. We’ve all seen Pixar movies, yes? We know they’re capable of being smart. Making a joke that is ultimately, “Haaaaaaaaaa Scottish people are Scottish” is beneath their creative capabilities.

But.

Having seen the behind-the-scenes footage we know that there was a lot of research put into this, and it seems as though the filmmakers went into it with a lot of respect. This isn’t the Siamese cats or the black crows or Peter Pan’s Indian tribe. It isn’t even like Aladdin, where the characters and setting are vaguely Middle Eastern but the actors are all white people, who occasionally put on accents. These are lovable, fleshed out characters playing on a beautifully crafted stage, played by Scottish actors. So apart from everyone’s tendency to have cheap laughs at kilts and haggis, we’d argue that the film is for the most part respectful.

The unique things we love about Brave

Mothers, Daughters, Families

Brave is the only Disney or Pixar fairy tale about a family. Everyone loves to complain that each Disney fairy tale hero is missing at least one parent, but Brave is the fairy tale movie that breaks the rule.

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Not only does Brave tell a story about a family that starts together and ends together, which, if you think about it, only makes sense in a genre intended for all ages, but it is the only example we can think of for a fully Mother-Daughter narrative in animation.

Forget animation, actually. While we aren’t entirely lacking mother-daughter films, the ones we can think of that we’d recommend are sparse: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya SisterhoodOne True Thing, Dolores Claiborne, Mermaids, Stepmom, and Freaky Friday. Maybe this is because we need to be watching different movies, but stories about mothers and daughters seem to be in short supply.

Divine is an emotional roller-coaster – worth the ride, but we relate to that Jann Arden song “Good Mother” so while we very much like the movie, it doesn’t get under our skin like Brave does.

One True Thing and Stepmom are about dying mothers, which is a different thing.

Dolores Claiborne is amazing, but it’s more about women than it is about mothers and daughters. Also it’s horrifying.

Mermaids has a lot of angst going on, and someone makes a choice later on in the film with major familial consequences, so it’s a similar story to Brave.

Freaky Friday is the ONLY truly lighthearted one! It’s similar to Brave in its suitability for younger audiences, its exploration of a mother-daughter relationship where they both learn to empathize with each other and communicate properly, and again, angst.

Now there’s at least a smidgen of romance in each of these, except Dolores Claiborne, which again is more about women than it is about mothers and daughters. Brave’s lack of romance means that Merida and Elinor can focus 100% on their relationship with each other.

Like in Brother Bear, the transformation into a bear impedes communication between Elinor and Merida. However, in Brother Bear, it requires a magical transformation back into a human in order for Kenai and Denahi can work things out. In Brave, it’s while Elinor is a bear that she and Merida are able to communicate properly. Merida implores on several occasions for her parents, particularly Elinor, to listen to her, and they don’t. Although Fergus sees eye to eye with Merida on many more issues than Elinor does, it’s not from listening to his daughter, but from their similar personalities. In the climax of the film, he rides off to kill Bear!Elinor, and Merida shouts at him to listen – and he does not. It takes her standing in his way, twice, with weapons, to stop him. In Elinor’s case, their arguments frustrate her because she believes Merida doesn’t listen to her, but in this case “listen” does not mean effective communication, it means compliance with everything she asks her to do. Merida won’t do this, because she does not want to, quite rightly.

When Merida does her speech at the end, successfully ending the brawl without any help from Elinor, this is also Merida finally reaching out to her mother. Elinor, too, is finally listening. She sees Merida about to agree to her betrothal, and even though she can’t speak (or roar), she frantically mimes her way through the rest of the speech – and she and Merida communicate freely for the first time, despite all of their obstacles, and come to a compromise on how to handle the situation.

Ultimately in both films, the bear transformation is an effective metaphor for the challenges people have with communicating in these important relationships. In this movie, it was also the motivation for Merida and Elinor to finally effectively communicate.

Romance Does Not Exist

There was a time when Merida was to be the great lesbian hero of the Disney-Pixar world, but that time has passed and we’ve moved on to Elsa. It’s a good thing, too, because we are in dire need of at least one princess who isn’t interested in who she’s going to marry (or who she’s going to be romantically linked to, for those princesses who don’t decide to get married right away). Merida’s fixation on staying single, keeping her freedom, and her reiterations of, “I’m just not ready” and, of course, “In fact, [the princess] might not ever be ready,” suggest that she could be asexual, or aromantic, or both.

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She does say later, during her pacifying of the Lords speech, that the Queen wants young people to be free to find love in their own time, but as we have learned from Disney movies of late (this one included), love comes in many more forms than just romantic love. In any case, here’s to Merida not getting married. Even though we all liked Young MacGuffin.

The dogs aren’t cute

We suspect they’re instead historically accurate. Which is nice.

The Coming-of-Age Story is more like what growing up actually is like

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Obviously it’s not a completely realistic coming-of-age story, but Merida’s teenage angst and eye-rolling and stubbornness remind us of being teenagers more than Elsa’s character arc in Frozen, for example, or Simba’s in The Lion King. This is probably because some heavy stuff is happening to those characters, so the way they come of age is not going to resemble an ordinarily bumpy transition to adulthood. But Brave is refreshing because of this – despite (and because of) the magic happening around her, Merida has to grow up and take some responsibility.

Brave GETS how coming-of-age and mother-daughter relationships are linked for girls.

If you are a woman who grew up with a mother, at some point or another she probably taught you how to survive as a woman living in a man’s world. Whether we think it’s right or wrong, women have to operate within certain rules, or at least be aware of those rules when we purposefully go on to break them. We learn that from the female role models in our lives, and in Brave, Merida learns from Elinor.

In the throne room, the men get into a brawl. Elinor sends Fergus to deal with it, and he ends up resorting to violence when his attempts to pacify the men fail. Merida and her mother sit there, visibly fed up, as the men fight.

Elinor stands, and walks through the room. The men all stop and stare at her sheepishly. Merida looks up, visibly noticing the power her mother has at this moment.

The lesson here is simple, and familiar: Women are expected to repress every violent or emotional instinct. Men are not.

Elinor teaches Merida this lesson every day – her brothers get away with murder, she doesn’t get away with anything. A princess is a role model. A princess is compassionate. A princess does not chortle. A princess does not stuff her gob. A princess does not place her weapons on the table. A princess should not even have weapons, in Elinor’s opinion.

Before we get all up in arms like the clans here, let’s take a moment to consider whether the movie thinks this is right or wrong.

On one hand, yes, the movie does seem to believe Elinor. Look at what happens when the ladies do resort to violence – Merida hurts her mother by cutting the tapestry, and Elinor hurts Merida in kind by burning her bow.

On the other hand, although Merida is held responsible for nearly causing a war and turning her mother into a bear, she does eventually get what she wanted: Her freedom to break the Woman Rules.

Merida walks through the brawling men just like her mom. And when she can’t make them listen, she takes a note from Fergus, and screams, “SHUT IT.” And it works! Because Merida is not her mother, and she’s not a perfect princess. But she is a powerful, responsible young woman who is capable of simultaneously embracing her role as princess and breaking the rules that prevent her from being who she is- a wild-haired marksman who wants to stay single and let her hair flow in the wind as she rides through the glen firing arrows into the sunset.

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The only problem we have: Bears.

We’re not really sure what’s going on with Mor’du. We understand that he is a legendary prince who ruined himself, his family, and his kingdom by being selfish, and by going to a bear-obsessed witch for help. But we also know that he’s behind the Wisps summoning Merida to the same fate, and later summoning her to mend her own bond and, conveniently, get Mor’du killed and free his spirit.

It seems kind of mean to trick a sixteen year old girl like that just to get a bear killed. Why didn’t he instead go after Fergus if he wanted the bear killed so badly? Was that what he was trying to do all along, but Fergus doesn’t believe in magic so he had to mess with his wife and daughter, who do?

And how is it that he’s both Mor’du and the power behind the Wisps? And why isn’t he just a regular bear? He should have lived out his lifespan by now if it really is an ancient kingdom as the legends say, and at least some of those wounds should have slowed him down. Why does he seek out people to savage and hang around his old throne-room when it’s implied that should Elinor remain a bear forever, she’ll just be a regular bear which will sever the bonds she has to her family?brave-disneyscreencaps.com-9861

When Elinor goes full bear she does become a danger to those around her. First, she attacks Merida, but only when Merida taps her on the back, which you would never want to do to a real bear for obvious reasons. Later she attacks Fergus, who is a real threat to her, but her interactions with Merida are fairly harmless. When she begins to lose herself for the final time, she just lays there letting Merida hug her until eventually she changes back. There isn’t a consistent metaphor about loss of humanity here, because we don’t have a clear definition of a binary. For example, with bear-Elinor’s violence, we only see it twice, and on two occasions we see her tolerate Merida’s presence, which means violence is not linked to the animal, with non-violence linked to the human, as it normally would be.

The only common thread is that bear-Elinor doesn’t know that she is Merida’s mother, or Fergus’s wife. And even this goes both ways: Fergus refuses to listen to Merida when she tries to explain to him that his wife has been transformed into a bear. Elinor remaining a bear is framed as being tragic not because she’ll be a vicious killing machine like Mor’du, but instead because she will lose her family, and her family will lose her.

That makes sense. We still think they could have portrayed this a little better.

We’re asked to take for granted Mor’du’s existence and actions and we suppose that we can – perhaps the bear-witch’s spell was a little bit different for the prince than it was for Merida. But the only information we’re given is that the witch is just inexplicably obsessed by bears, and every time someone asks her for a spell they do so in such a way that, happily, she can just perform the one spell she knows and everybody magics into bears.

We needed Sitka’s silent wisdom or something, so that we could understand what the significance of bears is in particular.

The only thing we can think of is the “mother bear” thing, and Elinor certainly fulfills this stereotype. As much as it’s Fergus who wants to revenge himself against Mor’du, it is ultimately Elinor who kills him, and she only does this to save her daughter.

Ultimately, our only problem with the movie is the bears. Even though it didn’t need to be bears, or they could have more thoroughly explained why it had to be bears, there’s enough depth in their use to excuse their presence in this film, excessive and confusing though it may be. Despite its flaws, this is the first Pixar film with a female lead. The second Pixar film with a female lead is Inside Out, and it’s worth noting that these two movies are also the only Pixar films with a story that would provide catharsis for the audience and not the creators. Not to knock Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, or Ratatouille, but these are stories about parent figures, special people, and prodigies. Although Brave (and Inside Out) has parent figures, the lesson is that they need to give their child room to grow and be themselves – and shouldn’t that be the entire point of children’s literature?